The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Preview – Selecting a Handgun for the Fight

Photography by Corey Lack

Choose Wisely. Your Life Might Depend on It.

This article’s title uses the word “fight” by design. While we tend to tame and civilize the process by thinking of it as “self-defense” or “concealed carry,” it’s important to understand that if you have to use any of the tools discussed in this article, you are most assuredly in a fight. A nasty, bloody fight for your life or the life of a loved one. Your gear should be selected with that in mind. Select it and train with it like your life depends on it — because some day that might in fact be the case.

My goal is to give you some common sense tips to selecting the gear and weapon(s) you might use to defend yourself. More importantly, we hope this article leads you to take a moment to think.

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The REAP Test
How do you choose a good carry gun? What gun is best? This is always one of the first questions people will ask when they are gearing up, and often shooters want to know what gun I like the most. The answer usually surprises them when I tell them that it really does not matter as long as the gun scores high in what I’ve coined my REAP test, which rates a firearm by the key criteria of reliability, ergonomics, accuracy, and power. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some firearms that I like a lot more than others, but in general, the reason I like them more is that they perform well in one or all of the areas of the REAP test. When it comes to defensive use, it’s less about the arrow and all about the Indian.

In the competition world, one top shooter who has proven that a great athlete can win with any gun is Dave Sevigny. Dave has been a top finisher at every major match he has shot in the last five years or more, winning multiple national championships while competing with a nearly stock Glock handgun against the full-on race guns in USPSA and other practical style shooting matches. The point is that, in order to perform well, you must remember that the gun is simply a tool, and the best shooters excel because of their skill, not because they use a specific gun. They may have their preferences, but they can apply the skills they have spent years developing with just about any gun.

I highly recommend doing a great deal of research and shooting several guns to determine what gun fits you best. Remember, this is the one that you may bet your life on.

So let’s discuss the REAP test. Reliability is number one, because in a gunfight, the gun must go bang. Every. Time. When selecting a firearm, I strongly recommend picking one model of handgun that will meet all of your priorities and needs — and spending your time and ammunition budget on that one gun. If you are a very experienced shooter, then you can make the decision to switch back and forth between different guns, but the new shooter should stick to one. This will allow you to focus on developing your fundamental skills to a high level, rather than chasing equipment and the newest gun on the market. Remember the saying, “Beware of the man with only one gun, for he probably knows how to shoot it.”


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Following are the specifics of the REAP test, listed in order of priority:

Reliability: The number one thing a firearm must do is simply to work. Nothing else matters if you have a malfunction during a fight. Most good production guns should be very reliable out of the box, and with a good gunsmith, custom guns should work every time. If they don’t work, get rid of them. You’ll want to pay particular attention to the ammunition you use, and the magazines you use to feed that ammunition into the gun — because the majority of malfunctions are usually caused by faulty ammunition or magazines, not the gun. If you know without a doubt that the magazines and ammunition are good, and the gun fails, then it’s time to get rid of it.

How reliable should a gun be? An example would be my current teaching guns — Glock models 19 and 17, and the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield in 9mm. These guns are the ones I’ve used to teach almost every defensive/tactical class over the past four years and used for countless hours of training. The Glock 17 finally failed to eject (this may have been an ammunition issue) after more than 15,000 rounds and four years of hard training with very minimal cleaning. It was lubricated regularly, but deliberately was not cleaned.

For those of you who prefer 1911s, find one that runs! That doesn’t mean it has to cost $1,500 — one of my most reliable is a Rock Island Armory single-stack 9mm that is going on 10,000 rounds without a failure. That’s what we mean by reliability. If you can’t go through numerous training sessions without a malfunction, then your gun is most definitely not reliable.

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