The Guardian Broadcast

"Providing Concealed Carry & Armed Self-Defense Wisdom."

A podcast by Patrick Kilchermann, founder of the Concealed Carry University.


"Defining Tier One Handgun Capabilities"


Between marketing, sensationalism, anecdotes, and a lack of real world testing, we see a serious lack of real data about which handguns perform well in a variety of practical situations. 

The Guardian BroadcastPatrick Kilchermann
00:00 / 01:04

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Hello, my friends and fellow guardians – welcome to another Guardian Broadcast, here at the Concealed Carry University. I am Patrick Kilchermann, your host and founder.


Today I’ve got something interesting for you – I want to talk about real-world handgun reliability. And any time you’re looking at data, it’s important to differentiate between the laboratory and the real world. Or in terms of our firearms and concealed carry lifestyles: the difference between theory and reality; or the nice and clean indoor range… and the grit and lint and inconsistency of the field.


For example, by now I’m sure you’re well-aware of the differences between what we here at CCU call a Tier 1 and Tier 2 handgun manufacturer. Both guns will perform smoothly when they’re freshly cleaned and firing at targets. And the guy shooting his Keltec PF9 at the range will usually say: “Ha! I saved myself $300 by buying this handgun.” But it’s when the environment and conditions begin to deteriorate, the T2 guns begin having difficulties. In the extreme examples, what you get is this: you can take a T1 gun, locked and loaded, drop it in sand or dirt, kick more dirt over it, and drive it down into every crack and crevice in that gun until it’s packed. We’ve done this – sure, there are lots of videos, but until you see it with your own eyes, the lesson is never completely real. You pick that gun up, and rapid fire. Bam Bam Bam Bam Bam Bam!


In our experience: zero malfunctions. Then I went a horrific step further: Locked the slide open, insert a new magazine, and repeat the experiment. But now you’re packing the firing chamber, the magazine itself, the trigger mechanism, even both ends of the barrel with sand. Then, I picked the pistol up – in this case, a GLOCK 19 – and attempted to close the slide. It barely budged – the weapon was literally full of sand and dirt. So I cycled the slide the little bit that it would move, half a dozen times, until it would almost close. As you’re closing that slide, you hear and feel an appalling grinding. Dry grains of sand – tiny rocks – crushing and scratching against metal on metal. It’s horrific, and it feels like abuse. In our testing, I had to force it closed – the recoil spring couldn’t overcome all the sand and dirt still inside the weapon, and I had to push the back of the slide to get it into battery. I point the gun… and of course, I’m wearing full face and hand protective gear in case this pistol explodes… I begin pressing the trigger, which feels like some kind of rock crushing device, crunching as I pull it back. BAM – the first shot fires, sand flies everywhere. The slide is stuck open a little bit though, once again. One malfunction. I cycle it one time, and it closes under its own power. Then Bam Bam Bam Bam Bam Bam! Sand flies everywhere with each shot, peppering my face mask, but it fires like a well-oiled machine. Another magazine flows smoothly through it. Then another.


So you can see the capabilities of true Tier 1 gun. They’re designed to operate in these conditions, and they really can.


THAT SAID. One could debate the practicality of having a weapon that is capable of this kind of performance. One could argue: you prove my point in your experiment! For $300 more dollars, a Tier 1 gun gives you the ability to do something you’ll never, ever need to do! So why not save that money, keep your gun clean, and DON’T pack it full of sand?”


Well, that’s a good point. However, there’s another level of handgun reliability that is NOT impractical, and this presents a test that you should try the next time you shoot your handgun.

The backstory is this: here at CCU, we’ve done our share of Simunition gunfighting, and live-fire dynamic drills. And we’ve learned a big lesson: that in combat, there is really no such thing as a good grip on your handgun.

Now, conventional wisdom of course dictates, what? “You pull up your cover garments with your offhand, you reach down and make contact with your holstered pistol with your primary hand. Then what? You get a good, positive grip. Then, you draw your handgun and do what you have to do.”

Well! That sounds great in theory. But in practice, when you’re in the Sim arena and you’re about to get drilled by 8 or 10 less-lethal projectiles which will leave welts through sweaters and have blood dripping down your gloved wrists, and when your only cover is the firepower that you need to begin unleashing against your attacker ‘like yesterday’…. things that sound great in theory suddenly lose their utility in practice.


Again: good grips in combat situations seem to be extremely elusive. When you bring your pistol up into play and begin firing, you may be rotated too far around your grip, or most often, you’re not choked up into your grip. In my experience, this is far more common than not; I’d estimate that 8/10ths of the time I break into action within a dynamic drill, I have something less than a perfect grip.


Now: why is this a big deal?


Well, we all know that a stable grip on our handguns is necessary for, what? For allowing the slide to cycle. If you grip your pistol too loosely, or if you grip it too low on its handle, you allow for too much rotation of the pistol when its fired. This takes energy away from the slide and dissipates it into your hand and arm. And what happens? You get a failure to feed or failure to extract malfunction. Your gun jams up! People call it limp-wristing.


Of the 8/10 imperfect grips I get or see during high speed drills or Sim combat, I’d say a tenth or a quarter of them cause cycling issues for their user. When this happens, your effectiveness in the drill is almost completely destroyed. We talk about clearing malfunctions and we practice power strokes and clearing our guns of obstructions and getting back into action, but in the reactive gunfights that we practice, these are mostly moot points. If your gun jams, you’re probably not going to get it functioning again in time for it to make a meaningful difference, because one of two things will happen.

Either the fight is already over and your threat is already disengaging from the rounds you were able to fire before the malfunction, OR you’re going to get shot a whole bunch of times as you try to clear your weapon. This may not translate directly to reality, and it’s no reason to not practice malfunction drills, but this is our experience in drills and in combat.


This means, what: it means that ANYTHING we can do to mitigate or eliminate cycling malfunctions in combat, the better.


And…. This presents a major dilemma for the gunfighter in training, because we now know, what? That SPEED of deployment and TEMPO of deployment are crucial for survival in a fast-paced, reactive gunfight. Meaning: You’ve got to get your gun in play as quickly as possible, and you have to be able to keep up a solid tempo of fire. If you sit around feeling for the perfect grip before drawing, you’ll probably get shot half a dozen times before your gun clears its holster. And yet if you draw so quickly that you have an imperfect grip, which causes cycling malfunctions… you’re also done for.

So, what do we do?

Well, that pushed us to realize, isolate, and test the one factor that can make any of this a non-issue. And that factor is: which guns are most susceptible to limp-wristing? Are there any Tier 1 handguns that are better able to fire reliably and to keep firing reliably even if their user has an imperfect grip on that handgun?


And so, we performed these tests on a number of guns. And the results… and I’m not being sensational here… will probably surprise you. And as much as I despise titillating people, I must make you wait one week, until the next Guardian Broadcast. If I dive into this now, this broadcast will get way too long.

So: Let’s reveal these results and continue this discussion next week. Until then, go to the range! Take your pistol, and perform this test yourself. See how lightly you can hang onto your pistol and still have it fire and cycle reliably. And see how far down you can hold your pistol’s handle, while gripping it as tightly as you can, and have it still function reliably. Try it, and I’ll talk to you next week.