The Salesman vs. the Subject Matter Expert

During 2020 people all over the US began “panic buying” firearms. In many cases, these people had never owned, much less handled a firearm. In fact, some of them had previously been anti-gunners!

Unwitting people would confidently walk into random gun stores intent upon purchasing “a gun”. In most cases, they had no idea what they specifically wanted… or more importantly, needed. Yet the very helpful commission-paid Sales Staff always seemed to have exactly the gun that these customers needed.

The problem is… more often than not, it wasn’t. Instead, it was the firearm that the salesman made the most commission on. Or the store owner had the highest profit margin.

The level of customer satisfaction in these transactions was often extremely high. The customer “felt” like they were given expert advice and quickly received their firearm. The problem is, “customer satisfaction” is emotion-driven. Did the customer get what they “thought” they wanted? Yes. But was it what they really needed? Usually… not. Upon that customer taking a firearms training class, their view may change. Many come to realize just how they were manipulated into purchasing a completely over-priced or even unsuitable firearm.

A woman I know in western Colorado had a very different experience than the one described above. She walked into a gun store she had never before visited. A grumpy looking old man sat behind the counter… barely noticing her. A dog napping on the floor raised its head for a moment, and finding her of no interest, went back to its slumber. She strode up to the counter and announced that looking for a Taurus Judge with a 3” barrel. The old man just looked at her for several seconds. She wasn’t some kid, but she was thin and had a slight build.

Finally, he asked her “Why do you want that gun?”. She was taken aback for a moment, but then explained that she had wanted that specific revolver for quite a while, and explained to him what she liked about it. “Let me look at your hands,” he said. Puzzled, she held up her hands. He said “OK. You have long fingers–piano player hands. Lots of people come in here looking for guns they can't really handle, that aren't really suited to them. I like to look at people's hands and recommend guns suited to their hands. Here, hold this Judge and point it at the wall so I can look at your stance”.

She was a little “put off” about his attitude. But she really wanted the revolver. So she did as he asked. He said “I like your stance. Have you ever done any “real situation” training, other than just paper target shooting?

She said “Yeah. I spent 4 years in the Marine Corps. And I’ve taken classes on tactical shooting since then.” He said “That sounds fine. Do you want it in stainless steel or with black oxide?

He gave her a good price and gained her respect. She recognized that he wasn’t being a “salesman”. He was being a “subject matter expert” with her best true interests in mind. If she had said that she’d seen the gun in a movie and it looked really cool, and she had no experience, he probably wouldn’t have sold it to her.

Now, he is her first choice for everything gun-related. She’s come to really like the grumpy old man and appreciate his approach.

The moral of this very timely story is that if you don’t do your research, there’s a high probability that someone will take advantage of your ignorance. And once you do your research, seek out a good subject matter expert to confirm your decision.

More on "fit"

So… what was the old man looking for when he asked the woman to hold the handgun?

Rather than discuss the Taurus Judge revolver, I'll describe this concept of “fit” as it relates to three of the most popular semiautomatic pistols in the world; which are the Glock, the Smith & Wesson M&P® Shield™, and the model 1911.

First, the handle width. Glocks have a double-stack magazine - which hold more cartridges - AND make the handle wider. These can be difficult for people with small hands and/or short fingers to properly wrap their hands around. The “beaver tail” at the top rear of the handle (below the slide) should fit snugly into the webbing between your thumb and index finger. For people with small hands, their fingers won't get a proper grip around the pistol - and one of two possible things will happen:

  • When their fingers get a good grip around the handle, their rearmost thumb joint will be under the “beaver tail” - and every time the pistol is fired, it will hit that joint (a sore thumb joint can quickly take the joy out of shooting), OR
  • When they have the rear of the handle fit snugly into the webbing between their thumb and index finger, then their fingers won't have a good grip around the handle.

In contrast, the standard 1911 pistol takes a single-stack magazine… allowing people with smaller hands and/or fingers to properly “wrap” their hands around the gun. However, the more “modern” 2011 (a model 1911 pistol with a double-stack magazine), introduces the same problem as any other handgun with a double-stack magazine.

