CQB: Attitude Beats TTPs

Today we have another post from our friends Kevin aka “hognose” to his many readers and admirers. Kevin passed away too soon in spring of 2017 and we repost some of his work every week to preserve it. 

By Kevin O’Brien

 

There’s nobody quite as good at CQB/CQC/good-ole-doorkickin’ as the unit known as Delta. Not anybody, not worldwide. The SF teams that are best at CQB are the ones that train to be an interim stopgap, available to theater combatant commanders if Delta’s too far out or too overcommitted for a given tasking.

Delta’s skills came from its origin as a Hostage Rescue / Personnel Recovery unit, and it now has nearly four decades of institutional memory (some of which cycles back around as contract advisors so that old TTPs don’t get lost) to bring skills back up when real-world missions sometimes take off a little bit of the CQB edge.

In a wide-ranging post at the paywalled site SOFREP, fortunately reposted at the unwalled site The Arms Guide, former Delta operator George E. Hand IV discusses how the most important building block of CQB is, absolutely, the guts to actually do it.

Close Quarters Combat (CQC) is to the effect about 75% (maybe higher) testicles, and then 25% technique. I don’t like to over complicate things, especially CQB…. It is the very nature of the degree of difficulty inherent in ‘the act’ of CQB that bids its techniques to remain very simple, lest the mind become incapable of holding the process at all.

… if you can find a person that will take an AR and run into a small room of completely unknown contents, expected deadly threat, then you already have ~75% of what you need to create a successful CQB operator. All that remains, is to teach and train your operator the very few principles, and the very simple techniques, for room combat.

….

You are ~75% ‘there’ once you have that individual who will storm blindly into a deadly room. Now, it can’t be a person who just says they will do it. It has to be a person that in fact WILL do it, and WILL do it over and over.

See, no matter how high-speed low-drag you are, the enemy gets the proverbial vote, too.

There is a constant that exists, though you may disagree ferociously, it remains nonetheless: “no amount of high-speed training and bravado will ever trump the thug behind the door, pointing his AR at the door, and with finger on trigger.” ….

That’s right, the Chuck Yeager of CQB has a bullet waiting for him; all he has to do is wait long enough, however long that is. I have known a team of Delta men who lost their junior and senior team mates to the same goat-poker in the same small room in Iraq.

Both were head wounds from the same rag-head firing blindly over the top of a covered position. For the senior brother, that room was supposed to be the last room, of the last attack, of the last day, of the last overseas deployment he was ever supposed to make. The wait was over.

via Nobody goes into a room like Delta Force: A CQB attitude primer | The Arms Guide.

That “senior brother” is MSG Bob Horrigan, whose picture (courtesy Hand) graces this post. The new guy was MSG Mike McNulty, whose image is also at the link.

Hand’s entire post is worth reading, studying, and even contemplating. Do you go in, when going in could well get you shot by some “rag-head goat-poker”? (For police, substitute “brain-dead gangbanger” or “booze-drenched wife beater”). Real life for guys in these jobs is a daily reenactment of Kipling’s Arithmetic on the Frontier.

No proposition Euclid wrote
No formulae the text-books know,
Will turn the bullet from your coat,
Or ward the tulwar’s downward blow.
Strike hard who cares – shoot straight who can
The odds are on the cheaper man.

(Background on the poem. Of all the things I read before going to Afghanistan, Kipling was the best preparation. The Yusufzais he mentions are today still a Pathan (Pushtun) tribal group, frequently in opposition; the Afridis are still dominant in the Khyber Pass area, and some of them still affect green turbans. Only the weapons have improved).

If you have the attitude, and are willing to go into the Valley of the Shadow because you’re not going to be in there with them, instead those poor throgs are going to be in there with you, what are the simple tactics he has in mind?

(Caveat. Your Humble Blogger has never served in Delta. He had a short CQB/HR course called SOT many years ago, the short course which ultimately evolved, in two paths, into SFAUC and SFARTAETC).

