Thursday, June 2, 2022

Shotgun Woes and Lessons Learned from the Short Range Match

This is a guest post from Dixon Gunther who attended our 29 May 2022 Sensible Self Defense Shotgun Match.

I’d just returned from a work trip when I noticed that Sensible Self Defense was hosting a Shotgun Match. Still reeling from the twelve previous hours of ‘planes, trains, and automobiles’ that tend to bookend my frequent work trips, shooting a match the following morning wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind. Which brings me to my first point. Never pass up an opportunity to train. Ever. Doesn’t matter how tired you are or how bad the weather is supposed to be. Always go train.

I knew it’d been a minute since I’d run a shotgun defensively, so the next morning, I sorted my gear out, and headed for the range. These ‘matches’ (‘Short Range Match’) as the host/founder, Eric Lamberson of Sensible Self-defense titles them, have consistently proven to be excellent opportunities to run through real-world defensive shooting scenarios using either your EDC or home defense set-ups. I’ve been shooting them periodically for the past eight years. In this match, shooters could use pistol, shotgun, or pistol-caliber carbine. There were four scenarios, with 3-9 targets at various distances, all of which had to be engaged using cover where available, against the clock. Some mandated reloads, with others you just reloaded as you deemed necessary.

During the first scenario, I experienced a total malfunction with my shotgun on the second shot. The shotgun is a Mossberg JM-Pro, which I’ve used extensively in the past. I attended Eric’s Defensive Shotgun Course, modeled after Tom Givens’ course in January 2020, and had run the same gun with same ammo with zero issues. I was using Federal Law Enforcement Flight-Control buckshot. When I fired the first shot, the gun cycled, but failed to fire the second round. I racked the slide, ejecting the unfired second round and loading a third round, attempted to fire – nothing. While the gun would fire the first round loaded into the chamber, it was failing to cock the hammer on the subsequent shots. After repeatedly performing immediate action to reduce the malfunction to no avail, I informed the Safety Officer that I was going to use my backup gun.

I wound up shooting the entire match [clean] with my Mossberg 500 which I’ve had for 38 years. It worked flawlessly. And it was good to refresh myself on running the slide action. I focused on achieving solid target hits, use of cover, and even ran the gun on my non-dominant side for part of a stage in order to negotiate the corners properly.

Lessons Learned:

I say again: Never pass up an opportunity to train. Ever. Doesn’t matter how tired you are or how bad the weather is supposed to be. Always go train. Reading about it and thinking about it are no substitute for actually running your life-saving equipment and actually practicing your skills.

Run your gun: Not to be overly dramatic, but this match could have literally saved my life, as the malfunction I experienced with what had been my home defense shotgun could have gotten me killed in a home invasion scenario. You should periodically practice with the gun and defensive ammunition.

Six shots is not a lot in a gunfight, particularly with no way to truly execute a speed reload (as you can with a revolver or pistol). One of the stages in this match had nine targets, each of which had to be shot twice – 18 rounds total, engaged from cover or while moving. Even reloading twice from cover after engaging the first six targets, that still required me to reload on the move prior to engaging the last three targets. My Mossberg 500 has an 18.5” barrel, and an unplugged magazine capacity of five rounds, for a maximum of six rounds in the gun. With five additional rounds carried on the side of the receiver, that brings my maximum round capacity to 10 on board. One of the features that initially attracted me to the 930 JM Pro was the 9-round magazine capacity, which enabled me to carry 9+1 in the gun, with an additional five on the receiver for a total of 15 rounds. But in the final analysis, I believe the 930 is too long to be practical as a defensive platform. The shorter 500 is much handier.

Reloading: Should be done the same way, from the same place (either on the ‘side saddle’ or on the body) EVERY SINGLE TIME! Though I had previously trained fairly often on reloading a shotgun in a defensive scenario, it has been nearly two years since I’ve practiced with any regularity. Prior to that I had literally shot tens of thousands of rounds with various shotguns, mostly shooting Sporting Clays and dove hunting. With the latter, I’m typically loading two rounds at a time from a belt-mounted cartridge pouch/shell bag. So running the gun defensively, I discovered my skills were at best rusty, and at times down right awkward. During the match, I generally had time to plan my reloads and at least rehearse them mentally, which helped, but it was still far from smooth. This is a skill that you must practice periodically – even dry/with dummy rounds. As I have learned in the past: you can’t expect to remain proficient at skills you don’t practice.

