At The Door

Let’s talk about home defense for a bit. Yes, I am shifting gears from competition for my next few posts. After delving deeper into my own situation and thinking about potential outcomes from what I experienced the other night, I have some thoughts that I felt were worth sharing. I offer them for what they are worth.

The Personal Defense Narrative

When a person buys a gun, they seldom plan on not using it. No matter the reason you purchased a firearm, you probably planned on shooting it, unless you are a high-end cork sniffing collector – but even some collectors like to shoot their guns! So many times people “know what they will do” when someone breaks in to their house.  They have created their own personal defense narrative and it normally involves shooting the intruder.

Unfortunately I feel this might lead to problems. When planning your own household defense  should you really imagine someone breaking into your house?  Might you better served imagining ALL probable “bump in the night” scenarios with a solid basis in reality.

Let me offer a scenario; a noise At The Door:

You awake to a noise outside your house. Might someone be there? Maybe, but the fact you heard someone or something doesn’t necessarily mean you are facing harm? Nevertheless, in your head you have played out this scenario countless times and at 3am, it can only be a bad guy, there is no other option. You’re sure of it!

You grab your gun and go investigate only to realize that someone (or something) is trying to beat down your door. Fearing for your life, (or that of your family,) you aim at the door with your firearm and yell STOP! You are greeted with a torrent of obscenities. Assured in the fact your personal narrative is correct you aim, you take a deep breath and pull the trigger.  You open the door to horror.

Congratulations! You fired your weapon at an unknown target and have either wounded someone or worse. Your narrative convinced you it was the only choice you had.

But let’s back up. What if it wasn’t a thug, but instead it was your neighbor? Perhaps he was drunk, disoriented and making a racket at your door because “their” key wasn’t working in “their” door. But, but, what about the swearing? Maybe it was directed at the lock, or maybe they thought you were pulling a bad joke on him. After all, he thought it was “his” house.

Before you comment that my scenario couldn’t happen, make sure you first tell that to the family of Carter Albrecht. This excerpt from the article linked in his name explains it all:

“He was shot to death as he tried to kick in a neighbor’s door in an apparent drunken rage after beating his girlfriend, police say. The neighbor reportedly thought Mr. Albrecht was a burglar and fired a pistol up high through the back door as a warning. The shot hit the 6-foot-4-inch Mr. Albrecht in the head instead.”

Was the late Mr. Albrecht a nice guy? I am not sure, I never met him. The article alleges he beat his girlfriend. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, I don’t know those facts. Did he deserve to die? I would say the odds are in favor of, NO. The take away is you should NEVER assume.

In both the scenario I offered, and in the actual event I linked, Jeff Cooper’s Rule #2 and #4 were disregarded with disastrous results. The end result was a needless death, and a shooter that will live with a horrible guilt the remainder of his life. Why?  Because the person holding the gun never took the time, on a peaceful day when there was time, to explore the possibilities and their options.

The takeaway is simple, you must know what is there; but you must gather information without exposing yourself. There are many different ways to accomplish that and I hope to review them in a later post; but before I do I have some thoughts on the noise inside of your house that I will review in my next post.

Before I sign off, let’s review Jeff Cooper’s 2nd Rule

NEVER LET THE MUZZLE COVER ANYTHING YOU ARE NOT PREPARED TO DESTROY – You may not wish to destroy it, but you must be clear in your mind that you are quite ready to if you let that muzzle cover the target.

And Jeff Cooper’s 4th Rule

BE SURE OF YOUR TARGET – You never shoot at anything until you have positively identified it. You never fire at a shadow, or a sound, or a suspected presence. You shoot only when you know absolutely what you are shooting at and what is beyond it.

Revised January 4, 2016 for typo – ed.

My Time with an XD

Between August 2014 and May 2015 I put 4387 rounds through an XD 9 Tactical. That included a 3 day class (in the rain and mud) with Ben Stoeger that saw 1877 rounds without cleaning. With that in mind I thought I would offer my first hand experience an XD.  This is not so much a review as what I learned about the weapon with a sample size of one.

springfield xdm 5.25

I know it is fun to bash them, but it was my competition gun during the time I owned it. Now I must be 100% honest; when I first decided to get into competition I bought a Glock 34 Gen 4 to shoot IDPA SSP.  Glock makes dependable, reasonably accurate guns, but I don’t shoot them well and I hate the trigger.  After 400 rounds, I sold it and went looking for something else. I was looking for a gun I could use for both games and for self-defense. In my mind I thought I would NEVER go full gamer. I was wrong, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Why an XD?

To be honest, prior to owning one, I never have given the XD’s much thought. I knew that many well-known tactical instructors poo-poo them, Caleb bashed them and they had the grip safety, which by all accounts would get me killed in the streets immediately. Nevertheless, I held one in a gun store, it felt good, pointed naturally and the trigger was serviceable. Springfield had one of their promotions going on so I got a voucher for 3 extra mags for FREE. That sweetened the pot enough that I lay down greenbacks and walked out the door.

I was the owner of a new XD Tactical in 9 mm; what had I done!

I did briefly consider a 4.5 inch XDm, but frankly the difference between the regular XD and the XDm didn’t justify the price difference, at least to me.

Now, as I said, my original goal was to keep it rather stock and usable as a defensive weapon, but, well… gamer. Before I sold it I had put way too much into it and modified it.

