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.

Thoughts about the .380

Ah, the ubiquitous .380!  They seem to be everywhere.  The firearms industry is seeing enormous growth with this little pocket gun.  That growth is driven, in large part, by the ever-increasing numbers of people, especially women, getting a Concealed Carry license, and wanting a small, light, easy-to-conceal firearm for personal protection.  But is the .380 really a good choice?

In the 1950s, most police in Europe carried sidearms chambered in either .32 Cal (AKA 7.65 Browning) or its big brother, the .380 ACP (AKA 9mm Short, 9mm Browning, and others).  As the name implies, the .380 was a scaled-down 9mm.  The diameter of the bullet is the same, but the cartridge is shorter, which means less gunpowder, less muzzle velocity, and less energy transfer to the target.  Police would not consider carrying a gun like this today, but 60 years ago, men weighed 160 lbs, and were seldom in the psychotic condition caused by today’s drugs.

Fast forward to today.  Clearly the .380 will cause fatal wounds, as they are often carried by street criminals and drug dealers.  There is considerable debate about whether the .380 will stop someone quickly enough, but good shot placement will mitigate that.  A bigger question is whether someone who is not an expert can handle one of these well enough to protect themselves in a crisis?  Both handling and accuracy are issues with smaller guns.

Handguns are built in various sizes, or form factors, often described by names like Duty, Compact, or Subcompact (Micro).  Sizing is usually relative to the caliber, but you can find exceptions.  Most people understand that a Micro .45 will require strength and experience to handle, while a Duty-sized .380 doesn’t make much sense.  Nevertheless, most people who carry a .380 do so either because they are pocket-sized, they should have less recoil, or both.  But do they have less recoil?

Larger/heavier guns exhibit less felt recoil than smaller/lighter guns.  In the image above, all the guns on the top row have polymer frames, while the two on the bottom are all steel.  The S&W .380 and the SIG are similar in size, and the same caliber, but the SIG, being heavier, will appear to be softer shooting.  The Glock and the S&W Shield are similar in size, and both polymer, but the Shield is 9mm, so it will seem to have more recoil.  The Glock and the CZ have the greatest disparity; the CZ has an advantage in both size and weight, and the Glock, for reasons known only to Glock, will only shoot reliably the lightest of bullets, which minimizes stopping power.

The easiest of these five to conceal are the S&W .380 and the SIG.  The easiest to control are probably the Glock and the CZ.  The most stopping power is the Shield.  The fact is, there is an inescapable trade-off between concealability and usability, based simply on physics.

There is yet another factor to consider here.  The cycling action in a semi-automatic is driven by the rearward force of the cartridge firing.  In a .45, this force is so powerful that hardly anything can stop it, but with a .380, the performance margins are much thinner.  Depending on the make, these guns will sometimes be susceptible to variables like bullet profile, bullet weight, good grip, or lubrication.  “Limp-wristing” malfunctions are not uncommon, and sometimes hard to avoid, based on the size of the grip.

Users often think that a smaller gun is just like a larger gun, except smaller, and that is a huge over-simplification.  Many experienced shooters consider the .380 to be not a serious gun.

This should not be taken to suggest that a .380 is not reliable, but rather to suggest that a user should opt for the largest gun they can conceal (which is not always important, anyway), or the smallest gun with which they will actually practice.  Several companies make a small 9mm which is almost as small as a medium-sized .380, so in that case, there is no benefit to using the .380, unless you absolutely have to have a gun you can fit into a shirt pocket.

If it is small size and high reliability you seek, don’t overlook the 5-shot .38 revolver (I prefer those with a hammer).  The learning curve is a little longer, but they are very safe to carry, as powerful as a 9mm, and, if you pay close attention when loading, they are off the charts in reliability.  While it is true they only carry 5 rounds, most pocket .380s only carry 6-7.  If you are going to be limited to 5-6 shots, they should be as hard-hitting as possible, in order to disable the threat.  The revolver also eliminates the grip-strength problem faced by many women.

When choosing a handgun for personal protection, don’t go overboard making it easy on yourself.


