Monday, April 28, 2008

Good Enough

Kevin Baker laments his lack of speed in firing "controlled doubles" at a recent shooting match he attended. In his post, Kevin links to a classic Chris Byrne post that thoroughly explains and illustrates precisely the what and why of the issue. I should also note that I've met Chris and seen him shoot (at the NoR Fest/Conf last year); not only does he clearly understand the difference between a controlled double and a doubletap, he can demonstrate same with depressing regularity and accuracy.

With a brand new, straight-out-of-the-box, never before fired by him 10 mm no less.


All that said, I'm going to argue the position that, outside the bounds of formal competitions like IDPA/IPSC and the like, the standards of performance Chris and Kevin seek to achieve are not entirely realistic for actual pistol gunfights (says the man who is loudly grateful never to have actually had to engage in one).

Lemme 'splain.

Hold your hand in front of you, palm toward you, fingers extended and touching each other. Then make a fist with the thumb resting outside the closed fingers. I should point out that attempting to punch someone with your fist in this configuration will almost certainly result in more damage to your fist then to another's face; also, the area demarcated by your fist (base of the palm to the closed fingers x the thumb knuckle joint to the blade-edge of the palm) is a reasonably accurate simulacrum of the size of your heart. Place your closed fist over the mid-point of your chest and you will have a clear illustration of the target area involved. Now, center the last joint of your little finger on your upper lip and take note of the portion of your face your fist covers.

As part of your next trip to the range, make this same fist but this time extend your arm towards the target you just shot. If the X-round (6, 7, 8, 17?) string you just shot is covered by your extended fist, I'm going to suggest that you did indeed "got him" and that that's more than good enough.

Which is the point underlying this post; just how much and, at least as critically, how fast is "good enough" when your target is another human trying to shoot you and not just a steel plate or piece of paper?

My belief is that one shot "within the fist" on a consistent basis is of greater importance then almost any number of shots placed adjacent to the critical location. Keep in mind the dimensions of an "A" shot as described in Chris' post. The area of my own extended fist is ~ 2.5 inches wide by 4 inches high, considerably smaller then the 6" x 10" area permitted in competition. In a defensive handgun fight, a potentially lethal wound will almost certainly limit the number of return shots you will have time to deliver - which is still really bad news for your opponent.

Especially if we reverse the scenario and you are the opponent.

I contend that, while the averaging effect achieved in IDPA-type competition is an excellent test of a shooter's overall skills, the value of a single well-placed first shot is of overriding importance. Furthermore, if you are capable of consistently placing a shot within the fist on a human chest, you are equally capable of doing so to a human head. Should that be the case (talk about your critical self-analysis!), then for the purposes of a defensive gun fight, if both target areas are equally clear* the head shot ought to be the primary choice. Remember, this is handguns, not rifles, and at a probable distance between shooters of 7 to 10 yards maximum (anything much beyond that range starts to call into question the whole "defensive" aspect of the thing, don'tcha agree? You're gonna get sued anyway, why make it easy for them?).

I choose to carry a 1911 pattern .45 acp semi-auto as my primary weapon, with a S&W 431 PD in .32 H&R Magnum as a pocket/back-up weapon. If you also choose to fire a bullet of lessor mass than a .45/357/44 mag (9 mm or .38 for example) you too will be more likely to find a second shot necessary. I do agree that delivering a follow-up round to the same fist-size area as the first shot within one second of firing that first shot is a realistic objective. You aren't likely to be given more time then that by the other shooter in any case, so the impetus behind Kevin's desire isn't simply confined to seeking competitive advantage in a formal match setting. Now that he too is (will be soon?) carrying concealed, the ramifications of doing so need to be considered as well.

Shooting competitions, practical or otherwise, are structured to emphasise the competitive relationship between the shooters pretty much as a requirement of their design, whatever the practical/defensive intent might also be. If you're going to carry a gun off the range as well as on, I believe you should regularly train to use your weapon to an off-range requirement on a regular basis, in addition to training for any other shooting setting that attracts your interest. Just keep clearly in mind the differing circumstances of your varied interests, that's all, and be careful not to practice one to the exclusion of some other.

*A "clear" target is one that is unobstructed, both in front and behind, along the likely trajectory of the fired bullet.


Kevin said...

I have no argument with your points, except to say two things:

1) I'm shooting competition, so I'd like my times to go down, and that means faster splits while still hitting the target.

2) In a defensive situation, anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice! (Just do your damndest to put the first one through that 2.5"x4" space as quickly as practicable.

Will Brown said...

As far as competition goes Kevin, I agree that shaving time is desirable. Wouldn't you agree that doing so via improved mechanics of re-loading and manuvering thru the stage ought to achieve at least as much improvement of result? I don't shoot competition so I'm asking here.