Preparation

You need to have the basics first:

  1. Physical fitness. If you’re not ready to sprint up five flights of stairs you’re definitely not ready to train on this. Bear in mind that actual combat is much more physically exhausting and draining than any quantity of combat training. That may because fear dumps stress hormones that either induce or simulate fatigue. Perhaps there’s some other reason; it’s enough to know that the phenomenon is real.
  2. Marksmanship. This comprises hits on target but also shoot/no-shoot decision-making, malf clearing and primary-secondary transition. In our limited experience, almost no civilian shooters apart from practical-shooting competitors are ready to train on this stuff.
  3. Teamwork. It’s best to train a team that’s already tight. If not, no prob, the training process will tighten you.
  4. Decision Making under Stress. This is vital, because the one thing that you can plan on is your plan going to that which is brown and stinketh.

Process

The military stresses doing complex events (“eating the elephant”) by breaking them down into components (“bite-sized chunks.”) The process we use is lots of rehearsals in which risk and speed are gradually increased. One level is absolutely mastered before reaching for the risk or speed dial. (There are guys who go to SFAUC and are still carrying a blue-barrel Simunitions weapon in the live-fire phase. They’re still learning, but they’re not picking it up at the speed of the other guys. They’ll have to catch up and live fire to graduate).

Numerous rehearsals and practices are done in buildings of previously unknown configurations. A culmination exercise is full-speed, live-fire, breaching doors into an unknown situation. It can be done with dummies playing the hostiles and some hostages, and live people playing some no-shoot targets. (George has a story about this at the link. Not unusual to have a Unit commander or luminary like the late Dick Meadows in the hostage chair on a live-fire; at least once before Desert One, they put a very nervous Secretary of the Army in the chair).

The term the Army uses for this phased training process is widely adaptable to learning or teaching anything:

  1. Crawl
  2. Walk
  3. Run

Most civilian students, trainers and schools go from zero-to-sixty way too fast. To learn effectively, don’t crawl until the training schedule says walk, crawl until you’re ready.

Training should be 10% platform instruction and 90% hands-on. This is a craft, and you’re apprenticing, you’re not studying for an exam.

Tactics on Target

The most important thing you get from all these drills is an instinctive understanding of where the other guys are and where you are at all times, and where you’re personally responsible for the enemy.

Divide the sectors by the clock (degrees are too precise) and have one man responsible for a sector. Don’t shoot outside your sector unless the guy covering that sector is down. Staying on your sector is vital for safety! You should not only own the sector between your left and right limits, but also the vertical aspect of that sector, from beneath you, at your feet, through the horizontal plane to overhead.

Shoot/No-Shoot is vital and the only right way to do it is look at the hands and general gestalt of the individual to assess a threat. Weapon in hand? Nail ’em. Empty hands? Wait and keep assessing. (In this day of suicide vests, any attempt to close with you should probably be treated as a suicide bomb attempt).

If you have the personnel, the shooters do not deal with neutrals or friendlies on the X. There’s a following team that handles them, for several reasons including the shooters being keyed up to a fare-thee-well at the moment of entry.

You can’t learn CQB from a book, or a lecture, or some assclown on YouTube who never suited up and took a door. You have to physically practice, and practice, and practice. Ideally, under the beady eye of someone with a lot of doors in his past, and a skill at setting targets that borders on malicious mischief. (MSG Paul Poole, rest in peace, you old goat).

But first, absolutely first, you need guys with the guts to try. George is absolutely right about that. There is much other good stuff in his post, including a funny history of the term “operator” in the Army. (If you didn’t attend the Operators’ Training Course, it’s not you. Sorry ’bout that). You know what we’re going to say now, right? Damn straight. Read The Whole Thing™.

Whatever Happened To… Stainless Steel Shotshells?

Again today we have the re post from weaponsman.com.  Kevin, AKA “Hognose” passed away last year and to preserve his work we repost his writing here to save it .

