When Secondary is Primary

“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.

We would all prefer to have a rifle if we knew that we were walking into a gunfight. Unfortunately, that just isn’t realistic for most of us.

So What?

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.

If the unthinkable happens, you will have to find a solution with just the tools at hand – which is likely just a handgun.

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.

5 Responses to When Secondary is Primary

  1. Dann in Ohio July 9, 2012 at 17:28 #

    Good thoughts… we have an 18″ round steel target out at fifty yards on our range here at home just for 150-foot handgun shooting…

    Dann in Ohio

  2. Brandon July 9, 2012 at 20:32 #

    Great post – I don’t train with a handgun at long distance nearly as often as I should.

  3. Trice B. July 9, 2012 at 22:44 #

    Great article! I agree that in reality you will more likely have a handgun vs a rifle while out an about in public. I do try to do some long rang shooting with the handgun when I go out but am limited to 50 yards most of the time at the indoor range I shoot at most often.

    Keep keeping it real for us with the articles! Good stuff!

  4. Mike@AppalachianTraining July 11, 2012 at 17:05 #

    True to form Matt makes a clear argument to consider what you are doing with regard to defensive training and the tools available. I see this same point surface from time to time on the defense/ gun forums. I think guys are on board with the concept, but in practice…I am not sure. Carbines are excellent tools (and there is a strong need for them), but not many of us in the civilian world have one readily available most times during the day. I came to the realization a while back that my training ratio was outta whack and it should be more in line with reality. Odds are greatly in favor of me being armed with a G19 vice a carbine if things go sideways in my daily civilian routine. I figured training should probably follow (in concept) the same ratio of pistol:carbine. Besides that, the idea behind Matt’s comment about pistol shooters is spot on. Good pistol shooters usually have no problem shooting a carbine well. Run through a 2 day course, first day pistol and second day carbine. Early in day 2 it will be apparent which skill set is the more challenging and translates better to the other weapon. Not advocating trying to turn a pistol into a carbine or substitute it for that capability. Just understand the capabilities and prioritize training for the pistol that is on my belt. Abandon carbine training? Absolutely not! But I do shoot a heck of a lot more 9mm than 5.56 now.

    • Matt July 11, 2012 at 17:15 #

      Great observations Mike – especially on the 2 day handgun/carbine course! Thank you.

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