Monday, March 12, 2012

The art of staying alive – shoot your carry weapon!!!!!

A person who has chosen to carry a weapon for personal defense has entrusted their life to that weapon. Of course, there is the skill set to learn and integrate into your mind, body and muscles. There are the tactics to learn, the art of concealed carry, the use of cover and concealment, the integration of the Cooper’s “Condition Codes” – and a myriad of other details that we all strive to make seamless if/when we are presented with a life or death situation. Surely we all spend hours on the range practicing and enhancing the most basic of these skills – our marksmanship.
Yet, there is a single bottleneck that, in the shortest of seconds, can simply cast all our efforts to the wind. A weapons failure.

No, no – not a misfire, hangfire, failure to feed or a double feed (the “fab 4”). We can train for those, account for those, and on a lucky day we can survive the seconds that they would add to putting down the threat that is barreling at us intent ending our life.

What I mean is that sickening, gut wrenching feeling when you press the trigger and . . . . . . . . . . . nothing. Zilch, zip, nadda. You are about to die.

So let’s chat about this a bit. Full disclosure – this has never happened to me in an actual moment of engagement. I have always felt a satisfying crack from my weapon at those moments – or have been able to clear my weapon quickly enough that it did not affect the outcome. My discomfort came on the range this weekend during our very first steel shoot – and momentarily left me a bit unsettled. Just a bit more disclosure – in my 40+ years of shooting, I have actually never experienced a total weapons failure. Ever. I have had the “fab 4”, I have had ejector failures, failures of my sights, failures of ammunition – but never a weapon that literally died in my hands. To add a bit to my discomfort – it’s my carry weapon.

We had our steel shoot this weekend. It was just an intro to the whole sport. Two stages were set – “Pendulum” and “Accelerator” - , the range brief was given, timers posted and off we went. No scores this weekend – (yeah, right, ok, no written scores – just a few braggin’ rights) – just introducing our members to the mechanics of steel shooting. I shot one of my .22/45s, my Glock 17, my Springfield 1911 and my LC9 (my carry weapon). All worked without fail until I got to the weapon I carry every single day to protect my life, the tool at the end of all the training and needs to go bang each and every time. And . . . . it died, quit, failed, took a dirt nap!!!!

I shoot this weapon frequently – on every range trip, in every type of weather I’m willing to shoot in. I have had it for a year and have not had a single failure of any kind – including the “fab 4”. In fact, the night before I put a 9mm LaserLyte round in the chamber a used it for dry fire practice with out incident.

So, I empty the LC9 of my Hornady Critical Defense rounds, reload with standard 115 grain FMJ rounds and step to the firing line. The timer gives the commands to load and make ready, confirms that “the shooter is ready”, has me “standby” and at the beep I engage the first plate. I press the trigger, and press the trigger, and press the trigger (the LC9 has a horrendously long trigger press normally) and press the trigger, and pres the trigger until I am at the very rear of the trigger guard area. I press just a bit harder and a second later – BANG! “That was weird, must be the round”. I move to engage the second plate – only to have the above process repeated yet again, and again, and again – as the 30second “Par Time” sounds. I unload and show clear, step to the shooters table – and mentally do an “OH SHIT”.

A couple of things popped through my mind. My LC9 is dead. Kinda pissed me off – only a year old, surly under 1,000 rounds through it (I usually shoot 2-3 magazines each range trip) – what the heck is the deal? A couple rounds of dry fire confirms that the trigger mechanism is definitely toast – and a Google search confirms I am not the only one who has experienced this problem. So, today I will get an RMA from Ruger and send my LC9 off for repairs.

However, the bigger OH SHIT came at the moment of failure and “looking over my shoulder” through the next couple of rounds. When I shoot on the range I never poke holes or hit plates – ever. I have always practiced with the intent of putting down a threat. Always. So imagine my discomfort when I engaged a threat that was within 30 feet while experiencing a total weapon failure. I did exactly what I chide some other folks for - I tried to fix the problem while engaging the threat. I stared in disbelief at the weapon in my hand and allowed the frustration and confusion of the moment overcome my actual need to get back on the true task at hand – defending my life. Had it been real world – my chances of survival would have diminished because of the game my head was playing – reacting to the weapon rather than the threat.

So, a couple of lessons learned.

1: Shoot your carry weapon as frequently as you shoot all others. Perhaps not as many rounds, but at least as many times.

2: Practice using the other defensive weapons you carry on you person – a knife, tactical pen, defensive flashlight, hand to hand skills – you weapon may not go bang when you need it to.

3: Treat every range trip seriously. If you are just putting holes through paper – step up your game and broaden your weapons practice to include everything in your EDC.

So, today I am back to my Glock 36 and am playing with a new drill structure to integrate alternate weapons into my training. And, am trying to set aside the disquiet nibbling at the back of my neck.

UPDATE:  Just for a chuckle – here’s a video of me at the shoot.  It could have gone better.  Here on “Accelerator” the right most circular and rectangular plates kept giving me problems.  I hit the 10th (yes, that’s what I said – 10th ) round to finish up the right circular plate and had nothing left to hit the stop plate.  Still, even a crappy run on steel is a pretty sweet way to spend an afternoon!


  1. Excellent point, and I ALWAYS shoot my carry pistol on every range trip! And that forces me to keep it clean too! :-) No dust bunnies...

  2. The only one I have is my G36. Unfortunately that means I get a lot of practice at clearing the FTL/FTE malfunctions that the 36 has become infamous for, a somewhat uncomfortable feeling that has prompted my decision to move to a G19 as soon as possible.

  3. Hey Larry, thanks for dropping by. I have run 1,000+ rounds throug my G36 and never had a failure. I read through the links your post regarding the G36 problems to get up to speed. I have two thoughts. While I understand the reluctance to accept the "limp wrist" argument, I would suggest another shot at stance/grip. I had failure problems with my G17 and went to a bit more agressive Weaver stance. I nearly lock my dominant arm, give some tension with my support hand and lean forward into the weapon. I naturally carry this through all my handgun grip/stance positions. Perhaps this stance/grip might offer you some a hand in reducing/eliminating your failures.

    I also noticed you had an extension on your magazines. Just for fun, try removing it and returning to its orginal configuration, see if that makes a difference.

    I suspect you have, indeed, tried these options, but thought I'd offer them just in case you have not.

    Again, thanks for stopping by - always anxious to get feedback from the readers, we are all learning together.

    Enjoy your day sir!

  4. Yes, yes, and yes. I have seen many guns utterly fail. It definitely makes your stomach knot when you think of the implications. It had never happened to me until this last year, then twice. One was ammunition (cheap steel case stuck in the chamber of an AR and was frozen solid) and one was a mechanical failure in a new handgun (trigger mechanism in a P3AT became disengaged). When they recommend to put many rounds through a gun before using it for carry it's more than "will it function reliably," it's also about making it break if it is going to do that.