 

By Kevin O’Brien

We’re not referring to those shotshells containing stainless (or not) steel shot, designed by environmentalists to embugger waterfowl and upland hunters.  We’re talking about shotshell cases that were made of stainless steel, to let owners safely fire modern black powder loads in ancient — even Damascus-barreled — breech-loading shotguns.

This 1878 Colt (now on Gun Broker) is an example of the kind of gun that could use these.

This 1878 Colt (which just now sold, or didn’t, on Gun Broker) is an example of the kind of gun that could use these.

They were once manufactured by a company in Yuba City, California (one suspects an offshoot of the then-beginning-to-struggle SoCal aerospace industry) named Conversion Arms, Inc., and promoted nationally. But since then, they’ve vanished without a trace.

Here’s what the late John T. Amber, for many years editor of Gun Digest, wrote about them in the 1979 annual:

Stainless steel shotshells

Modern smokeless powder shotgun cartridges are a no-no for old shotguns made long ago – the outside hammer guns, with or without Damascus (twist) barrels, even many early hammerless guns – and factory loads powered by black powder are hard to find, impossible to locate in many areas.

This Union Machine Co gun is Belgian proofed. It's in remarkable condition -- the bores on these old guns are often trashed by corrosive cartridges of the day.

This Alger Arms Co gun (not Union Machine as the picture filename says, our error) is Belgian proofed. It’s in remarkable condition — look at the case hardening, still visible! The bores on these old guns are often trashed by corrosive cartridges of the day. This one doesn’t appear to be — $825 starting bid on GB. This was the sort of gun the conversion cartridges were meant to save.

Now there’s a good solution – Conversion Arms, Inc. (PO Box 449, Yuba City, CA 95991) has just introduced all-stainless steel 12-ga. shotshells (2 ¾” and 2 ½”) formed at the base to take standard number 11 percussion caps. No loading or priming tools are needed – simply fill with black powder, 50 to 70 grains of FFG being suggested, add a card wad or plastic shot cap, pour in 1¼ oz. of shot, place a card was over the pellets and push the cap on the integral nipple.

You can, of course, vary the shot load, too, but in any setup use a fair amount of pressure on the over-powder wad and on the over- shot wad for best combustion and performance. A wooden dowel or “short starter” works well, and snug-fitting cork or felt wads can be substituted if space permits.

CAI sells these S. S. shotshells for $7.95 each or two for $14.95 postpaid, and a detailed instruction pamphlet on their use is included. They’re guaranteed for life.

Of course, a lifetime guarantee may not be for your lifetime, but the company’s — whichever comes first. The guarantee only works if the company hangs around. California Secretary of State records show that Conversion Arms, Inc. was registered in 1977 and at some time after that — the records don’t say — was delisted for failing to pay taxes. (That usually happens when the company goes paws up).

English Hooper (probably W.C.Scott) damascus barrels. Another GunBroker sale (higher end).

English H. Hooper (probably made for Hooper by W.C.Scott) damascus barrels. Another GunBroker sale (higher end).

 

Amber’s write-up seems to have been that old journalistic dodge, a paraphrased press release, but it makes us wonder why this idea flopped. We’ve often looked at some beautifully crafted old Damascus gun and passed it up, just because there’s no shooting it. (Maybe there is, now, with cowboy-action driven blackpowder loads. We dunno). But these simple shells would have made it possible to pattern Ol’ Betsy and take her hunting again, and that’s something. Why did they die? Were they too odd a product? Did they appeal to too narrow a public? Was the price too high? In 1979, a cheap imported double-barrel shotgun still listed at $179. The rock bottom of the market, the H&R Topper Youth Shotgun and its Iver Johnson knock-off, were $65 and $55 respectively. It may just be that for the few of us crazies who want to shoot an old shotgun more than the latest trap gun made in a workshop in Italy where Michelangelo once apprenticed in the stock-carving shop, brass black powder cartridges available now are good enough.

