When was the last time you saw a picture of a shooter using a one-handed grip? On most firearms-related websites, advertisements, TV show and movies, shooters are shown using a two-handed grip. Thumb position and stance may vary, but the general message is clear: two-handed is the “best,” the only “proper” way to shoot a pistol. Maybe so. For target shooting or competition, two-handed shooting works just fine. If it wasn’t optimal for gun control, no one would shoot two-handed at the range. In its 2003 Combat Pistol Manual, the US Army recommends two-handed shooting for engaging an enemy at less than five yards and for night firing . . .
Using a two-hand grip, the firer brings the weapon up close to the body until it reaches chin level. He then thrusts it forward until both arms are straight. The arms and body form a triangle, which can be aimed as a unit. In thrusting the weapon forward, the firer can imagine that there is a box between him and the enemy, and he is thrusting the weapon into the box. The trigger is smoothly squeezed to the rear as the elbows straighten.
There is no proof of the general advantage of two-handed shooting in close quarters defensive shooting situations. Common sense suggests the opposite: a shooter may not be able to extend both of his or her arms far enough forward to shoot two-handed in a close-quarters life-threatening situation.
From 1854 – 1979, two-hundred-and-fifty NYPD police officers were killed in the line of duty. Of these, only one officer was killed at a distance beyond 25 feet—by a sniper 125 feet away. Ninety-two percent of the fatal confrontations occurred within 15 feet. Ninety-six-point-four percent went down under 25 feet.
Distance equals time, or lack thereof. If you don’t have the distance/time to assume a “proper” combat stance and grip, you won’t do it. The New York Police Department’s long-term study of thousands of police combat cases confirms it: most officers engaged in an armed confrontation fired with their strong hand. This YouTube video demonstrates the point:
The two-handed grip is useful and accurate in non-combat situations. It may be the preferred method for shooting in combat. But real life says that most shooters in close-quarters life-threatening situations “revert” to a one-handed grip. Not recognizing that fact for training and, thus, reality, could cost you your life.
As good as it gets
I want to be clear. There is nothing wrong with using the two-handed grip in combat per se. The pics below were scraped from a video of a robbery in Florida. They show a guard using a two-handed grip while moving and shooting and killing an armed robber. In the first two images, we see that the guard appear (bottom of the screen), acquire his gun and move to confront the robber.
When the robber points his gun at the guard one-handed, the robber is shot, falls down, and dies on the floor.
Even though the guard’s grip is “correct,” note that his gun is not at eye level, he’s not using the sights, and his thumbs are pointing up, not forward along the frame (as recommended by my firearms instructors).
Also, though the guard was brave and the stakes could not have been higher, note that he was attacking and not reacting to a life threat. Forget CSI and all the other cop shows with official firearms advisors and endless retakes. In the real world, this is about as good as it gets, most of the time.
Many of the pictures on websites show handgun shooting at distances that would make a sniper proud. If there are photos of targets, they show nice tight little groups. Getting good groups at longer ranges is good for target shooting, competitions and showing your friends. But that kind of pistol shooting has little to do with the reality of or the danger of close-quarters life-threatening situations.
That’s because sight shooting is best used for distance shooting. While it’s good to be able to hit distant targets, again, studies show that “sight shooting” won’t or can’t be used in close-quarters life threatening situations. Here’s what L.W. Seecamp, a gunmaker that makes small pistols without sights, says about distance shooting:
The ability to shoot targets at 25 yards using sights sadly seems to provide little or no advantage in close combat . . .
The 25 yard shooting proficiency test for carry qualification required by many issuing authorities is absurd. It’s a request to perform a feat that would land you in jail if you ever tried to perform it ‘in self-defense.’
It’s like passing a driver’s test that requires you to slalom between traffic cones at 120 miles an hour. Seventy-five feet shooting proficiency is not too much to ask from a police officer who may be firing at a barricaded target, as the ability to drive at high speeds is not too much to ask from a Trooper pursuing a fleeing vehicle, but it’s ridiculous to ask it of civilians.
Shoot an ‘assailant’ at 75 feet. Then try to find a lawyer good enough to keep you out of prison.
To bring this closer to home (so to speak), if you are going to be attacked, the attacker will most likely not attack you from across the street. The attack will be up close and personal. As for home defense, if you measure how big your rooms are, you will know the distances which you should train at the most.
Here’s what the NRA says about self-defense shooting:
. . . the ability to keep all shots on a standard 8 1/2 inch by 11 inch sheet of paper at seven yards, hitting in the center of exposed mass, is sufficient for most defensive purposes.
Here is a pic of a target that closely represents one in the NRA’s Guide To The Basics Of Personal Protection In The Home that was published in 2000.
If you have a gun for self-defense, you should know how to operate it and shoot it safely. Most importantly, you should be able to shoot it effectively one-handed, without the use of the sights. To not master this skill could be the biggest—and last—mistake of your life.
There are plenty of so-called Point Shooting methods that can be used for effective close-quarters combat. There is the method developed by Fairbairn, Sykes, and Applegate; Quick Kill, and the one I favor, AIMED Point Shooting or P&S. More on that in my next installment.
[John Velt runs pointshooting.com.]