Monthly Archives: August 2013

Judging The Judge: The Taurus Judge Public Defender

Is there any product in the firearms community that’s caused as much controversy as the Taurus Judge?  If there is, I’m not aware of it.  I’ve read more reviews, comments, articles, posts, proclamations, missives, manifestos, and mumbo-jumbo about the Judge than anything else.

It’s kind of surreal to see so much vitriol being spouted from both sides, the fanatics and the haters, about one little product.  And I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe a lot of it is driven by misunderstandings, or preconceived notions, or by resentment about something entirely unrelated (i.e., maybe people are lashing out against the Judge’s marketing campaign, or the perception that innocent/unknowing customers are being taken advantage of by being marketed such a product).

Now, while I can acknowledge that the fundamental purpose of the internet is to spawn arguments, I also have an abiding interest in simply answering questions.  I believe that there are, indeed, answers, and when so many people have such opposing viewpoints, well — why not just get to the bottom of it?  Why not test the product in a comprehensive manner, and see what it really, actually does?

After all, if it really is “ineffective” or “dangerous”, wouldn’t you want to know that?  And if instead it really is “powerful” and “effective”, wouldn’t you want to know that?  I know I would.  But then again, maybe that’s just me, because … if the arguments were actually settled, what would the internet fight over?

Ah, actually, we never have to worry about that, because as long as there’s politics, there will be something for the internet to argue over.  So, with that said, let’s get on with dispelling some misconceptions, burying some bulloney, and shedding some light on this whole Judge situation so that we, the community of those interested in self-defense, can evaluate the Judge based on knowing what its actual capabilities are.

The video is long… so long, I had to break it up in two parts.  Hope you enjoy it, or at least find it useful!

Here’s Part 1, where I compare the Judge Public Defender as a compact .45-caliber pistol against a common, well-reviewed, well-performing concealed-carry .45-caliber pistol, the Springfield XDS:

And in Part 2, I examine the Public Defender as a shotgun, comparing it to a 12-gauge, demonstrating its use with buckshot and birdshot, and evaluating its performance when using Judge-specific ammo (i.e., ammo that was designed specifically for the Judge).  There are ballistic gel tests, patterning charts, and some revealing conclusions that should forever answer the question as to whether the Public Defender is a powerful and/or effective defensive weapon.

Share your comments, and hey, if you feel like it, share the videos too.  When you come across someone making uninformed or just plain incorrect statements about the Judge, well, now you can share the answers.

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DeSantis Super Fly® Pocket Holster

I’ve been pocket-carrying a Taurus 738 TCP for several months, and as any rational firearms owner will tell you, you don’t pocket-carry without a pocket holster.

There are approximately seventeen million different types of pocket holsters out there.  Heck, even if you limit yourself to the lineup of one manufacturer (DeSantis in this case) they have six different pocket holsters for this particular pistol!  How on Earth are you supposed to narrow it down and pick the best one?

The answer is obvious — forget the “best” one, and just get one that works.  After scouring reviews, and my prior experience, I knew I wanted three main things for this particular application:

  1. It had to be small
  2. It had to not “print”
  3. It had to be cheap

Regarding point 1, I mean, what’s the point of getting the tiniest pocket pistol, if the holster you choose is just going to make it bulky anyway?  A small, thin, sleek holster was definitely high on my shopping list.

As for point 2, go to any gun show, try any of the huge variety of pocket holsters they have, slip the pistol in your pocket and look down at it (or, ideally, in the mirror.)  Every time I did that, I saw “gun”.  The telltale shape is just too obvious to ignore.  Now, in the past, that’s just what we had to live with, but nowadays multiple holster makers are directly addressing the problem, so why not choose from among those that offer anti-printing pocket holsters?

As for point 3 — okay, I don’t normally buy products to be cheap, especially when it comes to firearms; my primary factors are quality and suitability, and the price has to follow.  But — the TCP is a bit of an experiment for me, and frankly, I don’t want to pour a ton of money into an experiment.  The pistol itself was $199, after all.  So I felt that a holster should, ideally, be reasonably inexpensive.  I didn’t need the cheapest thing on the market, but I also didn’t think that $100 would be reasonable for a $199 pistol; I mean, if you have that much to spend, why not spend it on getting a more powerful pistol in the first place?

So after some extensive shopping and narrowing it down among the various candidates, I selected the DeSantis Super Fly.  It hit all three of my criteria nicely: it’s thin and small, making for a very compact package overall.  It has a detachable anti-printing flap.  And, I got it off Amazon for about $30 including free shipping.