Made for concealment, the Smith & Wesson M&P® Shield has a single-stack magazine. So it's much easier for people with small hands to grip. However, it is a very small, lightweight handgun (which means greater recoil than a heavier handgun) with a very short distance between its sights (which translates into less accuracy). All of this can be problematic for people who are smaller than average and rarely practice. The handle on the Smith & Wesson M&P® Shield (and many other compact pistols) is shorter than a full-sized pistol. So many people use an extended magazine to allow for a “full” grip… as well as provide more rounds.

Next… the 1911 grip angle (all 1911 variants) is more nearly square to the slide (about 18 degrees off square), while the Glock grip angle (Luger, Steyr M series, H&K P7, Ruger Mk II, etc.) is more raked (about 22 degrees off square). I was unable to find the grip angle of the Smith & Wesson M&P® Shield. However, no grip angle is inherently better than the other. Some peoples’ hand and wrist anatomy just work better with one angle than the other. Each person needs to find an anatomically-natural grip angle that “fits” them.

Another difference regarding the grip is the design of the pistol. Notice that the front of the trigger guard on a Glock curves slightly inward with small (serrated) ridges in front of it, while the trigger guard on both the Smith & Wesson M&P® Shield and 1911 curves outward and is smooth. This is because Glocks were “designed” to be held using the “Finger Forward” or “Finger over trigger guard” grip (shown below).

Unfortunately, many Instructors discourage using the “Finger Forward” or “Finger over trigger guard” grip - mistakenly believing it to be obsolete and inferior to their more familiar “thumbs forward” grip (shown below) - which actually provides LESS contact with a Glock (which is bad)! However, the “thumbs forward” grip is the proper grip for almost every other semiautomatic pistol (e.g., the Smith & Wesson M&P® Shield) EXCEPT the model 1911.

"Thumbs Forward" Grip

The grip for a model 1911 is very similar to the “thumbs forward” grip… with only one MAJOR difference. The proper grip for a 1911 pistol is to place the thumb of the dominant hand over the "thumb safety" (to ensure that the “safety” is OFF). Many Instructors fail to recognize “why” the “safety” is located where it is on the model 1911 pistol. Teaching students to use the “thumbs forward” grip with the thumb below the “thumb safety”… where it could be accidentally engaged during shooting, would REALLY be bad if the pistol were being used in a defensive situation. Also, learning to always press the “safety” OFF when getting into a shooting stance reduces the potential for accidentally leaving the safety ON in a stressful situation where the pistol is needed. Another benefit of placing the thumb over the “safety” is that the higher grip provides greater stability.

Now you know why EVERY gun salesman SHOULD ask you to hold a handgun in order to assess whether it is a good fit for your hand. And if a couple is seeking to purchase a handgun to share… it would need to fit both of them.

The reason that there is so much debate over the “proper” or “correct” way to grip a handgun relates directly to people watching how successful competitive shooters grip their handguns. It's all “monkey-see, monkey-do”. For example, the “Finger Forward” or “Finger over trigger guard” grip popularity originated from the competitions that Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper (founder of "Gunsite Academy") had organized in Big Bear, California. These same competitions were the preface to what is now the IPSC (International Practical Shooting Confederation). Many very good competitive handgun shooters were observed placing their index finger of the support hand on the trigger guard for stability. Consequently, the squared trigger guard was very in vogue during the ’60s, ’70s, and most of the ’80s. In firearm magazine articles from the 1980s, most if not all of the writers were placing their index finger on the front of the trigger guard. Some writers would bemoan the lack of a trigger guard finger rest if a particular handgun lacked that feature!