This all happened almost 20 years before the Internet went public and interactive, and so, before the event horizon of the net, we were unable to find a single write-up or photo of these things online.

As we mentioned, there is an alternative: although the shells don’t reinforce the chamber the way stainless steel ones did, Rocky Mountain Cartridge sells lathe-turned brass shotshells and a loading kit (.pdf). The prices vary by gauge and length; the chambering of most old American shotguns, 12 gauge 2½”, costs $75.00 for a minimum-order box of ten (.pdf) — the same unit price of one of the Conversion Arms shells, but in deflated 2016 dollars. The loading kit is another $60 or so.

About Hognose

Former Special Forces 11B2S, later 18B, weapons man. (Also served in intelligence and operations jobs in SF).

Toggle-Locked Orphan: the Benelli B76

Today we have another article from our now gone friend Kevin O’Brien, or “Hognose” as he was known by his many fans and admirers. Kevin was the owner and writer of weaponsman.com and  passed away  in spring of 2017.  We repost his work here to save it, introduce it to more people hopefully and to honor our friend.

If you have a well-rounded firearms education, the name Benelli needs no introduction. Now part of the Beretta family, the marque has been known for its semi-auto shotguns since its founding in 1967. But Benelli made an attempt, in the 70s and 80s, to make a NATO service pistol. It’s interesting for its unusual toggle-lock mechanism (one we missed when we covered toggle-locking), its fine Italian styling, and its relative rarity: internet forum participants, at least, think only about 10,000 were made. (We do some analysis on this claim below, and posit a lower number).

benelli b76 pistol

There were other Italian semi-autos at about the same time, like the Bernardelli P-018, competing in part for European police contracts, as many Continental police departments replaced 7.65mm service pistols during the 1970s and 80s rise of European communist terrorist groups like the Red Brigades and Baader-Meinhof Gang. But the Benelli was a unique blend of design and functionality. Arriving too late into a market saturated with double-stack double-action pistols, it might have been a killer competitor for the P1/P.38 or the Beretta M1951 twenty years earlier, but by the end of the eighties, the market was heavily oriented towards double-stack, double-action, and often, ambidextrous-control service pistols. Even European police services who had thought 8 rounds of 9mm a real fistful of firepower had moved on — and so did Benelli, retreating to a concentration on its market-leading shotguns.

Mechanics of the B76

The toggle-lock is not truly a lock in the sense of a Maxim or Luger lock, but more of a hesitation lock or delayed blowback. Other weapons have used a lever in delayed blowback, like the Kiraly submachine guns and the French FAMAS Clarión, but the Benelli one is unique. It’s described in US patent No. 3,893,369. The toggle lock or lever is #5 in the illustration below, from the patent.

US3893369-1Benelli B76

Benelli often cited the fixed barrel of its design as a contributor to superior accuracy in comparison to the generic Browning-type action.

Aesthetics & Ergonomics

The styling of the B76 is a little like its Italian contemporary, the Lamborghini Countach: angular, striking, and polarizing. You love it or hate it, or like Catullus, both at once: Idi et amo. It came in a colorful printed box, resembling consumer products of the era…

BenelliB77Pistol in box

…or in a more traditional wooden case.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The somewhat blocky slide needs to be protected by a holster with a full nose cap, if you intend to carry the B76. It’s a large pistol and it would be prone to print if you did, much like any other service pistol like the M9, the Glock 17, or various SIGs. Where the pistol comes into its own is when you handle and shoot it. The safety falls right to hand, like that of a 1911, although as a DA/SA gun it’s perfectly safe to carry hammer down on a loaded chamber. The grip angle is much like the P.08 Luger, making for a very natural pistol pointing experience. The pistol’s steel construction and roughly 1kg (2.2 lb) weight makes it comfortable and controllable to shoot. The heavily-contoured grip on the target models makes it even more so.