TCP in DeSantis Super Fly

TCP in DeSantis Super Fly

Since receiving it, I’ve been using it for pretty much constant daily carry, and my entire review could be summed up with: “thumbs up”.  It works.  It does what it says it will.  The sticky fabric keeps the pistol exactly in place in the pocket, and it’s shaped such that the grip is always perfectly presented; drawing the pistol is effortless.  The trigger is fully covered, and the anti-printing flap does reduce the telltale “gun profile”.  And it’s ambidextrous.

It’s really very good.

TCP in DeSantis Super Fly with anti-printing flap installed

TCP in DeSantis Super Fly with anti-printing flap installed

After some continuous wear, I do have to say that the anti-printing flap has become somewhat curved, especially near the bottom right on the picture above, and the net effect is no longer a big square presentation in the pocket (like a wallet or a paperback book) but now it’s a bit more triangular.  Which is not ideal, obviously; it looks a little more like a gun in the pocket now (because what else would you have in your pocket that looks basically triangular?) but I think it’s still vastly more concealed than a traditional holster which easily lets the profile of the handgrip stick out and print.

With or without the anti-printing flap installed, every time I’ve drawn the pistol the holster has stayed in the pocket like it’s supposed to.  However, I’ll admit I’ve rarely taken the anti-printing flap off; with it off the holster becomes downright tiny, but then the shape in the pocket is much more recognizable as a pistol.  I bought the Super Fly specifically because of the anti-printing flap so that’s the way I use it, and I do think it helps hold the pistol in position better with the anti-printing flap installed.

TCP in Desantis Super Fly with anti-printing flap removed

TCP in Desantis Super Fly with anti-printing flap removed

Other than the bending and curving that you’d almost expect to see on the anti-printing flap and the portion below the trigger guard, I can’t really say there’s any other signs of notable wear.  It still looks good, there’s no frayed edges, it’s not coming apart… I mean, really, for $30, it performs great and has held up well and does pretty much exactly what you need.  What more could you want?

I’ll tell you what more I could want.  There’s one thing I wish the Super Fly provided, that it doesn’t, and that’s a convenient way to carry a second magazine.  DeSantis makes a different holster, the Ammo Nemesis, which includes a pocket for a second mag, but it doesn’t have the anti-printing flap and it looks like it just takes up a lot more room in the pocket than I’d like.  The Super Fly is so small it fits easily in my blue jeans front pocket.  I’ve got other pistols and holsters that won’t, and require Dockers or cargo pants, but the TCP/Super Fly combo easily fits in any pants or shorts that I’ve got.  I just wish it had a provision to carry a spare mag.  As it is, I’ll probably work out something with Velcro and a commercial magazine pouch to come up with my own solution.

If I had it to do over again, would I buy the Super Fly again?  Maybe.  Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but the Recluse has caught my eye and I might consider it over the Super Fly if I was buying from scratch.  I haven’t tried the Recluse, so I don’t really know, but I like the Recluse’s trigger block and its built-in magazine pouch and anti-printing design.  It’s 60% more expensive than the Super Fly, so that’s a factor, but I also prefer the two-sided coverage of the Super Fly over the one-sided coverage of the Recluse, so … I don’t know.  I think if the Super Fly does ever wear out, I might replace it with a Recluse.  Until then, I’m quite content with the Super Fly, it does the job and does it very well.

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Bullet Size – The Other Major Factor In Bullet Effectiveness

In my previous article I discussed at length about ballistics gel testing and penetration.  In this article I’d like to look at some other factors that have a substantial impact on the effectiveness of a given shot being able to produce an incapacitating hit.

Is Penetration “Everything”?

There are several factors that work together to create an effective incapacitating hit.  Those factors include (in no particular order) placement, penetration, bullet type, and bullet size.  All are important factors, and isolating one over the others would be foolhardy.  It’d also be quite common!  But it’s not wise.  All of the factors need to be carefully considered.

Penetration is important, but it is not all-important.  It is just one of many factors you must consider.  If your bullet cannot penetrate deeply enough to deliver an incapacitating hit, then you cannot rely on it to produce incapacitating hits — no matter how good your placement, no matter how big the bullet expands, if it doesn’t penetrate deeply enough, it’s all for naught.  So adequate penetration  is important, and avoiding overpenetration is also important.  As mentioned in the previous article, a shallow-penetrating bullet isn’t worthless, it may still be very effective in discouraging an attacker from continuing an attack, but it likely can’t force the attacker to stop.

What About “Placement Is Everything”?

Hang around any gun forum and it won’t be long before you run into people repeating the mantra “Shot Placement – Shot Placement – Shot Placement”.  The argument goes that a good hit with a .22 beats a miss with a .45 any day.  And that’s true, obviously.  But is placement everything?  Definitely not!

