Texas CHL Classes

Every two years, the Texas Legislature meets to create yet more laws to govern the populace.  A variety of gun laws are included in that mix.  Since those usually take three sessions (6 years) to reach the Governor’s desk, a few emerge from the “sausage factory” in July of every odd-numbered year, and take effect either the following September or January.  The Texas Concealed Handgun License law has now been in effect for 21 years, but there have been numerous changes over that time, both to the process and to the underlying law.  I hear every week from people who have incorrect ideas about either the process or the law, based on things they were told by a friend or relative.  That is especially true lately, as there have been several major changes in the last four years.

Here are several important changes:

  • The Concealed Handgun License (CHL) has been replaced by the License To Carry (LTC).  The training and testing are essentially the same, but the new name reflects the new support for Open Carry.
  • The training requirement has changed from 10 hours to 4 hours.
  • The handgun one is certified to carry is no longer dependent on what you qualified on.
  • Open Carry of a handgun is now allowed, except where restricted by either state law or private business policy, provided the handgun is in either a belt- or shoulder-holster.
  • Private businesses may disallow concealed carry, open carry, or both, with proper signage (PC 30.06 and PC 30.07).
  • The penalty for carrying a gun in a location posted with 30.06/30.07 signage has been reduced from a Class A Misdemeanor to a Class C.
  • Churches are no longer automatically off limits, unless specifically posted.
  • Persons caught with a gun in the security screening area of an airport are no longer automatically detained, but are given one chance to leave without argument.
  • Citizens now have the right to report to the Attorney-General any tax-supported facility (other than schools) which improperly post notices under PC 30.06/30.07.  These are typically city/county offices and city halls.
  • Starting in August, 2016, all public 4-year colleges in Texas have to allow Concealed Carry in almost all areas of the campus (private colleges are exempt).

There are dozens of new gun laws in the pipeline, including such proposals as Constitutional Carry, arming poll workers, lowering the fees, and allowing .22 pistols for qualification.  Those that survive the committee process will make it into law over the next few years.

Stay tuned.

Dry-firing for muzzle control

Some difficulty encountered by a student recently reminded me how easy it is to overlook the simple things.  Dry-firing is one of those (NOTE: do not do this on a rimfire [.22] firearm unless the manufacturer approves it).

Dry-firing is simply

  1. Verifying the gun is unloaded
  2. Putting it in condition to fire (cocking or racking)
  3. With the proper stance and grip, aiming at a spot on the wall, and squeezing the trigger

The goal is to go from the beginning of pressure on the trigger to the break with absolutely no movement of any part of the gun, especially the muzzle, like you are a statue.  To make it even better, draw a circle the size of a nickle on a sticky note, stick that on the wall, and stand with the muzzle only 6 inches away from the wall.  It should be very easy to tell if there is movement.

After firing, cock or rack as necessary, and repeat.  There are four important tricks to help you do this with no movement:

  1. Identify the amount of take-up (slack) in your trigger; pull back to that point of resistance before starting the mental process of the trigger squeeze, otherwise you will hit a bump.
  2. Take enough time in the trigger squeeze.  For new shooters, there should be at least 1 1/2 seconds between start of pressure and break.  It should be gradual and deliberate.
  3. Consider which part of your finger in pulling the trigger.  If it is either the pad or the joint, you may be exerting lateral force on the trigger that causes the gun to move. Find that spot in the middle where those lateral forces cancel out. 
  4. After the break, continue pulling until the trigger touches the frame.

For striker-fired guns that have to be racked every time, sometimes you can just remove the magazine to make that process easier (if you don’t have a magazine disconnect safety).  You can also use Snap Caps (dummy cartridges) so the action works normally.

Do this exercise 10 times, rest for a minute, and another 10 times, every day for 30 days.  You will be amazed with the results.

Why carry a gun?

