Pistol Safeties

While all handguns have various safety features built-in, the ones on a revolver do not require the user to do anything, so we will only discuss semi-automatics in this paper.  Safety devices fall into five groups, with every semi-automatic having at least one of these features, and sometimes several.  Two of them require no action from the user, but will be included here so you have a more complete view of the features.  Please not that, as a safety protocol, you should never count on a safety working.  Failure of a safety device is extremely rare, but anything mechanical can break.  Never trust a gun, except in a combat situation, where you have no choice.  In this paper, I will use the term “True Safety”, meaning that a 3 year old child would be stopped from firing the gun.

  1.  Firing Pin Safety Block. Entirely internal, this feature makes it impossible for a gun to fire until the trigger is moved.  Almost all handguns have this feature.  NOT a True Safety.

  2.  Drop Safety. While all handguns have this feature, there are several ways to implement it.  Some are internal, and invisible to the user.  On some guns, it appears as a small blade inside the trigger.  It must be pressed as the trigger is pressed.  The blade does not have enough mass to be moved by the kinetic force of dropping the gun.  NOT a True Safety.



  1.  Thumb Safety (AKA Frame Safety). A lever mounted on the left rear corner of the slide or the frame.  Usually, up is engaged (on), and down is disengaged (off).  The user swipes down with the dominant thumb as he/she presents the weapon.  Ambidextrous guns will have this lever on both sides, for lefties.  True Safety, probably.


  1.  Decocker. This device looks like a thumb safety, but acts (on hammer-fired models only) to safely drop the hammer.  There are two types, which are quite different.

      Decocker only. After the hammer is dropped, the gun can still be fired, but    with a much heavier trigger weight.  Not quite a True Safety, but an impediment for a child.
      Decocker + Safety. After the hammer is dropped, the safety is automatically engaged, so the gun cannot be fired without first disengaging the safety.  True Safety.

Guns with decockers, though uncommon, are harder to understand and use than other types of guns.  Police never use these.

  1. Grip Safety. A spring-loaded lever on the back of the grip, this safety is engaged by default, and is disengaged by the action of acquiring a proper grip on the gun.  Dropping the gun automatically puts it back in safe mode.  This was developed in 1910, and has been used for 112 years on the “1911” pistol.  Smith & Wesson and Springfield Armory use it on some models, but it is still fairly uncommon.  A True Safety, unless a child figures out how it works.

The pistol above has both a drop safety and a grip safety, which are redundant.  Marketing.

This pistol has both a thumb safety and a grip safety.

Confused yet?  Keep reading.

Hammer-fired guns (old school) have more sensitive triggers, so they will always have a thumb safety or decocker, and sometimes both.

Striker-fired guns cannot have a decocker, and seldom have a thumb safety.  That is considered optional, for these reasons:

  1.  Striker-fired guns are harder to fire by accident, as cocking of the mechanism is not complete until the trigger is moved.
  2.  Gun safety is not the responsibility of the gun, but of the user. Your only true safety is your training.  Anything else is a dangerous crutch.
  3.  Police never carry guns with safeties. There is a reason.  Simpler guns are easier to use in a crisis.  Your brain works faster than your thumb.

Notes on Caliber Prefixes

For historical reasons, many caliber designations are followed by a suffix that positively identifies with specificity the size of that ammunition.  Remember that the beginning of the caliber name (9mm, .45) only indicates the diameter of the bullet, not the length of the cartridge.  After all, the AR-15 fires the same size bullet as a .22 pistol, but many times faster.

ACP = Automatic Colt Pistol
MAG = Magnum (high power)
S&W = Smith & Wesson (developer of that caliber)
SIG = SIG Sauer (developer of that caliber)
SPL = Special
LC  = Long Colt
LR  = Long Rifle (.22 LR is also used in pistols; it is a standard)

While there are limited exceptions with revolvers, semi-automatic handguns never fire more than one specific caliber, so it is important to get this right.