The guns are known for reliability and accuracy, and their small following is very enthusiastic, reminding us of the fans of the old Swiss SIG P210 pistol: the sort of machinery snobs whose garage is more accustomed to housing premium European nameplates than generic American or Japanese iron, and who not only buy premium instead of Lowe’s tools, but who can take you through their toolboxes explaining why the premium stuff is better.

Production and Variations

The Benelli company was relatively new when it designed the B76. The US Patent application for its locking mechanism dates to 1973, and the planned start of production was 1976 (that may have slipped).

There were several variants of the B76, most of them sold only in non-US markets. The B76 was the name ship of the class, if you will, but there were several variants. The B77 was a scaled-down model in .7.65 x 17SR (7.65 Browning/.32 ACP); it was a completely different gun. The B80 was a 7.65 x 22 (7.65 Parabellum/.30 Luger) variant, largely for the Italian market; only the barrel and magazine differed from the B76. The B82 was a variant in the short-lived European police caliber, 9 x 18 Ultra (sometimes reported, mistakenly, as 9×18 Makarov). In addition, there were several target pistol variants, including the B76 “Sport” with target sights, grip, longer barrel, and weights, and a similar target pistol in, of all things, .32 S&W Long called the MP3S. We’ve covered some of these exotic Benellis before, in the mistaken belief that we had brought this post live, which we hadn’t. (D’oh!)

The one modification that might have brought Benelli sales to police departments or military forces was never done, and that is to develop a double-stack magazine. A “mere” 8 rounds of 9mm was already insufficient in 1976, when many NATO armies already issued the 13-round Browning Hi-Power as their baseline auto pistol, and the novel Glock 17 coming on strong.

Benelli dropped the pistols from its catalog in 1990. The company still produces its signature shotguns and a line of high-end target pistols, and even some rifles based on the shotgun design, but its foray into the pistol market has left Benelli with bad memories, red ink and a few curiosities in the company museum. But the curious pistol buyer looking for a firearm with a difference will find here a remarkable and character-rich handgun. If you’re the sort of man who can rock an Armani suit or avoid looking ridiculous in a Countach, this might be a good companion piece.

We’ve mentioned the internet claims of production of 10,000. The highest serial number we found on the net (5462) was well below that, but we certainly don’t have a statistical grasp on production yet. With 7 known serial numbers we can make a rough calculation that there’s a 9 in 10 probability the total production is under 6400, and a 99% probability it’s under 8500. That’s assuming our rusty MBA-fu still retains its potency.

Market

No B76s are on GunBroker at this writing, and only very few — single digit quantities — have moved since 2012. The guns offered were all in very good to new-in-box condition, and they cleared the market at prices from $585 to $650. One went unsold at $565 against a reserve of $600, hinting that, despite these guns’ character and quality, there’s just not much of a market for single-stack full-size DA/SA autopistols.

For More Information

We’re seeking a better copy, but for the moment, heres a .pdf of the manual. Unfortunately, it takes greater pains to describe the mundane DA/SA trigger system than the rare, patented breech lock!

benelli_b76.pdf

About Hognose

Former Special Forces 11B2S, later 18B, weapons man. (Also served in intelligence and operations jobs in SF).

Before There Were Many 9MM Ultra Compacts, There Was One

Today we are back with another one post from out fiend Kevin O’Brien AKA Hognose, owner and writer of weaponsman.com.  Kevin passed away in spring of last year and we repost some of his best work to preserve it in case weaponsman goes dark.

 

By Kevin O’Brien

Devel ASP 12Before there was the current rich supply of ultra compact 9 mm pistols, someone had to have the idea for the first time. In fact, the idea of a small 9 mm carry gun was widespread long before any factory produced one.

The market answered, after a fashion: cut-down versions of pistols were produced. Some of them weren’t cut down much, like the P-38K and the Colt Commander. Others were not really practical, like Baby Lugers, and always appealed more to collectors than self-defense carriers.