(I can hear the keyboards revving up now, with people preparing to blast me for daring to say that placement is not everything, so … hear me out…)

Shot placement is important.  It is vital.  A poorly-placed shot is not going to be effective.  So shot placement is highly important. But it is also, of all the other factors, the only factor you CAN’T control.  You can buy deeply-penetrating ammo.  You can buy widely-expanding ammo.  You can test for reliable performance of your ammo.  Those are things you can control.  But shot placement, that’s almost certainly going to be completely out of your control!  Consider that the NYPD has been compiling shooting statistics for decades, and they find that when their officers are involved in a shooting, only about 1 of every six shots fired actually hits the target.  At all.  Meaning five out of six shots miss completely!  Not that they just missed getting perfect shot placement, it’s that they missed the target entirely!  The above-linked article is just a recent news report on the most recent decade’s statistics, but the NYPD has been compiling statistics for many decades and the results are reasonably consistent.  Other police departments occasionally release their shot-to-hit statistics, and some of them are comparable, some a little better, but the best I’ve ever seen reported was 49%.  Meaning that trained police offers are still missing the target ENTIRELY more than they are hitting it.  When people assert “shot placement” as the primary factor, it’s difficult to reconcile that against trained police officers missing five out of six shots.  Clearly the factors of stress, adrenaline, danger, panic, and other factors all combine to make hitting a living target a substantially more difficult factor than range practice!

We WANT to place the shots perfectly.  We all have that goal (including, I dare say, every one of those police officers who were involved in those shootings!)  But we may not be able to place those shots perfectly.  And that’s why we need to have the best ammo on hand, to help us out, and to hopefully turn some of those not-quite-perfectly placed shots into good incapacitating hits anyway.

Now, this isn’t to say that you can’t train under stress to get better and better — you should, of course.  The more trained you are, the better you’re likely to perform if you’re ever unfortunate enough to actually have to participate in a defensive shooting.  Just don’t confuse training and target practice with equaling great shot placement in a real-life shooting scenario.  I think sometimes those who advocate shot placement so heavily, are likely hunters, used to targeting their prey with a scope, and being able to precisely pick the spot where they intend to shoot.  That may work for hunting, but against humans that type of target selection would be called “first degree murder.”  If you have that much time to carefully select where you’re going to hit a person, then a prosecuting attorney may very well be able to argue that you weren’t in immediate danger of substantial injury or loss of life, and that your choice to shoot was premeditated and calculated (even if the choice was made in the course of a few seconds).  Having time to carefully select your shot placement isn’t too likely in a defensive shooting situation.  It is far more likely that when the bullets start flying you’re going to be drawing and shooting as quickly as you can, as best you can, but there won’t be any careful aiming, and deliberate shot placement may be an elusive goal.  You always want to aim as carefully as you can, of course, and you are morally and legally obligated to be as responsible with your shots as possible, but when you’re experiencing the Mother Of All Adrenaline Dumps along with the tunnel vision and other physiological effects that occur during this most stressful period that most any human will ever face, precision targeting is likely to be difficult to attain.

Besides, you can have the very best shot placement and still be totally ineffective.  If you are able to place a shot directly on an attacker’s heart, but the bullet stops an inch short of the heart, then — what have you accomplished?  Your attacker can keep attacking.  Shot placement can be perfect, yet completely ineffective.  Shot placement alone will not guarantee you success.  But shot placement, combined with adequate penetration, and enhanced by a larger bullet size, will greatly increase your odds of achieving an incapacitating hit.

About Bullet Size

Ah, caliber wars — the stuff internet gun forums are made of.  People love to argue about which calibers are “effective” and which aren’t.  The FBI’s report on Handgun Wounding and Effectiveness determined one simple rule — all other things being equal, the bigger bullet is more effective.  Period.

That’s a definitive statement, yes.  But it’s also reasonable.  The bigger the bullet is, the more tissue it crushes during its journey through the attacker, and the more likely a larger bullet is to hit something vital.  That’s not to say smaller calibers aren’t or can’t be effective; obviously they can be.  But if all other things are equal, the bigger bullet may hit something vital that the smaller bullet misses.  Imagine a situation where you have two bullets, one from a .22LR pistol, and one from a .45 ACP.  Both of them have been tested to deliver 12″ of penetration in ballistics gelatin.  Why wouldn’t the .22 be considered just as effective as the .45? It penetrates deeply enough, after all, so — what’s the big deal?


The deal is in the “big”.  A .22LR full metal jacket round has a diameter of just about 1/5 of an inch.  It may penetrate deeply, and if it hits a vital organ or major artery it may very well cause an incapacitating hit.  But the odds of it hitting something vital, are lower than the odds of a bigger bullet hitting something vital.  Imagine a case of where a major artery is near the spinal column.  It’s entirely conceivable that the tiny .22LR bullet might slip right between the artery and spinal column, exiting out the back and hitting nothing substantial.  Whereas using a .45 ACP hollow-point (which expands to a maximum size of around 1″ across), it is approximately 20x larger than the 22LR bullet!  If it was fired to that exact same spot (between the artery and spine), the bigger bullet might smash through the spinal cord on its left side and also cut through the artery on the right, whereas the .22LR went right between them hitting nothing.  Size, in this case, does matter, and the bigger the bullet you have can compensate (to some degree) for less-than-perfect shot placement.

