Sunday, September 18, 2022

Tap Rack Revisited--How to Not Blow Up Your Pistol.


This is an update to an article I wrote several years ago, spurred by a recent incident during a training session. 

I still routinely see competitors trying to catch rounds when they are clearing their pistols or holding their hand over the ejection port in an attempt to catch the round instead of letting it drop to the ground.  This is not a good idea.

I was always somewhat skeptical when I heard stories of rounds detonating in the ejection port. I now have personally witnessed two examples of rounds doing just that.  One as the shooter was clearing the pistol and one when the shooter (a cardiologist) was attempting to close the slide on a round that apparently had not gone into battery. Fortunately, although the doctor's hand was lacerated, no tendons were cut.

Recently during a training session, a shooter was clearing his 1911 pistol.  The round apparently managed to turn sideways in the ejection port and detonated from the primer striking the ejector.  The brass case departed stage right and we did not recover it.  The bullet struck some part of the ejection port and we found it on the ground at his feet. It had minimal damage and could have easily been reloaded and fired.

If the shooter had placed his hand over the ejection port, the brass case would likely have severely lacerated his hand.

At one point, a common response to the slide of a pistol failing to go into battery was to strike the rear of the slide. I do not see this too often as striker fired pistols have come into mainstream usage. However as we see in the incident discussed below, that may not be a very good idea and indeed could be very dangerous as well.

I was serving as the match director in our Short Range Match when I heard a loud pop instead of a bang as a competitor was completing a stage. I looked up and saw the safety officer walking toward me with the competitor who was holding his left hand with blood pouring through his fingers. His pistol was lying on the ground where it had fallen from his hand.

The competitor's pistol had failed to go into battery and he had aggressively hit the back of the slide with his left palm in an attempt to clear the malfunction. As he did this, his fingers went forward over the top of the slide just as the round detonated in the open ejection port. Fragments of brass severely cut his left index and middle fingers. After examining the competitor's injured left-hand, a doctor at the scene determined that he was not seriously injured and only had some bloody but not serious cuts.The competitor was a heart surgeon so this was welcome news indeed!

When I retrieved and examined the pistol, I saw that the remains of the detonated round were still in the ejection port. The round had nosedived into the feed ramp and that in doing so it literally positioned the primer exactly over the extractor. When the competitor slammed the slide forward with his left hand the extractor had crushed the primer causing the 9mm round to detonate.

If you look at photo #1 above you can get an idea of the quantity of brass fragments that struck the shooter’s hand. In photo #2 you can see where the extractor (not the ejector--look at the picture) crushed the primer (pistol was a Kahr 9mm). This particular gentleman was very forceful when he manipulated his pistol. Photo #3 shows where the force of the detonation slammed the bullet into the feed ramp. Photo #4 provides another view.

In my classes I teach that the proper response to a click instead of a bang is to tap the magazine (to ensure it is properly seated) and rack the slide—tap, rack. This will often clear the malfunction. If it does not, the proper response is to lock the slide back, aggressively strip the magazine out, and then reload the pistol and continue to fire if the circumstances warrant. 

After reloading, if it does not fire you probably have a broken pistol that's not going to be easily fixed on the spot. If you are under assault, the proper response at that point is to aggressively depart the area or take other necessary action.

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Sunday, September 4, 2022

Blitz Robbery: Could You React in Time?

We recently fired a stage in the Sensible Self Defense (SSD) Short Range Match that was based on an armed robbery in front of a hotel in Houston. Four armed men in an SUV quickly pulled in front of the hotel’s main entrance and two men exited the vehicle. One was armed with a handgun and one was armed with a long gun (it might have been an AR-15 style rifle—hard to tell). The robbers accosted a hotel patron waiting outside the front doors and took several items from him including his watch and backpack. You can watch the video here.

From the moment the patron/victim could see that the person exiting the SUV held a handgun until the robber was on top of him with his pistol in the victim’s face was approximately 1.62 seconds; the distance was approximately four yards. The second robber with his long gun was in position to fire on the victim in approximately 3.40 seconds after the SUV stopped. When the victim saw the first robber exiting the vehicle, he attempted to run; however, he only took a couple of steps before the robber quickly stopped him. In this instance, the victim’s perception-reaction time (I define it as the victim’s first action in response to seeing the robber) was approximately 0.40 seconds.