SW-semi-model-chartBut the natural host for these first-generation pocket nines in the 1970s and 1980s was America’s first pistol designed for what was then a European cartridge, the 9 mm Smith & Wesson Model 39. The M39 was a postwar design that sought to blend European and American design concepts, and not only did that but produced an attractive firearm at the same time. It combined a Browning-style tilting-barrel, and a Walther-like SA/DA operating system with a slide-mounted safety/decocker. Mag release and slide stop were also Browning style, and the barrel was positioned in the nose end of the slide by a collet bushing modeled on the one in the Colt Gold Cup.

The M39 was single-stack before single-stack was cool, and entered the market in 1954-55 after years of development. If you want to foray into the weeds of Smith auto pistol history, Chris Baker took a shot at decoding Smith’s nomenclature mess with the M39 and its legions of successors at Lucky Gunner Lounge last year, also producing the infographic on the right, which appears correct but incomplete.

But the reason that the M39 yielded those early conversions were (1) it was readily available, and (2) there was nothing vital and hard to relocate in the parts of the gun that a compact conversion hacked off. This picture from an S&W forum shows three cut-down 39s: from l-r, an Austin Behlert special on a Smith 59 (basically, a double-stack 39), a full Devel on a 39 with ambi safety, and a full devel (no ambi safety) on a 59.

Behlert Devel Devel

The first, and most exotic small Smith was the ASP, made beginning in 1970 by New York artist and espionage agency hang-around Paris Theodore, who partnered initially with George L. Nonte. This ASP picture comes from the same forum as the shot above, and illustrates the somewhat industrial finish on ASPs.

asp2

The magazine was patented, specifically for the unusual laid-back pinky rest. The open side made the transparent/translucent segment of the grips practical.

One of the ASP features that will never show in a side view is that about 40% of the width of the reshaped trigger guard was milled away on the strong side of the customer, to provide faster access to the trigger. Theodore claimed that an ASP had 212 modifications from the factory M39.

Theodore’s spy stories seem to have been cut from whole cloth, but he died young — here is an interesting, if credulous, obituary in the late, lamented New York Sun. A definitive ASP was trimmed in height and length, dehorned and softened in its angles, and fitted with a patented “Guttersnipe” trough sight and see-through grips to facilitate round counting.

The Devel was devel-oped (you may groan) by Charlie Kelsey. They tended to be better finished and often had fluted slides to reduce weight. Here are three Devels, a 59 and two 39s.

Three Devels

This is a Devel on a Smith 39-2 from a current GunBroker auction, but supplied with two ASP magazines.

Devel ASP 09

The seller says this about it:

Smith & Wesson Model 39-2 Devel Custom chambered in 9mm with a 3.5″ barrel. Used but in good shape! Frame and slide have some handling wear, couple scratches, and little bit of finish wear around the edges. Comes with two hard to find ASP magazines! Please look at the pictures for details.

Devel ASP 05

The cut-down for Devel and ASP alike was usually 3/4 of an inch to the barrel and slide, and about a half inch to the butt. The package usually included replacing the collet bushing with a plain bushing, on reliability grounds, and bobbing the hammer.

Devel ASP 06

As you can see, the gun is not only shortened but also “softened” or “dehorned,” but it’s not what Devel called a “full house” custom, as it lacks the squared-off trigger guard and lightening flutes in the slide.

Factory compacts like Smith’s own 3913 crippled the market for these niche firearms, and both ASP and Devel folded, victims of the success of their own product.

Like Paris Theodore, Charlie Kelsey died prematurely, but while Theodore lost a long and debilitating battle with disease, Kelsey was found shot and burned in a ditch in Georgetown, Texas. While there were indications he may have been suicidal, he certainly can not have set his own dead body on fire. His murder has never been solved.

 

Of course, true Dedicated Followers of Browning would not be caught dead with a 9mm flyswatter: their pistol-shrinker of choice was Detonics, or Behlert (who called his bobbed .45 the Bobcat). But that’s another story!

