The Safariland Group Blog

How to Choose a Fighting PIstol

May 30, 2012 at 18:54

Many have weighed in on the topic of the fighting pistol, yet the debate and search for the “one” still continues today. The questions go round as to make, model, caliber and more. The definition of the fighting pistol is a full-size pistol with the primary mission of being openly carried in a duty holster or leg holster by the person who goes armed into harm’s way on a daily basis. Based on my experience, I believe the following factors should be considered when choosing the best fighting pistol to meet your needs.

The fighting pistol must be highly reliable. One should not tolerate any malfunction in 250, 500 or 1000 rounds. Which malfunction would be ok in combat and when? A new fighting pistol should be combat-ready out of the box and not require the trendy 500 round break-in period to function properly, nor should it need polishing, aftermarket magazines, special type or brand of ammunition or gunsmith fitting to work correctly.

The fighting pistol should have useable sights and a good trigger. A good trigger is not to be confused with a light trigger meant for competition or bull’s eye shooting. The gold standard on a fighting pistol trigger pull should be no less than 5 pounds, based on detailed research conducted by Massad Ayoob.

The fighting pistol should be accurate. Match grade accuracy is truly only needed by the highly skilled shootist. The average person does not invest the amount of time or ammunition to become proficient enough to out shoot the pistol. Two-inch accuracy at twenty-five yards is more accurate than many could ever muster under stress. Invest in training from knowledgeable and credible instructors and range time, not gadgets. Learn to run the fighting pistol under all conditions, with either hand, be able to clear stoppages, reload, use a flashlight and stay in the fight. Remember there is brilliance in basics and understand that advanced pistol skills are only the execution of the basic fundamentals under stress.

The fighting pistol should be durable. It needs to have a simple manual of arms, be easy to take down and assemble and not require special tools, gadgets or the level of maintenance required to keep a formula one race car on the track. The fighting pistol should not need to be handled with kid gloves to perform.

The fighting pistol should hold as many rounds as possible. High capacity affords the ability to stay in the fight.  I recently interviewed an officer who fired a total of fifteen, 40 caliber rounds in a lethal force encounter. I reviewed the autopsy results and crime scene pictures; the officer hit the subject eleven times out of fifteen. The fastest way to win a gunfight is to hit first, hit accurately and repeat as needed. The officer involved told me he was very thankful that his duty pistol had a high-capacity magazine on that day.

The fighting pistol should be selected on function and not cosmetics. I truly love a finely-engraved ivory-gripped pistol or revolver; however if it does not meet the criteria of a fighting pistol I would not take it to the fight. I agree with, and support all the other reasons for owning pistols and revolvers, such as historic value, collecting, plinking, hunting, competition use and the most important reason “because I want to”!

On a side note, the topic of caliber has become a smoke and mirror parlor game often debated by the “tacti cool” and “internet commandos”. If the one true defensive caliber existed, then why do so many shooters make an argument for theirs? As a general rule, pistols are poor fight stoppers in comparison to shotguns or rifles. The one true equalizer with the fighting pistol is shot placement. The shooter should select a caliber they can manage and shoot well, but should strive to keep the caliber somewhere between .38 and .45, since all calibers in that range have won fights! I have spoken to medical examiners and officers who have used lethal force and have not been able to define the “one” caliber nor have those I have spoken to. I have  interviewed officers who fired as few as three, 9mm rounds in a lethal encounter, worked crime scenes where one, .38 caliber round ended the encounter and have interviewed officers who have fired to slide lock with .40’s and .45’s to end the encounter. I do not claim my research and interviews to be all-inclusive, scientific or the final word on this topic, I will leave that to the experts; they are merely my own observations during a 23-year law enforcement career and perpetual student of the fighting pistol.

Using the thoughts above one should be able to find the pistol that truly fits their needs if it is a fighting pistol they are searching for. The fighting pistol is a tool; mindset and commitment are truly the real “weapons” in the fight.

John Burdock is veteran of the United States Marine Corps with 23 years in law enforcement including 17 years as a firearms instructor, SWAT team member and contract trainer. He is currently a Lieutenant with the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office and an instructor with the Safariland Training Group

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