Feb 092011

A CZ75 showing impressive accuracy

I went shooting with an acquaintance the other night for the first time (that is, for the first time with him, not the first time I went shooting!).  He could out-shoot me every which way, and did an excellent job of getting rounds close or exactly on the target bullseye, at quite impressive ranges.

But.  And it is a big but.  Although he could shoot very accurately, he would not be a good person to take lessons from in learning the art of prudent firearms-based self defense.

Firstly, he was not wearing a rimmed hat at the indoor range we were at.  What is wrong with that?  Well, he discovered that himself when an ejected shell casing dropped down and wedged itself in the frame along the side of his safety glasses.  Indeed, he was lucky the shell casing didn’t go down the front of the safety glasses.  You should always wear a rimmed hat at the range to protect yourself from ejected shell casings (they can be very hot and burn quite severely).

Second, his Glock was dripping in oil.  Glocks are dry guns, they run best with almost no oil at all.  With any gun, too much oil can provide a base to attract dirt, dust, grit and grime, and can actually increase rather than decrease the chance of the gun malfunctioning.  It is best to almost underoil rather than overoil most guns, and this is absolutely the case with Glocks, which work astonishingly well with little or no oiling, ever (just the slightest hint of Break-Free on a few of the surfaces).

Third, he proudly showed me how he had a custom trigger job on his Glock.  He had a lighter pull trigger installed by a gunsmith, and then he personally polished and smoothed all the moving surfaces to make the trigger even lighter still.  The gun  probably had no more than a 1lb (2 lbs max) trigger pull and almost no movement in the trigger.  Indeed, it was so extreme that at one point in these modifications, he told me the gun started firing full auto rather than semi-auto.

Yes, a crisp trigger that doesn’t need a ton of pulling power or much finger movement is a good thing, but this was far beyond that.  And it opens him up to increased legal liabilities.  Which brings me to the fourth point.

Fourth, he proudly told me how he had managed to secure a supply of ‘law enforcement only’ (LEO) ammunition.  He said it was hard to buy the LEO ammo, because most places wanted details of his employment in a law enforcement organization (which he is not), but he managed to find a mail order place that sent it to him no questions asked.  He showed me a box of it, with ‘Law Enforcement Only’ prominently labeled on the front.

He said ‘it is legal to own this in Washington’ but that is beside the point.

Let’s look at these last two issues and their implication.  What say he was your friend, and you eagerly copied everything he did, and you too had a massively worked-on pistol with LEO ammunition.  Now let’s say you ended up having to use your gun in self defense.  The police are going to impound your gun and examine it, and also examine the ammunition you were using, as part of their formal review procedure.

They’ll see a modified gun with a much lighter trigger pull (and you better cross your fingers and pray the gun doesn’t suddenly start shooting in full auto mode for them too!), and they’ll see you using LEO ammunition.  If the shooting is in a somewhat grey area, these factors will count against you.

You have three things to worry about after any use of lethal force.  The first is the police and whether they will choose to arrest you and file charges or not.  Their decision will be influenced by all the facts in the case, and for sure, your demeanor, as demonstrated by the type of gun you were carrying and the type of ammunition it was loaded with, are relevant and influential facts.  If you have a stock standard pistol, with ‘off the shelf’ ammo, you score positively or neutrally in both cases.  But a heavily modified gun to make it easier to fire quicker, and restricted ammunition that in at least the opinion of the ammo manufacturer you should not even own?  Those are two big negatives that will definitely increase your chance of having charges filed.

Now the second thing to worry about is how the DA will handle your case.  Will he proceed to take it to court?  Will he go for the most severe charges possible?  Like the police, he too will look at all the facts of the case, and from two perspectives.  First, he’ll look at it from the perspective of the applicable law.  And secondly, he’ll look at it from the perspective of ‘Is this guy a sympathetic or unsympathetic person – will the public support me for prosecuting him or not?’  And, thirdly, he’ll look at it from the perspective of ‘If I proceed to trial, how likely am I to win a conviction?  How can I sell this to the jury?’  And you’ve just given him two huge selling points, haven’t you.

There’s a third thing to worry about.  At least the police and prosecutor are reasonably fair minded people, and stand to get only minimal personal gain from winning a conviction against you.  But what about a civil case filed against you by the bad guy (or his estate)?  You’re in a totally different scenario there.  They have a huge upside if they win a financial judgment against you (for potentially all the money you have in the world, all your houses, cars, and everything else).  They have no fairness factor shading their actions at all.  They are motivated by money, by greed, and by revenge, and they will be aided in this process by an attorney representing them for free, in return for picking up a share of any winnings they get against you (probably 30% – 50% of their winnings will go to the attorney).

Maybe you lucked out, with friendly fair police and a high-minded realistic DA and you had no criminal charges filed against you.  Or maybe you did have charges pressed against you, but managed to beat them at trial, because of the very high burden of proof placed on the prosecution.

But now you’re in a civil trial, with a much lower burden of proof, and you have an attorney opposing you who won’t hesitate to use every unfair play he can come up with, including making you out to be a gun crazed killer, a wanna-be Rambo, with a gun modified to make it more deadly, and with ammunition so dangerous that civilians aren’t trusted with it, but which you had somehow dishonestly obtained.

When you combine this type of rhetoric with the general misunderstandings of firearms-based self defense in the first place, and a jury that will inevitably have at least one or two people who hate firearms with a passion, you’re in a world of hurt.

About the only thing we could hope for is that your over-oiled gun would jam before firing the first shot.

So – moral of the story?  Just because a guy can shoot well at the range doesn’t mean you should turn to him for advice on self defense in general (or even about how to shoot well, either, but that’s a story for another time…..).

  2 Responses to “Why a Good Shot is Not Necessarily a Good Role Model”

  1. I can understand why a person wouldn’t want to use ammunition that was restricted to law enforcement people only.

    Are there other considerations that apply when choosing ammunition for your gun? Or is all other ammunition okay?


  2. Good question, and one which requires a lot more than a couple of paragraphs in response (and one which I’ll write more about over time, of course – the topic of ‘what type of round to choose’ is one on which everyone has an opinion!).

    The underlying truth is that bullets are designed to, among other things, kill people (so, okay, some bullets are designed more for target shooting or other applications). As such, there’s not really any such thing as a ‘safe’ bullet, is there?

    On the other hand, we all know that some bullets are more lethal than others. A FMJ round nose bullet is about as ‘safe’ as you can get, the various expanding hollow point type rounds become successively more dangerous.

    Some prosecutors, and some civil attorneys, will try and play rhetorical games with your choice of bullet. These ‘games’ can usually be rebutted, particularly if you use a type of round that is in common use by law enforcement (ideally your own local police force). And hollow point bullets can also be explained as being ‘safer’ (to other people) by not over-penetrating.

    But in choosing a self defense round, go easy on yourself, and don’t choose a bullet with a ‘shock horror’ sort of name. For example, I use Winchester Silver Tips in one of my carry guns – what a lovely neutral sort of name that is.

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