Understanding the Handgun Manual of Arms

I have written before about action types and trigger types, but now we need to discuss the Manual of Arms.  This refers to the actual operation of a gun, sometimes called “running the gun”.  While this relates mostly to someone who carries a gun on their person, it also applies to someone who stores a gun at home.  More than one person has retrieved a gun in an emergency, only to discover that it was not immediately dischargeable, and they weren’t sure how to recover.  There are two questions, the answers to which will vary depending on the type of gun:

  1.  in what condition should this gun be carried (or stored)?
  2.  what steps are necessary to make it dischargeable?

I will start with the simplest type, and move toward the more complex.

Revolver.  Most are double-action (DA), which means they can be fired cocked (single-action) or uncocked (double-action).  It is a common convention to only fire them in DA mode, and they must never be carried or stored in single-action.  Some revolvers are double-action only (DAO).  There is no safety, so running the gun simply means point and shoot.

Revolver (SAO).  It would be uncommon for someone to have a single action revolver (which can only be fired when cocked), and not know this, as these are typically used for competition, but these guns should never be carried with a round under the hammer.

Semi-automatic (striker-fired).  These guns do not have an external hammer, and often do not have a safety.  They should be carried with a round in the chamber, and safety off.  On presentation, take off the safety (if on) and press the trigger.  In a crisis, if you forget the safety, or cannot take it off in less than 1 second, you are in trouble.

Semi-automatic (hammer-fired, SAO).  Many hammer-fired guns are single-action only.  When you rack the slide to charge the chamber, the hammer is cocked, and the gun will not fire if it is decocked.  These are carried “cocked-and-locked” (safety on).  On presentation, take off the safety and press the trigger.  Another option is to not have a round in the chamber (only advisable at home).  Yet another option is to rack the slide and manually decock the hammer (this is dangerous).  On presentation, cock the hammer with your thumb.

Semi-automatic (hammer-fired, DA, with safety and no decocker).  Same as above, except that, when decocked, it is not necessary to cock the hammer.  The trigger will do that.  On presentation, (if safety on), take off the safety and press the trigger.  If decocked, just press the trigger.  It cannot be decocked with the safety on.  **

Semi-automatic (hammer-fired, DA, with decocker and no safety).  Same as above, except there is no safety.  After racking the slide, you must carry the gun decocked.  On presentation, just press the trigger.  **

Semi-automatic (hammer-fired, DA, with both safety and decocker).  Some Beretta models have this odd combination.  After racking the slide, when you put on the safety, it automatically decocks the hammer.  On presentation, you must take off the safety first.  **

**  When firing a decocked, double-action gun, the first pull of the trigger is long and relatively heavy, by design.  Since the gun always resets itself on firing to single-action (cocked), all subsequent pulls will be short and easy.  It takes some training to get used to this, and many people will prematurely discharge the second round.  It is due to this training issue that most police departments use striker-fired guns, where every trigger pull is the same.

It is important that you train around the proper operation of your gun so that you don’t fumble in a crisis.  A drill I recommend is loading your gun, and putting it in the condition you would carry it (safety on, decocked, etc.).  Place it on a bench (on in a holster, if that is allowed), and put a silhouette target at 3 yards distance (later, at 5 yards).  Track the time it takes to retrieve the gun, make it dischargeable, and put two good shots in center mass.  The goal is three seconds.  Repeat as necessary.

Ammo Properties

All types of ammunition share certain properties which can be important to the user, and these are described below.

Primer Type:
While there are several distinctions that can be made here, most of them are only important to reloaders. For others, the only ones that matter are rimfire vs. centerfire, which describes in which part of the cartridge base is the primer installed.  All normal self-defense calibers (pistol and rifle) are centerfire. Only .22 and smaller are rimfire.  Do not dry-fire any rimfire firearm, unless the manufacturer says it is alright to do so.  Very few do.

This refers to the amount of gunpowder in the cartridge, which varies by caliber.  A standard loading has no designation.  If marked +P, the cartridge is overloaded to the first level, which is a somewhat “hotter” firing cartridge.  If marked +P+, that has even more gunpowder, and is hotter still.  Most modern firearms can handle +P without damaging the gun, but they should only be used in defensive ammo, not practice ammo.  The .380 ACP is not rated for +P.  Check your owner’s manual for advisability of using +P.