We may have a slightly different emphasis on the objective of a defensive gunfight. My own thinking to this point is that I should confine my efforts to decisively protecting myself from direct attack without inflicting physical harm to others. Further, that a defensive action implies an onus to remove myself from the point of contact as quickly as personal safety allows. I "win" the gunfight if I successfully dis-engage without harm to myself or having caused harm to innocent bystanders, irrespective of how many rounds I did or did not fire doing so.

One of my objections to "practical" shooting competitions is the extent to which their inherent format works in opposition to what I regard as simply a practical reality to carrying a gun in modern America.

Shooting your attacker is a tactic, not the objective.

Anonymous said...

William, two points:

I don't think one's aim is to put two through the heart. I would hope to hit the major vessels connecting there. There was a cop in LA shot through the heart with a .357 mag. She proceeded to chase the guy around a vehicle and terminate him. She survived to return to duty later. Putting a second in there may not add much effect, but tearing up the plumbing would.

Thinking that beyond 7-10 yards is
some sort of safety zone is unwise. Mas Ayoob was part of a defense team for someone who killed an attacker at 40yards(I think) with a rifle. BG had a snubbie. The DA said he was not a threat. Ayoob took an identical gun and was videotaped putting all six rounds into a torso target at 100 yards. Case over.
I shoot my snubbies on the 40 yard tin can range whenever I go to the outdoor range. I figure that at any range I can see a weapon, they constitute a credible threat (long guns can be seen farther=longer range). I look at it as if I was the threat: If I can see/identify you, I can probably hit you, and proceed from that perspective. I wouldn't want to end up like that famous military leader who died while saying "they couldn't hit an elephant(?) at this dist....THWOK!"

Will Brown said...

Hi Will; Your examples illustrate perfectly one of the concerns I have, what are the parameters of a "defensive" shooting? The most commonly referenced distances I've seen fall within the 3 to 7 yard average. The problem being these are averages, a dozen arm's length events allow for one 20 yarder. How likely does it seem that they will all be considered equally defensive in nature to the eyes of a civil trial jury?

That's one modern reality we all have to factor into our calculations. Like it or not, those of us who choose to carry a gun aren't going to be the only one's to decide what constitutes a defensive shooting as opposed to an egregious assault (literally) on some choirboy's heretofore pristine civil rights. Not only do we have to survive the gunfight, we also have to survive the legal justification for our having done so as well.

The missue Kevin's post originally inspired in mewas the difference between the expectations of what is exceptable behavior in an actual gunfight as compared to the implications inherent to an IDPA/IPSC competition scenario. I feel certain that any action we might take during a gunfight that isn't clearly intended to aid us in escaping the immediate treat (and I think a jury could be convinced to regard an aimed shot to an attackers head as being just that) is going to be considered as our having escalated an already bad situation. Ergo, we end up bearing some portion of the liability for the result. The undeniably valid combat skills such competitions teach aren't easily justified as "defensive" in a court room several months/years later.

Part of surviving a gunfight is the mental preparation made in advance. It just seems wiser to to include preparation for the aftermath as well.

Kevin said...

This is all well and good, but:

What I'm shooting isn't IPSC/IDPA - they're steel shoots. Some of the targets are the shape of IDPA silhouettes, but we're not scored on where we hit, just whether or not we hit. Other targets are falling plates, pepper-poppers, and (my personal favorite) the Texas Star - something right out of a carnival shooting gallery.

What I'm (hopefully) teaching myself by shooting this type of competition is "slow is smooth and smooth is fast," plus the mechanics of reloading on the move, failure drills under pressure, and hitting the damned target - whether it's a 4" plate at 25 yards or a torso silhouette at 7.

I'm practicing combat skills but not in a combat scenario.

To some extent, William, I agree that IDPA/IPSC doesn't teach you defensive skills - it teaches you how to kill every MF in the room (while rescuing the hostages, of course.)

Steel shoots - much like pin shoots or falling plate events - just teach you some of the skills that come in handy should you ever really need to draw your gun in defense of yourself or others.

And if I ever have to do that, I will put no less than two rounds into anyone I deem a threat, as fast as I can manage.

Will Brown said...

You know, certain aspects of all this have been niggling away in the back of my brain since I first wrote this - some of it from before I decided to get a carry permit myself.

IOW, we are going to see this again.

But not just now. I'm going to the range myself in a couple hours. Where I intend to shoot at least six McCormick mags worth in first shot placement practice at different distances.

Thanks for commenting further Kevin, I should have caught the difference between the steel target match you mentioned and the IDPA details from Chris' post you linked to. My bad.

More to follow ...