Example: .357 Mag is not the same as .357 SIG.

In many cases, you have no options: the most common revolver caliber is .38 SPL.  You can no longer easily find any .38 ammo that is not Special, so you have only that choice.  However, in 1898, most revolvers fired a weak cartridge called .38 Short.  With further development, that was followed by .38 Long, and finally .38 Special.  That has been the standard for about 80 years, and is unlikely to ever change.  There are people who collect, and shoot, historical weapons, so there are companies that make obsolete ammo for those people.  A Google search for “.38 Short ammo” returned 396,000 results.  While it is unlikely you would find any .38 Short in a gun store, it is possible, so looking for the designation “.38 Special” simply gives you confidence that you have the correct ammo.

If you have a .45 semi-automatic, that ammo will be described as .45 ACP.  Don’t confuse it with .45 LC (AKA .45 Colt).  That is used in cowboy-style single action revolvers.

If you have a .380 pistol, this is simpler.  Or is it?  I’m not aware of any type of cartridge for the .380 that is not marked “.380 ACP”, except that European ammo for this 9×17 cartridge will often use terms like “9mm Browning” or “9mm Kurz”.  I once used a dealer to transfer an old  pistol marked “9mm Browning”, and the clerk didn’t know that it was actually a Czech .380.

Speaking of the famous 9mm, there are at least 9 cartridges extant that can be called 9mm.  The standard throughout the world is 9mm Luger (also described as 9×19), but there are minor variations like 9mm Makarov (9×18), 9mm Ultra, 9mm Police, 9mm Browning (9×17), 9mm Steyr, 9m Largo, and others.  Some of these are aliases for what we know as the .380, and some are obsolete.  If you have a 9mm handgun that is less than 30 years old, it will be a 9mm Luger, and it should be marked “9×19”.

Clear as mud?  Sorry.  Obsolete firearms and ammo never go away, they just fall out of favor.  If you are new to shooting, you should not be fooling with 80 year old firearms until you are certain what ammo it uses.  However, if your gun is less than 30 years old, there should be no problem at all.  Terms like .22, .380, .38, 9mm, .40, and .45 are very standardized now.  If in doubt, research, or ask.

Optical Aiming Systems

Actually, that should say “Aiming Systems for Pistols”, but if you followed a link to get here, you are expecting to read about optics.  Technically, not all aiming options for handguns are optical, but more on that later.

Ten years ago, it was rare to see any kind of sights on a pistol besides the built-in ones, called “iron-sights” (no, they are not made of iron, and haven’t been for a very long time. Sorry.)  These days, not only is it not rare to see a handgun with alternative sights on it, more and more models are coming with them pre-installed.  New gun owners are often confused by this proliferation, and sometimes make mistakes in choosing a gun, so I thought it was time to write a post about this new paradigm.

First, let’s define what we are talking about.  All handguns have built-in sights.  Most rifles do as well, but not all, as it is often assumed that the owner will install another option.  It is worth noting that we won WWII with iron sights, and old-school riflemen often think optics are for weenies, but I digress.  The types of sighting systems (besides iron sights), in chronological order, include Telescopic, Laser, and Electronic.

As the name implies, this is a tube containing magnifying lenses that magnify the target.  Extremely common on rifles (hunting and target shooting), these are seldom seen on handguns.  When they are, they are usually special-purpose guns, used for hunting or target shooting.  The magnification varies from 1-4 power up to 9-12 power or above.  The greater the magnification, the greater the cost.  Inexpensive ones will often leak, and allow moisture inside.  That will fog the lens, and ruin the scope.


