My colleague Melody Lauer posted an interesting question on Facebook.
What malfunction to shot ratio would you accept on a carry gun (without said malfunctions being purposefully induced)?
Since this had been a topic of conversation with another colleague only a few days before, I posted the answer we both agreed on.
“How many magazines come with the gun? … It needs to be 100% reliable for the number of rounds in the magazine(s) that come with it or how many a person carries, assuming the person even bought a spare magazine. More than that is superfluous. For many autoloaders now that means one magazine plus the round in the chamber.
The multiple thousand round reliability tests that the ‘cognoscenti’ are in love with are meaningless except in a very narrow context. The desire for those kind of tests is generated by training junkies who want to make it through 2-5 day 1500+ round training classes without having a single malfunction. Their applicability in the real world of peoples’ lives is nil.”
I was unsurprised when many folks responded, in generally polite ways, that I was crazy. Most of the cognoscenti want to run at least 1,000 rounds through a carry gun before they ‘trust’ it. My comment relating to ‘Arbitrary Reliability Assessments’ was pure heresy. There was also a considerable amount of mathematical ‘logic’ in the discussion that I found obtuse. For instance, if a gun could be expected to have 5 malfunctions out of 1,000 rounds, it could also be expected to have 1 malfunction per magazine. That was difficult for me to understand but I was told that I just don’t understand math and statistics. If I’m going to have one malfunction per magazine, I’ll just keep carrying a revolver.
Let’s think about the issue in some depth. My questions are:
- 1,000 rounds of what kind of ammo?
- Under what conditions?
- With which magazines?
- With which guns?
- Number 1 carry gun?
- Backup Gun?
- Spare carry gun?
Addressing those questions in order brings some other thoughts to mind.
- Ball or duty ammo? Often, guns shoot well with some ammo and other ammo, not so much. Because of that fact, running 1,000 rounds of ball through a gun and then a box of duty ammo through it doesn’t seem to me to accomplish any more than shooting the box of duty ammo alone. So, in the case of a Glock 19, 15 times 3 plus 1 = 46 rounds. Three magazines for those who like to carry two spares. That leaves 4 rounds out of a box. Always save the last one for yourself. Some folks are such terrible shots they better save two.
- Under what conditions? Unlike wheelguns, autoloaders are subject to the vagaries of the person/machine interface. That’s largely the crux of the reliability question.
- Is the 1,000 rounds to be shot in casual range shooting with no pressure? I can’t count the number of people shooting IDPA matches who have said to me “I don’t understand it, Claude, my gun never malfunctions when I shoot it for practice.” Even small amounts of stress can have an effect on how the shooter holds and fires the gun. Perhaps it would be a good idea to involve at least some significant percentage of the test under conditions that might induce a malfunction, such as a State or Area Championship? Yeah but shooting competition will get you ‘killed on the streetz.’ Or maybe all 1,000 rounds should be shot under extreme pressure, such as the first two to three days at the elite Rogers Shooting School?
- Is the 1,000 rounds going to be shot with both hands? One of the things I noticed at Rogers was how many more malfunctions occurred during one handed shooting. Should the 1,000 rounds involve some shooting with Dominant hand only? How about the Support hand only?
- Since ‘everyone starts moving after the first shot,’ how much of the 1,000 rounds is going to be shot while shooting on the move? It’s probably a good idea to shoot some Box Drills and Figure 8s as part of the testing process. Perhaps including a 50/25/25 percent mix of Freestyle/Dominant hand only/Support hand only during at least half of that 1,000 rounds should be the protocol.
- With which magazines?
- Magazines are often the weakest link in the reliability of any autoloader. Doing a reliability test with ‘training’ magazines and then switching to magazines ‘reserved’ for carry defeats the entire purpose of the test. It’s completely non sequitur.
- But if a person only has three ‘carry’ magazines, that means the test may involve dumping them on the ground somewhere around 20 times apiece. How comfortable are you with those magazines after they’ve been beaten up a bit? You tell me, it’s your decision.
- Which guns to test?
- How many people who carry a Backup Gun run the 1,000 rounds through it? Especially for those using small autoloaders such as an LCP, my guess is almost none. If you don’t run your Backup through the high round count protocol, do you still trust your life to it? If so, why is the main pistol any different?
- I’m a firm believer that anyone who carries a pistol should have a spare. Regardless of the circumstances of a shooting, the police will take the pistol as evidence. If you don’t have a spare, preferably identical to your carry gun, then you’re going to have to go buy one and run it through the testing protocol before you can ‘trust it.’ Back to Square One.
I don’t understand it, Claude, my gun never malfunctions when I shoot it for practice.
There are other considerations such as the effects of and on weapon mounted lights, lasers, or red dot sights, but that’s gilding the lily perhaps.