There is a long, winding forested area in Dallas called the “Katy Trail”, popular with hikers and joggers.  Recently, there have been several armed robberies of joggers there, so a number of people (with the appropriate licenses) have started carrying handguns on the trail.  Since open carry will be legal in Texas in about 6 weeks, some guns rights activists have started walking the trail with rifles (which is legal now), to promote to people that having a visible handgun will make it very unlikely that a robber will even approach you.

In relation to this story, a TV news crew interviewed a woman on the trail.  Her reaction was,

“Why would you carry a gun? What are you so afraid of, that you have to carry a gun with you?”

She was both perplexed, and clueless.  People don’t carry a gun because they are afraid, but because they are responsible.  Times have changed; it is not 1950 anymore, when this proposal would have been absurdly paranoid.  In these times, everyone who is legally allowed, physically capable, and psychologically prepared, should carry a gun everywhere it is allowed.  Both government and the private sector should get rid of “gun free zones”, as there is no substantive evidence that trained and licensed carriers are a danger to the public.

Consider it as insurance.  I have had fire insurance for over 30 years, but have never had a fire.  Most people will never have a house fire, but they have insurance (even when not required), because, if the unthinkable happens, the personal cost is unimaginable and catastrophic.  I have also never been a victim of a violent crime, but I owe it to myself and to my family to have a “Plan B” in that event. I am not going to be herded into a back room and shot like a dog.

Recent events in Paris should put a fine point on this issue.

Small Guns vs Large Guns

I am constantly getting in debates with people about, or reading forum postings about, “This gun is better than that gun, or more accurate”, etc.  It is the same as Ford vs Chevy trucks, iPhone vs Android, and all those other things.  At least, most of those debates are comparing apples to apples (skip the iPhone reference).  If you compare a Ford truck to a Smart car on the basis of cargo room,  now you’re getting delusional.

So it is with handguns.  Some are purposely made small enough to conceal (hereinafter called “small guns”), while others (“large guns”) are made with no such intention. Large guns include 1911s, “duty guns”, 6-inch revolvers, and other such guns.  Small guns include most .380s, a plethora of small 9mms (S&W Shield, Kel-Tec pf9), and even some small .40 and .45 pistols (S&W, Kimber).  Since concealed carry guns are a booming market, there are more and more of these on the market.  While some are more expensive or higher quality than others, they all share one common characteristic: they are small!

Which brings us back to the debate.  Comparing small guns to large guns is not apples to apples.  The purpose is different, so the process of shooting them is different.  Small guns are not inherently less accurate than large guns, but the shorter sight-radius makes it more difficult for the shooter to be accurate.  Small guns often have harder triggers to work (or a longer pull), not as a flaw, but as a safety feature.  They have less capacity (are you going to try to conceal a gun with an 18-round magazine?).  Small guns are less fun to shoot.  If you don’t believe that, try shooting .357 Magnum from a snub-nosed revolver.

Larger guns, like 1911s and duty guns, are great for target shooting and combat. They balance recoil nicely, often have finely tuned triggers, and are very accurate at 25 yards or more.  They are fun and rewarding to shoot.  Small guns have little role in that world; they are for one purpose only: to save your life in that crisis that may never come.

In a crisis shooting event, the FBI has found that police officers only hit their target 25% of the time, due to stress, adrenaline, and blood pressure changes.  If you chose your concealed carry gun because you could hear the click of the trigger reset, think again.  If you did not buy a certain gun because the trigger felt gritty, think again.  None of those things will matter.  Here’s what matters: 

  1. you can conceal it
  2. you feel it is safe to carry it with a round in the chamber
  3. it will cycle and fire every single time (good brand)

Even if the trigger feels gritty, when your life is on the line, you will get it pulled.  Practice with it enough that you are experienced in pulling and shooting, then buy a larger gun for fun.

.22 Pistols

Today let’s talk about the lowly .22 pistol.  I say “lowly” only because no one considers this a suitable caliber for self-defense.  However, don’t forget the first rule of gunfights, attributed to Col Jeff Cooper: bring a gun.  A .22 is always better than nothing, but just barely.  Yes, a .22 will kill a person, but usually only if you hit them in the head, neck, or femoral artery.  Hitting other places may do the job, but not quickly enough to save your life.  That said, if the pistol holds 10-15 rounds, I would be willing to stipulate that 8 or more fast shots on center mass is very likely to change the dynamic in the case of a home invasion, with only one or two assailants.