This is a device installed on a gun, that projects a beam of light out to the target.  Ten years ago, this was the hot ticket.  Some guns came with them from the factory, but the Crimson Trace company pioneered the process of adding laser capability to almost any handgun.  These are not as common now, although every crime-drama on TV uses the imagery of someone realizing there is a red dot on their chest, from a sniper on top of a building 300 yards away.  It is good TV, but lacks some realism.  In the real world, lasers have to be zeroed for the distance used, and, when used on a pistol, the red dot often can’t be seen further away than 25 feet, and never in daylight.  Another problem is that shooters have to focus their vision on the target, not the gun, so it is like driving a car by remote control.  It is harder than it looks, and is of questionable value for a new shooter, as they never learn to use their sights.  When the battery goes dead (which it will), you are stuck.

These are, today, the most prolific types of non-iron-sight sighting devices in use on pistols.  They are also often used on defensive rifles, though not as much for hunting or target shooting.  As the name implies, these are, like lasers, battery-powered.  Electronic sights fall into two categories: red-dots and holographic sights.  Both types have to be turned on and off.

  • Red-dot
    Similar in appearance to a very short telescopic scope, these devices do not magnify, and do not project anything to the target.  You look through them, and a red dot is superimposed on an image of the target inside the device.  It takes less battery power, the dot is visible day or night, and at any distance.  Note that for people with cataracts or astigmatism, the dot may look like a star-burst, and not be precise.

Don’t confuse the red-dot with a laser, which projects a red beam through space to the target.

  • Holographic sights
    These are known by several names: reflex sights, RMR sights, and red-dots.  They have a different appearance, although they do a similar job.  The difference is that the image superimposed on the target will be a 3-dimensional object, like a dot in a circle, or a reticle.  Having depth to it, it is less affected by vision abnormalities.  These are more expensive than other types of optics for handguns.


Installation issues
Lasers, if they are aftermarket, are often attached to the grips, and activated by either an on-off switch, or a button under the middle finger.  Scopes and traditional red-dots are usually fastened to a mounting rail on top of the gun.  .22 pistols, and most rifles, often come with a rail, or have provision to easily add a rail.  Note that these kinds of guns do not have a slide that cycles, as red-dots are heavier, and would be thrown off after a few shots.  Holographic sights are lighter, have a lower center of gravity, and are attached by machine screws, to withstand the violent forces of a cycling slide (on handguns).  These require that the slide be machined to accept a mounting plate, on which the sight is mounted.  If the handgun comes to you Optics Ready (OR), the slide will be machined already, and a cover plate installed.  Here is the catch: the slide cut on the pistol has to match the mounting plate, which has to match the optic.  There are at least three different standards, so make sure you have a plate that fits the slide underneath, and the optic on top.  If you want to install a holographic sight on a pistol that does not have the slide machined, there are services that will do that work for you.  Buy the optic first, so the shop can make the cut to match the plate.

Co-witness sights
When an optic is set up to co-witness, that means that you can see both iron sights through the optic.  You would not actually use both options, but if your battery is dead (very common), you still have a way to use the gun in a crisis.  Sometimes the rear sight has to be removed to install the optic.  In many cases, the iron sights are too short to see through the optic.  Sometimes, the iron sights can be replaced with taller sights to fix this problem, sometimes not.  If you want this type of optic, it is probably worth the money to buy a gun with the optic installed at the factory, with the understanding that the iron sights will co-witness.

Battery issues
The top makes of modern holographic sights have very long battery life, sometimes a year.  You will still lose track of it, unless you make a note on your calendar.  In any event, if the optic has to be manually turned on, and you are in a crisis, you are hosed, unless your sights co-witness (and you have practiced that way).  There are some optics now that contain motion sensors, and will turn on as soon as the gun is moved, and will shut down automatically after the gun is still for a time.  For a gun destined for self-defense duty, this feature is not optional.

Training issues
The process of quickly acquiring a sight picture, firing, and follow-through, is quite different with any type of electronic sight versus iron sights.  They can be a benefit in slow fire, but a drawback in rapid target acquisition, or in target transitions.  For many of the reasons listed in this article, I don’t recommend any of these options for a self defense gun, especially considering that self defense usually happens at 5 yards or less.  There is a law of diminishing returns.  Pushing your defensive skills out to 10-15 yards with stock sights is not that hard, with the right fundamentals, the right training, and practice.