That’s not to say that only a .45 ACP will be effective!  Any of the major calibers (9mm, 10mm, 357 Sig, 357 Magnum, 40 S&W, 44 Special, 44 Magnum, 45 Colt, 45 ACP, etc) all are capable of creating deeply penetrating wounds with expanding bullets.  All are capable of being effective manstoppers, and the choice among them shouldn’t be about “only a .45 is good enough” or other such absolutist dogma, rather it should be about capacity, recoil, reliability, familiarity, affordability, and other such factors.  The gun you practice with, the gun you can shoot well, the one you can carry conveniently, the one you can reliably hit your target with and the one that works with 100% reliability, is the one you should consider for your primary defensive weapon, and only after you’ve satisfied those requirements should you worry about the caliber (assuming, of course, that it’s chambered in one of the above-mentioned calibers or comparable).

Also, different bullets expand to different dimensions.  Some bullets are tuned for “maximum expansion”, some are tuned for “controlled expansion.”  It’s possible that you could find a 9mm hollowpoint bullet that expands to a larger diameter than a given .45 ACP hollowpoint.  Assuming that both were capable of reaching the 12″ minimum in ballistics gel, this hypothetical 9mm bullet could possibly be a more-likely-to-incapacitate round than this hypothetical .45.

When evaluating bullets for incapacitation potential, the simplest possible formula is that you want  the very biggest bullet you can get, that also penetrates between 12″ and 18″ of ballistics gel.  That’s the simplest rule.  Once you get the desired penetration performance, you then want to see as much expansion as possible.  A bullet that expands too much, won’t be able to penetrate as deeply; think of an expanding hollowpoint as like a “parachute”; as the bullet opens up it really slows the bullet down and limits its penetration.  Ideally we’d like to see a bullet that could travel through about 14 – 15″ of ballistics gelatin and expand to the biggest diameter possible.  But that’s not the only consideration!  You also want to consider recoil, muzzle flash, muzzle flip, all sorts of factors that could come into play in affecting your ability to get a second shot off.  As an example, here are two .45 ACP rounds; on the left is a Federal Premium HST +P 230-grain round, on the right is a 185-grain Hornady Critical Defense (note: I’m showing the backs of the bullets because it exemplifies the relative expansion more dramatically).


In the above example, both are .45 ACPs, both penetrate to about 12-13″ in ballistic gel, but clearly the Federal HST expanded to a much, much bigger size than the Critical Defense.    How can this be?  Well, the Federal is a 230-grain bullet, and the Hornady is only a 185-grain bullet.  And, the Federal is a “+P” round, whereas the Hornady is a standard-pressure round.  The net effect on the shooter is that the Hornady is a “softer-shooting” round than the Federal is.  A shooter who can handle the increased recoil and increased muzzle flip of the more-powerful +P round might benefit from the additional expansion, whereas a shooter who values the greater controllability of the softer-shooting round may not mind trading off some expansion in exchange for the greater control they would receive.

And that’s why ammo selection becomes a personal thing, and not a “right or wrong” decision.  For some shooters, a .380 is all they want and all they need.  Some shooters want the biggest, deepest-penetrating, biggest-expanding round they can get.  And some shooters want a Glock, because they like the way it shoots and they like the way it feels.  And some want a .357, because they have lots of .357 ammunition on hand.  And some want a 9mm, because they want to have 17 rounds of capacity in their Glock G19.  All of these are fine decisions, and none of them (with the possible exception of the 380) will lead to an inadequate performer that’s incapable of providing incapacitating hits.

Choose what you will use.  Choose what you can handle.  Choose what you can shoot effectively and accurately.  And, I’d suggest, choose ammo for it that provides the penetration and the expansion to give you the best opportunity for an incapacitating hit.

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Bullet Effectiveness — what’s the big deal about 12″ penetration anyway?

In my ongoing quest to find the ideally suitable .380 round for a Taurus TCP, I’ve specified that I’d like the ammo to be able to meet the minimum 12″ penetration as specified by the FBI’s ammo testing protocol.

Needless to say, that’s generated some comments from various people, who want to know: Why?  Questions such as “Why do you need 12 inches?  The average bad guy isn’t even 12″ thick.” Or “Why do you need to follow the FBI protocol — you’re not the FBI.” Or “I don’t fancy myself some SWAT agent, so I don’t care what the FBI protocol is…”

Truth be told, I understand where they’re all coming from.  The most recent question was a simple one, in relation to one of my videos showing that the ammo would barely penetrate 10″, a person asked “why is 10 inches bad?”  I went on a writing rampage to try to explain it, and figured that instead of being buried as a forum post, it might make a decent article for the blog here.

