Rants

Why I Don't Recommend Small Handguns

In virtually every beginner's shooting course that I've ever taught, at least one inexperienced shooter will show up with a very small handgun that they have rarely (if ever) shot. Generally, these firearms are a snub-nose revolver, a Ruger LCP, a S&W Bodyguard (.380 ACP), or something very similar in size. Inevitably, the student will rave about the gun upon their arrival and prior to the live shooting portion of the course. I always ask them what it was about that particular firearm that they made them want it, and they will always (without fail) tell me that they "just wanted something small that would be easy for them to shoot and handle."

STOP. RIGHT. THERE.

Small handguns have several advantages in regards to concealability, comfort when carrying, light-weight, etc. However, if they are anything, they are not easy to shoot or handle.  In fact, they are quite the opposite. Their trigger pull is always terrible. Many, if not most, of these models are double-action only; meaning that the trigger pull is going to be about 10-12+ lbs out of the box. (To put that in comparison, that is about double the resistance of the trigger pull for a striker-fired handgun out of the box.) But their atrocious trigger pull isn't the deal-breaker for me... These micro-handguns also have a frame that is tiny and lightweight. While that is seemingly an attractive feature- let's consider the science that is at play here.

Issues with the Ruger LCPWhen you fire a handgun, you are creating and containing a small explosion in this handheld device. That explosion creates enough pressurized gasses to expel the projectile out of the barrel at upwards of 1,200 feet per second when it leaves the muzzle. In short, there is a lot of energy that is displacing the space immediately around it with a fairly violent reaction. Now consider this: the only substance separating your hands from that explosion is the frame of your handgun and any springs/components of the firearm that move and react when that energy is displaced. Therefore, the gun absorbs a good bit of the energy, and any leftover energy is transferred into your hands, wrist, arms, etc. Therefore, the larger the frame, the stronger the springs of the firearm, and the more energy that is absorbed within the contents of the gun. This equates to less energy being transferred (in the form of "recoil") into your hands. In short, the more comfortable it is to shoot without your hands getting beat up from the recoil of the gun. Bigger gun = Less perceivable recoil (assuming that the caliber and ammunition has remained constant).

Glock 17Again- the awful trigger pull and the greater recoil are both drawbacks of the micro-handguns (sub-compacts), but even they aren't the deal breaker for me... Another drawback of these firearms is the spring tension. This comes into play with female shooters moreso than with male shooters. Many women struggle with the ability to rack the slide on semi-automatic handguns. While 99% of the time this is due to them using improper/inefficient grips and charging techniques- it is a legitimate concern with many new shooters. They think that they should get a "smaller handgun because it will be easier to rack the slide than a larger handgun." While this would seem logical, let's again consider the science... Let's consider a Ruger LCP (very small handgun) compared to a Glock 17 (significantly larger handgun). One is chambered in .380 ACP (Ruger LCP) and one is chambered in 9mm (Glock 17), which are both calibers that are very manageable for virtually any shooter with a proper grip. Because of the significantly shorter barrel of the Ruger LCP, the spring that runs around the recoil guide spring-rod must be substantially more resistant than the spring in the Glock 17. This only makes sense when considering the Glock 17's 4.5" barrel length vs. the Ruger LCP's 2.75" barrel length. The LCP is having to absorb the recoil from that explosion in 2.75 inches of space while the Glock 17 can absorb it in 4.5 inches of space! Why is this important? Well, the strength of the spring that is absorbing most of that energy has to be much stronger in the LCP than in the Glock 17 in order to absorb a comparable amount of energy in a much shorter distance. That means that when you try to manually rack the slide to chamber a round that you will be fighting against a stronger spring in the smaller gun. In short- the smaller gun will be more difficult for you to run the slide!

Handgun Sight Radius

However- even the difficulty of the slide manipulation, the increased perceived recoil, and the terrible trigger is not my deal-breaker on micro-handguns. My deal breaker is the sight radius. The sight radius is the distance between the front and the back sight. In order to be able to aim the firearm, you must line up your front and rear sights on the target and place the shot without disrupting this relationship between the gun and the intended point of impact. This is a very sensitive relationship, and can be quite tricky for inexperienced shooters. For example, with a 3.5" barrel length, 1/16" of muzzle movement will translate into a 6.5" change in point of impact at just 10 yards. What does this mean? It means that there is very little room for error when aiming a handgun. The longer the sight radius, the more forgiving the firearm for sight alignment/sight picture errors. The smaller the gun, the shorter the sight radius, and the more difficult the handgun is to shoot consistently and effectively. Shorter barrel = more misses and fewer hits. Period.

I began by saying that I always have new shooters rave about their tiny handguns when they first get to the class because of how "small and easy to shoot/handle it is." After the live fire portion of the course, it never fails that those same students will be talking about what kind of handgun they will be purchasing as their next handgun because "they just don't like" the one they have. Why don't they like it? Simple:

  • The trigger is too difficult to press without disrupting the sight alignment and sight picture
  • The smaller frame doesn't reduce the recoil of the firearm, making it miserable to shoot because your arms are absorbing the majority of the recoil
  • The stiffer recoil springs make it difficult to rack the slide in order to load the handgun
  • The short sight radius makes aiming and producing consistent hits very unlikely (especially under stress)

In closing, I do NOT recommend purchasing a micro-handgun for an inexperienced shooter. While they do serve a legitimate purpose, they are not an enjoyable handgun to learn the fundamentals of shooting with. I highly recommend a handgun more along the lines of the Glock 19, Smith & Wesson M&Pc, or similar sized firearms.

You can learn more about my personal issues with a small handgun in the video below:

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