However, if a .22 pistol is small enough to carry concealed, it won’t have enough ammo to help you much, and accuracy will be difficult (see Rule 1).  If all you can carry is a pocket gun, then get a .380.  Many people also consider the .380 to not have enough stopping power, but it is almost as powerful as a 9mm, and will clearly stop an attack if you have good shot placement, especially if loaded with +P ammo.  Yes, I know +P can wear out a .380 over time, but it won’t hurt to use it for self-defense; just don’t practice much with it.

So, for this discussion we’ve mostly eliminated the .22 from concealed carry (see Rule 1).  That leaves us with bigger guns, which are mostly target pistols. Competition target shooters will often spend big bucks on these, over $1000 for models from Walther, Hammerli, or Smith & Wesson, but there are some very nice models available for $300-500.  Two of the best known are the High Standard Sport King and the Browning Buck Mark, but I am going to write about two that I own: the Ruger Mark III 22/45, and the Colt 1911 (22).  Both are fairly heavy, have large capacity, and have long barrels; accuracy is quite good, and recoil almost non-existent.  Keep in mind that the kind of accuracy inherent with guns like these means hitting a 4 inch circle at 25 yards;  even a fairly new shooter could hit a person 10 times in a row at 7 yards.



Ruger Mark III 22/45
This is the newest version of a gun first produced in 1949, that popularized the .22 pistol.  The standard Mark III has a 60 degree grip angle, like a Luger, while the 22/45 version has a 75 degree grip angle, like a 1911.  They come with a fully adjustable rear sight, and threaded mounting holes for a rail (also included) for mounting a scope or red dot.  There are also many available accessories, like fiber optic front sights, competition triggers, springs, grips, etc.  You must get a speed-loader for it, as the magazines are difficult to load by hand.  Cleaning the gun is also difficult, as the break down process is complicated and frustrating.  Still, this is one of the most accurate and popular guns on the market, in its class.


Colt 1911
This is not actually made by Colt, but by Walther in Germany, under license to Colt.  It is, however, absolutely identical to a Colt .45 1911, including the weight.  Many parts, like grips and springs, are interchangeable with real 1911 pistols.  It is a finely engineered handgun, equal in most ways to the Ruger, and better in some.  Disassembly and cleaning are very easy, and accuracy is very slightly better.  Walther makes two models of this gun: the Government Model (the more tradional M1A military style), and the Gold Cup (which has adjustable rear sights).  This model does come with a speed-loader.  I have the Government Model, but wish I had spent a little more for the Gold Cup, for the adjustable sights.  However, I am not unhappy at all with mine.  It is fun to shoot, and cycles the finicky .22 rounds perfectly.

There are other benefits to shooting a .22 target pistol:

  1. Ammo is quite cheap, about 12-15 cents/round.  A few months ago it was hard to find, but the supply has recently caught up to demand. Don’t buy the cheapest you can find, or subsonic, or high velocity (except for defensive purposes).  There is a substantial difference in accuracy between brands.  My favorites are Norma Target and CCI Standard Velocity.
  2. They are very easy to shoot, so shooters can concentrate on technique without the fear of recoil getting in the way.  Many people actually have .22 conversion kits on high powered pistols and rifles, for inexpensive training.
  3. Some people simply have a fear of guns that keeps them from trying to shoot, and would paralyze them in a crisis.  The .22 solves that.  It shoots like a BB gun.

In a perfect world, I would love to start all beginners on a .22 target pistol for a few weeks, then step up to a bigger caliber, but that is not practical.  It is a great way for people to get started with shooting, so if you have room in your budget for two or more guns, consider starting with a good .22 target pistol.

Don’t forget Rule 1.