Accordingly, here is what I might call…

A Beginner’s Guide to Ballistic Gel Testing Standards

In reference to the question “why is 10 inches of bullet penetration bad?” — It’s not that 10 inches is “bad” — in fact, I’d dare say that a lot of folks would be content with 10 inches, and that a bullet that penetrates 10″ of ballistic gel may possibly be an effective manstopper, under the right conditions.

But don’t confuse 10″ of gel penetration with 10 inches of torso thickness — they’re not intended to be the same thing!

Here’s the thing — some of the best minds in the business got together to evaluate handgun performance and come up with some standards that would result in repeatable, predictable, effective ammo performance.  A disastrous shootout in Miami resulted in calls to find out what went wrong, and how to prevent it occurring again.  The results are published in the FBI report “Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness”.  You can read the entire report at, just google “Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness“.

What is Ballistics Gelatin?
Ballistics gel is designed to mimic the properties of human tissue, and a bullet’s penetration in ballistics gel should be comparable to how the bullet would have penetrated through muscle tissue in a human being.  Ballistics gel is made from boiled-up animal tissue (hide, ligaments, tendons, etc) that is then distilled down to a powder (gelatin powder) and then mixed at a precise ratio and under precise conditions to result in a product (ballistic gel) that mimics the properties of flesh (to such forces as resistance, shear, stress, and tearing).  Mainly because it is flesh, just boiled and mixed together to make one big homogenous block.  It’s not exactly the same thing as flesh (you can easily tear off a chunk, for example) but as far as its response to a bullet, it is an excellent and highly accurate simulant.  It has been extensively correlated against actual shootings and wound examinations of trauma victims, and the penetration and expansion characteristics have been verified as being quite accurate to actual trauma wounds.

As said before, ballistics gel provides a tissue simulant that is homogenous (all consistent, all the same).  But humans aren’t homogenous.  We’re made of all sorts of different densities — lungs are basically empty, bones are comparatively dense, then there are super-stretchy tissues like intestines and not-stretchy tissues like the liver… we’re not homogenous.  So ballistic gel isn’t designed to exactly mimic the human BODY, it’s designed to mimic a relatively homogenous tissue such as muscle tissue.

“I’ve never been attacked by a block of Jell-O”…

I hear this a lot, from people who just don’t seem to understand — shooting into ballistic gel isn’t designed to mimic shooting into a human body.  Shooting into ballistic gel is designed to create a repeatable, standardized testing method that replicates the average performance of a bullet through a body, but does so in a way that is predictable, controlled, repeatable and directly comparable.  Because shooting into a body is one of the most unpredictable things we can do.  There are so many variables, it’s nearly impossible to account for them all!  Whether a bullet tumbles or not, whether it expands or not, whether it strikes a bone or not, whether it strikes that bone head-on and passes right through, or it strikes the side of a rib and is deflected; whether it strikes a critical organ or whether it sails straight through without hitting anything vital, whether it cuts an artery or only passes through a lung, and on and on and on… there’s no way to predict what will happen.

So we don’t try.  What we do, is we try to come up with a way of ranking the power of bullets through a homogenous medium of flesh.  I know people that get all bent out of shape about “jello shots” because “it’s not a body” but that’s not the point — what it is, is a way of saying “if you shot this bullet into muscle tissue, this is the results you’d get.”  And those results have been highly correlated against actual shooting victims.  And then you can directly compare the ballistics gel results from one bullet, to what you’d get with another bullet.  If one expands more and penetrates deeper, then you can unequivocally say “this bullet would produce more damage in a human body than that one, all other things being equal.”

Why Do I Want My Bullets To Be Capable Of 12″ (or more) Of Penetration?

So here’s a question that people seem to get confused over — does 10″ of ballistic gel penetration mean 10″ of penetration through a chest?  Not necessarily.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  It depends on the shot.  And it depends on the chest — if our attacker is a 105-pound waif supermodel, who is literally skin and bones, that 10″-gel-penetrating bullet might pass clean through her.  If we’re being attacked by a professional bodybuilder with a 52″ chest that’s all muscle, the bullet might stop well short of hitting his vitals.  If we’re being attacked by a 350-lb barbecue-and-gravy aficionado with a 52″ chest that’s all fat, the bullet might penetrate further through his chest than it would in the bodybuilder’s, but still stop well short of his vitals.  We don’t know what our actual shooting scenario will be, until we’re in it.