The bottom line is that IF a handgun has a “finger rest” trigger guard, then it is “intended” to be used as such. And, unfortunately for people with small hands, the vast majority of handguns designed with a “finger rest” trigger guard also require a double-stack magazine. These include, but are not limited to:

Perhaps less known, but less expensive… and perhaps less reliable, are:

IF a pistol doesn't have a “finger rest” trigger guard and is NOT a model 1911, then it was probably designed to be held using the popular “thumbs forward” grip. And while MANY Instructors today INCORRECTLY teach the “thumbs forward” grip as the only proper way to grip a handgun - none of them are going to tell Angus Hobdell (US Multi Grand Master, 5 Times STI / American Handgunner Shoot-Off winner, Multi British & European Champion), that he's holding his pistol wrong (as he uses the “Finger over trigger guard” grip)!

In reality, there is no one perfect grip for everyone. The “best” grip is the one that allows YOU to best hit targets with accuracy and precision.

And that's just the beginning

Staying with this timely topic, if you’ve purchased a firearm, your shopping has only just begun!

1 - A Firearms Instructor
Virtually every gun range has multiple firearms instructors for you to hire. However, which ones are good and which ones are bad? Most “civilian” Instructors are just OK… because they've probably never had to use their firearm in self-defense. So they can teach “theory” all day long (much like asking a virgin for advice about sex). However, they can get you started.

If you're serious, then seek out a Police Officer who trains other Police officers. Many Police officers retire and offer firearm training to supplement their retirement. These folks typically operate several levels above the “civilian” Instructors… and will teach you about the legal ramifications of using a firearm for self-defense in a civilian environment. While many retired police officers may have had to “pull” their firearm for self-defense, few have ever had to actually use it. So while they are better than most civilian Instructors, their focus and experience are still limited.

Another option is former military personnel. IF they only served for 4 years (or served in a non-combat role). Pass. Seek out former military personnel who were deployed multiple times and served in Special Forces, Navy Seals, etc. Many experienced former military personnel have had to use their firearm(s) MANY times. So they can move well beyond “theory” and talk about “practical application” in real-world “live fire” situations. This training will be VERY good… but often VERY different from the instruction offered by Police Officers. The bottom line is… get a true Subject Matter Expert (SME).

As a fan of the 1911, the best video that I've seen specifically addressing the basics for the 1911 is “1911s And How to Properly Use them”.

2 - You're going to need to purchase a good gun cleaning kit. Here again, the market is flooded with cheap, popular, and often incomplete gun cleaning kits. The most common “corner” they cut is either leaving out a Rifled Jag or including a cheap plastic (rather than a brass) “Rifled Jag”.

Forget about the brand names. They’re often the worst. Many firearms SMEs recommend the gun cleaning kits made by Shooter's Choice. Their products are all high quality, complete (typically even including a brass “Rifled Jag”), surprisingly inexpensive, and made in the USA. :-D The ONLY negative comment I have about the Shooter's Choice gun cleaning kits is that they include a small bottle of CLP… which many serious gun owners simply throw away (read: "The Problem with "CLP-Type" Gun Lubricants"). Alternatively, Winchester gun cleaning kits are good and inexpensive - but typically manufactured in China. :-(

As an add-on, MANY people LOVE the “Breakthrough Clean Technologies” BATTLE ROPES™ (aka “Bore Snakes”) because the cloth portion can be disconnected from the brushes portion so that the cloth portion can be washed (e.g., in a washing machine). Unfortunately, they're made in China. :-(

Far too many people procrastinate over cleaning their pistols - due to the monotony and time required. HOWEVER, a popular shortcut to improve efficiency is to disassemble your pistol (which is usually very quick), and place the parts in a small tub filled with mineral spirits (a mild solvent). Allow the parts to soak for about 20 or 30 minutes while you attend something else. After soaking, a quick wipe down should do a decent job of removing the vast majority of debris.
DO NOT add oil/lubricant to your pistol without cleaning it. Some lazy people think this is a temporary “fix” until they have time to properly clean it later. Instead, all this does is create a lapping compound within your pistil to facilitate its wear and deterioration.

