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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.

robbery 4

robbery 10

When the robber points his gun at the guard one-handed, the robber is shot, falls down, and dies on the floor.

robbery 11

robbery 12

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.

Sights Unseen

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]

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  1. The military recognition that CQB engagements often happen at both speeds and distances where a two handed grip may be impossible is the reason why the Rodgers Shooting School is impossible to get into anymore.

    Rodgers is, IIRC, the only school in the country that absolutely stresses single handed shooting, drawing and manipulations, both strong and weak handed. It’s a tough school, and very few people take the course with a passing grade on the final test. It is apparently the handgun school NSW sends every newly minted BUD/S grad to.

  2. Rob was nice enough to improve the article with some editing and by adding some conversational language. Thank you Rob.

    2 minor adjustments: the NYPD study of thousands of combat cases, found that Officers with few exceptions (not most), fired with the strong hand. And I am not selling the aiming aid that you are welcome to add to your personal firearm/s at your own risk and expense. I hope to license the production and sale of it.

  3. As a spear fisherman for 35 years, shooting fish with a spear gun at any range 10 to 25 feet. I always use one hand to shoot Da fish. I always use one hand as well to shoot my hand gun. This web sight is spot on. This information ,in my opinion, is the only way to defend yourself and family from a home intruder. I am deadly accurate with my hand gun and speargun shooting with one hand. I don’t own firearms to shoot at targets at a range. Ronnie said it best. Hand guns are a made for killing, but only self defense situations to protect you and your family. Great information for the public that is misinformed about close range encounters. Thanks, I’m glad I read this because my primal defense has been right all along, and many tried to tell me the wrong way to soot for years. I do practice with two hands as well, but mostly one hand.

  4. I’m glad I read this article. I was looking for something on one handed shooting because I have a bad left shoulder that I have a hard time raising to the position of the two hand position. When I do make it into that position, my left arm has a tendency to pull the gun down. So I was looking for something to reinforce me practicing with one hand because in a real defense situation, I would get myself killed trying to use two hands. Thanks for this article.

  5. I disagree on several points- first of all there is plenty of proof that two hands work better- especially in combat. Any shooter who has spent any time shooting two handed will make more, faster, better placed hits in so doing. It is lunacy to say “you might not get a perfect stance, so two hands is a bad idea.” Even if one is for some reason (usually inexperience in training or real fights) not using sights he will have much better control of a handgun with both hands on it.
    That leads to point two: sighted fire is always more precise (repeatable).”Point shooting” is ludicrous as a primary discipline for combat shooting. Point shooting is not a thing that even the top percent of practitioners will ever be able to use to stop a threat quickly. Lots of research has been done by some prestigious institutes and no one has come up with a quantifiable advantage to point shooting except that the bullets come out slightly more quickly- at a tremendous loss in accuracy. To reference some experts, Pat McNamara says “These things right here on a pistol [sights] are not a design flaw. They are there for a reason.” One might also observe Paul Howe. He does not extend his arms until both hands are on the weapon. And when discussing Stance and Grip he says “I want to find it [front sight] every time I push out.” He plainly implies that sighted, two handed fire is the most efficient.
    To combine those points- as noted lots of officers end up shooting one handed- and they miss a whole bunch. Police officers on average miss their targets more than they hit them- even the best departments tend to miss about 40% of the time, but others have been recorded missing as much as 75% of the time. The data is not as prevalent on how these police were gripping their guns, but those studies which have looked at this discovered that the police shooting with both hands on their firearms hit more often (sometimes twice as often.) As in my first point, anyone who goes to a range can see the advantages in speed and quality of hits which are the only things that count.
    Finally- just because a reaction is common doesn’t make it good. A common reaction to someone swinging a stick or other object straight down at the top of you head is to put an arm up. With a good blow from a solid weapon that’s an easy way to get your arm broken. No, it wasn’t your skull, but the next swing and the one after that are eventually going to kill you. If you had just stepped a few inches aside and turned your body you could then “check” the assailant’s hand/forearm and be much safer. Additionally, you might have a chance to use your other hand to pummel or shoot whoever just missed you- but this is not “natural.” It has to be trained.
    In conclusion- sighted, two handed fire is ideal, optimal, and what we should spend most of our time doing. One handed training is useful mainly for two things- training for one arm being wounded or occupied, and shooting at distances so close that you cannot extend your arms. For the average man this means inside three feet, possibly six if the opponent is reaching for your gun. Outside these two situations single handed and/or un-sighted fire is an exercise in theatrics. We should be training to hit the heart or CNS with each and every round whenever we fire at a person. No, it won’t always happen, but it’s what you want when someone is trying to kill you.

  6. I searched this topic because i found that i am more accurate shooting at the range with one hand then i am with both. I was surprised by that and wanted to know if there was info out there to explain. Lots of good info in this article. I agree that a combat situation will take place closer than the distance I’ve been practicing at the range. I think i will practice single and with both hands at a closer distance. You never know what’s going to happen.

  7. One handed shooting presents a smaller frontal target aspect to an assailant.

    Otherwise, if you have a handgun appropriate to your size/strength, ability and training etc to handle the weapon and recoil with good control and reasonable accuracy etc when fired one handed, then ok. A 9mm is not a cannon.

    That free hand could be mighty useful in all sorts of situations.

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