Women and Guns

by Sandy Keathley
An interesting thing is happening; the traditional concept of shooting guns as a “man’s activity” (as in hunting) is being blown apart.  The biggest demographic for first-time gun buyers, and for people signing up for both pistol instruction and concealed carry licensing, is now women. True, women have been involved in target shooting for years, both rifle and pistol, but many of these women came from families that embraced shooting sports already, so they did not have the built-in bias against guns that seems to be ever more pervasive in our society (at least the society the media portrays).

Now, more and more new women gun owners are those who have never touched a gun, and never knew anyone who shot guns.  They are stepping into a world completely foreign to them. 

Why?  They are feeling the responsibility to take on the role of protector for themselves and their households, and leaving behind the feeling of helplessness that many people
have today. A young woman recently was asking my advice about buying a gun.  She is a single mother, and lives in an apartment with her young daughter. Twice in the last two months, a stranger has tried to get her to open her door late at night, either because “her car lights were on“, or some similar ploy.

The odds of a woman living alone, or in a female household, having a crises situation (like a burglary or home invasion) are very small, yet they happen to someone. People have fire insurance, but few people actually have a fire. A gun is just another type of insurance. As they say, a gun is like parachute: if you ever need one, and don’t have one, you’ll probably never need one again.

I have a pistol class today, all female.  In three weeks I have a CHL class, and so far, four out of seven are women. I think it is great!  The more this continues, the potential crimes are stopped.  BTW, in the majority of cases where a crime is stopped by an armed citizen, no shots are fired.  Hmmm.

Mosin-Nagant Combat Rifles

by Sandy Keathley
Today I am going to shoot one of my Communist rifles. It’s not very high-tech, but a lot of fun.

I am a Federally-licensed collector of “Curio & Relic” firearms, specializing in the Russian Mosin-Nagant rifles. These are bolt-action combat rifles, very powerful, and very durable. They were first built for the Army of the Czar in 1891, with some modifications in 1930 and 1944.After World War II, as the Russians moved to semi-automatic technology (the SKS, and then Kalashnikov rifles), they gave the machinery for build the bolt-action rifles to other members of the Communist bloc, so the last version of the Mosin rifles, the M44 Carbine, continued to be made in Poland, Romania, Hungary, and China until at least 1960. Even as late as the 1950s, the Soviets were anticipating another war in Europe, so they kept building these, at arsenals in Belorus and the Ukraine, and it is now estimated that there are upwards of 40,000,000 extant in the world. For that reason, the prices are quite moderate by collector standards, ranging from $100 for a standard 1943 91/30, up to $400 for a Finnish-captured 1916 “Peter the Great” WWI M91, or $600 for a sniper rifle with scope.

The magic allure of the Mosins is in the history and longevity of these rifles, easily the most ubiquitous battle rifle in history. They were simple, with few moving parts, almost all of which were interchangeable even across models, and could be fired and maintained even by illiterate peasant draftees. They were inexpensive to build, powerful (2700 fps), and reasonably accurate; it was not hard to kill an enemy soldier at 300 yards. Over the 7 decades+ they spread around the world, thanks in part to the Communist urge to help rebels overthrow governments. Stalin sent thousands to the rebels in the Spanish Civil War, some of which found their way to S. America; Mao made millions, and sent them to Manchuria, Korea, and Indo-China, where they helped defeat the French, and set up the coming war in Viet Nam. They were used in Viet Nam and Cambodia, and made their way to Indonesia. The Russians, meanwhile, left tens of thousands of them behind in Afghanistan when they pulled out.

While collectors think of them as obsolete, it is beyond dispute that some Mosins, retrofitted with modern scopes, are in use today by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and by the rebels in Syria. A Syrian rebel sniper was photographed by Time Magazine with his Mosin M44. The odds are extremely high that some Mosins are in use today in Iraq. Yes, they are low-tech, but reliable, and easy to obtain in large quantity.  There are still millions in storage in Russia, slowly being sold off to the collector market, and a cache of Chinese Mosins was recently discovered in a warehouse in Albania.

To make it even better, it is customary for armies and governments to stamp markings on the rifles to indicate their ownership, so these rifles may have obscure markings to indicate odd mixtures of czarist, Soviet, Finnish, Spanish, German (Nazi), or other possession. In 1916, several million were made on contract to the Czar by Remington and New England Westinghouse. Some of those were sold to Americans, and have never been to Russia, while others were used by US troops fighting in the Russian Civil War in 1918.

It’s an odd and curious history, and a fascinating detective hobby.

Firearms Safety Quiz

by Sandy Keathley
What’s the first thing you do when someone hands you a gun?

  1. Pull the trigger.
  2. Aim it out the window at the kid across the street.
  3. Safety check.


3. Safety check.

What if a friend hands it to you?
Safety check.

Your wife/husband/significant other?
Safety check.

You just saw someone check it?
Safety check.