However, electronic sights are fun to use, and are very useful for target shooting.  Within a few years, I expect that most semi-automatic handguns will come from the factory with slide cuts and cover plates.  It will then be up to you to decide if those devices fit your needs.



AR-15 Pistol

A Viable Home Defense Option?

In the last few years, an unusual variant of “pistol” has developed, the AR-15 Pistol.  This is a very short version of an AR-15 rifle, often called a Modern Sporting Rifle (MSR) (and incorrectly called an Assault Rifle).  The pistol variant is shorter, and is distinct in having an arm brace.  By slipping your forearm through the brace, this gun can be fired by one hand, which is what makes it, legally, a pistol.

Really, a pistol?  Not what I call a pistol.  Here is the catch.  The ATF defines a pistol as any firearm that is designed to be fired one-handed, AND is not designed to be fired from the shoulder.  That doesn’t mean it can’t be.

A rifle, on the other hand, IS designed to be fired from the shoulder.  However, a rifle has to have a barrel at least 16 inches long, and have an overall length of 26 inches.  Any rifle shorter than that is designated a “Short Barrelled Rifle” (SBR).  SBRs are restricted by the terms of the National Firearms Act of 1934, the same as machine guns and suppressors.  NFA items are legal, but require a lot of paperwork, a $200.00 tax stamp, and an approval wait time of typically 8-12 months.

So, what is this thing, and why do I care?  It is a device that gets you around the SBR loophole in the law.  In the image above, the shooter is using the arm brace (which is shaped like a stock) as a stock, which is perfectly legal.  If he takes off or modifies the arm brace, he is now in violation of Federal law.

Think of this as a large capacity, easy to shoot, home defense rifle, adapted to an urban environment.  Easy storage, and easy to manipulate through rooms and doorways.  With a scope installed, it could even be used for hunting, or as a bug-out gun.  Besides the normal rifle calibers (.223, 5.56, .308, .300 Blackout), they are also made in pistol calibers like 9mm.  Some versions even take Glock magazines, and Glock makes a 31 round mag.

So there you have it, another option for home defense.

2020 Ammo Shortage

The date today is Aug 9, 2020.  We are in the midst of a critical nationwide ammo shortage, and industry insiders predict it will last 6-12 months.  To the extent that you can find ammo (availability varies by caliber), prices are at least double what they were last January.

The reasons are complex, but involve a perfect storm of circumstances: a pandemic leading to civil unrest and uncertainty about the future, and then race riots (hijacked by Communists) in places like Portland, Seattle, New York, and other cities.  There are millions of new gun owners now, and hoarding of ammo.   Besides the insane demand from the public, manufacturers have long-standing contracts from Federal, State, and local law enforcement, plus the U.S. military.  The major manufacturers (Federal, Speer, Magtech, Hornady, CCI, Remington, and others) are already running 3 shifts, and making ammo around the clock.  They can’t increase production.  The smaller companies (Freedom, Defender, Black Hills, etc.) can increase, but that would still be a drop in the bucket.

What to do?  It is still possible to get ammo, but it will take time, patience, and money.  The time is past for you to stop by Cabela’s or Walmart and grab a few boxes of ammo.  It will likely be a year before that comes back.  Here are some suggestions:

  1.  Go to a gun show.  Those are starting up again, and there will likely be some vendors there with ammo, although there may be quantity restrictions.
  2.  Go to a gun range.  They buy ammo in large quantity, as they cannot operate without it.  They will not sell it out the door; you have to be using their range to shoot.  Check in, and buy whatever amount they will sell you, probably 1-2 boxes.  It will cost you whatever it costs to shoot there, plus the ammo.  If you have a membership where you can shoot for free, there is no overhead, and you usually get a discount on the ammo.
  3.  Use these websites:  ammoseek.com and ammobuy.com.  These are search engines for ammo, and display the current inventory of about 75 online retailers.  They are updated several times each day.  That is the best way to get ammo (but expensive), but you may have to check them for several days to find a price you can live with, and it will often take 3-10 days to get it. 