About Hognose

Former Special Forces 11B2S, later 18B, weapons man. (Also served in intelligence and operations jobs in SF).

 

Mind Over Matter

 Today I am sharing another article from weaponsman.com.  Our friend, Kevin, “Hognose” passed away last year and we continue to share some of his best articles in our ongoing tribute to him.

Mind Over Matter by Kevin O’Brien

Tumba_de_Napoleon_Bonaparte“In war, the moral is to the physical as ten is to one.”  – Napoleon Bonaparte.

True, Napoleon got his ass kicked by the rest of Europe’s powers in the Sixth Coalition. And then by the same cast of characters in the Seventh Coalition again. So, however great he may have been, as a general he had his limitations. You could say, in fact, that he instantiated the Peter Principle: rising to his ultimate level of incompetence as Emperor and grand strategist. (He won a lot of battles, but lost the only one that counts: the last one). But he sure could coin an aphorism!

Many shooting beginners don’t take counsel from old Boney. Instead, they let the gun magazines and the YouTube guys be their guide. Now those sources of information have their place, but they’re not best for beginners, because they focus almost exclusively on equipment. (We’re assuming you want to start with a handgun for self-defense, because that’s the most common desire of beginners these days. If you have some other interest, then you’re welcome to take what you can from this post, and ask what you need to know in your situation).

When you start off shooting, you do not need to be in the Gun of the Month Club, however happy that may make you. (Scientists have shown that the act of acquisition releases the same sort of pleasure hormones and that you get from many other, er, pleasurable activities).

You do not need the very best this or the custom awesome that. Every year, lots of people get whacked with handguns,and it’s almost always with a bone-stock firearm. That’s what most cops, most soldiers, and practically all criminals carry. That’s what you need to start with, and what you need to do with it is practice.

So What do you Need?

We’re going to talk a bit about the hardware for beginners. But remember what Napoleon said; and if you need the most important message in this post, the tl;dr version, scroll down to the subheading The Most Important Thing.

And if you’re still with us, hardware-wise, here’s what you need.

You need a gun. A decent gun, in a decent defensive caliber, that fits your hand reasonably well, and that you can conceal in the sort of clothes you like to wear. You need at least two spare magazines, in standard capacity unless the laws of your jurisdiction restrict you to dwarf mags.

A decent gun is going to be made by a manufacturer you have heard of before. Like Glock, Smith & Wesson, SIG, Colt, FN, HK. A popular gun is easier to maintain, and much easier to resell. Beware of salesman who seem to promote a specific gun — he may be getting what the industry calls a “spiff,” a specific incentive to move some particular product (or he may just be a fanboy. Some gun-store clerks are deeply knowledgeable about their products, but a much greater percentage think they are deeply knowledgeable about them). Now, he may have a spiff to promote the gun that is just right for you, so don’t assume it’s Opposite Day when he starts talking. Just remember that his pitch may be completely orthogonal to what you need.

If you need more specific advice, your first handgun should be inexpensive, standard-capacity, 9mm. Why?

  • Inexpensive — because most guns are going to shoot better than you do. This is not a lick on you: most handguns shoot better than most shooters. You don’t need to optimize your gun buying. You should be satisficing — picking the first reasonable choice that comes up. Don’t go all the way to cheap, however. You can get a $100 9mm, from Hi-Point for example. Unless it’s all you can afford, don’t. 
  • Standard-capacity — as a beginner, you want a middle-of-the-road firearm. You do not want a gigantic horse pistol, but you do want a decent quantity of rounds (unless, of course, you live in some hellhole like North Korea or New York, then the choice has been made for you).
  • 9mm — the ammo is reasonably priced, usually widely available in many different loadings, and 9mm defensive ammo performs as well as larger calibers, both in the lab and on the street.

Why not .40? The FBI carries .40. The cops carry .40. There are a bunch of internet memes about “cartridges beginning with .4.” We heard Eeee—leet Jungle Jim Killer Force carries .40s or .45s when they kick hostages and rescue doors.  Why not a .40 or a .45?