What mods?

Let’s see:

  • Talon Grips (No brainer here; the factory grip is slicker than a wet newborn)
  • Dawson Precision Sights (reasonably priced Fiber Optics, why not)
  • XDm Slide Release (It just felt better)
  • 15lbs recoil spring (One pound less than stock. I heard rumor that if you go too light the striker spring will pull the gun out of battery. I don’t know and I didn’t want to risk it)
  • Springer Precision Ultimate Trigger Kit. (Because Race Gun)
  • Titanium Stiker Indicator (seemed like a good waste of money)
  • Lightened striker spring (too match the lighter trigger)

When it was all said and done, I had a decent gun to compete in SSP or Production and one I would no longer use for a self-defense scenario. Oh well, the best laid plans…

So, in my time owning an XD, what did I learn about the gun? Plenty!

Grip Safety – Let’s start with the apparent anti-tactical, instant Ninja death grip safety. I have heard stories of their failure. The 1911 has a grip safety and didn’t cause immediate disembowelment, so what was the catch? With a Level 3 Trauma ER standing ready I set out to see how it could fail. It didn’t take long to make it fail, once I learned its weakness. How do you make an XD grip safety fail? Three simple steps:

  1. Unload the gun (this keeps the Ninja’s away, they don’t attack during practice).
  2. Take a zip tie (or bamboo skewer, or long Q-tip or a twig) and insert it in the cavity at the bottom of the grip.
  3. Try to active the grip safety and discover neither it nor the trigger move.

You may also notice the slide will not move either.  Since the grip safety must be depressed for the slide to move the gun is now completely locked up until the offending item is removed from the cavity. Now let’s be realistic. In a carry gun, the odds of this happening are EXTREMELY rare. Plausible? Yes, but still rare. For my purposes I decided this was a non-issue. If I was using this as my sidearm while storming the beaches of Endor trying to defeat a Mongol zombie uprising, then yes, I would choose something else.

Accuracy – It was decent, not the most accurate pistol I have ever shot, but it wasn’t bad. Not nearly as bad as some internet commando’s lead on. Maybe it shot bad because their accuracy isn’t as great as they tell people on the internet? But I digress. No problems here, plenty accurate for IDPA and USPSA.

Reliability – In a word, Great! I had zero malfunctions in the time I had it (aside for the grip safety experiment). Granted 4037 rounds isn’t a ton, but I would wager most people that have bad mouthed them have put less than that through them. For the most part I did perform proper maintenance and cleaned the gun every 500 rounds, aside from the class with Ben Stoeger. Again, I am not planning on being in a real life Twilight 2000 scenario, so a gun that can go 20K rounds without cleaning means nothing to me.

An Unexpected Positive – I sent an email to none other than Rob Leatham asking about the gun he used to win USPSA Production in 2006 and about Springfield’s XD accuracy work.  I expected a response but not the novel back. It was truly awesome that someone with his credentials would offer me such detailed assistance. For those that follow drag racing, it would be the same as Warren Johnson helping the local street racer tune his engine before a Friday Night Grudge Match. Frankly I found it bad ass and still do

Where there negatives? Yes.  Of course!

  • There is the grip safety that can jam and cause instant seppuku, but whatever, any gun can be made to jam.
  • Some people say they are ugly, but that is subjective. I am indifferent on the XD.
  • To me, the biggest issue is the price point. You can buy equally good guns for less money.  In my opinion, Springfield set their price point too high.

Now, for the crux of the issue.  Would I own another one?  Yes, but only if I got a smoking deal.

So why did I sell it? I needed to fund either a CZ Shadow or a Tanfoglio Limited Pro; as everyone knows they ship with a USPSA Grand Master card. In all seriousness, I wanted my competition pistol(s) to be all metal.  That was a move I am glad I made and a post for another day.

To summarize, If you own an XD, you can ignore the naysayers. If you are looking at one and the price is acceptable, buy with confidence. As I have noted before this is a sample of one, and my experience didn’t mirror the great many Chairborne Rangers of internetville; however, I wonder how many of those same naysayers have shot one beyond the bowling alley range, much less put near 4500 rounds through one.

As I have noted before; I deal in facts. If you have had failures with an XD (not XDS) please post in the comments with the approximate round count.

Probatur verum. (Proven truths)

Ernest Langdon and the Beretta PX4

Way back when, a guy bought a SIG P220ST at a local gunshop.  He then took that double action/single action (DA/SA) .45ACP and famously “tore down the house that 1911s built” at the 2003 IDPA National Championship and won the CDP title.  Never an organization to be so inflexible enough to not ban pistols other than 1911s in the CDP division, IDPA changed the rules, making the P220ST illegal for the CDP division due to new weight restrictions (a newer, lighter P220ST was released shortly thereafter by SIG coincidentally).  Personally, this ranks right up there with the time the Army Marksmanship Unit (AMU) showed up at Camp Perry and used M16s to beat the Marines’ M14s handily as a moment in time in which I wish I could have been there to laugh with much gusto.”  This guy’s name is Ernest Langdon and he is one of those oddballs in the firearms world in that he is a combat veteran and a shooting champion, proving that the tactical and competitive worlds are not mutually exclusive.

