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 semi-automatic pistols.

First, locate the “tang” (or “beaver tail”) at the top of the rear of the handle of the pistol (below the slide). Then push the pistol into the webbing between your thumb and index finger of your dominant hand just below the “tang” (into the curved space) so that the pistol handle fits snugly. The “tang” is intended to protect your hand from the action of the slide when you fire the pistol. So if your hand is above the “tang”, then you're too high on the handle.

Next, with your thumb against the side of the pistol, and your finger pointed straight along the side of the pistol, wrap the remaining fingers of your dominant hand around the handle of the pistol (under the trigger guard) - so that the first joint from each finger tip has a firm grip on the handle. Your wrist should be straight and in alignment with your forearm - forming a straight line with the pistol (as shown in the image on the left). If your hand looks like image on the below left, then you have a proper “fit”.

Finally, make sure that - as a minimum - you're able to reach the magazine release and safety lever (if applicable) without altering your firing grip. Ideally, you should also be able to reach the slide lock lever. If not, then it is acceptable to use your off-hand thumb OR just use the slide rack method on reloads. Even if you have small hands, you should be able to find a handgun that doesn’t require you to shift your hand position in order to activate the safety.

IF the pistol is too large
For people with small hands and/or short fingers, 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 moves under the “tang” - 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 “tang” fit snugly into the webbing between their thumb and index finger, the first joint from their finger tips won't have a firm grip on the handle (only the tips of their fingers are holding onto it) - this causes them to not have adequate control of the pistol because they physically can't get a proper grip.

You can't force a handgun to “fit” your hand anymore than you can try to fit your foot into a shoe that is several size too small!

Pistols built for a High Capacity (HC) magazine (typically called double-stack magazines - which hold more cartridges) are often have wider handles than those built for single-stack magazines. Pistols built for double-stack magazines are common among many semi-automatic pistols. For example, the majority of Glocks are designed for a double-stack magazine.

In contrast, the standard “1911” pistol is built for a single-stack magazine… allowing people with smaller hands and/or fingers to properly “wrap” their hands around the gun much more easily. However, there are a few 1911 variants designed for a double-stack magazine (for people with larger hands and/or longer fingers).

Also, if your hand “fits” the pistol handle but you can't reach the magazine release and safety lever (if applicable) without altering your firing grip, then recognize that pistols come in MANY shapes and sizes (e.g., Full Size, Compact or sub-compact). So keep looking for the best “fit” you can find.

Ruger LCP with a Hogue Handall Rubber Grip Sleeve

IF the pistol is too small
For people with large hands and/or long fingers, “fit” is typically only a problem when trying to choose a compact or sub-compact pistol (as a Concealed Carry Weapon (CCW)). If you start with a full size pistol that “fits”, then you should immediately recognize a problem when handling a pistol that is too small! However, you could add an inexpensive “Grip Sleeve” to increase the size of the grip.

The biggest problem with guys who have large hands is them thinking that everyone has large hands - and trying to choose a pistol that they can “share” with their wife! It would be rare to find a pistol that “fits” both people. One possible solution for sharing a pistol with a small handle is to get a “Grip Sleeve”. While a “Grip Sleeve” increases the size of the grip, it's easily removable for someone with smaller hands to use. Hoage manufactures several different types of “grip sleeves”.

People with large and/or long fingers often have an issue with fitting their finger inside the trigger guard. In some cases it is because the trigger itself is too far forward… leaving little space between the trigger and the front of the trigger guard. In other cases, the trigger guard is just too short - making it uncomfortable or awkward for these folks to get their finger into the trigger guard! Fortunately, the majority of Heckler & Koch (H&K) pistols have an extended trigger guard. While these can be awkward for people with small hands and/or short fingers, they're often a perfect fit for people with large and/or long fingers.

Grip Angle
Now hold the pistol straight out in front of you - at eye level. Notice whether the barrel is pointed straight ahead or down. the pistol should naturally be pointed directly where you're pointing it… or very close.

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). No grip angle is inherently better than the other. Some peoples’ hand and wrist anatomy just align better with one angle than the other. You should find a pistol with an anatomically-natural grip angle that “fits” you with little or no adjustment. This will help you naturally acquire targets in a stressful situation.

