Expensive Handguns Aren’t Necessarily Better!

For 2017, my training year ended in mid-December with a third-level class requiring the lead instructor (me), to demonstrate a triple-speed pistol qualification. Ego being what it is, it seemed a good idea to go to the range beforehand and see what I would shoot best. The test: to stand at 15 yards, shoot as fast as I could hold the sights on target, and see where the bullets landed.

I picked a couple of premium striker-fired pistols, and two of the best traditional double-action autos: Wilson Combat’s version of the Beretta 92G compact (4.3-inch barrel) and the SIG Legion P229 (3.9-inch barrel). Arthritis was bothering my hands significantly, particularly after a second-level class heavy on demonstrating gun retention and disarming, which would be even more intense at third level, so minimum recoil seemed like a sound idea. Hence, all 9mm pistols.

I started with the SIG. It put 6 shots in 5.9 inches, due in large part to one errant shot. Five of them were in 2.10 inches. I was sloppier with my 6 from the Beretta, 6.26 inches.

On to the striker-fired pistols, both with what some might call target-length barrels. I hadn’t taught a class with the S&W M&P in a few years, so I dug out my M&P Pro, conceived by the Smith & Wesson Performance Center but manufactured on the regular production line. I got a 5.5-inch group from its 5-inch barrel. I then tried a Springfield Armory XD(M) 5.25, named for its 5-1/4-inch barrel and in this case tuned for competition at the Springfield Pro Shop. I had last used it out of a Comp-Tac holster to earn the coveted Advanced ranking at Bill Rogers’ Advanced Class, and a week later to shoot a USPSA match. That had been in second quarter 2016. Getting reacquainted, this pistol and I managed only a 6.05-inch 6-shot group.

One mantra I share with my students is “It’s not about the gun so much as it’s about the shooter, and it’s not even about the shooter as much as it’s about consistent application of proven technique.” With a spread of only about 3/4 of an inch between the four pistols, I appreciated the consistency. However, I also realized consistency was one key to mediocrity.

Before I left the range it occurred to me to try my carry pistol of that particular day, just for the hell of it. It was a GLOCK 19 Gen3, with 5.5-pound trigger and bone-stock except for Trijicon High Definition sights. I dutifully went back to the line and ran 6 rounds out of the G19 as fast as I could hold a sight picture.

The result was a reasonably well-centered group that measured 3.30 inches.

Mas did a timed-speed drill with five guns including (top, left to right) the SIG Legion P229, S&W M&P Pro, (bottom, left to right) Wilson Beretta 92G Compact, Springfield Pro Shop XD(M) 5.25, and stock GLOCK 19 with HD sights.

Beer VS. Champagne

Wilson Combat Berettas start at $1,250, and SIG SAUER currently lists the P229 Legion at $1,413. The M&P Pro is listed at $689 at this writing. The XD(M) 5.25 has a base price of $769, and mine had more bucks in it for the Pro Shop treatment.

By contrast, the Gen3 GLOCK 19 carries a retail of $599. Even with $165 for the Trijicon HD sights it was almost the least expensive gun of the five I shot that day (all the cheaper because I’d had the good fortune to earn it as a prize at a GLOCK Sport Shooting Foundation match).

Talk about cognitive dissonance! You’re supposed to shoot better with a more sophisticated pistol, aren’t you? What would account for the disparity? I think I may know the answer.

Bone-stock but for Trijicon HD sights, Mas’ Glock 19 Gen3 with 5.5-pound trigger delivered this 15-yard group at max speed.

Familiarity Factor

I’ve long made a point of using a different type of handgun on each teaching tour, simply because the students all bring different firearms and the instructor shouldn’t be a 1-trick pony who only knows one gun. The previous year’s test guns included a Springfield XD-E selective double/single action here, an FN 509 there, and yes, a Gen5 GLOCK 19 I was testing for our cover story this month. For the whole month of August I taught with Smith & Wesson Model 19 .357 revolvers. The pistol I taught with second-most often was my old favorite in the 1911 .45. For 2017 it was a Springfield Range Officer, particularly in 10-round magazine states. But the single pistol I had spent the most time teaching with was one or the other of two Gen3 GLOCK 19s with standard 5.5-pound triggers, this one with Trijicon HD sights and one with factory GLOCK white dot/outline sights and retrofitted with a Striker Control Device. The SCD allows the shooter’s thumb to press on the back of the slide and block the trigger in case something gets caught in the triggerguard during holstering. I like the SCD and wanted to be able to show it to students.

Call it familiarity. Call it habituation. Call it long-term muscle memory or an element of primacy of training or whatever may be the buzzword of the moment. But there’s something to it. That same day, I had answered a reader’s question as to how many classes I had taken instead of taught that year. Of the six I listed, four had involved shooting and coincidentally or not, all four had been with the same HD-sighted G19. I think I had simply become accustomed to that gun more than any other at that particular time.
Clichés? I have a few: “Beware the man with only one gun, he probably knows how to use it.”

“You can’t buy competence.”

“The best gun is the one you have in your holster when the time comes.”

Insert additional clichés as necessary. All I can say is, it was a “teachable moment.”