Concerning the specific model of firearm and the nature of the malfunction I experienced: A cursory internet search of the various Mossberg 930 forums yielded a plethora of shooters that had experienced the identical (and many other) problem(s) with this particular platform. While I am still in the process of diagnosing problem. The cause is not immediately apparent; the firing pin isn’t broken and the gun is clean, properly assembled, and has no missing or obviously broken parts – my confidence in the platform has evaporated.

From what I can ascertain, the Mossberg 930 JM Pro was introduced as an entry-level shotgun for use in 3-Gun competition, and was not specifically designed as a serious defensive platform (read: expected to be inherently reliable). I base that observation on the fact that (if the internet forums are accurate) many, if not most 930 owners have had to modify their shotguns just to make them function, and continually ‘tweak’ them or tinker with them to keep them running, irrespective of variant -- SPX, JM Pro, or Pro Waterfowl. My personal experience bears this out.

I own two Mossberg 930s, the JM Pro as well as a 930 Pro Waterfowl. I’ve replaced a number of internal components with “upgrades” (“performance” parts from OR3Gun) just to get them to run, but continue to have reliability problems with both. I selected the Mossberg 930 based on the the tang-mounted safety, which is easier to manipulate as a left-handed shooter (I’m cross-dominant – right-handed, but fire long guns left-handed based on eye dominance). While I’ve owned six Mossberg shotguns since about 1979, five of which I still own and shoot, Mossberg’s forte seems to be their pump shotguns. In my opinion/experience, the Mossberg 930 shotguns, at least the two that I have, are too unreliable to serve as a defensive shotgun, and as mentioned previously, the JM Pro is probably too long to be practical for such use.

The two semiautos that seem to ‘rule the school’ at the moment are the Beretta 1301 and the Benelli M4. The latter of the two is almost prohibitively expensive, and are somewhere between difficult and impossible to locate locally. Semiautos are definitely faster, as you obviously don’t have to cycle the action yourself. Eric shot one stage clean with his 1301 – five targets in 2.36 seconds. I shot the same stage clean with the 500 in something more like 11 seconds. But my personal experience this past weekend has me internally debating the appropriateness of a semiauto as a defensive platform. I’m almost inclined to favor the simplicity and reliability of a pump over the speed of the semi. I have a Remington 11-87 that I bought new in 1989, that I’ve hunted with for the past 30+ years, which has functioned flawlessly with me seldom doing more than swabbing the bore and feeding it ammo. That, and I could literally buy 3 Mossberg pumps for what it would cost me to buy a Benelli. We’ll see. At the moment, my 500 has replaced my 930 as the one by my bedside.

                                                        Dixon Gunther 31 May 2022 


Side Note:  On 30 May 2022 I taught a Home Defense Shotgun Course and one student using a JM Pro had the exact same problem. He made it through by pulling the bolt partially to the rear without ejecting the round.  This cocked the hammer and enabled him to fire the next round.  Obviously not an optimal solution.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Can You Stop a Trigger Pull?

Is it possible to stop an action once you begin? Obviously, the answer is yes for some actions, perhaps no for others. Could you stop an involuntary eye-blink in mid blink? Can you stop a trigger pull once you have actually started the pull? Some experimentation I have done recently concerning just how fast one can pull the trigger leads me to believe that once you actually start to pull the trigger, you probably could not stop in mid pull. If true, that has implications for the private citizen involved in a lawful use of deadly force.

Prosecutors have criminally charged police officers when the officer has shot someone in the back or when the officer shot someone falling down, stating that these shots were unjustified. There is a fine line between shots that are a lawful response to a deadly threat and shots that are fired after the deadly threat ceases. The same is true for a private citizen—perhaps more so. Dynamic, deadly encounters can happen very quickly and a private citizen’s use of deadly force in lawful self defense can be over in moments. However, close legal scrutiny on the defender’s decision to start and stop shooting can result in the aftermath taking years to play out.