For those who only have one gun, such as the great majority of gun owners, how long is it going to take to conduct this 1,000 round test? Even at 100 rounds a week, the test will take the better part of three months to conduct. In the meantime, how do you feel about the gun? Do you want to have that “I’m still not sure I trust this piece” feeling in the back of your head for three months? How will that affect the person/machine interface?
In the end, if shooting 1,000 rounds before you ‘trust’ the gun makes you feel better, then go for it. But if you don’t design and follow a protocol that really relates to how you’re likely to use the gun in a situation where you have to protect yourself or your loved ones, the whole exercise is just an excuse to go shooting. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Without testing, there has been no training
Shooting a pistol is an athletic activity. Like any athletic endeavor, we need to have some performance measurement standards. Measurement is the operative word here. We need to measure our downrange performance, i.e., how well we can hit the target, if we want to become better at shooting. There are numerous variables that can be called into play for measurement.
As an example of athletic measurement, the current US Army standard for my age cohort is a minimum of 27 sit-ups in one minute. More sit-ups means more points scored. The Army Physical Fitness Test has to be taken twice a year.
In weight training, we might simply measure how many repetitions of lifting a given amount of weight we can do until we can’t lift anymore. Over time, our objective is to be able to lift more weight and/or perform more repetitions.
Police officers have to undergo periodic testing of their shooting ability. The period might be anywhere from once a year (mandated by every state I am aware of) to four times a year (LAPD and FBI).
What might be a set of reasonable standards for the average gun owner? I’ll offer the following as a progression that a gunowner could use to see where their skills stand on a periodic basis. It’s less than 100 rounds, so there is some room for remediation, if necessary. Because firearms skills are perishable, I’m more in favor of the LAPD/FBI approach of doing an evaluation four times a year rather than just once.
1) LAPD Retired Officer Course
Shoot 10 shots at a silhouette at 7 yards with no time limit. The LAPD standard is simply that 7 of the ten have to hit. Our standard should be to have, at a minimum, all 10 rounds hit within the 7 ring of a B-27 or an equivalent.
The point of this is to learn how fast we can shoot and still make our hits. Even the LAPD SWAT has learned and trained the cadence they can make consistent hits on a target. It’s not by shooting as fast as they possibly can, it’s by paying attention to what they’re doing while they’re shooting. I got that from Darryl Bolke.
If you meet the standard, then move on to the next component. If not, work on getting your fundamentals in better shape.
2) NRA Basic Pistol
Shoot a five-shot group within a 9-inch diameter circle (paper plate) at 15 feet with no time limit. Repeat twice for a total of three times. All the shots have to hit the plate. My colleague Chuck Haggard commented to me:
I wonder how many people never shoot anything but a full value target [i.e., complete silhouette] at 3-5 yards and call it gtg [Good To Go].
I agree with him completely; assuming that we’ll always have a full body presentation to shoot at in a defensive encounter is a mistake. If you can’t hit a paper plate consistently at five yards, you should work on being able to do that. See the sights and press the trigger smoothly. If you can make the standard, then move on to the next.
3) NRA Defensive Pistol I – Pro-Marksman
Shoot a five-shot group within a 12-inch diameter circle at 21 feet in fifteen seconds. Repeat until you’ve done it four times. The four times don’t have to be consecutive, however the standard of every shot having to be in the circle is. This drill is a lot more difficult than most people think because of the 100 percent hit requirement. Even though 15 seconds is a very generous time standard, knowing you’re on the clock makes it more difficult. Once you’ve made it four times, move on to the next component.
Shoot five shots into a five inch circle at five yards in five seconds. Do it five times in a row. This is a very difficult drill for most people. Only do it once to get an idea of how well you can shoot it. It’s a good practice drill for other times you shoot. After shooting it once, move on to the final component.
Shot at 15 yards on a B-27 silhouette target. Load with six rounds only; you will need another magazine or speedloader loaded with six rounds also. Start double action if your pistol is so equipped. Fire six shots, reload, and fire another six shots for a total of 12 shots from a standing position, no support from bench or wall allowed. The time limit is 20 seconds, including the reload for the second 6 shot string. Score it based on the number value of the rings. The maximum point value for the string is 120.
Although many people think that a Private Citizen cannot legally justify shooting past seven yards, that is absolutely not true. I have a number of incidents in my database where Private Citizens shot at longer distances and it was completely justified. If a gang banger is shooting at you and your children at 23 yards, you are legally justified in shooting back. That assumes you have the skill and are cognizant of the background.
If you don’t need to do any remedial work during the session, you will fire 82 rounds total. That gives you a little left over to play around with as you please. Using a progression of drills that increase in difficulty gives you the opportunity to evaluate where you need to work on your skills to improve. Keep a record of how you did on each drill. Having a record is key to knowing what you need to work on in your practice sessions.
If it all seems easy, you can do the drills one handed; either dominant hand only or support hand only.