January 03, 2011
According to the Sheriff, a three-inch-barreled, medium-frame, double-action .38 Special makes a good defensive gun for a lady. And he says the most important part of a defensive plan is proper training.
I was recently contacted by a lady friend in Arizona who felt the need to obtain a defensive handgun and the training that should go with it. She was open to suggestions and sought advice to help her get on the right track with a realistic personal-defense plan. Because I want to respect her privacy, I'll just call her Ann.
From our conversations I knew that Ann had some prior experience with guns, and she had a grown son who was a hunter and shooter. For these reasons, I didn't think it was necessary for her to start out with a .22 rimfire, learning the rudiments of marksmanship and gun safety. What I did think was that Ann needed a dependable, no frills handgun that she could understand and quickly learn how it functioned. I suggested a medium-frame, double-action revolver chambered in .38 Special.
Now, I know the high-capacity auto pistol crowd looks down their collective noses at the lowly .38 Special sixgun. It doesn't have the romantic flair or popularity that the big semiautomatics currently enjoy. You can't trick it out from one end to the other with all those aftermarket doo-dads that are available for autoloading pistols. And it sure doesn't come anywhere near the magazine capacity of the autoloaders.
However, most folks who have any knowledge at all of handguns have some idea of how to operate a DA revolver. In addition, modern bullet design and progressive ammunition have increased the defensive potential of the .38 Special cartridge considerably. Also, it's important to remember that magazine capacity doesn't stop gunfights nearly so efficiently as center hits do. The civilian who carries a defensive handgun uses it as an exit ticket out of a bad situation, not as an excuse to engage in a pitched battle.
I told Ann that I had just seen an ad in Shotgun News from J&G Sales in nearby Prescott, Arizona, that listed some used three-inch Smith & Wesson Model 10 revolvers. I have purchased some guns from these folks over the years and always appreciated their straightforward way of dealing. Ann didn't live all that far from Prescott, so I suggested that she begin her search for a defensive handgun at J&G Sales.
Ann worked her own magic at J&G Sales. She clearly told the salesperson who waited on her that she knew next to nothing about defensive handguns and had come to J&G because she was told that they would take care of her. Would they please pick out for her a good gun from among the assortment of three-inch Model 10s that they had in stock? Yes, ma'am, the clerk said. He would be happy to.
The S&W Model 10 she bought was a used gun in excellent shape. Ann later purchased a Bianchi hip holster for her revolver and has plans to obtain a fanny pack/holster in the near future.
At this point, Ann and I discussed her need for training with her new gun. Her first thought was to go to a local range and do some shooting with a friend who was into the shooting sports. Following that, she would sign up for the Arizona concealed-carry course that was required to get her carry license.
There were several problems with this sort of a plan. The first was that working with a shooting enthusiast is a real good opportunity to learn all of that person's bad habits. While I'm sure this fellow meant well, there was no indication that he had any experience in actually teaching a skill to someone else. Nor would he, necessarily, have the credentials to know what was needed in realistic defensive handgun training. Theory is fine, but it rarely beats experience.
The second problem was that state-run concealed-carry schools are mandated to teach the student what the state's applicable laws are regarding the use of deadly force. Having done this, they then test the student's ability to safely and accurately handle their defensive firearm. These schools are not designed to teach a student the basic skills of defensive shooting.
What Ann needed to do was to get some good training before taking the state licensing class.
Of the several fine defensive handgun schools in this country, I have had personal experience with two: Thunder Ranch (which has now moved from Texas to Oregon) and Gunsite (located right there in Arizona). I suggested that Ann enroll at Gunsite, preferably in a women's class.
Ann's experience at Gunsite was everything she had hoped it would be. Her instructors, several women with law-enforcement backgrounds, had mapped out a plan for learning based upon actual defensive needs. Their teaching was done in a manner, and at a rate, that allowed the students to actually learn important skills. The repetition of the training practices locked the techniques into the students' memories.
At the end of her schooling, Ann's instructors passed out their business cards and told the class that they were all part of a family now. They said to contact them any time there was a question or to report anything interesting in connection with what was learned. "The first day of class I was pretty nervous, and cold, and half sick," Ann said, "but near sundown of the second day was when I just had to tell them that it was fun."
Too often women are left with the impression that defensive shooting is a "guy thing." This is often compounded by the fact that some men take pleasure in handing a lady a .44 Magnum, or some such cannon, with the instructions to "shoot it, it won't hurt." This sort of humor is often coupled with the complete disregard for eye and ear protection. What a great disservice this does to our sport.
"The first day of class I was pretty nervous, and cold, and half sick," Ann said, "but near sundown of the second day was when I just had to tell them
that it was fun."
Many women quickly learn that proper training in defensive shooting is empowering. The old quote that Sam Colt made us all equal is really true. There is no gender issue behind a defensive handgun; it all boils down to training, determination, and muscle memory.
One additional benefit to Ann's experience is that she reports an increased confidence in dealing with issues outside her comfort range. She has been reminded that she can learn and can function under stress.
Ann's story is a success because she got good advice, good equipment, and good training. She is now planning to enroll in an Arizon
a concealed-carry class and obtain her carry license. And she is also looking forward to the day when she can return to Gunsite for more advanced training. I'm happy to have played a small part in her success story.
And I would have just loved to have been standing by that second day on the range when her face lit up and she told her instructors that shooting was fun. Shooting may be a way to put food on our table, it may be a way to save our hides in a deadly encounter, but most of all it is just a lot of fun. Sometimes we forget that.