Ballistics 101

The average defensive handgun user doesn’t spend much time reading about ballistics; it can be an arcane science, full of numbers, distances, and formulae.  It is, however, an important topic, and one that can save your life.

Any caliber of gun will kill, even a .22 if you hit the right spot.  That is not as important in defensive gun use as, will it stop the threat quickly?  Some years ago, a police officer was attacked by a felon with a large knife.  The cop shot him 6 times with a .38 Special.  The felon died, but lived long enough to get to the cop, and kill him.

The issue at hand here is not killing power, but stopping power.  That is a difficult metric to measure, but can be best expressed as energy transfer.

energy = mass x velocity

That is, given a constant speed, a larger (heavier) bullet creates more force, and greater stopping power, than a lighter bullet.  The problem is, heavier bullets require more powder to achieve the same speed (ignoring for the moment that hollow-points have greater wind resistance).  In fact, larger calibers do tend to use more powder to offset the greater weight, but there is a ceiling beyond which manufacturers cannot go and stay within established safety limits.

A lighter bullet traveling very fast can generate the same energy transfer as a heavier bullet going somewhat slower, but efficiency tapers off at both ends, creating what scientists call a “bell curve”.  From a practical standpoint, this is complicated by the fact that larger caliber guns make rapid shooting more difficult, due to recoil affecting sight picture acquisition.  For that reason, the FBI stopped using 10mm handguns (which will kill a bear), and went back to the .45, and sometimes the .40.  Many police agencies have moved from the .45 all the way back to the 9mm.  Even though the 9mm generates less energy, follow-up shots are quicker and more accurate, and the guns typically carry more ammo, as much as 18 rounds.  No one is going to still be a threat after taking 10-18 bullets.  Recent ballistic tests have shown that 9mm +P ammo generates more energy than a .40 caliber. [+P are hotter factory loads]

The lesson there is, either carry bigger bullets, or more of them.

Much of the above, however, relates to full-size service pistols and home defense guns.  The person carrying a concealed weapon has to make allowance for the fact that most easily concealable guns will be smaller, lighter, or both.  That affects the ability to make rapid follow-up shots, similar to the 10mm problem, but on a smaller scale.  If that is not clear, try shooting a polymer snub-nosed .357 Magnum revolver.

A small .45 probably puts many people at a disadvantage, considering weight vs recoil.  Add 3 points for the greater energy of the bullets,  but subtract 1 point for the smaller round count.  An experienced, skilled shooter could make that work to his advantage, but for many average gun owners, a good compromise would be a 9mm carrying at least 9 rounds of +P hollow-points.

Don’t overlook another devastating option: an all steel snub-nosed or 4 inch revolver loaded with .357 Magnum.  That will definitely make someone change their career plans!

Practice the Fundamentals, the Right Ones

Marksmanship, like any other skill, requires practice, but especially the right kind of practice.  You can throw a football with two hands, but the result won’t be great.  One-handed is the preferred way, but depending on the skill, best practices are not always intuitive.

In pistol shooting, there is a standard set of fundamentals: stance, grip, aiming, breath control, trigger control, and follow-through.  Many shooters are self-taught, so they may not be aware of all of these, or may think some of them are not important.  In fact, many shooters will achieve a reasonable skill level without paying attention to some of these, like stance or follow-through, which seems to reinforce the idea that they are just concept names.  The fact is, they are all important, but with varying weights.

If you have a mutual fund, your money is invested in different stocks, but with exposure based on risk. More money is invested in stocks with low risk, and less in those with higher risk.  They are all important, but have different roles in your portfolio.

And so it is with shooting.  All the fundamentals are important, but some are of maximum importance.  As a pistol instructor, I often see students fall short in their goals/expectations, and nearly always for one (or both) of two reasons:  aiming, and trigger control.