3 - Now that you have a cleaning kit AND an Instructor, you're going to need to know how and where to clean and Lubricate your firearm. There are generally 4 products commonly used: solvent, oil, grease, and a combination product called CLP (Cleaner, Lubricant & Protectant) - be sure to read: "The Problem with "CLP-Type" Gun Lubricants". Perhaps it's obvious that you would want to use a good solvent to actually clean your firearm. Then you would oil some parts - while placing grease anywhere there is metal on metal contact. The problem with CLP is that the “protectant” could harden over time. So if your firearm isn't used very often, the protectant may need to be removed and your firearm cleaned before use. Of course, the Internet is rife with opinions on this topic. So ask your Instructor what they recommend for your specific gun.

PS, While not all of their products are made in the USA, every gun-owner should have Breakthrough® Military-Grade Solvent (which is made in the USA :-D).
Solvents typically contain carcinogens. So purchase some nitrile gloves to wear when cleaning your firearm(s).

4 - A holster
Next, you'll need to purchase a good holster. A good holster is one that is solid (NOT leather or nylon), covers the trigger (so that you don't shoot yourself when reaching for your pistol), and is stable (in the same location every time you reach with your pistol AND in the same position for drawing). As you might expect, there are plenty of opinions on this topic. So ask your Instructor what they recommend for you and your specific pistol.

A GREAT holster option is Alien Gear Holsters which are all made in the USA. :-D Other good options include G-Code Holsters - made in the USA :-D and “Angry Rooster Holsters” (on Facebook… for reasons I fail to understand)… which are molded Kydex holsters made in the USA. :-D

5 - Ammunition
Of course, you'll need ammunition. Anti-gunners have absolutely no concept of how many rounds an average shooter will expend during a weekly or bi-weekly practice exercise. A beginner will normally start slow… firing 50 rounds per session. As they improve, it is not uncommon for them to fire faster and increasingly consume more ammunition (100-300 rounds per session). At that point, a person having 1,000+ rounds of ammunition at any given point in time isn't unusual at all. And a competitive shooter may fire 500 to 1,000 rounds in one session.

When purchasing ammunition, you will be presented a dizzying array of different types of bullets. For example…

Some pistols will handle many types of bullets while others will not. For example, the feed ramp in a 1911 pistol was designed to feed 230 grain (weight of the bullet/projectile) FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) bullets with a rounded nose into the barrel. And while some people like the idea of loading their 1911 with hollow point bullets, most hollow point bullets are designed with “angled/slanted” sides and a flat nose. In order for the 1911 feed ramp to properly load a hollow point bullet, it MUST have rounded sides. In fact, the factory Sig Sauer P-220 magazines are designed to prevent a .45 ACP magazine from loading the incorrect cartridges. This is a GREAT idea to help keep users from loading a cartridge that the pistol is not designed to feed.

Also, there are cartridge casings made of brass or steel. The main difference is that the brass casings will expand when fired - preventing much of the GSR (Gun Smoke Residue) from traveling back into the firing mechanisms of the pistol. The steel casings are harder than the soft brass casings, so they will not expand nearly as much as the brass casings. Consequently, using steel cased cartridges tends to create a “dirtier” gun (requiring more frequency and greater “attention to detail” when cleaning).

So before you buy any “special” ammunition, check with a SME for your specific pistol in advance. For example, USMC Veteran Matt Stamp has a GREAT video on ammunition for the 1911 at: “1911 Tips, Ammo”. Where people insist upon using hollow point .45 ACP ammunition, he only recommends Federal Personal Defense HST 45 Auto, Federal Personal Defense HST 45 Auto +P, and Winchester USA .45 ACP 230 Grain Jacketed Hollow Point.

6 - Extra Magazines + Care and maintenance of Magazines
Your pistol probably came with only one or two magazines. So you'll probably want at least one extra. And, while often overlooked, you should also maintain your magazines. If you watch the “News”, you may have noticed that they use the words “magazine” and “clip” interchangeably… which is incorrect. This is explained in the National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR) video, “Minute of Answers - Clip vs. Magazine: What's the difference?”. Spoiler Alert - this isn't the only thing that the “News” gets wrong on a regular basis.