Because right now, in 2015, 9mm is your best balance of defensive effect — with proper ammo —  and manageable recoil, which leads to better shooting. Gunfights are not won with sheer weight of shot; they are won, or lost, with bullet placement, period. And bullet placement means gun control (the good kind). Every agency that went from 9 to 40 saw qualification scores go down, and every agency that went the other way saw them go up. The .40 in particular has a nasty, sharp recoil to it. It’s not unmanageable, but 9 is easier.

This is going to be hard enough without you adding unforced difficulties to the hardship stack. Get the 9. (You will also find that, while the cost of warshots is fairly close, the cost of inexpensive FMJ for practice is a lot better on the 9mm end of the beach).

You need a holster. One that fits the gun specifically. Unless you are very lucky, and very easily pleased, your first holster will not be your last holster. Therefore you want an inexpensive, sturdy holster. Use it until you are sure that you need something else. But the same as with the gun, the best holster next week gets beat by a decent holster today. Your first holster should be an outside the waistband, Kydex holster. It should fit the belt you already own and wear. Learn what you like and don’t like about this. Do not buy an el cheapo Cordura holster — it will not fit, hold, retain or position your gun like Kydex will. Don’t buy leather, yetYou have a lot to learn about holsters before you buy an expensive one.

A couple of vendors, like S&W, sell a beginner kit which includes spare mags, a holster, and a cleaning kit.

You need ammo. Buy inexpensive, brass case, factory-loaded, FMJ ammo. Why?

  • Inexpensive — because like the guns, most ammo is going to shoot better than you do. There will be a time, perhaps, when you worry about brands and features. This is not that time.
  • Brass case — it’s more expensive, but it’s easier on the gun.
  • Factory-loaded — the biggest single cause of kB!s, meaning, guns that return to kit form on a kinetic basis, is badly-loaded ammunition. Screwed-up ammo happens, but it happens with extreme rarity in factory loads. Uncle Bubba’s Handloads are Uncle Bubba quality.
  • FMJ — this is practice, blasting ammo. So you don’t want to spend the extra ost of expanding tip ammo when you’re going to be shooting it into paper targets. In the meantime, you can use it as carry ammo. It’s not optimum, but it penetrates well and will disable a threat, given correct shot placement.

You need spare mags. Get two. (On top of the one in the gun). Factory are ideal, aftermarket are OK if you check them and they’re OK. How do you check them? Load ’em up and cycle them through the firearm a few times dry, and a time or two, at least, at the range, firing. (The feed loads are a little different in a firearm being operated by hand and one being operated by recoil).

You need a cleaning kit. Note that the solvents and oils used with firearms smell nasty and they’re probably toxic, too. Cleaning is an outdoor activity when and where weather permits. The reason you need to think about it, even with modern guns that have demonstrated very long firing strings without failure, is that disassembling, cleaning and reassembling your firearm will help you yo understand it.

The Most Important Thing

OK, so now you have all this good stuff. What else do you need?

You need training. You need training in the laws of self-defense of your jurisdiction (and in general, as license reciprocity is increasing), and you also need training to use your firearm effectively. Indeed, what is in your hand is immeasurably less important than what is in your head and what is in your heart.

You need training more than you need your own firearm; lots of instructors and ranges have rental and loaner firearms for beginners attending courses. Using a rental or loaner is actually a good way to get a first impression of a model of firearm you’re curious about, without actually buying the thing to experiment with. (What if you hate it with a purple passion? A lot easier to fix that when it’s a range rental than if you already brought it home from the pound because you liked its looks).

What training? Where to get it? That’s food for more posts in this series, which will be in the new Training category. Also, we’ll tell you how to get a good deal on a good used gun, and save yourself some money for ammo.

About Hognose

Former Special Forces 11B2S, later 18B, weapons man. (Also served in intelligence and operations jobs in SF).