Safety check.  This is not rocket science. Every time you lay your hands on a gun, check it. Trust no one, not even yourself. People make mistakes.  If I am going to be hurt with a gun, or hurt someone else, I want it to be on me. How would you feel if you accidentally killed someone because you took someone’s word that a gun was clear?

I was on vacation recently, at my brother’s house. He is a collector of Army Colt .45 revolvers, and he showed me those, and a few other things. As he pulled each gun out of the closet, he checked it, and handed it to me. I checked it again, although I had seen him check it just 8 seconds earlier. I saw him check it, but I didn’t see what he saw. He didn’t think I was being silly or paranoid; he is a gun guy, and he knows how it works. When it comes to guns that might be loaded, trust no one but yourself, ever.

As the politician said,

Who are you going to believe? Me, or your own lying eyes?

Index that finger

by Sandy Keathley
This is a particular pet peeve of mine. Since I am right-handed, I’ll describe it this way; you lefties can just reverse the mental image.

When I lay down a handgun, I always lay it on its left side, and always pick it up one-handed. That way, it is easy to get the right index finger into the proper position: straight out, along the frame of the gun, above the trigger guard, and below the slide (semi) or cylinder (revolver). This is the only proper and safe way to handle a pistol, and aids immeasurably in loading and racking a slide. It’s also a good habit to get into at an outdoor range, as the RSO will usually expect pistols to be laid down on the left side with the action open.

I am reminded of this because I watch television a fair amount, especially action/spy/cop programs, and there is always one to three people clearing a room, or tracking someone down a hallway. And they always have their finger properly indexed, and using good form with the grip.

Indeed they should. TV and movie directors routinely hire firearms instructors to teach the cast how to look authentic when handling a gun, and they do a good job. I watch these actors carefully, looking for the evil finger-on-the-trigger syndrome, and seldom see it.

The one thing that is questionable is the stance; they almost always use the Weaver Stance. This is not to question the Weaver; it revolutionized law enforcement for decades, and is still in use by some people, but it is not taught today as often as the Isosceles. No, the reason they use the Weaver, is the directors have consistently said that they thought it looked more authentic.

Well, it does look good. It might not be as good for defensive shooting as the Isosceles, but, after all, it is Hollywood. We should be surprised they even make movies that have guns!

This gun is too heavy

by Sandy Keathley
This is a sticky issue, and sometimes controversial. Over the last couple of decades, there has been increasing use by gun manufacturers of polymer grips and frames, or aluminum frames with polymer grips, all with the intent of making guns lighter.  This has been exacerbated by the increasing market share of concealed carry guns. Glock was one of the early forces behind this move, and others have followed suit.

Of course, the barrel and other high-stress components are still made of steel, so this should not be seen as a safety issue. However, some makers are using a process called Metal Injection Molding (MIM) (similar to metal filings mixed with epoxy) for firing pins and other small parts, and those have had, in my view, an unacceptable failure rate.

An added benefit is that it makes it cheaper to build guns this way, but from the consumer’s standpoint, the lessened weight is a big plus, especially for police and security forces, who have to carry a gun for 8 hours a day.

But is it really a plus? The force required to send the bullet downrange hasn’t changed. The weight of a gun has a dampening effect on recoil, so the downside of these lighter guns is considerably more muzzle flip, with an attending loss of accuracy.

So, a lighter gun is less accurate? No, but a lighter gun leads to more recoil, and the user’s anticipation of that recoil can lead to less accuracy. That is less of an issue for an expert shooter, but most people are not experts.

Do a side-by-side comparison of two like-sized semi-autos, one polymer-framed, and one all steel, and see the difference. One is more fun to shoot, and one is more accurate. They are probably the same.

Not convinced? Shoot a S&W 686 revolver with at least a 4 inch barrel, alongside one of those plastic snub-nosed .38s that is the size of a smart phone. Just to make it interesting, use a +P round in both. The defense rests.

I like the feel of a heavier gun, but the real point here, is that when a gun is harder to control, or hurts to shoot, a person won’t practice with it. They won’t. So if you carry a tiny concealed handgun daily, but haven’t shot it in 6 months because it is not fun to shoot, what happens if you ever have to use it? Hmmm?

Zoom into the sight

by Sandy Keathley
Sight alignment is not the fundamental most ignored by shooters (I’ll come back to that on another post), but it is close. Many shooters, even reasonably good ones, treat sight-alignment as if it were a suggestion instead of a precision requirement.  A basketball, for example, doesn’t have to go through a hoop of the exact same diameter as the ball; there is a margin for error of a few inches either way.  Otherwise, we would not see any scores like 103. Suppose you had to hit a tiny hoop like that, not from the free-throw line, but from mid-court?  Now you would begin to get it.

From 10 feet away, you can recognize the difference between a 5×8 photograph and an 8×10, but can you tell the difference between 1/4 inch and 3/8?  When aligning the sights, it is relatively easy to get the top of the post level with the rear notch, but getting the white-space on either side of the post to be exactly equal is another thing. Yet, a discrepancy of 1/16 inch translates to 6 inches or more off the mark at 10 yards.  And that doesn’t include muzzle drift caused by other factors.  And it certainly doesn’t allow for the effects of aging eyes or progressive lenses. Yikes!