Getting a bit closer to the subject of our article, DA/SA handguns are making a comeback in competition and elsewhere.  The last five USPSA Production National Championships were won with DA/SA guns, three times with a Beretta and twice now with a Stock II.   The noted 1911 manufacturer Wilson Combat is even selling custom Berettas.  CZ 75 variants abound in my local USPSA matches.

Finally circling in and landing upon the subject of our article, Ernest Langdon recently found himself in a quandary:  he wanted the desirable combination of size, shootability, and magazine capacity that the Glock 19 offers albeit in a DA/SA pistol.  I’ll let Ernest tell the rest in his own words, as taken from his original Pistol-Forum post.

The newest handgun on my radar screen is the Beretta PX4 Compact. I’ve never really given it a second thought even though it has been out and available for years. Some people really love the PX4. Some people don’t. I have heard great things about its accuracy and there are still a few police departments carrying the PX4 as their issued side arm. That being said, why is it a gun that almost no one considers as a personal carry option?

I started asking myself this when I was working in the Beretta booth at the NRA Show this year. I was talking to customers about the new handguns from Beretta, like the M9A3, Wilson Combat Brigadier Tactical, and the full 90 series product line. I am fully familiar with all of them, but I was contemplating getting a smaller gun for daily carry. I carry the full-size M9A1 now and while I have become accustomed to it, summer was right around the corner and I wanted something smaller and lighter.

Of course, most would say “get a 92 Compact” and while that was an option, there were a few things that have stopped me from carrying it full-time:
1) No front sight options. You get what you get unless you send it off to Tool Tech and have a night sight put in. No front dove tail!
2) No G model available, or at least not currently. Of course, I could send it down to Wilson Combat and have it converted, but that’s an added cost.
3) 13 round magazines. Not a big deal, but in my opinion, a gun that size should have 15 rounds of 9mm.
4) Hard for me to load with the standard mag. I can do it really well with a full size mag in the compact gun, but a quick reload with the standard 13 round mag often ends up with some of my skin between the frame and floor plate of the magazine. The grip on the 92 Compact is about a ¼ of an inch too short for my hands.

So, this brings me to the PX4. I started playing with the PX4 Compact and realized it had the features I was looking for in a smaller, lighter compact carry gun. The PX4 also has has 15 round mags (17 with extension), dove tail front and rear sights, the safety converts to a G configuration easily and it has the same manual of arms as my full size 92s. Most importantly, I can load it full speed without catching the heal of my hand with the magazine floor plate. Not to mention, the trigger is smooth and shootable out-of-the-box.

The PX4 was feeling like a great option, but there were some other factors to consider. Right off the bat, those huge safety levers! They were way too big for my liking and have some really sharp edges on them. The ambi slide stops are bigger than they need to be and seem to make the gun wider than it should be.

So I started asking the questions…
Ernest: What about those huge safety levers?
Beretta: “We make stealth levers that are much smaller. ”
Ernest: Really? What about those huge ambi slide stops?
Beretta: “We make a smaller single side one.”
Ernest: Really? What about that really little mag button?
Beretta: “We sell a kit with three different size buttons.”
Ernest: Really?

I mean why did I not know this stuff? I consider myself a gun guy and a Beretta guy, but I did not really know anything about the PX4 at all. I knew the safety lever could be converted to G and that it was a rotating barrel design like the Cougar, but that was really about all I knew.

So, when I got back from the show I continued looking into the PX4 with more detail and finally broke down and picked one up from my favorite gun shop, Virginia Arms in Manassas. I drove straight to the range to make sure I wasn’t going to have buyer’s remorse. I put 200 rounds through it right out of the box. Easy to shoot, very flat shooting for the size and weight. (Surprisingly flat shooting, actually). It also hit to point of aim and was very, very accurate!

I liked it, but, of course, I headed home to take it apart and swap out the hammer spring to a 12 pound chrome silicon spring for the 92 (thanks to Bill Wilson for that tip – he likes them too). The DA pull weight decreases quite a bit and I decided to start the 2,000 round-test with this thing. I clean it, lube it, black out the rear sight and add some orange paint to the front dot, slip a piece of bicycle inner tube over the grip and we’re off to the races.

2,040 rounds later and I had no issues; so, 2,240 total at this point and I’m liking my decision so far. (Shot 147 SXTs, 147 grain reloads, 115 AE, 147 AE, 124 AE, 124 Winchester FMJ, 115 grain WinClean, and even some 90 Grain Frangible stuff.) Not a single malfunction.

So, now what? If I am going to carry this thing there are some things that need to be addressed. To start with, I need those “Stealth Levers” I was told about. A call to my buddy Eric Stern at Beretta had those sent my way. I also ordered up as set of Trijicon HD sights and a holster from Custom Carry Concepts. When the sights came in, I did a little bit more trigger work (it’s basically just like a 92 in that respect – lucky for me). I also did a little stipple work on the frame (got rid of the inner tube) and changed out the smaller magazine button for the medium mag button to make it slightly larger.  Lucas Gun Oil is what I use for lubricating these pistols.

So here I am, a couple months later and many trips to the range, and I really like this gun. Not kidding! It is almost exactly the same size as a Glock 19, the trigger is now under 7 pounds DA and right at 4 pounds SA. I really like the Trijicon HD Sights. In fact, I now have over 4,000 rounds through this gun with no problems. The only failure I have had with the PX4 was in firing with the 115 WinClean, but it went bang on the second hammer strike by pulling the trigger again. (I don’t blame the gun for that, however, as I have seen lots of FTFs with WinClean.) I like it so much that I am carrying it all the time now and used it to qualify as my off-duty carry gun with the Sheriff’s Department.