At this time, you can’t be too choosy about brand names; take what you can get.  Right now, the best prices are on Russian ammo (Tula, Wolf, Barnaul).  Lesser-grade ammo is not dangerous, it just may not be as accurate, and may include a dud now and then.  It is what it is.

In terms of calibers, it appears that .380 ACP is completely gone, except at unbelievable prices.  All other calibers appear to be available, at inflated prices.  The most popular ammo in the world, 9mm, is in short supply, but because they make so much of it, it is being restocked, but at very high prices.  It will get higher before it gets lower, so you should buy as much as you can afford, ASAP.  Besides range ammo, don’t forget some hollow point.



Fine-tuning Your Handgun

Many people think that learning proficiency with a handgun is as simple as

  • buy a gun
  • buy some ammo
  • start shooting

While that will work, up to a point, the optimal accuracy is achieved by fine-tuning the performance of your gun.  This will almost always involve ammo choices, and may involve upgrades to the gun itself. Let me discuss those in a little more detail.

Choosing the right ammo for your gun is very effective, and very easy, although a little tedious.  A semi-auto only fires whatever caliber it is designed for, so you don’t have any choices there, but those cartridges come with bullets of different weights (usually at the same cost).  Depending on your gun, the caliber, and the length of the barrel, different weight bullets can have a significant impact on accuracy. Here is how you can resolve that issue:

I will explain the process for a 9mm handgun, but it would be similar for other calibers.  9mm ammo comes in bullet weights of 115 grain, 124, and 147.  Grain does not refer to gunpowder, but is a unit of weight.  A heavier bullet will typically travel slower, and a lighter bullet faster. A lighter bullet will often wobble or tumble in flight, which has an effect on accuracy, while heavier bullets tend to stabilize better.  Buy one box of each bullet weight.  If they can be the same brand, that is a plus, but not required.  Use a target with multiple circles or bullseyes, set out to 10 yards.  With your hands resting on a bench or sandbag, fire 3 shots of each weight, using a different circle/bullseye for each group of 3.  Take your time, and get the best group you can.  Repeat the process, but make sure you know which ones are which.  By this time, you should be able to tell which bullet weight works best for your gun.  Note that self-defense (HP) ammo does not usually come in multiple weights, so this process would involve different brands.

Upgrades to the gun may involve sights, grips, triggers, or other internals.  Some of these are relatively easy, and some more complicated, so I will discuss them in the order of increasing difficulty/expense.

Grips.  Some guns have easily replaceable grip panels or backstraps.  Changes here can have a small effect on accuracy, as the guns will fit your hand better, and you may have better recoil management.  A more common and serious problem is when you cannot get your little finger on to the grip.  In that case, you can buy magazine base plates that extend the magazine further down, to solve that problem.  It is very important that you can get your little finger on the grip.

Sights.  Most non-competition pistols do not have sights that are adjustable for elevation.  If you really need that, there are aftermarket sights available.  Usually, the only adjustment you might need is windage.  The rear sights can be moved (not easily) with a drift punch, or easily with a sight-mover tool.  Even if the sights are correct, everyone’s eyes are different, so if you consistently shoot a little left (or right) (and this is not a flinching issue), adjust the sights so that you can consistently shoot to Point-of-Aim (POI).

Other internals.  Every time you clean your gun, you have to remove the guide rod and recoil spring.  If the guide rod is plastic, replace it with stainless steel.  That keeps the parts from moving laterally during cycling, and will make a huge improvement in accuracy.  If the guide rod and spring are one unit, it is easier to replace the whole thing.  This is especially an issue with Glocks.  In addition, replacing the safety plunger with one that is chrome-plated will remove some friction from the system, and help the trigger action (and accuracy) slightly.  The difficulty of doing this depends on your make of pistol, but there are many videos available to help.