Finger Grooves
Many handgun manufacturers install finger grooves on handgun grips (mostly because new gun buyers think they look “cool)”. They’re found in the form of the subtle grooves on the gen 3 and gen 4 Glocks all the way up to the massive canyon-sized grooves on the ubiquitous Hogue revolver monogrips. However, the vast majority of experienced/serious shooters avoid them because placing your fingers in the grooves could force your hand to be too low - or too high - on the grip to have sufficient control of the gun under recoil. Conversely, placing the hand in the correct position might necessitate that your fingers wrap around the ridges on the front of the grip, rather than inside the grooves. If the grooves are subtle enough, the shooter might be able to ignore this minor discomfort, but it can also cause pain or loss of control under recoil.

As a general rule, new gun owners should avoid handguns with finger grooves. The only exception is where it is a finger groove sleeve that can be removed.

Other Considerations

Beyond the “fit” of a pistol, someone who is new to firearms faces a dizzying array of options to consider - and decisions to make. For example:

  • How the pistol will primarily be used as a “Concealed Carry Weapon” (CCW)
  • Whether or not it has “rails (e.g., ”MIL-STD-1913 (Picatinny) Rails“ or ”Weaver Rails“ for attaching a laser sight, flashlight)
  • Whether the pistol is made of metal (heavy) or a composite material (light)
  • The caliber & types of bullets you plan to use
  • Sights
  • Whether the pistol is a “Single Action”, “Double-Action Only” (DAO), or a “Double-Action/Single-Action” (DA/SA)
  • Grip Type (e.g., material (wood, plastic, rubber) with or without texturing, with or without a ”magwell cut“, or adding a Hoage "grip sleeve" to make the grip slightly larger)
  • Whether it has a manual “safety” or not
  • Whether or not it has a “drop” safety (while most pistols have a “drop safety”, these are not included in “1911” series 70 model models, but are included in 1911 series 80 models)

Physical Condition

Another MAJOR consideration should your upper body strength, wrist strength, and any physical conditions - such as arthritis or other joint pain/tenderness. When choosing a handgun, understand that handgun weight & recoil are connected… and have little to do with caliber alone.

Pistol 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, upgraded handle grips (e.g., rubberized, or - for the 1911 - grips with a ”magwell cut“), a grip sleeve, or using ”recoil buffer“ pads to extend the life of the pistol. The list goes on and on.

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, the “TheYankeeMarshal”, in his video ”1911 Guide Rods: Full Length vs. GI Style (Which is better?)“, says there is little evidence that this makes any noticeable difference. Another topic of debate, regarding 1911s, is whether the series 70 is better than the series 80 (which adds 4 parts internal to the 1911 in order to create an arguably unnecessary “drop safety” - as that risk has already been addressed using a more efficient means).

And that's just the beginning

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

You'll need to learn:

  • how to properly grip your handgun (each pistol can be different)
  • a proper shooting stance
  • how to select and properly use a holster
  • which ammunition is best for your handgun… whether for target shooting or for personal defense
  • how to "dry fire" train (creating muscle memory without expending ammunition at a shooting range)

You'll also need to

  1. Hire a firearms Instructor,
  2. Purchase ammunition,
  3. Purchase targets,
  4. Purchase eye & hearing protection, and
  5. Spend time “live firing” your pistol at a shooting range.

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. One negative to be aware of is that police forces tend to select only one to two pistols to train their officers to use. And that tends to be what former police officers are best at training others to use. 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. And while they're primarily trained in use of the standard-issue weapons (including pistols), they often have experience in using multiple weapons - including multiple pistols. 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).

<note>The best video that I've seen specifically addressing the basics for the 1911 is ”1911s And How to Properly Use them“.</note>

2 - Ammunition
After you've chosen your specific pistol caliber, 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 possessing 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.

3 - Targets
Before going to the range, 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 print some free “corrective” targets from Alien Gear or freely download a variety of printable shooting targets from Gun News Daily or However, IF you choose to purchase the larger targets, get the body silhouette targets, such as:

4 & 5 - Range Fees, 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). This is because, in order to work properly, ear muffs must have a complete seal… which is not always complete. The ear plugs dampen any noise that may enter through a poorly sealed ear-muff.

<note important>While a Shooting Range is great for beginners, these offer an extremely limited / restricted opportunity for practice / training (e.g., confined single lanes with little or no ability to move laterally, Range Rules often forbid drawing from a holster). Therefore, most serious shooters will graduate fairly quickly to a tactical training course.</note>

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.