But what we DO know, is that if the bullet is able to go through 12″ of ballistic gel, it will also be able to punch through pretty much all of their chests and reach their vitals.  And that’s what counts.  Think of it as a relative power ranking, because, well, really, that’s what it is — a more powerful bullet could push through more inches of gel.  And, accordingly, no matter what tissue it hits in the body, it would be able to push through more of it, than a less-powerful bullet would be able to, if that less-powerful bullet were to have hit in exactly the same spot on a genetically-identical body.

So the penetration question is not about the chest thickness, it’s about however much tissue the bullet can penetrate through, regardless of what type of tissue it encounters (bone, lung, bowel, muscle, fat, etc).  The 12″ minimum takes account of factors such as having to shoot through bones, and at odd angles.  It’s all already factored in.

And bullet penetration is influenced by a number of design factors — the weight of the bullet, the type of bullet (a solid FMJ or an expanding hollowpoint), the speed of the bullet, the diameter (or caliber) of the bullet; all of these things have a direct influence on how deeply the bullet will penetrate.  Which is why we have to test.  And why we need a standardized testing medium to test in; one that will deliver consistent and comparable results.

The 12″ penetration figure the FBI arrived at is also a MINIMUM.  They would actually prefer to see about 14-15″.  The acceptable range for them is 12″ to 18″ of penetration; if it penetrates over 18″ then it would probably exit most bodies and therefore be not as efficient in delivering a wound, and also pose a threat to whatever/whoever is behind the target.  If it penetrates less than 12″, then it may not possess enough energy to reach the vital organs and cause an immediate incapacitation of the target.

What Stops An Attacker?

Now, keep in mind — an 8″-penetrating bullet may hurt like hell, it may cause a lot of bleeding, it may make the person who got shot drop their weapon and say “no more!”  That all may happen.  But it may not.  The target may be feeling no pain, they may be on drugs or feeling so much adrenaline that they don’t actually recognize that they’ve been shot, they may continue attacking even after having been shot.  That 8″ bullet may actually kill them eventually, too, through aggregated blood loss or through infection or any number of reasons.  But when talking about having to shoot in self defense, we’re not trying to kill our attacker, we’re trying to STOP our attacker — immediately.  And the only way to force a quick stop is to either hit the central nervous system (brain/upper spine) or damage the circulatory system such that it causes a rapid bleed-out and thus loss of blood pressure, which will deprive the brain of oxygen and cause them to fall unconscious.  That’s the goal — stop the attacker from continuing their attack.  We’re not trying to “kill” someone, we’re trying to stop them from killing us.

An attacker will stop for several reasons that are completely voluntary: sometimes just seeing a gun in your hand would cause an attacker to stop.  Sometimes seeing a gun pointed at them would cause them to stop.  Sometimes feeling the pain of a bullet hitting them would cause them to stop immediately.  Sometimes they may experience a psychological shock upon being hit, that causes them to drop to the ground.  But all of those rely on the attacker WANTING to stop, or choosing to stop.  And, frankly, sometimes they don’t want to stop, sometimes they choose not to stop, and you may have to force them to stop.  The only way to force them to stop is to take away their ability to attack — either through a central nervous system hit, or through rendering them unconscious (or dead.)  This is called an “incapacitating” hit — it’s when you take away their capacity to attack, so that they have no more capability of attacking.

Any type of bullet could cause any of the voluntary reasons to stop.  A tiny little .22LR or .25 ACP is just as capable of causing pain and fear and psychological shock as a .45 ACP.  Any gun is better than no gun, and many guns can provide enough incentive to get an attacker to choose to stop.  But in order to FORCE them to stop, you need to have the capability of rendering an incapacitating shot.

If you are relying on your weapon to render them unconscious/unable to move (or dead), then you need a bullet that can penetrate deeply enough to hit those vital organs and force their physiology to shut down.  The FBI testing came to the conclusions that a bullet needed the ability to penetrate through 12″ of gel in order to have the minimum amount of power necessary to (with proper placement) force the attacker to stop attacking.  And that penetrating 18″ or more was undesirable too.  It’s not about “the most penetration”, it’s about “enough penetration to hit the vital organs”.

Obstacles And Barriers
Here’s a key thing that many people don’t seem to factor in — you won’t always have a clean shot at the attacker’s chest.  In fact, you frequently won’t have that clean shot.  There will or may be barriers in the way.  I don’t know how many times I’ve seen video of attackers and defenders just standing facing each other, pointed at each other in classic Isosceles stances, trading chest shots, but I don’t think it’s too frequent!  The most common barriers you’ll encounter are clothing, and other limbs.  For example — if the attacker decides to shoot at you sideways, you may find yourself having to shoot through their arm or shoulder to even get to their chest — and that arm might be three or four inches thick or even more.  Or, a more likely scenario, what if you and the attacker are pointing guns at each other — in order to hit his chest, you may very well have to shoot through his forearm.  At an angle.  So the bullet might have to penetrate the outer layer of skin, traverse five or six inches diagonally through a forearm, and then push through the inside layer of forearm skin before it can even get to his chest.  That’s going to eat up a tremendous amount of the bullet’s energy; by the time it hits his chest it will already be expanded, and have lost much of its energy, and may not have enough power left to penetrate very deeply at all.  It’ll cause pain, sure, but the odds against it causing an incapacitating hit are much lower.  You’d need a really powerful bullet to be able to remain effective after encountering such a barrier — a bullet that would probably be able to travel through 14″-15″ of ballistic gel.