  • Aiming.  I have caught students looking over the barrel of the gun, and not through the sights. No good.  Sometimes the front and rear sights are not aligned properly (horizontally and vertically).  Also no good, although sometimes that will seem to work at a very close distance.  The biggest issue, probably, is focusing the vision (the focal point) on the target instead of the front sight.  That is not intuitive to most new shooters, and again, will often work at a close distance.  I have seen shooters hit center mass at 3 yards, yet be unable to hit anywhere on the paper at 7 yards, just because of that.
  • Trigger Control.  This is probably the most common problem I see: jerking the trigger.  Most newer shooters don’t understand how critical it is for the muzzle to not move at all as the trigger is moved to the rear.  For safety reasons, most guns don’t have a hair trigger; a certain amount of force is required to overcome the trigger spring, and to disengage the sear so the gun will fire.  If you are too ham-fisted with that, the muzzle will be pulled off target, and even a hair’s-width will make a big difference.  I tell students to take up the slack (take-up) in the trigger, and squeeeeeze slowly (1.5 sec) until the gun fires, and don’t anticipate or react to recoil.  Torque on the trigger must be evenly balanced, left and right.  With experience, that 1.5 sec can come down to 1 sec or less, but it will never be 1/10 sec.  Get over it; this is not the movies.

Make those two fundamentals the centerpiece of your practice regimen, then polish with the other four, and you will see good results.

The Self-Defense Mindset

The author Robert Heinlein famously said, “An armed society is a polite society”. If you think that is not true, just go to a gun show. Those folks are NOT armed in that building, yet most of them carry a gun every day, everywhere else. The Constitution has given us the right to be armed for self defense, and the State of Texas has wisely extended that right for trained and vetted citizens to be licensed to carry a concealed weapon.

Do you have a license to carry (CHL)?  More to the point, if you do, do you actually carry a gun every day, or just when going somewhere dangerous? (NOTE: going someplace dangerous is asking for trouble, anyway.) Besides, criminals might expect a citizen to be carrying a gun in a dangerous place; they will cause trouble in “safe” places.

A number of recent events have driven home the wisdom of the saying, “carry every day or guess right”.

June 21. Two men leaving a Japanese restaurant in North Dallas are acosted by two armed robbers. One of the victims produces a gun and kills one robber; the other flees.

June 21. Three men stage a “push-in” robbery of an apartment in Dallas. After a gunfight, one robber is wounded and arrested; two others flee; the head of the victim family is killed. If he had not fought back, do you think the outcome would have been better? Read on.

June 10. An armed robber robs a convenience store in The Colony, a suburb of Dallas. The owner, alone in the store, gives him the money and offers no resistance. He kills her just for fun.

June 17. A white visitor to a Bible study class at a black church in Charleston, SC, opens fire, killing 9 people.

Sep 26, 2014. A female employee of a small food processing plant in Moore, OK, a suburb of Oklahoma City, is beheaded by a recently fired worker. He is shot by another employee.

None of these locations would be judged “dangerous”, yet all of theme were. Could all of these had better outcomes with more armed citizens on the scene? Not necessarily. Not everyone is physically or emotionally capable of carrying or discharging a firearm, but many are.

The most tragic of these events, because it was so avoidable, is the church shooting in Charleston. Avoidable, because churches in SC, by state law, are “gun-free zones”. There is a provision for churches to opt out of that, but as of this date, there has been no information to suggest that the church did that. Our experience in Texas has been that businesses that must take an affirmative action to allow guns seldom do. The number of people in that Bible study was small enough that there still might not have been a gun there, anyway, but if there had been, we would be talking about one or two dead instead of nine.

John Lott, the economist and data-geek, has demonstrated that since 1950, the overwhelming majority of mass shootings have occurred in gun-free zones.  James Holmes, the theater shooter in Colorado, avoided one theater because it was not a gun-free zone, and chose another one further away because it was.

When will we ever get this right?  And when will you start carrying daily?

Shooting Multiple Pistols for Improvement in All

There is a popular belief across many segments of society that you should specialize in one thing, and do that thing well.  That is why pediatricians don’t do spinal surgery, and plumbers don’t build sun rooms.  At the same time, within any specialization, having a variety of skills can lead one to revelations that lead to improvements in the other skills in that set.  Hence, a home builder learns to build swimming pools, which leads to improvements in how he designs slab foundations. You can be over-specialized.

