Perhaps you’ve heard of the “Ford vs. Chevy” debate. In one corner, you’ll have the die hard Ford fanatics, that love anything and everything Ford, and detest all things Chevrolet. In the opposing corner you’ll have the Chevy crowd that mirrors the Ford corner. This debate has been raging for decades, and will likely continue to do so as long as the Gov’t is willing to continue bailing out GM! (Zing!)
What’s this bickering have to do with firearms and firearms training you ask? If you’ve been around the firearms industry or “gun culture” for very long, you’ve probably already experienced a version of the Ford vs. Chevy foolishness, and it’s usually all about Caliber and/or handgun selection. In the gun game, we have our “.45 ACP vs. 9mm” debates. We have our “Glock vs. 1911” debates. We have our “Wheel Gun vs. Semi Auto” debates. If you’re experienced in this game, you’ve probably already formed your allegiances and opinions. If you’re new to guns and firearms training, all this bickering can be a bit overwhelming.
I used the word “foolishness” intentionally. Of course, we all have our opinions and preferences. Some even back their opinions and preferences with some degree of experience, which can further entrench them into whatever camp they favor. That’s fine, unless you’re brand new to this game and find yourself out shopping for guns. If all you get is the opinion and preference of the clerk behind any given sales counter, how does this help you? You will need to know what you’re looking for, before you shop.
In this vast category of caliber and handgun selection considerations, I’ll begin with caliber.I’ve heard countless times, “if it doesn’t begin with the number ‘4’ it’s too small.” This bit of ‘wisdom’ is generally perpetuated by the lovers of the .45 ACP or .44 Mag rounds. However, the fiercely potent .357 Mag round completely destroys this silliness. Proponents of the .45 ACP, the .40 S&W and other “large caliber” handgun rounds typically dismiss the 9mm, .380, or 9mm Kurtz. Kurtz which is German for “short” is the same bullet but with a shorter casing and are dismissed because they’re “too small” or “too fast” and increase the risk of over-penetration. It’s true. The 9mm is smaller than the .45 ACP, which leads to the opposing stance – you can haul many more rounds of the smaller 9mm or .380 in one magazine than the larger caliber rounds, and so it goes.
However, there is a much larger, simpler and obvious consideration that is rarely ever addressed in this debate. By comparison, handgun calibers of nearly any size or capability are woefully inadequate when stacked up against rifles and shotguns. Handguns are popular for defensive purposes because they’re portable, not because they’re powerful. The old saying, “I carry a gun because Cops are too heavy” is every bit as true as any ballistic data or specs or preference of any handgun caliber fan. This isn’t intended to slight fans of any caliber, nor am I going to dismiss the effective employment of a handgun.
I’m just trying to keep it real, and factual. There is another simple reality that nullifies caliber bickering. A .22 LR in your hand is better than two .45 ACP’s you left out in the car when the masked gunmen rush through the door of the Denny’s you’re enjoying. It just doesn’t matter how “big and bad” your gun is, if you don’t have it when you need it. This is the real-world consideration that makes those “little guns” so attractive when carrying concealed in public.
The other point I like to stress, which really thins the herd, comes down to skill. If I had a dollar for every time I heard some blowhard boasting about how big, bad and reliable his 1911 is only to step out onto the range and shoot like crap, I could probably afford another one of those gems. My point is, I really don’t care if you’re carrying a .50 caliber Desert Eagle on your hip if you cannot hit your intended target with it. Size truly does not matter when you miss, although SAZSATT would teach you in training that you are still 100% responsible and liable for those rounds you’re sending down the street into who-knows-where. Hits matter. Size, not so much.
Skill and training go hand in hand. If you do not train, and train effectively, your skill when it matters most will be highly suspect and easily compromised. If when you go to the range all you do is the same old tired “square range” drills, with no stress, no pressure, no movement, and no adrenaline, then you really have no idea how you may (or may not) perform when these elements are introduced. You may believe you’ll “rise to the occasion” but the opposite it true. Evidence time and again reveals that you will only be 50% as good as your most recent training when the adrenaline dump hits and you’re fighting for your life. Half as good. Half as accurate. Half as sure as the last time you trained under those conditions. If you’ve never trained in a dynamic atmosphere, odds are it won’t much matter how big your rounds are, or how many your magazine holds. Training. Is. Everything. You have to score hits before the assailant does.
After handgun caliber, I’ll touch on handgun selection. For you new shooters and new gun owners out there, when you go gun shopping strive to separate what the clerk at any given sales counter tells you from what you know you are after, what you like and what you don’t like. To determine what you’re after, you’ll need to pre-determine what you want out of your gun. There are many, many questions to answer, and points to consider when handgun shopping. Like, what is the primary purpose of this gun, home defense or concealed carry? Concealed carry or Open Carry? If it’s primarily going to be a Home Defense gun, you can probably open your options to guns of greater physical frame size, since you won’t have to conceal it. If the gun WILL be primarily for Concealed Carry (CC), then you have to consider: how will you carry (what holster), where (on your person) will you carry, your body size, your wardrobe… etc. Even your belt choice becomes significant. If you’re looking for a versatile gun, for Open and/or Concealed carry and home defense, you need to consider it all, but I’d begin by ensuring it’s a good CC choice.
Make sure the gun fits your hand, and your body if you’re going to CC. Don’t think you’re going to adapt to an uncomfortable gun, because you won’t. If it hurts to shoot, you’re less likely to train with it. If it hurts to carry or is impossible to effectively conceal on your person, you won’t carry it. It’s simple, really. Limit your shopping to practical choices that will work for YOU, and make the sales people service you – not the other way around.
As with all things in life, handgun selections include trade off’s. Pros and cons. Try to determine what you really want, and what you really need your gun to do for you and then go shopping. Don’t end up with a Revolver when you really needed a slim Semi Auto. Don’t end up spending $1,800 on a sexy 1911 when a $550 semi would have been WAY more practical. Don’t end up with a 17 round Semi Auto when you really needed a Revolver that can function in your coat pocket or purse. Know what you need, and shop for that. If you get stuck with a sales clerk that clings to one of the Ford vs. Chevy debates, and insists you only consider what they think is best, and they’re suggestions are directing you away from what you know you want or need, ask for someone else to help you. If there is no one else to assist you, shop somewhere else. I’ll give you an example, I once trained a lady who bought what was sold to her, instead of buying what she needed. This lady was a very petite, very small framed, small-handed 93 pound soaking wet individual, and the ‘professionals’ at this gun store, which will go unnamed, sold her a full size 1911 .45 ACP. And to make matters worse, it was for a ridiculous over-charge to compound their wrong. She could barely wrap her hands around this monster of a gun because her hands were so small. She completed training and actually did quite well, but she ultimately needed a much smaller gun. The scoundrel sales jerks at this local gun store took complete advantage of this lady’s ignorance and checkbook. Don’t let this happen to you. Do your legwork and your homework and know what you’re shopping for before you enter their store.
I’ll get into holster selection soon, as it’s a category unto itself. But once you get your gun it is time to train! Commit to training, and commit to becoming not only comfortable shooting your gun, but confidently capable of shooting your gun well.
Stay safe, and stay trained.