Bullet Type:
The choice is between expanding bullets (hollow-point, or HP), or non-expanding bullets, variously referred to as full metal jacket (FMJ), total metal jacket (TMJ), wad-cutters, round nose, flat nose, and other marketing terms.  Hollow-points will expand dramatically during flight, or when hitting a solid surface, and the others will not.  Hollow-points will minimize the possibility of over-penetration and danger to the public, and create a bigger wound channel, which maximizes stopping power.  Hollow-points should always be used for self-defense purposes.

Bullet Weight:
This refers to the weight of the bullet, not the cartridge, and is expressed in grains.  One grain is 1/7000 lb.  A heavier bullet will hit the subject harder (more energy transfer), but will also generate slightly more recoil.  For smaller calibers, that difference is negligible, but for .40, .45, or most revolvers, that could be a consideration, in terms of handling that gun.  If accuracy inside 10 yards is not an issue, a heavier bullet maximizes stopping power (except for .40 S&W).  Typical bullet weights are shown below:

.22 rimfire         40 gr
.380 ACP            85, 90, 95, 100
9mm Luger       115, 147
.40 S&W             165, 180
.45 ACP              185, 200, 220, 230
.38 Special         125, 158
.357 Magnum    125, 158

Trigger Types


In a similar manner to revolvers, modern semi-automatic pistols can be divided into three categories by the manner in which their triggers operate.

1. Single-action (SA)
This system offers the same short, crisp trigger pull for each shot. In order to fire the first shot quickly, single-action pistols must be carried with a round in the chamber, the hammer cocked and the manual safety engaged (the so-called “cocked and locked” condition). Although not comfortable for all shooters, this is currently being taught in most schools as a safe mode of carry. Nearly all single-action pistols are equipped with an exposed hammer.

2. Double-action/single-action (DA/SA)
In this type of fire-control mechanism, the first shot is fired in a double-action mode using a long, heavy trigger pull to cock and release the hammer. Subsequent shots are fired in a single-action mode. This system allows the pistol to be carried safely with a round in the chamber and the hammer lowered, while still allowing a rapid first shot. However, the different modes of trigger operation involve different grip positions, thus consistent accuracy is difficult to maintain. Most double-action pistols have an exposed hammer and a decocking lever that provides a fast, easy and secure system to lower the hammer on a loaded chamber.

3. Double-action-only (DAO)
The double-action-only trigger system is preferred by many law enforcement agencies as it is felt to be safer and “defensive” in nature. However, the long, heavy trigger pull of most DAO systems is not conducive to accuracy. This led pistol manufacturers to devise various ways of reducing the DAO trigger pull without sacrificing the inherent safety and perceived defensive nature of the system.

Such systems are now common and essentially operate by partially pre-cocking the striker to reduce the heavy double-action trigger pull and reducing trigger travel.

Most DAO pistols are hammerless with a striker firing pin system.


Instruction, Fundamentals, Equipment, Practice

Let’s assume you learned (or are learning) to shoot a pistol for purposes of self defense (that is the usual reason).  The problem for most people is that they are unlikely to ever have to prove themselves; statistically, the odds are against them (you) being a victim of a violent crime.  Therefore, they only try to gain a basic skill level.  After all, how much time would you devote to learn parachuting, if you never flew in a plane?  Unfortunately, due to fear, adrenaline, blood pressure, and other factors, most people in a crisis will lose half their gun-handling skills, and end up being a victim anyway.

The secret is to over-train, to the point that many of those skills become second nature.  Many casual gun owners only go to a range 2-6 times a year, and shoot 50-100 rounds each time.  Competitive shooters, on the other hand, shoot thousands of rounds per week.  How can we achieve a reasonable skill level without spending $1000/month?

Make no mistake about it, there is an investment of time required.  Most gun ranges sell memberships that, like gyms, assume you will not use it enough, so they can oversell their facilities.  If you buy a membership that allows you to shoot free, then go to the range twice a month, you will probably come out ahead.  If you’re not shooting at least twice a month for the first year, you’re not really serious.  Do you work out twice a month and expect to lose weight?

Now that you have a routine, let’s look at four areas that require your attention:

INSTRUCTION.  Being self-taught is not the short-cut, but having a guide is.  There are many options.  You can take private lessons from an instructor, you can buy very good DVD programs on various aspects of shooting and self-defense, and you can also find many free tutorials and videos online.  Sometimes you get what you pay for, but all of those resources can be helpful, except the ones that don’t apply to your situation.  You probably don’t need to know what trick shooters or snipers teach.  In most cases, if you pay for any type of instruction, you will probably get your moneys worth.