Triggers.  Most semi-autos under $1000.00 have mediocre triggers, but these can be improved considerably.  There are trigger kits available for most popular makes of pistol, like the Apex Tactical kit ($150+).  These are quite easy to install on Glocks, but often a little trickier on other makes.  The kit manufacturers will have videos available to help you.  Some of these kits will include a new connector and safety plunger (referenced above), and will reduce the trigger pull by 1-2 lbs.  This helps accuracy a good bit, because you are not having to pop the trigger to get it over the break.

NOTE: if you take any actions resulting in a “hair-trigger”, that could be viewed as reckless in a legal setting, like a jury trial.

Attention to ammo choice and some other features of your gun can make a big difference in baseline accuracy.  Don’t forget to practice!


Getting Results at the Range

I have taught hundreds of people how to shoot a pistol, and thousands have gotten their Concealed Handgun License under me. Many of those people were very good shooters, but many of them, possibly a majority, would have difficulty defending themselves in a crisis. Why is that?

Many people make the mistake of thinking of shooting a handgun as an activity that is learned once (driving a car, painting a wall), instead of a skill that depreciates (playing a musical instrument, surgery, golf). Shooting well requires practice, focus, and attention to detail. It has a short shelf-life. If one is going to develop those skills, one should get a membership at a local gun range, and go often. Every two weeks is good; every week is better, at least for a few months.

Now that that is settled, and the motivation is set, how do we get results in our range trips? If you have never had private instruction, do that first, so you know what to work on. It is well worth the modest cost. Next, start building a library of targets. While local ranges will have a few for sale, there is not enough variety, and they are marked up 200-300%. Get these online. When you buy 25 of each, the cost comes down dramatically. I buy targets from two sources:



Here are some targets I like to use, with comments:

6 or 7 inch circles, for precision shooting. Use this at 3-5 yards, slow fire. Develop focus and consistency.
The same usage. These are a little larger, colored, with an aiming point, so these can be used at a little more distance. Also switch between targets during the same string of fire.
This NRA B-8 target is used at all distances out to 25 yards. At 10 yards or less, rapid fire can be tested. Don’t stay too long in the aiming position.
This QIT target is used by the FBI and other Federal agencies for training. There are no scoring zones, but the two small boxes can represent head and body shots.
This is a competition target, commonly used by organizations like IPSC, IDPA, and others. Interior zones score higher. Used with a shot timer, these are used to develop both speed and accuracy, as one without the other might get you killed in a self defense situation.
This FBI B-27 is the type of target usually used by states for handgun license qualification. Again, interior zones score higher.

People often start with the last target above when preparing to take the Handgun License Proficiency, but that is counter-productive. In reality, for that situation, the scoring zones are so big that passing that test doesn’t prove anything. Instead, work on small targets at slow speed, working up to larger targets at faster speeds or longer distances. Remember that the most important of the fundamentals is working the trigger slowly and easily, without changing your grip strength. Always keep your goals slightly above your skill level, and you will see your confidence and skills improve.

Handguns For the Physically Challenged

Out of the hundreds of students I have taught, there have been a few I have taught for whom shooting a handgun was a challenge. Shooting is, after all, a physical endeavor, requiring a certain level of aggressiveness and stamina. One is holding in their hands a heavy metal object that contains explosions and directs the output of same downrange. In addition, there are certain actions involved that relate to the operation of that gun, like racking the slide, or loading a magazine, that require a minimum amount of strength.

Some people find those activities difficult, often because of grip strength. While many people could have these difficulties, it seems to be more of a problem for ladies, seniors, and senior ladies. Racking the slide on many semi-automatics can be very difficult, but pulling the trigger on a double-action revolver can be even worse. What to do?