The “Stealth Levers” make it a ton thinner. My my measurements the compact is about 6mm thinner with the small levers, but most of that comes from getting rid of the right side slide stop. I don’t have a standard PX4 to measure. The safety levers are about 5mm thinner than the stock ones. So that should do it if that is the widest part of the gun. If the standard PX4 does not have the ambi slide stops, then the safety levers are likely the widest part of the gun.

I have two more PX4’s that I am playing around with and changing things up to see how it performs with different features. I have modified another one, which also has Trijicon HDs, “Stealth” levers, medium mag button, stippling on the grip, G conversion, and more aggressive trigger work. The DA on this one is just over 6 pounds and the SA is 3.5 pounds. I only have about 300 rounds through this gun, but so far, it is just as good as the other one and the better trigger makes it more fun to shoot. I now have one to carry and one to practice with.

I am going to use the third PX4 as a gun to experiment with to see what can really be done with the trigger. So far it has been really easy to get the DA down and I think I can go a lot lighter on the hammer spring with a bit more work. I would not be surprised to get a sub 6 pound DA on this third gun with 100% reliability if I set it up correctly – I’ll keep you posted.

OK, so I now have just a little over 2K through the second gun. A 1,000 of that was Winchester WinClean (known for not being the most reliable ammo) and now a second PX4 has passed the 2,000 round test. So far the best hammer spring is the Cougar “D” spring. Gun has proved to be super accurate with everything I shoot in it and how I have a little over 6K through two guns and they have both been 100% reliable. Interestingly they both run the Winchester WinClean better than my 92 does. The WinClean gives me fits in the 92 pretty often. The PX4 Compact not only runs it well, it seems to shoot it very accurately also.

I have also heard that there are even more parts for the PX4 than I knew about. Turns out Beretta Italy has spent quite a bit of time developing some accessories for these guns. There are 4 different versions of the safety levers in different sizes. There are steel guide rod kits and even an improved trigger group. Basically it is a whole hammer and sear group that just drops into the frame that includes a better hammer spring. Both DA and SA are improved with this kit. I am trying to see if I can get my hands on one to try. This kit includes a stiffer cage that houses everything as well as plated parts for a smoother action.

All-in-all, I don’t know why this gun is not way more popular. If you are like me and prefer a DA/SA Traditional Double Action gun for carry, this is a great option. I carry AIWB, therefore, I prefer an external hammer gun – this PX4 is treating me well.

Here are a few comparison photos for you:


Improving the J frame – Wilson Combat Custom Tune Spring Kit

Handguns are, by a wide margin, the most difficult firearms to shoot accurately due in part to their relatively small size and the inability to stabilize them against larger structures of the body. They become more difficult to shoot as they get smaller and the trigger pull gets heavier. The typical J frame has a trigger pull that is several times the weight of the revolver itself and is usually carried with a very small “boot” style grip. This translates to the application of comparatively enormous levels of torque on a handgun with very little room for a grip that will resist that torque.

Making the trigger pull lighter helps ameliorate this somewhat, but unfortunately there is no free lunch. The J frame requires a pretty stiff hammer spring to achieve reliable ignition since the hammer itself has such little mass. Due to this I never really bothered trying to do any trigger work on my J frames before, but with the purchase of the 638 I decided I would try out the Wilson Combat Custom Tune spring kit. The Wilson kit seems to be well regarded by folks who know the J frame well and I’ve yet to hear a report of unreliable ignition with the Wilson kit.

The kit includes 4 springs, a hammer spring and 3 different weight trigger return springs you can use to get the trigger feel you want.
The kit includes 4 springs, a hammer spring and 3 different weight trigger return springs you can use to get the trigger feel you want.

The Wilson Custom Tune spring kit comes with 4 springs, a single hammer spring that is lighter than the stock spring and three trigger return springs. The idea is you select the trigger return spring that gives you the trigger feel you prefer. (I used the lightest one) When you pull the trigger on a J frame you are working against the pressure of both of these springs, so by making them lighter you can reduce the weight of the trigger pull. Replacing two little springs sure sounds simple enough, right?

It is…mostly. Even a simple job on a very well documented gun can turn into a soul-crushing experience if you don’t do the research and gather the right tools. One of the “right tools” I’ve been too lazy to acquire for myself before now is a good set of gunsmith’s screwdrivers or screw-driver bits. Contrary to popular belief, all screwdrivers are not created equal and use of the usual sort of tapered screwdrivers on guns often results in damaging screws or even damaging the finish of the weapon itself. Keep in mind that with the Airweight revolvers you are working on a frame that is made of a metal which is considerably softer than that of the screwdriver you’re using, and so if your taper-ground driver slips out of the screw slot you’ve just dug a nice trench in your new gun’s finish.

While I was buying the spring kit I also bought the Brownells rebound slide tool pictured. The rebound slide spring bumps up against a stud made into the frame that’s aluminum on the Airweight revolvers. I hoped that using the proper tool would reduce the chances of snapping that little stud off…which could be a pretty expensive mistake. Unfortunately either Brownells got the spec on the tools wrong or S&W changed the dimensions on the studs on some of their revolvers because the opening in the tool was too narrow to fit around the stud properly. I put the 13 pound return spring in the rebound side and with careful finagling and holding my mouth just right I managed to use the tool to get the rebound slide back into place without incident.