Shooting pistols works the same way.  If a person’s experience is limited to one gun, they have not experienced the wide variety of trigger pulls, grips, and recoil that exist across the spectrum.  Learning those differences can be crucial to your development as a shooter.  Triggers are especially problematic, as there are so many variations extant, involving take-up, hard break (crisp), soft break (ramp), stacking, and over-travel.  When you have experienced several of these, you will become more sensitive to the actual role of the trigger in the process, as well as what you have to do to manage it efficiently.  That leads to greater adaptability and flexibility in shooting.  In terms of defensive shooting, it also leads to greater speed, as you will be better able to coordinate acquiring a sight-picture, hold control, and trigger control.  Each new pistol I learn to shoot makes me better with all of them.

However, while owning several pistols is nice (some would say inevitable), it is not necessary.  Most commercial gun ranges have pistols for rent (for use at the range), sometimes dozens of them.  Pick out a few different models, from different manufacturers, and rent one every two weeks.  See what effect this has on your original gun.  You may find something else that suits your style better.

Marksmanship for Self-Defense

Here is the scenario: you are at a gas station late at night, or maybe in a parking garage or downtown parking lot.  You see someone running straight for you at full speed.  He may be on the run from police, but he wants your car keys, and will club you or kill you to get them, whatever it takes.  You draw your carry gun, but have just seconds to stop the threat.

Flash back to your training.  You are standing at a range, aiming at a paper target that never moves.  You want to hit that X in the middle, about the size of a dime.  You know how the sights work: the front post needs to be in the middle of the notch, the tops level.  If you are off by a hair’s width, and/or don’t work the trigger smoothly, you will miss the X by 2-4 inches, more if it is a shorter gun.  You struggle to relax, clarify your vision, pause your breathing, keep the alignment, squeeze the trigger.  Something get out of sync, so you start over.  Now you’ve been aiming for 30 seconds, and your arm muscles start to shake.  You stop, shake it off, start over.  Finally, the stars align, you make the shot, and miss the X by one inch.  That is still very good.  Success!

Success?  Not really.  Flash forward to your crisis situation.  You don’t have to hit the 3rd button on his shirt (if you can even see it) to ruin his day, and you don’t have 60 seconds to do it.  This is the real world, and you may have only 2 seconds to save your life.  If you have not learned flash-sighting or point-shooting, do that now, before you need it.

The aiming described above is more suited to competitive target shooting than to self defense.  The fact is that most self defense shooting happens at 3-4 yards, the attacker doesn’t have an X on his chest, and half of your skills will evaporate, anyway.  While accuracy is important, the perfect shot you don’t have time to make is useless, compared to the shots you do make, that hit him anywhere.

Flash-sighting is based on simple geometry.  At a short distance (3-4 yards), if you can see the front post anywhere in the notch, you will hit a human-sized target.  Even 4 inches off is still a hit.  Start with the pistol at eye level, and push straight out.  That gives you at least 1/2 second advantage in lining up the sights just to the point that you can see the front post anywhere in the rear notch.  As soon as you can see that level of alignment, fire.  Immediately re-acquire the target and fire again.  Most ranges won’t allow you to draw from a holster, so lay the gun on the bench, in the same condition it would be carried (decocked, safety on, etc.).  Using the stopwatch on your phone, or with a friend timing you, see how fast you can grab the gun, get a flash picture, and put two shots on a B-27 target at 3 yards.  Your goal is 3 seconds.

Point-shooting is even more meat-ball.  That is for even closer contact, 2 yards or less, where you don’t have time to even bring the gun to eye level.  If you have a proper grip, the thumb on your shooting hand should be parallel to the ground.  Point the gun at the target using your thumb as a guide.

Both of these techniques need to be practiced extensively.  If you have them in your “toolbox”, you can feel more confidant in a crisis situation.