Last week I used Kim Rhodes’ custom Perazzi shotgun as an example of “gamer gear” because it’s a highly specialized firearm fitted to her specific needs and the shooting sport she’s competing in. It’s a magnificent tool for the task she’s asking of it, but it wouldn’t be a terribly good choice for other shooting tasks. Along those same lines there are other bits of competition equipment that don’t work well in other environments. Take a look at an open class handgun holster used in IPSC or USPSA and it’s pretty easy to see that it would be a particularly poor choice for a police officer who has to worry about weapon retention when fighting with a combative suspect, or a member of a tactical team who has to crawl through the rafters of a building or SCUBA dive to a boat and climb on it clandestinely to get the jump on some bad guys. .
What about the guns that sit in those holsters, though? Fundamentally the competitive shooter and the defense-minded individual want about the same thing from a high-capacity polymer and steel pistol like a 2011 or a Glock 17, right? They want accuracy, durability, and above all else, reliability…but those words may carry very different meanings in their respective context. If you are a competitive shooter competing for 100 grand in a shooting sport where X counts separate the winners and losers, your accuracy requirements are significantly higher than the minimally trained police officer who needs to be able to hit an adult male in the chest at 10 yards. Four inches at 25 yards won’t do if you want to bring home the Bianchi Cup, but it’s probably more than sufficient for most shooting tasks a law enforcement officer or private citizen will need to perform in a two-way exchange of gunfire.
Reliability is another fuzzy concept depending on which arena you’re discussing. In the competition arena you’re dealing with a scheduled event with a known number of rounds to be fired. With prizes of up to 100 grand on the line, no competitor wants to travel to a match, have their gun puke, and go home with nothing to show for their hard work. The competitor’s gun needs to work reliably in the match, and competitors often go to great lengths to give the best possible chance of success. They will replace and test springs in preparation for the match, clean magazines, and many load their own match ammo because they want to do their own quality control to make sure every last round has the best possible shot of working as expected. (Plus it’s probably a custom load they’ve developed for the demands of the specific match and the gun they are using)
The guy on a SWAT team has a very different reliability requirement. Typically your average defensive use of a sidearm is not a scheduled event. It happens by surprise and in a very compressed time frame and you’re playing for blood. A guy on a tactical team can be doing ropes work over a sand pit one minute and then rolling to a callout the next. If his pistol and magazines have sand in them because he took a tumble, the gun has to be able to function reliably without being cleaned. The competitive shooter probably has time to get all his equipment in top working order before he shows up to the match, but the person defending his/her life doesn’t have advanced notice that they’ll be in a fight for their life…their gun just needs to work. The competitor will shoot hundreds of rounds under match conditions, where most defensive uses of a sidearm will be contained within a magazine or two from a typical 9mm pistol’s capacity.
To an extent, this sort of mirrors the competence vs. excellence issue I’ve discussed in a previous column. The defensive sidearm needs to be competent over a broad spectrum of need where the competitor’s gun can be tailored for a specific task or discipline. The competitor’s gun may be measurably better at given series of shooting tasks than a good defensive sidearm, but frequently there are drawbacks that go along with the specialization. A 2011 with a 2 pound trigger and a fixed red dot optic is certainly going to be good for some action shooting sports and most people would probably find it easier to shoot a bad guy in the face with it, but will the expensive tuned magazines it needs still work if they’ve got mud and gravel in them?
Ideally one wouldn’t have crud in their magazines, but in the context of personal defense that’s not always in the control of the good guy. If your introduction to the fight was diving for the dirt to avoid incoming rounds you don’t really have the opportunity to clean your gear so it will run. A pistol that runs well when it’s been properly maintained, properly lubricated, and properly fed is a good thing…but for self defense most would rather have a pistol that runs when it’s been neglected, abused, and fed with junk ammo for the same reasons we’d all prefer our heart to keep beating even if our “exercise” is pressing the buttons on an X-box controller and our “diet” is comprised mainly of nacho cheese.
This is where it all gets rather complicated. When “tactical” people talk about a “gamer” gun they’re often picturing some sort of highly specialized 1911-ish pistol with a trigger pull that is measured in ounces and a load tuned for a specific style of match…because those things do exist. If you watch a major match you’ll probably see those guns, and at some point in the day you’ll probably see one break. The first true race gun I ever fired had a trigger that was under a pound, had barely any movement from recoil thanks to the compensator on it, and had a fixed red dot mount. I was in love with it 3 rounds into the first magazine I fired through it. The owner was kind enough to let me shoot a second mag through the gun and about 5 rounds in something broke and the gun went full-auto, emptying the next 15+ rounds entirely on its own.
Naturally a pistol that will go BATFE-unapproved on you isn’t something you really want in a defensive situation, but in today’s market there are plenty of other “game” oriented guns that don’t push the margins of safety or function to the limit like the open class hardware that’s normally what people think of as “gamer” gear. Beretta, Sig, Smith & Wesson and Glock all make or have made in the past versions of service weapons tailored to competition that retain all the major components that make the service guns work.
The most popular of the competition oriented factory guns are probably the Glock 34 and 35, with the great irony being that the 3rd generation Glock 35 (the “gamer” gun) was probably consistently the most reliable pistol Glock made in the .40 chambering. A number of tactical teams and individual police officers/agents/whathaveyou have used Glock’s “gamer” guns with success. Bob Vogel famously carries an identical gun to his competition piece when he is on duty as a police officer. I’ve got a Glock 34 myself, and I’ve written previously about modifying it. Based on the couple of thousand rounds I’ve fired through it, I wouldn’t hesitate to carry it. It’s often my “nightstand” gun with a Glock 18 magazine and a Surefire X300 mounted to it.
Sure, somebody may argue that if you get debris or loose coins in the top of my G34’s slide, it will stop working but a lot of very serious people have been using these factory “gamer” guns under some pretty adverse conditions without issue. For the record, I tried the coin trick and it took more than a couple of coins to stop my G34. I needed about a buck fifty in change down in the gun to actually stop the slide from cycling. If I’m ever in a gunfight at a coinshow I’ll have to watch out for that. I also own a first generation Beretta 92 Elite, a “gamer” gun that has a number of useful improvements. The heavier slide, dovetailed front sight, narrowed grip, wider mag well, and G configuration (decocker only) show benefit whether you’re carrying it for competition or as a sidearm for serious social purposes.
Accuracy, reliability, and durability may mean different things in the competition arena than in the “tactical” arena, but some bits of gear work pretty well no matter what context you use them in. Some bits don’t. If you keep your purpose and use in mind, and if you’re a generally sensible human being, you shouldn’t run into too many problems selecting your gear. When you get something, test it carefully to make sure it works for your needs. Don’t be in a hurry to bolt just any old thing on your gun or make a whole bunch of changes you don’t really understand because that can make a gun unreliable or even unsafe…but at the same time don’t be too worried about the Scarlet G some “tactical” guys use to dismiss stuff they don’t use or see a need for. If you can find a bit of “gamer” gear that makes the gun work better for you and doesn’t compromise reliability, by all means use it. If it works better for your circumstances, don’t trouble yourself too much over whether or not somebody on a youtube channel says it’s “tactical” enough.