Magazine vs. Clip

Before buying extra magazines, make sure that you're purchasing magazines designed for your specific pistol. And, as mentioned earlier, “extended” magazines are available for most pistols. HOWEVER, avoid the large drum magazines - which are available for some pistols - because they are notoriously unreliable.

You can buy additional magazines from most gun stores or online for:

The 1911 magazines can be problematic (especially for the .45 ACP). Many misfeeds occur when using magazines with a metal follower. To mitigate this issue, Wilson Combat magazines have a fiber-fill nylon self-lubricating follower - which greatly improves reliability. This has garnered them the reputation of having the BEST 1911 magazines available.

And finally, cleaning and maintaining your handgun magazines. While an often overlooked part of a pistol, without regular cleaning and maintenance, residue from firing your pistol can work its way into your magazines and prevent them from properly feeding rounds into your pistol (a VERY BAD situation if you are forced to use your pistol defensively). Also, over time, the more that the spring in your magazines are exercised (emptied and reloaded), the quicker the spring will lose its compressive force (preventing them from feeding rounds into your pistol). While some regular shooters replace their magazine springs every year, most people can go longer.

7 - Range Fees, Targets, Eye & Hearing protection
Without going into great detail, you'll need to go somewhere to live-fire practice. This usually involves a shooting range - which has membership and/or usage fees. And, of course, you'll need both ballistic eye protection and good hearing protection. Many people like to double-up on their hearing protection by wearing both earplugs & earmuffs (electronic noise canceling earmuffs are often preferred).

Of course, you'll also need some targets. While you can purchase them online, or at the shooting range, the cheapest way to get targets is to print your own. You can freely download a variety of printable shooting targets from https://www.targets.ws

8 - “Dry Fire” Training
Considering the cost of ammunition… and range fees, it makes sense for a “new” (learning) shooter to spend time using “dry-fire” training exercises. This involves:

The “Barrel Blok” system is a GREAT way to start… and they even have free online videos for "dry-fire" training (although some SMEs may take issue with the “form” used in the videos).

Actual “snap (Dummy) rounds” (requiring you to eject each “dummy” round after pulling the trigger) can also be used in “dry-fire” training, and are a GREAT resource to have during “live-fire” practice by randomly intermixing them with live rounds in your magazine (to simulate a discharge failure - forcing you to clear it, and/or to more easily reveal unconscious “recoil anticipation” and flinching). While “snap (Dummy) rounds” can be problematic because they often unintentionally cause malfunctions (e.g., “double feeds”, “stovepipes”), many SMEs like them anyway because it forces trainees to learn how to recognize and clear the malfunctions. One of the best “snap (Dummy) rounds” is “A-Zoom”.

As you spend time practicing, one topic that eventually surfaces is whether you should allow the slide to drop (using the slide release lever on the frame) on an empty chamber - and without a loaded magazine in the well.

The "Gun Guys" from Wilson Combat say DON'T DO THIS to Your Guns ("Gun Guys", Ep. 17). While they tend to focus on the Wilson “Match” (competition) pistols - they also point out that this can damage Glocks as well.

In contrast, the Brownell Smyth Busters: Dropping a 1911 Slide on an Empty Chamber say that it's fine - unless its a precision “Match” (competition) pistol.

In reality… it's probably a good idea to minimize (but not completely eliminate) the practice of dropping the slide on an empty chamber without a loaded magazine in the well (e.g., in this instance a magazine loaded with “snap” rounds should be fine).

9 - Modifications
Once you're comfortable with your firearm, you may discover a few features that you want to add or improve. For example, adding night sights, a laser sight, a small flash light or just different handle grips. The list goes on and on.

Again, USMC Veteran Matt Stamp has a GREAT video on MODs for the 1911 at: “1911 Mods”. While Matt prefers the shorter GI Guide Rod in his 1911s, according to “TheYankeeMarshal”, in his video “1911 Guide Rods: Full Length vs. GI Style (Which is better?)”, there is little evidence that this makes any noticeable difference.

If you haven't figured it out yet… becoming a proficient marksman is an expensive - and time-consuming endeavor to undertake. And, just to be clear, I am by no means a SME on this topic.