“Handguns are only good for fighting your way back to your rifle.” You have probably heard that glib saying before. This thinking pervades the gun culture so much that handguns are sometimes referred to as “secondaries” and rifles as “primaries.” It is a succinct statement that reflects some of the truth about the inferiority of handguns as fight stoppers, but for the vast many of those who carry a handgun daily; it misses the mark by a long shot.
Most people, who carry a firearm for protection, carry a handgun. There is no rifle for them to “fight your way back to.” When the need to exercise deadly force arises, they must be able to deal with a near infinite number of dynamic situations with only the tools at hand – a handgun, their wits, and their training.
You may be thinking something like “So what? It is just a saying.” Unfortunately, it isn’t just a saying. People let this thinking dictate how they train with their handgun. They train at “handgun distances” and say things like “the typical (or average) gun fight happens at 7 yards (or 10 feet, or 7 feet, or…) and closer” or “if they are further than X yards away, a jury will rule it wasn’t self-defense.” There may be grains of truth in those statements but I have a feeling that, for many of us, there may be no such thing as a “typical” gun fight. The situation dictates what is and is not justified in terms the use of deadly force.
Certainly, there is no danger in studying averages and statistics in terms of gun fights – in fact, there is probably value in it. However, there may be danger in preparing for only an average or typical gun fight. If we were really that concerned with statistics and averages, we might conclude that even carrying a firearm at all is silly. After all, the overwhelming majority of people will never need to produce a weapon in self-defense.
What Does it Mean for Me?
So, if you are still reading, you may be wondering what this all means for you. How should this seemingly small philosophical change in thinking affect the way you approach training? I think the answer is probably twofold – throw the concept of “handgun distances” out the window when you are training and carefully evaluate how you spend your training time.
Throw the concept of “handgun distances” out the window when you are training. – Think about the distances at which you train with your handgun and then answer these questions. Can you quickly and reliably hit a standard sized silhouette or, better yet, a pepper popper at 100 yards (or further) with your carry handgun? Do you know your hold-overs (or for some handguns, hold-unders) for 50 and 100 yards (or further) with your carry ammo and sight combination? If you can’t answer “yes” to these questions, then start training and find out! At the very least, you will learn a ton about your fundamental handgun shooting skills, your handgun, your sights, and your ammo.
Carefully evaluate how you spend your training time. – If you were to evaluate your training time, would you find that you are guilty of spending more of your time shooting a rifle or going to carbine courses? I know I am. Yet, if I take a realistic look at the tool that I would most likely have in my hand in a self-defense situation, it’s a handgun. Carbine courses and carbine training are valuable but don’t over emphasize carbine training at the expense of handgun proficiency. I have found that when I spend a lot of time shooting my handgun, my rifle shooting tends to improve. Strangely, the opposite is not necessarily true. This may not be true for everyone but it certainly is for me. Spend the bulk of your precious training time and your hard earned training dollars, training for the most likely scenarios.
Wrapping it up
I am not suggesting that training at extended distances should replace or dominate your normal handgun training routine but maybe it should supplement it. It isn’t hard to incorporate these skills into your current training. You can start with something as simple as incorporating a walk back drill as a cool-down drill at the end of your training day. Not many drills will test your sight alignment and trigger control more than trying to hit a pepper popper at 75 yards or further. It would also be an good idea to take inventory of how you spend your training time and determine if it reflects the realities of your situation. Don’t neglect or overly limit the scope of your handgun training – it may just be the only tool you have at your disposal when the unexpected comes knocking.