Now, law enforcement officers will face barriers that the general public aren’t as likely to; law enforcement officers may need to shoot through windows, windshields, car doors, etc., and so they need ammunition that they can count on that can overcome those barriers (and that’s why the FBI ammo test protocols include testing against bare gelatin, against “heavily clothed” gelatin, against windshields, and other barriers).  I would argue that in a personal defense scenario, we are not as likely to encounter such situations.  If there are substantial barriers between us and our attacker, that’s something you’re going to have to consider in the overall context of “are you in immediate danger of suffering severe injury or death” (or whatever your particular State’s legal standard is before the use of deadly force is justified).  In a standard mugging scenario, none of these barriers will likely apply, but in a carjacking situation, it’s possible that they may.

The point of all this is — you don’t know what your shooting scenario is going to be, other than that we can all pretty much assume it’s not going to be textbook perfect!  It’s very unlikely that if you’re involved in a defensive shooting, that you’ll be standing with a two-handed isosceles grip pointed at a defender who’s perfectly open to you, like a silhouette target.  You’ll be moving, they’ll be moving, there’ll be arms and clothing in the way, and you don’t know what angle you may hit the target at.  You may be on the ground shooting up, you may be turned at odd angles to each other, you just can’t predict what the scenario will be.

In order to account for all those variables, and to make sure that the bullet would have enough energy to do its job in any of the reasonably foreseeable scenarios, the FBI conducted tests and determined that 12″ of gel penetration would be the minimum power level their ammunition should deliver.
Is 12″ the minimum penetration standard you should consider?  That’s a personal decision, only you can decide what you’re comfortable with, but as for me and those I consult with, we feel that the 12″ minimum is a reasonable standard and one that would be a good starting point for anyone to carefully consider.  I would not want to rely on a pistol/ammo combination that can’t deliver 12″ of penetration.  I know that sometimes we may have to compromise, but my preference would be for a defensive round that can meet the FBI minimum of 12″ of penetration through ballistics gel.

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Pocket Holsters

Been doing some thinking about pocket holsters.  A pocket holster is (obviously) just one of many ways that people can choose from to carry a concealed pistol, among other choices such as inside-the-waistband (IWB), outside-the-waistband (OWB), “deep concealment”, shoulder holster, ankle holster, all sorts of choices…

But the pocket holster is particularly appealing to me from an aspect of comfort.  It’s so easy to just drop a TCP or XDS in your pocket (in its appropriate pocket holster, of course).  There’s never an issue with how you have to sit, or worries about your shirt riding up and exposing the pistol, or anything like that.  If you’re used to carrying a phone and a wallet and keys in your pockets, then putting a pocket pistol in a pocket holster is about the most comfortable, easy, and natural way to carry a pistol.


There’s one thing that kind of bugs me about a pocket holster.  And it’s that, when using a pocket holster, you frequently violate Rule #1 of Gun Safety: Always Keep The Weapon Pointed In A Safe Direction.

You see, when you’re standing or walking, and your gun is in a pocket holster, the muzzle is pointing down at the ground.  But when you sit down… now the muzzle is pointing forward.  And if you’re sitting behind someone (as in rows of chairs) or across from them (across the lunch table maybe) you now have a loaded gun pointing right at them.

Does this bother anyone else? It bothers me.  Not a lot, because I know a quality pocket holster is safe, but still, my Spidey-sense tingles just a little bit now and then.  I sometimes find myself consciously rotating the pistol and holster in my pocket, to be pointing down even while seated.

Now, I know this is a topic upon which reasonable people can disagree.  I don’t believe a gun will “go off” by itself, without the trigger being pulled (unless maybe you’re foolishly disassembling or working on it with a round in the chamber).  So just sitting in a holster, in the pocket, it should be perfectly safe, as long as the trigger is fully covered and cannot be accidentally manipulated (i.e., keep your keys out of the pocket that has the pistol!)

But even so — using a pocket holster still results in a loaded pistol pointing at another person (or many people, depending on where you’re sitting).  And even though I know (and I KNOW) that it won’t “go off”, just like I know that swimming in the ocean will not result in me being bitten by a shark), I also know that I am less likely to be bitten by a shark when in my living room, y’know?  The odds of something happening are infitesimally small, but the consequences are so profoundly significant, that I can’t help but think about it sometimes.  It’s like fire insurance on a house — the odds of your house burning down are so incredibly rare, but the cost and impact so enormous, that most of us carry fire insurance, right?

