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Departments : The Winning Edge

Perfecting Your Handgun Grip

Grip that gun as if your life depended on it, because someday it just might.

July 07, 2010  |  by Michael T. Rayburn - Also by this author

Editor's note: View our gallery, "How to Grip Your Gun."

Most of us will agree that properly gripping a firearm is an important element of fundamental shooting skills, but what is the "proper" way to grip a handgun? Over the years this question has spurred debate and controversy.

Preventing Malfunctions

Most firearms instructors will agree that you need to have a firm grip on the firearm, especially since most, if not all, of the country has made the switch to semi-autos. Having a firm grip on a semi-automatic handgun is key for a couple of reasons, the most important of which is to avoid what's commonly called "limp wristing" the gun. When a shooter has a weak or loose grip on the semi-automatic handgun, it usually results in the firearm not cycling properly, causing the gun to jam.

A semi-auto pistol uses the energy from the round that was just fired to blow back the action/slide on the gun. In order for this to happen properly, the shooter has to offer resistance against the action of the slide being blown backward. If not, the entire gun will move and may cause the gun to jam for a variety of reasons.

It could be because the expended shell casing is not ejected properly, there is a failure to feed the next round from the magazine into the chamber, there is a double feed (two rounds attempting to enter the chamber at once), or the slide will not go all the way forward to bring the gun back into battery.

Clearing a jam and bringing the gun back into battery on the firing range is one thing, but wasting valuable seconds in the middle of a gunfight to clear a jam is not a good thing. It is therefore important to have a firm, solid grip on the firearm so your gun doesn't jam in the first place. How firm? As tight as you can squeeze it, called a convulsive grip. Grip that gun as if your life depended on it, because someday it just might.

This is where the controversy, and sometimes downright nastiness among some firearms instructors, comes in. We want officers to have a firm, solid grip on the firearm so the semi-auto handgun can function as it's designed to. We follow those instructions by telling officers to "slowly squeeze the trigger rearward until the round goes off and it's a surprise to you," and then to "pull the trigger straight back."

At least that's what most firearms instructors will say. I disagree with this advice, and I'll tell you why.

Debunking Trigger Control Theory

Let's first discuss the command to "slowly squeeze the trigger rearward until the round goes off and it's a surprise to you." First off, you are sending lethal projectiles downrange. That gun should never go off as a surprise to you. You should know exactly when each and every round goes off, whether you're on the firing range or out on the street.

Secondly, in order to "slowly squeeze the trigger rearward," you have to loosen your grip, which goes against the advice for holding that tight, convulsive grip that we've just discussed as being so important to the proper operation of the handgun. If you don't believe me, try this for yourself.

Take a safe and empty firearm, and squeeze the grip as tightly as you can. As you're squeezing the grip as tight as you can, attempt to slowly squeeze the trigger rearward. As you slowly squeeze the trigger rearward, you'll feel the rest of your hand slightly loosen up on the grip. You can't physically exert maximum energy on the grip with your hand and expect your finger to act independently from the rest of your hand to slowly squeeze the trigger.

Don't Fight Nature

Some instructors will tell you that it's OK to loosen your grip slightly to have the proper trigger control. The problem with this theory is that we have a natural tendency to clench our fists under stress, especially under the high stress of an officer-involved shooting. In two separate officer-involved shootings in Michigan, officers recounted how tightly they had gripped their handguns.

In one incident, an officer's hand hurt so much that he assumed he had been shot in his hand. After the shooting, he tried to find the injury. As backup officers arrived on the scene, he had them check his hand for the painful injury he felt. There was no injury: He had squeezed his handgun so tightly during the shooting that he had strained the muscles and tendons in his hand.

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