The greater the distance, the more precise that alignment has to be. Hitting a B-27 target at 3 yards doesn’t require the ultra-precise alignment of hitting a 3 inch circle at 15 yards; it’s all relative.

Nevertheless, becoming ultra-accurate at 7 yards requires concentration on small shot groups at 15 yards (or 25).  As they say, “aim small, miss small“.  I think working with small targets at increasing distances leads to greater success.  When you have a gun with a laser on it, I have also found great benefit in trying to hold the laser on a spot the size of a dime while squeezing the trigger all the way to break.  It is often frustrating, but tends to increase mental focus.

Most shooters know that you should focus on the front sight, and not the target or rear sight, yet I think many people underestimate the meaning of that word “focus” in this context.  It doesn’t mean “look hard” at the front site, but rather to actually change the focal point of your vision, as if you no longer care about anything else. I think of it like a camera with a zoom feature. Focus on the front sight, but then try to zoom in on it.  The goal is to make that sight crystal clear, to the exclusion of all else.  No, that is not especially intuitive, and yes, it does make horizontal alignment more difficult, since the rear sight is now even less clear, but with practice you will learn which part of the fuzzy rear sight you need to align with. That just reinforces the value of working at shorter distances.

Zoom into the sight, and see how well you can pin-point your shots!

Open your eyes while shooting

by Sandy Keathley
Of all the things I teach people, both beginners and more experienced shooters, the one on which I get the most resistance is shooting with both eyes open. I know it’s not intuitive, and is sometimes difficult to learn, but the benefits far outweigh the learning curve.


  1. Twice the peripheral vision (important for defensive shooting)
  2. Clearer vision, as one eye left open compensates for the closed eye in a way that degrades a close focal point
  3. Tension is released in the face and neck, which transforms the entire psyche

Before trying this, you must know which is your dominant eye. For most people, it is the same as your dominant hand, but about 30% of shooters are cross-dominant (right-handed and left-eyed, or the reverse). To find out, look at an object (light switch or picture) on a wall at least 6 feet away.
Overlap your hands to make a triangle-shaped opening between the thumb webbings of the hands. Look at the object through that opening. Close one eye. Closing one will make the object disappear, while closing the other will not. Whichever eye allows you to continue to see the object through the opening is your dominant eye. If that is not the same as your dominant hand, you are cross-dominant. This is not a matter of learning; your brain is hard-wired this way. You can’t change it.

Some instructors believe that a person who is cross-dominant may have better results shooting a pistol with the non-dominant hand. I won’t debate that here. I am cross-dominant, and still shoot right-handed. However, I don’t dismiss that idea at all, and people should at least be open to it. There is certainly a compelling argument for shooting rifles from the weak side in that case.

Having come to grips (as it were) with your eye dominance, take aim with both eyes open. You should see two images of the gun. If not, your focal point is too close, or you are fighting with reality. There are no steps forward in this process until you see two images of the gun. Try again; I’ll wait.

Now that you see two images, which one do you use to aim? That’s why we did the eye test. Only one of the images will continue to point at the target when you close the non-dominant eye. That’s the one to use; learn to ignore the other. I am right-handed and left-eyed, so I aim over the right image and ignore the left one. Remember to focus hard on the front sight.

It takes practice to get used to this, but it is worth it. It is safe to say that all professional training organizations, whether local police, state troopers, or military, teach this concept. Spend some time on it, and you will see an improvement.

Leaning forward while shooting

by Sandy Keathley
Leaning forward. Choral singers are taught to stand while singing, and to lean forward slightly. Why? And what does this have to do with shooting? Actually, it has everything to do with it.

The reason, in both cases, is to energize the lower body. Leaning forward requires the leg muscles to flex slightly, so you don’t fall down. Not to get too metaphysical here, but this produces an internal energy, which flows up the trunk to the shoulders. Extending the arms, as in shooting, then directs that energy forward. Ideally, you would feel the focal point of that energy in your hands,  complemented by having the focal point of your vision on the front sight.

Sound crazy? Try sitting in a recliner and hitting a paper plate at 15 yards. When part of your body is resting, all of it is. Singers have known this for 200 years.

I nominally use an Isosceles stance, but with the left foot slightly forward, and lean forward on that. I find that gives me an improvement in mental focus, and in shot groups.

Try it.

Welcome to a blog about firearms instruction

Welcome to my blog!

I am an NRA Firearms Instructor, and generally work with beginners at shooting (mostly) pistols.  I often see less experienced shooters at the range, making common mistakes, so I think a useful feature here is a series of tips for new shooters. I will mix in my thoughts on other things pistol/rifle-related, and probably some political commentary around firearms issues. I also teach Concealed Handgun License classes, so there will be some commentary around that, as well. Stay tuned!