The J frame's internals are actually pretty simple to work on if you have a little bit of knowledge, the right tools, and some patience.
The J frame’s internals are actually pretty simple to work on if you have a little bit of knowledge, the right tools, and some patience.

The hammer spring/main spring is considerably easier to deal with…you just need a paperclip or a very small punch to capture the spring in a compressed state so you can remove the end cap that holds it into the frame. Getting the spring cap back on with the new spring is a little bit more tricky. If you are going to do a job like this I’d suggest doing so in a place where you have plenty of room and with no nooks and crannies that a little black piece of plastic can disappear into after it’s been unexpectedly sent on a ballistic trajectory by a spring.

While I had the little revolver’s guts exposed I figured I’d perform an additional task unrelated to the spring changes: Removing the lawyer lock.

When you bring up the topic of S&W revolvers you will hear folks speak about “pre-lock” guns quite frequently. In the early days of our new millennium S&W decided to integrate a locking mechanism into their revolvers which would prevent the revolver from being fired when engaged. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth has happened over this decision partially because it was the result of some Clinton-era political pressure (S&W has new owners now who had nothing to do with that nonsense, by the way) and partially because it’s not aesthetically pleasing to see that lock zit sitting on the sideplate of the revolver.

I have a different reason for loathing the lock, though: Under the right circumstances the lock can spontaneously engage. Initially it was thought to be something that could primarily happen with the extremely light titanium and scandium frame revolvers in heavy calibers, but over time credible reports have accumulated on good old fashioned steel-framed guns in common calibers as well. This assertion is highly controversial because most people have never actually seen it happen. I have, though. I’ve experienced a partial lock engagement on another S&W revolver I own and as a result I get rid of them on guns I carry. Opinions vary on how one should go about getting rid of the lock, but I’m content to simply remove the bit that actually prevents the hammer from moving when engaged. The other pieces stay put nicely, in my experience.

I hate you. So. Very. Much.
I hate you. So. Very. Much.

I know why S&W started including the locks on their revolvers, but I’d absolutely love to see them be rid of the bloody things. They made revolvers for almost a century and a half without any silly locks and you can still buy some of their revolvers without locks…so why not just ditch it altogether, Smith?

After putting everything back together and doing some quick function checks, I found a noticeably improved trigger pull with a slightly slower trigger return speed…which is to be expected when you reduce the power of the trigger return spring. I didn’t hear angels singing or anything, but I didn’t go in expecting a miracle. I just wanted to make the trigger pull a little bit lighter. The difference is most noticeable when dry-firing with just the left hand, as I tend to need to apply less torque and as a result I don’t get as much lateral movement during the trigger pull. When it comes to shooting a handgun little things make a big difference and that goes double for little handguns like the J.

Given the price of the Wilson spring kit and the ease of installation, I’m pretty pleased with the purchase. I’m confident Wilson has done enough homework on the J frame to put together a spring kit that will function reliably. I’m sure it’s possible to go a bit lighter than the Wilson kit with some other option but I’m certain that the Wilson kit will work when I need it to…and that’s critical for a revolver like this one. If you have to pull a revolver like this you are already having a bad day and you need it to do its job properly.


Merits and Misunderstandings of the Double Action Trigger

The success of the Glock family of pistols and the numerous variations on the polymer-framed, striker-fired theme that exist on the market today has led many to view the concept of a double action trigger as a bit of an anachronism. Jeff Cooper maligned double action semi-automatic pistols as “crunchentikers” many moons ago and the stigma has kind of stuck with them ever since. Folks who bring up that term today often forget that Cooper was involved with the 10mm Bren, which happened to be a double action pistol. The cool kids in the gun world shot custom 1911 pistols, often turning their nose up at the very idea of a double action auto, and those who embraced plastic went to Glocks fairly quickly after. As any simple Google search will demonstrate, some Glock and 1911 fans are often quite vocal about their preferred blaster and tend to proselytize fairly aggressively with a fairly good record for conversion. As a result, there’s not a lot of people out there who really understand double action triggers, how to run a double action trigger well, or what benefits they bring to the table.

I've come to appreciate the benefits of the double action trigger with training and experience
I’ve come to appreciate the benefits of the double action trigger with training and experience

By the mid 1980’s it was clear to anyone who had their eyes open that the revolver’s days as the workhorse of law enforcement were over. The U.S. military had just adopted the Beretta 92 pistol. A lot of departments who had issued revolvers saw the double action automatic as likely to be an easy transition for their officers and so they bought up the Beretta as well as offerings from Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson, and to a lesser extent Ruger. Even Colt saw the writing on the wall and made a few attempts at producing a double action semi auto. (Google the Colt Double Eagle…ain’t that a trip?)

