Editor’s Note: The following is a syndicated article by author Ed Combs that first appeared in USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine Volume 13, Issue 6, August/September 2016 under the title, “Let’s Get Small: The Case for the Pocket Pistol.”
I recently got into the “small gun/no gun” conversation with an individual who was serious when he said that pocket guns have no place in his defensive battery. They’re harder to shoot, have a lower capacity and why spend almost as much on a small gun when you can save a little longer and buy another big gun?
The punch line for me was that, earlier in the conversation, when I’d asked if he was carrying, he said no. He had to go somewhere later that didn’t allow guns and reholstering with his IWB was a bear.
As I’m certain you can imagine, I had to swallow what I really wanted to say.
Guns are tools, much like many others. For those who don’t immediately get the connection between the two items pictured here, consider this:
Implausible as it might be, imagine yourself in a circumstance under which you have to dig a hole. Like, immediately. If you don’t at least start digging a hole right now, there will be dire consequences, up to and including death or worse. What would you prefer to use to accomplish that?
Well, ideally, you’d use a bucket excavator, but almost no one has one of those just hanging around. Real-world ideally, you’d prefer to use a shovel; you know, spade blade with a place to put your foot for extra punch, 48-inch handle for leverage, nice big scoop for nice big scooping action, the works. But those are usually inconvenient to just toss in your vehicle unless you’re either very committed or regularly use one in the course of your day.
Would you rather start digging that life-saving hole with this folding shovel — which, if you ask anyone who’s used one, is no great shakes when compared to the aforementioned spade or even a fixed-handle folding shovel — or with your hands?
When everything’s bad enough, a shovel’s a shovel’s a shovel, and shovel beats hand like rock beats scissors.
I am a strong proponent of pocket pistols, because they lead to a higher number of responsibly armed Americans actually having a gun on their person during deadly force incidents. Are they the perfect self-defense tool from a projection of force standpoint? No. The rifle is still Queen of Battle, bested only by her old man Artillery, who is King. But just as a shovel’s a shovel’s a shovel when you need to dig a hole, a gun’s a gun’s a gun when a predator is closing in on you and it’s time to start shooting or start punching.
One Small Problem
This is not to say that there aren’t any challenges presented by single-stack micros. For the average concealed carrier, the biggest issue with shooting a micro pistol is that the shooter is probably accustomed to a two-handed grip. Now, there’s nothing wrong with using a two-handed grip on a tiny pistol; that’s exactly how I employ them. However, serious safety issues can arise if you’re not careful, especially if you have gorilla mitts like I do.
When holding a small pistol in the modern two-handed grip, the same off-hand thumb that normally extends onto the non-dominant side of the frame suddenly sneaks dangerously close to the muzzle. I’ve accidentally done this myself; say what you will about the .380 ACP as a defensive cartridge, but it’s certainly a solid training aid when a 90-grain jacketed hollow-point whips past your thumb close enough to leave you with what some of the old-timers call a “coal miner’s tattoo.”
The solution for this issue is, like the solution for all other issues in firearms handling, training. In order to employ a two-handed grip on a tiny handgun, we have to go back in history a little bit and re-examine a style that has fallen out of fashion since the auto-loader swept the revolver out of the law enforcement duty market.
When taking up the tiny gun in question, grip it in your dexterous hand as you would grip any sidearm. When placing your support hand, though, you’ll need to train so as to reliably curl your thumb and fingers down and around your shooting hand enough to keep all of your moving parts away from the muzzle. (This was one of the common law enforcement grips back in the revolver days.)
I understand that some of you are scoffing as you read this, but stop and think for a moment about how many times you’ve acquired a firing grip on your full-size gun; now picture yourself grabbing a micro pistol during an immediate life-or-death struggle. If you’ve trained properly, you’ll be incapable of doing it wrong, which might mean extending your off-thumb up onto that slide and removing the tip of it.
Now, were you actually facing said deadly threat, the tip of your off-thumb might not be all that important and its absence might even make for an interesting conversation piece over the following years. Even better, though, would be to train consistently with how to handle a micro pistol. If you do, your hand will immediately recognize it as such and keep all of the little piggies where they belong.
The other and essentially important option is to train shooting your micro pistol one-handed. Not only is it a good idea to train shooting one-handed with any sidearm you own, but strictly defensive firearms are far more likely to be fired one-handed than the competition 1911 you had built for your husband last Christmas. With pocket guns, the chances of being forced to shoot before you’ve achieved a “proper” grip are very high, as your other hand might be occupied fending off an attack that is already underway.
Another unpleasant reality a lot of micro-pistol shooters face is the fact that helpful souls often think, “Well, since she’s a woman, she should carry a little tiny gun.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone recommend a sidearm to a lady based on size alone. I’m not talking about the size of the woman, let alone her level of hand strength, age, training capabilities or anything else. I’m talking about the size of the gun.
This is the kind of man who, when told that a woman is looking for a defensive sidearm, immediately hands her a snub-nosed revolver or a tiny auto. In his mind, a gun is a gun is a gun: He’ll look at the size of the hand it’ll go in and then select a gun that would look proportional in that hand to his own gun in his own hand. Though such a man is not always incorrect with regard to a Smith & Wesson Model 36 (and is often actually right on the money), there’s a reason I call tiny polymer .380s “borderline experts’ guns.” For starters, the combination of a very small grip and extremely short sight radius makes for a difficult shot. Moreover, many of the newer micros hardly have any sights at all, so atop battling the diminutive stature of the gun itself, now this new shooter is being asked to shoot basically instinctively, be it with the Applegate Method, the C.A.R. system or some other permutation of unsighted fire that almost certainly wasn’t covered in her permit class.
All of that said, anyone could train to use any sidearm. I hate to bring her up, as she was a scumbag and a murderer, but never forget that Bonnie Parker could gunfight because she trained. She was barely 5 feet tall and never once in her life weighed more than 100 pounds, but she could hip-fire a chopped M1918 BAR while moving and taking the fight to her opponents. That’s an 18-pound fully automatic rifle chambered in .30-06 that her boyfriend, notorious cop murderer and generally trashy specimen Clyde Barrow, cut down to about the size of a modern home defense shotgun. It’s a weapons system that would tire out most rookie cops in one or two magazines, but she was adept in its use because she trained.
Built for Speed, Not Comfort
I’ve met very few women who out-and-out prefer a Ruger LCP, Kel-Tec P3AT or Taurus TCP. Like men, women generally prefer guns that are easy to shoot: Glock 19s, CZ 75s, Walther PPQs and Smith & Wesson M&Ps. With extremely rare exceptions, we own and train with tiny guns because we have to … not because we like to.
True though that might be, we carry tiny guns specifically because they’re not Glock 19s, CZ 75s, Walther PPQs or Smith & Wesson M&Ps. We carry them because we can drop them into a pocket rather than rig them into a pair of pants. We carry them because they’re small enough to sneak into a wardrobe that might not include a sweater, suit coat, fleece pullover or jacket. We carry them even though it can be painful to discharge them, and we understand that micro pistols and snub-nosed revolvers are a lot like punching an attacker in the nose as hard as you can: You’re not doing it because it’s fun; you’re doing it because if you don’t, you will likely die.
So take it easy on tiny guns. You don’t have to love shooting them, and you don’t have to love training with them. You don’t even have to own one, but I would ask that you understand why some do.
Discover how you can join nearly 300,000 responsibly armed Americans who already rely on the USCCA to protect their families, futures and freedoms: USCCA.com/gunsamerica.