FUNDAMENTALS.  Safety rules, Stance, Grip, Aiming, Breathing, Working the trigger, Follow-through.  Those never change.  Research each one, and read everything you can find about them.  Allow for slight differences from people with different types of backgrounds.  You will begin to see a pattern, learn some tricks that help, and some that don’t.  Practice the fundamentals as if your life depended on them.  Read that again.

EQUIPMENT.  When I started collecting Cold War period weapons, I read some advice: “You will make mistakes. Accept it and move on.”  The same is true here.  The gun you own is likely not the one best suited to you, your hand, or your plans.  Borrow or rent other guns to try out.  When you find one you like better, buy it, and sell the old one (or not).  If your goal is concealed carry, you will likely find out that you can develop your skills better and faster with either a duty-size gun or a 1911 style.  Then transfer those skills to the smaller gun.  Longer barrels are better than shorter ones; heavier guns are frequently better than lighter ones.  If the sights are not optimal for you (age is a factor), replace them with fiber optic or other styles.

PRACTICE.  Optimize your practice sessions by having a goal each time.  It could be slow, pinpoint accuracy at 3 yards, hitting an 8-inch target at 15 yards, timed fire at a silhouette at 10 yards, one-handed shooting, timed rapid fire with a reload, etc.  There are thousands of excellent drills available online.  Pick some that are within your skill set, and some that are just beyond your skill set.  A stopwatch or timer will put pressure on you that will show up weaknesses.

Remember the tortoise and the hare: slow and steady wins the race.


Breaking in that new pistol

Few things are as disconcerting as discovering that your new semi-automatic has a jam, misfeed, or stove-pipe 2 out of every 10 shots.  AARRGGHH!!

However, don’t despair yet.  If it is a very inexpensive gun, well, you get what you pay for.  Bargain guns may have loose tolerances, short-cuts in the casting or milling processes, or other issues that cause this, but read on.  In many cases the rest of this article can resolve those problems.

While some manufacturers seem to not have this problem, others do, at any price point, and will usually warn you about the need to break in the gun.  Kahr is a well-respected gun maker, but the owner’s manual clearly states that the gun cannot be considered reliable until you have shot 400 rounds through it.  The issue is metal-against-metal friction, such as the rails and grooves on the slide and frame.  Even when the metal looks smooth and machined, at a microscopic level, it is not.  Those surfaces have to be worked down (polished) slightly, preferably by the matching piece of metal against which it runs.  That process is called lapping, and is common in many industrial applications.  Breaking in a pistol, then, is  simply running the reciprocating action (the slide) enough times to polish those mating surfaces.  Most people do that by firing the gun.  A cheaper way is to rack the slide 200-300 times.  That can be made easier by removing the recoil spring.  It will be more effective if you don’t lubricate the slide.

By the way, this is not a problem for revolvers, as they do not have any rapidly reciprocating mechanisms.

I have had several semi-autos, made by CZ, Smith & Wesson, Walther, and Dan Wesson, that worked flawlessly right out of the box, but some perfectly fine guns have needed that break-in period.  I bought a Ruger recently that would not fire 3 shots in a row without a malfunction, until I got to about 300 rounds.  After that, it worked fine.  It still will not consistently feed and extract Federal brand ammo, but 5 other brands work fine.  That is not a break-in issue, but ammo sensitivity.

The reasons are complicated, and not easily understood, but some guns will not consistently handle certain brands of ammo.  The design and angle of the feed ramp, the slope and contour of the bullet nose, and sometimes issues related to the width and shape of the cartridge rim can all contribute to this.  The short answer is, if your gun won’t work right with a certain brand of ammo, don’t buy that brand.

If no brand of ammo will work at least 99% of the time with a gun, contact the manufacturer.  Most of them will make every effort to make it right, often at no charge.

When I was a kid, automobile manufacturers used to tell buyers to keep their new car under 50 mph for 500 miles, to break in the engine.  Now, they are essentially broken in at the factory.  Some semi-autos will need a break-in period, but some will not.  If yours is acting up, clean it well and lubricate it, and put mileage on it.  That will usually solve the problem.