A common choice is to just struggle with a gun you can’t manage. That person will almost never practice, and is unlikely to ever be able to defend themselves if the need arises. An alternative is to use a gun that you can manage, but that has significant drawbacks in a defensive situation. A typical example of this approach is to use a pistol chambered in .22LR. These could be either revolvers or semi-autos. While it is possible to kill someone with a .22, it would be mostly luck if you did so. Even if you cause a fatal wound, it is likely that he will not succumb for an hour or more, during which time he may kill you. If you could shoot him 8-10 times, that would likely make him change his plans, but revolvers and pocket-sized semi-autos just don’t carry enough ammo, especially if there are two home invaders. Pocket guns are also difficult to shoot accurately, due to the short barrel.

Beretta Bobcat (.22LR)

Imagine, if you will, a gun that is absurdly easy to load, rack, and shoot, accurate at longer distances, has ballistic penetration equal to a .380, has hardly any recoil, and holds 30 rounds in the magazine. Too good to be true? Meet the PMR-30, made by the Kel-Tec Corp. (No, I am not a dealer, don’t sell these or any other firearms, and am not compensated for this article. In fact, they don’t even know about it.)

Kel-Tec PMR-30 (.22 WMR)

The PMR-30 is a full-sized, but lightweight, semi-auto handgun chambered in a caliber that many people have never heard of, .22 WMR (Winchester Magnum Rimfire), AKA .22 Magnum. This is a .22 caliber bullet in a much longer case, with more gunpowder, which pushes that bullet out to the target at insane rifle speeds. Nevertheless, the recoil is very mild, hardly more than a .22 target pistol. Since it holds 30 rounds in the magazine, you could put 10 shots on that intruder and still have 20 left.

There is a long history of guns that fire a very small bullet very, very fast. Most handguns used for combat or law enforcement have used bullets with a diameter of approximately .35-.45 inches. In 1930, the Soviets introduced the Tokarev pistol (TT-30, later TT-33), that fired a .30 inch bullet fast enough to penetrate body armor. In recent years, the .22 TCM cartridge pushes a .22 bullet to very high speeds. It should be noted that the venerable M-16 rifle also shoots a .22 caliber bullet. In all these cases, the designers have opted to trade bullet mass for velocity. After all, the speed of the bullet has more effect on stopping power than the size of the bullet.

Unlike the Tokarev, TCM, or M-16, which are very powerful center-fire cartridges, the .22 Magnum is still a rimfire cartridge. It is not as powerful as the others, but is substantially more powerful than a standard .22. In FBI ballistics tests, it has exhibited penetration of 10-11 inches, where the standard for FBI agents is 12 inches. This puts it in the same category with the .380 ACP, but with less recoil. Speed is enhanced by a longer barrel, so the PMR-30 has another advantage there, in addition to the large capacity.

This pistol is arguably a bit big for concealed carry, but would be suitable for home defense or to keep in a vehicle. It is not the perfect solution to all situations, but for people who cannot get past their intimidation by recoil, or don’t have the strength to work a revolver trigger or rack a slide, this can be a solution that, while not as good as a .45, is much, much better than throwing a rock.

Train With Your Carry Gun

As of this writing, there are just over 1,000,000 Texans who have a License to Carry (formerly Concealed Handgun License).  It is not known how many of them carry a firearm daily.  Of those that do, some of them carry a full-size handgun, like a 1911, Glock 17, or CZ 75, but most people probably carry something more concealable, especially women.  Manufacturers use different terms to describe their products, like compact, sub-compact, or micro-pistol, and everyone has a different opinion about what constitutes a “concealable” pistol, but the handguns typically in use as a carry gun can range from moderately large (Glock 19, CZ 75 Compact) to tiny (Ruger LCP .380, S&W Bodyguard .380, Beretta Bobcat .32 or .22).