Research has shown that most people can stop an action that they had just started but have not completed in 200 – 250 milliseconds (see reference #1). However, the ability to stop an action in this timeframe implies that the initial reaction and motor movement to complete the action takes longer than 200 ms to complete. An action that takes less than 200 ms to complete probably cannot be stopped.

So how does this apply to pulling the trigger? Some definitions are in order. When I say pull the trigger, I am describing the action of pressing the trigger and releasing pistol’s sear from one of two positions: beginning from the trigger fully forward at rest or from the trigger finger holding the trigger staged to the rear under tension with no slack—the so called reset position. I am not describing the action of slowly increasing pressure until the sear releases, but rather a rapid, smooth pull starting with no movement of the trigger finger and ending with the pistol firing.

Just how fast does this happen? My recent experiments indicate that it is surprisingly fast—much faster than I initially thought possible. We had four participants in the experiment: Two IDPA 6-gun Masters, one intermediate-level shooter, and one participant who was shooting a pistol for only the 2nd time in their life. The task was straightforward and used one of two starting positions. Position #1 began with the trigger fully forward, trigger finger touching trigger, and no tension on the trigger. The participant pulled the trigger straight to the rear as fast as they could in one smooth motion without pause until the pistol fired. Position #2 began with the trigger staged to the rear so that the trigger had no slack and the shooter felt the sear’s resistance. Shooters could put as much tension as the mechanism allowed without releasing the sear (note: no participant fired an unintentional shot during this process). 

On their own, the shooter pulled the trigger straight to the rear as fast as they could in one smooth motion without pause until the pistol fired. In all of the trials, I used the a SIG P320 with a stock trigger and the a P365 with a stock trigger—the same pistol for each participant. (I tried this previously with different pistols and realized there was a notable difference time-wise between action types, even with striker fired pistols. We used the SIG P320 and P365 to eliminate this variable.)

I measured the time from the first video frame indicating the trigger was moving until the pistol fired. I used a camera running at 240 frames per second (the fastest camera I have) to measure the trigger pull speed. Although 240 fps seems fast, it was clear when I analyzed the data that there was actually movement in this process that was faster than the camera could record. Even so, I think the video was sufficient to measure the action with a reasonable level of accuracy. (a short video and no, that grips is not my normal grip. I modified the grips to ensure I could record the entire trigger movement.)

SIG P320: From position #1 with the trigger fully forward, the average time for all participants to complete the trigger pull with the P320 was 0.0297 seconds. The fastest time was 0.0208 seconds with the slowest being 0.0375 seconds.

From position #2 with the trigger staged to the rear and under tension, the average time for all participants to complete the trigger pull with the P320 was 0.0153 seconds. The fastest time was 0.0083 seconds (several pulls—pretty darn fast) with the slowest being 0.0250 seconds. Initially, I thought that the 0.0083 times were simply too fast to be credible; however, another camera running at 240 fps produced the same result.

SIG P365: From position #1 with the trigger fully forward, the average time for all participants to complete the trigger pull with the P365 was 0.0297 seconds. The fastest time was 0.0083 seconds as well with the slowest being 0.0333 seconds.

From position #2 with the trigger staged to the rear and under tension, the average time for all participants to complete the trigger pull with the P365 was 0.0145 seconds. The fastest time once more was 0.0083 seconds and the slowest was 0.0167 seconds.

When you look at the total data set for each starting position, there really is almost no statistical difference between the skilled and relatively unskilled shooters. Every trigger pull I recorded was significantly faster than 200 ms and this leads me to believe that it would not be possible for the participant to stop the pull once they had started.

What is the implication for the armed citizen? If you are committed to firing a shot and have started to pull the trigger, the speed with which you can pull the trigger likely precludes stopping that action. In 2000 and again in 2009, Bill Lewinski and others studied how fast someone can turn and how fast someone can stop shooting (reference 2 & 3). In the 2000 study they found that the average time for someone to turn in scenarios where the threat was firing at a fictional “police officer” was 0.0300 seconds from one starting position and 0.0900 seconds from another. If the threat turns in the instant you pull the trigger, the trigger pull speed when combined with turning speed (particularly the speed of a young, athletic person) could easily result in shooting the threat in the back.