So every once in a while, I get just a little tiny bit uneasy about the idea of a pocket pistol potentially pointing at someone else…

IWB/OWB or ankle holster usually means the pistol is pointing down, whether standing or seated.  With the pocket pistol, it may very well be pointed at someone.  Is it dangerous at that point? Well, it is in a holster, with the trigger completely covered, and therefore it should be perfectly safe.  I’ve been pocket-carrying for quite a while and never had an accidental or negligent discharge, nor do I ever expect one to happen.  Then again, I’ve crossed many, many streets and never been hit by a car, but I still recognize that people do get hit by cars…

It’s impossible to prevent every possible risk, and you’d drive yourself crazy trying; a reasonable person will take reasonable precautions to minimize likely risks and then get on with life.  In my mind, that includes:

  1. Always keep the pistol in an appropriate, well-fitting holster
  2. Always use a holster that completely covers the trigger
  3. Never put anything else in the pocket that has the pistol

Follow those three rules and I think it’s reasonable that you should avoid any substantial risk of the pistol firing unintentionally.  I have seen (and I’m sure you have too) pocket holsters that have a cutout for the trigger; I guess they’re designed such that you could fire from the pocket, but to me that’s such a potentially dangerous scenario for a negligent or accidental discharge that I would never want to use such a product.

Which brings me to the Recluse holster.  I’m currently using a Desantis SuperFly for my TCP, and the Crimson Trace “freebie” holster for my XDs, but that’s really not any good so I am entertaining getting a new pocket holster for my XDs… because I really do prefer pocket carry.  The XDs is a tad big for a pocket, but it can be done.  And I like that the XDs has a grip safety as well as trigger safety which should further minimize any potential for an accidental discharge down to, in real world terms, zero risk.  But the Taurus TCP has neither of those; no manual safety at all.  It relies soley on its long, long trigger pull as its safety.  Which is fine, as long as the pistol is in a fully-trigger-covering holster, but …

Have you seen the Recluse?  This is a really interesting holster idea.  Most holsters rely on the shape of the holster to hold the pistol in place, whether it’s leather or kydex that’s formed to grip the pistol firmly.  But the Recluse is different — it uses a molded urethane block to hold the gun basically by the trigger guard, while completely immobilizing the trigger.  The trigger is literally trapped between two chunks of urethane rubber, such that it would be physically impossible for the trigger to move at all.

That seems really appealing.  Especially for a pistol like the TCP that has no other manual safety.  If the trigger is physically incapable of moving, there’s no way that pistol is going to “go off”!

I also like that the Recluse (depending on the pistol and model of holster) has room for a spare magazine; especially with a little .380, you may very well need more rounds, and there’s nothing as convenient as having that mag already with the pistol, in the holster, taking up no more space (in terms of practical real estate).  And, finally, the Recluse features an anti-printing design, so it looks like a wallet in your pocket, not like a gun.

Potential downsides? Well, I’m not thrilled that it’s a one-sided product — the anti-printing flap on one side, and — nothing on the other.  The pistol is completely exposed inside your pocket, held in place against the anti-printing flap by that urethane block.  I don’t know, I just like the idea of it being encased in a full holster, like the Desantis Superfly.  With it exposed, it just seems like it’s an opportunity for lint or dust or whatever to get in there, and … well, should I be concerned that it could potentially fall off the urethane trigger block, to where it’s floating loose in the pocket? That would be a bad situation…  Note, I don’t believe that’s a practical consideration; the reviews I’ve read say that the urethane block holds the pistol very securely and it takes an intentional act to remove it from the trigger block, but … really, how hard would it be for them to make it two-sided? They make a two-sided version for the XDs, but the way it’s worded on their site I don’t think the two-sided versions offer the urethane trigger block.

No answers yet; just musing out loud.  I think the idea of the trigger block would be a comfort to those of us who carry pistols that don’t have manually-engaged safeties (such as the TCP or Glock).  And that additional layer of safety (a completely immobilized trigger) may be the extra bit of reassurance necessary to get me to ease my occasional worry about being seated with a pocket pistol.

In the meantime, I’m using the aforementioned Desantis Superfly and I will say, it’s been totally fine and actually I like it a lot.  It’s very compact, the anti-printing flap works well, and it holds the pistol securely but it’s supremely easy to draw from.  And the holster stays absolutely stationary in the pocket when drawing; there’s no slipping or sliding around at all.  I give the SuperFly very high marks for pocket carry of a Taurus TCP.  I just wonder if the added trigger block of the Recluse would provide just that last little extra bit of reassurance…

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