If the victim had been armed, he would have needed to draw and engage the first robber in less than 1.22 seconds (subtracting the victim’s .040 second perception time from 1.62 seconds) and the second robber immediately after the first. Is this something a reasonably well-trained person could do with a concealed pistol? I think the answer is yes. Would engaging the robbers have been a good idea? Perhaps or maybe not.

I recently did some personal research concerning my draws and those of my training partner Steve. The question was how fast could we safely draw and shoot a target two yards away, starting with our hand on the pistol? We were not measuring reaction to a timer or other start signal, nor were we measuring accuracy per se, but rather how fast we could safely draw and fire a shot. (Safety note: DO NOT try this, regardless of your level of training. There is a very real risk of shooting yourself.)

My average draw for 16 runs measured from the time I initiated the draw (i.e. the first movement of my hand) until I fired the shot was 0.16 seconds. Steve’s average draw for 14 runs was 0.18 seconds.* Frankly, I was surprised at how fast we could draw and shoot. The picture below shows my hits. Remember, the point of the experiment was to draw and safely pull the trigger as quickly as possible. This was rapid point shooting and the spread of the shots demonstrates this. I was initially shooting lower on the target and modified the draw a bit to shoot higher as I dialed it in.

Starting with your hand on the pistol provides a great time advantage over starting with your hands in any other position. I have collected data on over a thousand draws in Short Range Matches and the average competitor gains between 0.75 and 1.25 seconds starting with the hand on the pistol versus starting with the hands at their sides. Highly skilled shooters typically draw, aim, and hit their target with the first shot in 0.60 - 0.80 seconds—some competitors are faster.

If the draw speed (i.e. the reaction) is within the realm of the possible, how about the perception part of the equation? The victim’s perception-reaction time was a key aspect in this event. The time required to respond to a given stimulus varies greatly across different tasks and even within the same task under different conditions. It can range from less than 0.15 seconds to many seconds. The type of stimulus, stimulus complexity, and the observer’s circumstances highly influence stimulus response time.

If we place it in the context of Boyd’s Observe, Orient, Decide, Act model, the victim in this robbery would have had to go from Observe to Act almost immediately. Shooters routinely do this in classes and competition. For example: “At the start signal, draw and shoot Targets 1-3 with two hits each.” The difference between the range and the real world is that on the range we typically know what our course of action must be in advance and we are prepared at that moment to execute the course of action the instant we perceive the expected stimulus. Even when faced with a blind stage, we still know that we are going through a scenario that will likely require us to shoot at some point and therefore we are mentally aware and prepared for that eventuality.

Mental awareness or mindset is a critical component to surviving any defensive encounter involving deadly force. However, mindset alone is insufficient. It must be coupled with awareness, proper training, and a willingness to act.

The practical aspect comes into play as well. Even had the victim been armed (I am assuming he was not), from the victim’s perspective the odds of successfully drawing a pistol were likely very poor. Do you place your hand on a concealed pistol every time a car pulls up in front of you? Probably not given that the odds of the car containing a robbery team are generally extremely low (however, they are not zero as we see here). In this instance, the victim’s response in surrendering his valuables was probably the best option given the totality of the circumstances as he saw them.

Most Sensible Self Defense Short Range Match stages are designed based on real life events that are video recorded. The concept behind the match is to prepare shooters for the variety of use of force scenarios they might encounter in daily life to the degree that you can do so in a match. Crime often happens very quickly so many SSD stages (like the name suggests) are at a relatively short range and very fast.

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* Note: This did seem pretty fast and I double checked my data; I am confident in its accuracy. I also compared it to fast draw records; the current record is 0.208 seconds. Our average is faster; however, fast draw competitors must react, draw, fire, and hit a target. The lock time (the time it takes the hammer to fall) of the single action pistol also comes into play since the competitor must cock the hammer and then pull the trigger in the process. The reaction times of the best fast draw shooters is in the 0.150 second range which means that the current record holder drew, cocked, aimed (from the hip), and fired in less than 0.06 seconds. That is much faster than we were. I also came across a video of Randy Harris of Harris Combative Strategies drawing from concealment and pulling the trigger in 0.46 seconds: click here for the video

Note again, there is a very real risk of shooting yourself if you try this experiment. Steve and I are IDPA Masters and have excellent trigger control. Even so, I do not think I will repeat this experiment. I state flatly, DO NOT try this, regardless of your level of training. If you do, you are solely responsible for the consequences of your actions.