Given that at any given moment in our lives today we are probably being video recorded, that video recording may show the threat turning away as you fire making it look like you are intentionally shooting them in the back when they are no longer a threat. Knowing trigger pull speeds and the speed in which someone can turn could be very useful information for the defense in case of criminal charges.

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1. On the ability to inhibit simple and choice reaction time responses: a model and a method. G D Logan, W B Cowan, K A Davis; J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 1984 Apr;10(2):276-91.

2. Why is the Suspect Shot in the Back? Finally, Hard Data on How Fast the Suspect Can Be In 11 Different Shooting Scenarios; Bill Lewinski, Ph.D.; The Police Marksman November/December 2000 pgs. 20-­‐28

3. New Developments in Understanding the Behavioral Science Factors in the “Stop Shooting” Response. Law Enforcement Executive Forum - 2009 9(4) 35; William J. Lewinski, PhD; Christa Redmann, Bethany

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Knickknacks on Your Pistol?

Websters dictionary defines a knickknack as “a pleasing trifle; something more ornamental than useful.” More ornamental than useful? Why would we want to put knickknacks on a pistol designed for a serious purpose? I personally do not.

In a recent match, a competitor using a P320 had his pistol slide spontaneously disassemble itself. The rear slide cap failed as the pistol fired and released the extractor tension pin, spring guide, spring, and extractor—all of which departed in various directions (in the first picture below, you can see the extractor tension pin and other parts coming out of the pistol slide). Once the competitor located all of the parts, we examined the rear slide cap and noticed a slot on the right side that was either worn into the slide cap or had resulted when the metal failed (see second picture below).

Extractor Tension Pin Departing

Slot Worn or Gouged in Rear Slide Cap

The rear slide cap had an image of some sort on it and I believed it was probably an after-market add on since it was noticeable lighter than those I had handled previously (I am a certified SIG P320 Armorer). I asked, and the owner said he believed it was a factory part that had subsequently been engraved with the image. The competitor later verified that it was not a SIG factory part but rather an after-market addition made out of a fairly soft metal, probably aluminum. SIG factory rear slide caps are steel and will attract a magnet. I examined several factory slide caps that have been through literally many thousands of rounds and there was no wear at all in that area.

I personally have no interest in putting knickknacks on serious weapons. I have no issue with after-market parts that enhance the weapon’s shoot ability or function such as replacement sights, trigger upgrades, or other additions that do not compromise function or safety. However, after-market parts that perform a critical function must be at least as strong and of the same or better quality than the factory part. If it is not, why replace the factory part?

The competitor is fortunate that the pistol failed during a pistol match and not during a self-defense incident. The pistol was effectively disabled when the rear slide cap failed. Replacing factory parts with substandard, after-market parts that serve no function other than being ornamental is clearly not a good idea. Regardless, you should periodically inspect every critical part on your pistol, factory or not.  I have personally had P320 extractors fail, Glock front sights fall off at the worst possible moment, XDM rear sights break, 1911 plunger tubes fall off -- the list goes on.

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Friday, April 22, 2022

You Show Me Yours and I'll Show You Mine

On Monday, March 21, 2022 at around 5:15 pm, two males drove into a car dealership in Houston, Texas. The car dealership employee stated that one of the males walked up to him and asked if he could test drive a car. The employee returned to the office with the male following. The employee said that as sat down on his chair, he noticed the male pulling his shirt up and grabbing a pistol.

The employee then drew his pistol. When the suspect saw the employee was armed and prepared, the robber said “No!” to the employee as he smiled, returned the pistol to his chest band,  turned around, walked out of the office, and took off running. The second suspect, driving a four-door Mercedes, also fled from the parking lot. 

While many criminals may have no hesitation in using deadly force against their victim, most have no interest in engaging in a gunfight nor in getting shot themselves as we see in this incident.

The employee was in Condition Yellow, was prepared, and knew that he might have had to defend himself on 21 March 2022, just like every other day. His readiness to take defensive action enabled him to prevail.

If you know the guy or his partner--the Houston Police are still looking for him. Full video here.

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