Unfortunately it wasn’t an easy transition for everyone. Police revolvers were often issued with very small grip panels that were less than ideal for officers with big meaty paws but happened to be a positive boon for officers with smaller hands, like the many female officers who were just coming into the profession. With the small grip they could get their hand around the gun well enough to get decent leverage with the trigger finger and shoot well enough to qualify with minimal instruction. A semi-automatic pistol with a double stack magazine didn’t allow for the same flexibility in gripping the gun, which often left the officer struggling to get enough leverage on the trigger to work the double action pull properly. We like to think that “back in the day” everybody was an expertly trained marksman, but the truth is that police firearms training “back in the day” was typically poor. Then as now there were some excellent programs and instructors, but by in large the typical police firearms training was mediocre at best and it led to some pretty heinous results. Officers stuck with an ergonomically sub-optimal sidearm and poor quality instruction struggled to use the new pistols well and improvised methods of getting the job done well enough to qualify that didn’t serve them as well in the real thing. Often instructors sought the path of least resistance and would sometimes even encourage officers to cock the hammer of the pistol as they drew it, voting “present” on the concept of teaching the DA trigger. I’ve met more than one police officer who was taught to fire his first round into the dirt to get past the DA trigger pull and then start fighting with the gun in single action mode.

All of this combined with an ever growing acceptance of an Austrian pistol that shipped in what looked for all the world like a Tupperware box (Seriously. Google Glock box and you’ll see something you’d expect to pack leftovers in) started to give the double action trigger a bad rap. Folks seemed to forget that having a longer, heavier trigger pull for at least the first shot on a sidearm used in supremely stressful situations by people that were largely unfamiliar with functioning at that level of stress tended to cut down on accidents with a gun in the hand. (It certainly didn’t make it impossible, though.) That longer, heavier first shot tended to be more forgiving of handling mistakes like reholstering with one’s finger on the trigger. The typical hammer-fired DA gun also didn’t require a trigger pull to disassemble the weapon for cleaning. Many an unintentional discharge has happened when someone has been attempting to break a Glock down for cleaning. Proper procedures will certainly prevent that from happening, but when you run an organization with dozens of people in it you can be certain that there will always be a percentage of people who don’t follow proper procedures.

Contrary to all this accumulated lore, it is most definitely possible to run a double action pistol well. A few weeks ago I mentioned Ernie Langdon had teamed up with Wilson Combat to help them get their Beretta custom services off the ground. In that article I mentioned that Mr. Langdon had won a couple of championships with a Beretta. In truth Mr. Langdon’s contributions were a bit more important than that. Around the turn of the millennium (just hearing that phrase in my head makes me feel really old) conventional wisdom held that you just couldn’t get good results from a DA trigger. The handgun sports were all dominated by Glocks and 1911s. Mr. Langdon had spent years running the USMC’s High Risk Personnel program where he learned how to use the Beretta 92/M9 very well. He knew the Beretta so well, in fact,  that he ended up going to work for Beretta as a rep to the military and law enforcement. Mr. Langdon started competing in the shooting sports with a Beretta and recruited other shooters for the company. More importantly, he started winning championships with the Beretta, putting a big dent in the idea that you can’t run one well. After leaving Beretta he went to work for Sig and won with their guns, too. So much for the DA sucks theory…

In truth you can use a DA semi-automatic very well if you get some instruction from somebody who knows how to use one. Mr. Langdon is getting back into offering classes these days and he’s even leveraging the power of the web to spread knowledge about running a DA pistol properly:

I’m not trying to argue that people who like their Glocks and shoot them well should drop them right now and go buy themselves a hammer-fired DA gun. If you like what you’re shooting, rock on. If you’ve been influenced by the conventional wisdom which argues that the DA trigger is vestigial or even counterproductive, hopefully you’ll be open minded enough to reconsider.

Personally speaking, I prefer guns with a double action trigger to striker-fired pistols. The gun I carry daily is a H&K P30 with the double action only LEM trigger system. When I first got into shooting I would have laughed at anyone who told me I’d be carrying a DAO 9mm pistol. I mean, come on….I’d read Cooper articles for years. Thankfully I was exposed to solid instructors who challenged some of my preconceived notions and showed me what you could really do with a good double action handgun.

So to borrow Mr. Langdon’s phrasing, fear not the double action shot. Heck, if you approach it with an open mind and use the tips Mr. Langdon mentions above, you might even like it!

The 5 Greatest Military Pistols

The dawn of the semi-automatic pistol era changed the service handgun landscape forever. Up until the Mauser became the first self-loader to be widely used in combat, the handguns of the battlefield were revolvers. There were some great revolvers that served nations, from the Colt SAA to the Webley and the S&W Russian. But semi-autos were easier to shoot, could hold more ammunition, and were easier to reload. There have been many great semi-auto service pistols, but these five stand atop the list. Starting with number five and working our way to number one, here are The 5 Greatest Military Pistols.

5. The Broomhandle Mauser
Aside from serving as the basis for Han Solo’s DL-44 in the Star Wars trilogy, the Broomhandle Mauser’s second greatest claim to fame is that it was the first semi-automatic pistol to be widely used in combat operations. Its first military contract was issued in 1899, and it continued to serve through WW2, where the Luftwaffe issued it in limited numbers to pilots.

c96 mauser

4. The M1911 and variants
In the beginning of the 20th century, as the semi-automatic pistols began to dominate on the European continent, the US Army made the decision to switch back to a .45 caliber sidearm, having deemed the .38 Colt revolvers underpowered for serious work. Eventually, the John Moses Browning designed 1911 was selected, and from 1911 until the 1980s it served America as the standard service sidearm. WW1, WW2, Korea, Vietnam, and countless other operations and actions saw the 1911 carried into battle. It still continues to serve the country today with various special mission units, most recently as the M45 CQBP used by Marine Corps Force Recon and MARSOC.