As a general rule, the bigger the gun, the easier it is to handle and shoot.  The longer it is, the easier it is for accuracy at 10 yards.  According to the FBI, most self-defense happens at 5 yards or less, so even a person with limited skills can probably save their life with a small or tiny gun, right?

Doubtful.  That does not take into account the Panic Factor.  In a true emergency, due to physiological changes to the body brought on by fear, people will typically lose half of their skills.  This also happens to police officers, who typically miss their target 75% of the time.  This is not a knock on police, as their is no training that will solve that problem.  There are ways to mitigate those effects, but the best solution is to simply set a higher standard for yourself.  Police officers sometimes come to me for training, not because I know tricks that their trainers don’t know, but because they can progress faster in a 1-on-1 session than they can on a firing line with 29 other people firing.

Add to that the fact that carry guns are often not much fun to shoot.  People often get in the habit of carrying a gun they can slip in a pocket, but go to a range and practice with a Glock 40 (large 10mm bear gun) or 1911 .45.  The theory is that one can develop skills with a bigger gun, and apply those skills to a tiny gun for up close and personal events.  I don’t disagree with that, but at some point, you need to face the fact that you may need more skills with that little gun than you possess.  Can you draw from concealment and hit the Bad Guy with one shot at 10 yards, in 3 seconds?  Without a warm-up?

My suggestion: train with your carry gun.  Go online and print out some drills, ranging from easy to quite challenging.  I like the Winchester Series of self-graded skills tests, the FBI Agent Qualification, and the 5×5 Handgun Skills Test (IDPA).  Before trying these, use the Texas LTC Proficiency.  When that is easy, do it one-handed.   Then do it with the support hand.  Some of these call for special targets, but you can find those online.  If they call for drawing from a holster, and your local range doesn’t allow that (most don’t), then start from low ready, or from the mid-stroke of the draw.

In all cases, you probably won’t do as well as you good with a bigger gun.  The point is, can you do well enough to save your life in a parking garage?  That is the goal.  Fun has nothing to do with it.

Buying and Selling Firearms

I am often asked about the details around buying or selling firearms in Texas.  While there is a lot of uncertainty among native Texans, that is even more true among among the many people who have recently moved here from out-of-state, refugees from gun-unfriendly locations like California and New York.

Buying a gun:

There is no license required, and no waiting period.  You must be 21 (18 for long guns), have a TX driver’s license, and be able to pass a background check (Google that for details).  The process takes about 20 minutes, less if you already possess a TX License to Carry.  You can often get even better deals buying through an online retailer.  In that case, you have to have it shipped to a local gun dealer (FFL) for pick-up.  They will run the background check, and charge you a small fee.  Of course, you don’t get to handle the gun first, so know what you want before going this route.  Gun shows are a good way to handle a lot of guns in a low-pressure situation.  While their prices are not necessarily lower, they will often bargain near the end of the show, as they don’t want to pack them all up again.  Wherever you pick it up, it is legal to transport it to your vehicle, and in your vehicle.  Just keep it out of sight.  In your home, it does not have to be unloaded or locked up, except that you must ensure that children under 17 cannot get to it.  Get proper training before doing anything at all with a new gun.

Selling a gun:

In Texas, there is no gun registration, so selling a gun does not involve paperwork, fees, or background checks, as long as the sale is local, face-to-face, and between individuals.  The buyer must have a TX driver’s license, and be at least 21 (18 for long guns), or you could be in legal jeopardy.  I recommend you fill out a Firearm Bill of Sale for your protection (2 copies),  and complete the sale in a public place, like inside a gun range.  Many police depts have a designated area for private transactions.

People often find out that their first gun was not the best choice, so after awhile, they will buy another (with advice), and sell the first one.  Sometimes they will do that again, as their interests change (fun, home defense, carry).  A carry gun is seldom fun to shoot, and a home defense gun is seldom practical for carry.  You are allowed to have more than one, and a surprising number of people have more than 5.  Or 10.  Have fun with this.