3. The Beretta M9 and variants
The Beretta M9 is significant in its difference. It replaced the venerated M1911 as the standard service pistol of the US Military, and despite its ability to still generate frothing rage among some, it has served the country for nearly 30 years and has been exposed to constant warfare for over a decade now in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s notable as well for being the first double stack pistol adopted by the United States, the first 9mm pistol, and the first DA/SA. It set a trend across the nation of police departments abandoning their faithful revolvers, and truly kickstarted the Wondernine Era of the early 90s.


2. The Walther P38/P1
For all the Beretta’s accomplishments, it is in many ways a spiritual successor to the Walther P38 and P1. The P38 uses a similar action, safety, and was the first DA/SA pistol in a service caliber to be adopted by a major military. After its use in WW2 by the forces of the Third Reich, it was redesigned with an alloy frame and designated the P1, where it served the West German Army during the Cold War. It is truly a historically significant pistol, and while it lacks some of the combat chops that other pistols on this list have, it is notable like the Broomhandle Mauser for a number of firsts.


1. The Browning Hi-Power
The Hi-Power is perhaps the greatest of John Moses Browning’s pistol designs – while there are certain aspects that definitely bear the fingerprints of his European co-designer, the gun’s service record more the speaks for itself. It was one of the first double stack pistols to see wide military issue – at one time over 50 nations issued the BHP as their standard pistol. It was nearly the de facto sidearm of NATO, with the US being the only hold-out. It was the sidearm of every nation in the British Commonwealth for a considerable time, and is still issued as the standard sidearm to a number of nations to this day. It has seen service in military conflicts from WW2 dating to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. While the 1911 may be the beloved American service pistol, the Browning Hi-Power deserves the top spot on this list for being the service pistol of the rest of the free world.

browning hi power

Where are all these high round count Hi-Points?

Yesterday I wrote a post about five terrible guns you should never buy; noticeably absent from the list were Hi-Points. While I’m not a big fan of the Hi-Point, I do believe that they serve a valuable purpose in the gun market: if you absolutely need a gun for self-defense right now and only have 100 bucks, a Hi-Point will probably get through an entire magazine. I’d recommend a Hi-Point over a Taurus or a Kel-Tec, because those guns cost 300 bucks, and for 300 bucks you could buy a real gun. But that’s neither here nor there, because in yesterday’s post, despite it not mentioning Hi-Points in a negative light, one of the Knights of Ohio showed up to defend Hi-Point pistols.

Steve – I have got to say, Hi Points are cheap and ugly, but the damn things seem to function over and over. I watched a dude win 3 consecutive steel matches with a 9mm hi point. I won’t personally buy one, but I have to say, they go bang when asked to…

hi point

That got me to thinking: where are all these high round count Hi-Points? Every time there’s a Hi-Point thread, someone will pipe up that they have upteen bajillion rounds on their Hi-Point, or that some guy just ran his at a match and did ok. That’s all well and good, but I’ve seriously never seen a Hi-Point in the wild at a match, or even at a gun range (except for ironic use by gun hipsters). Even our own test gun went just 2000ish rounds and had numerous failures during that cycle.

A brief conversation with Shelley Rae reveals that during her time as a range manager, she saw more than a few Hi-Points through the range, but at the same time, not nearly enough to account for all these reports of incredibly high round count guns.

So here’s my challenge: Do you own a Hi-Point? Have you shot it a lot? If you have an actual documented record of the rounds you’ve shot through your Hi-Point, send it to me at [email protected] and I’ll post here on Gun Nuts. I want to see these high round count guns!

First Look: SIRT Pro Training Pistol

20140408-085218.jpgAfter reviewing a number of laser training systems, I now have the pleasure of testing Next Level Training’s SIRT Pro Training Pistol. I got a few minutes with this tool at SHOTShow 2014, and was very impressed with the realism of the product. The SIRT Pro is shaped just like a Glock 17. The slide is metal and the frame plastic, just like the real thing. Even the weight is similar and it has a detachable weighted magazine. The SIRT has two built-in lasers. The laser that comes from within the muzzel is green and appears when the trigger is fully depressed. A red laser appears from just below the muzzel and is activated anytime the trigger is touched. It is called the “trigger prep laser”. A small switch on the top of the slide allows the user to turn the trigger prep laser on or off. These are the only function options the SIRT offers. Why would you want the trigger prep laser on or off? Well, if you want to see the difference in the movement of the gun from the beginning to end of your trigger press, the first light can be helpful. It can also be useful to an instructor who is watching over your shoulder.

I am planning to compare the SIRT to some of the other laser training systems that I have previously reviewed, and even how they can be combined for more training options, but we will save that for another post. For now we will take a first look at the SIRT Pistol as well as discuss the future, as Next Level Training sees it.

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The Underrated Beretta 92

Yesterday afternoon Wilson Combat, purveyor of some of the most desirable custom 1911’s on the market, announced that they had paired up with Ernie Langdon to begin offering parts and custom work on the Beretta 92. Mr. Langdon worked for Beretta a while ago and from what I understand was largely responsible for some of the most interesting and desirable variants of the Beretta 92 that the company ever produced. He took guns like the 1st and 2nd generation 92 Elite pistols to multiple championships in IDPA and USPSA. After leaving Beretta Mr. Langdon put his expertise on the Beretta 92 to work (all too) briefly offering gunsmith services on Berettas. My first handgun was a somewhat beat-up looking 92FS that needed some competent attention, so I sent her off to Mr. Langdon to have the full armorer treatment including fitting and installing a new locking block and a trigger job. I was quite pleased with the result…so pleased that I had the gun refinished. I’m almost certain that I have the only hard-chromed, Langdon customized Beretta 92 on the planet. Take that, Tam.

Thanks for the advice...
Thanks for the advice…

The Beretta 92 has always been one of my favorite handguns. My formative impressions of the Beretta were probably set by watching Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson waste machinegun toting baddies by the truckload using the 92. Yes, I have a Miami Classic holster for my Beretta 92 as a direct result of the airport scene in Die Hard 2. No, I’m not the least bit ashamed of that fact. Of course, the Beretta 92 was featured prominently in the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon movies precisely because at the time it was the standard issue sidearm of the most famous local police agency in the world: The LAPD. There’s no doubt that Hollywood blockbusters sold a lot of Berettas, but the pistol was doing fairly well in its own right prior to the gratuitous gun porn of 80’s and 90’s action movies.

The Beretta’s adoption by the US Military happened to coincide with the rise of drug-related gang warfare in cities like Los Angeles. Police departments looking to give officers on the street an edge often turned to the Beretta 92, and often with good results. When properly maintained the pistol proves to be a pretty reliable and durable sidearm. It was a rather large pistol even by the standards of the day, and smaller shooters often found reaching the trigger in double action mode to be somewhat difficult. The most universally disliked feature of the Beretta 92 has to be the slide mounted safety. Despite the “extra wide ejection port, no feed jams” the Beretta did occasionally have a malfunction and it’s very easy to accidentally engage the safety while manipulating the slide to clear a malfunction. At the request of some counterterrorism professionals who were using the pistols, Beretta came up with a “G” model 92 where the safety was replaced by a lever that only functioned as a decocker, but for reasons that mystify me (and some others I might add) they have been reluctant to sell “G” model 92’s to the general public. From what Mr. Langdon told me in a class some time ago, even getting the Elite models to be sold in the “G” configuration took quite a bit of effort behind the scenes. Perhaps Wilson Combat will join a couple of smaller shops out there in offering a “G” conversion for the FS pistols.

If you ask guys who served in the military about their experience with the M9, the reviews are often mixed. Some poor decisions by the military contributed to problems with the pistol. The military had a bad habit of taking parts from a gun that had to be deadlined for some reason and using them in other guns. The most notorious of these was the locking block, a wear item that was supposed to be new and fitted to the pistol it was being installed in. The military often took locking blocks off of a worn pistol and threw them into a pile where they were slapped into other guns without proper fitting, which went against Beretta’s own recommendations for the gun. And now, as I channel my best Paul Harvey impression, you know the rest of the story behind the legend of the fragile locking block. The military made another mistake in requiring a rough parkerized finish on some magazines they purchased for the M9 which turned out to be sub-optimal when exposed to the sands of Afghanistan and Iraq. Generally speaking, police departments like the LAPD didn’t mimic those practices and that’s probably a good explanation for why there are such divergent bases of experience with the Beretta 92.

My hard-chrome plated 92FS, customized by Ernie Langdon.
My hard-chrome plated 92FS, customized by Ernie Langdon.

I learned to shoot a handgun with the Beretta 92. It was the handgun I used in the first serious training I attended and I’ve used it in a number of classes with great success since. When used with the factory magazines (I’m particularly fond of those with the metal followers) even with pretty weak springs the 92 has always worked well for me. They’ve proven to be accurate and reliable even under sub-optimal conditions for me. On one 5 day course I took some years ago at the (then) fairly new Blackwater facility in Moyock NC a tropical storm was in the area turning the ranges we were using into mud and wet sand. Pouring rain chased out almost all the lube on the pistol and retreiving magazines from the deck led to shoving muddy/sandy magazines into the pistol repeatedly. My 92 kept running while lots of other guns went down hard. I took a little bit of ribbing for showing up to a class taught by a former NSWG guy in a Beretta hat and t-shirt, but by the end of the week even he had to admit my gun performed splendidly.

I’ve always found the Beretta 92 to be very pleasant to shoot, and when I’ve taught new shooters I always make it a point to have my Langdon-customized 92FS with me because the smooth trigger and soft recoil of the pistol seems to get even the most gun-shy newbie interested in pulling the trigger some more. I’ve also found that the gun fits my hand better than most similar weapons on the market like the Sig P22x family. Admittedly I have large-ish hands, but the controls fit me very nicely and I find it very intuitive to use.

There might just be a reason why Bill Wilson is getting into the business of customizing the Beretta 92. If you’ve never looked into the Beretta 92, maybe now is a good time to give one a try…

Buying a Recalled Gun

20140312-110352.jpgA little over a year ago I wrote a post about a concealed carry pistol for which I had fallen. The XDs 3.3 9mm was introduced at SHOTShow 2013. I shot it, and as happy as I was with my Walther PPS, I couldn’t stop thinking about how well the XDs fit. For the past year I’ve thought about buying the gun, but just couldn’t justify the expense of two concealed carry guns. Then Springfield issued a major recall on the new 9mm as well as the previous year’s release in .45ACP. Fast forward one year and I find myself buying an XDs 3.3 9mm.
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