On Accuracy


So I shot the gun at the normal combat range of seven yards,” reads all too many lines, in all too many gun articles I see. Who says it’s seven yards, anyway? And I see this reader mail: “I didn’t see any accuracy testing at 25 yards,” generally in reference to an article about a pocket gun of some sort. It got me to thinking: What is accuracy, how much of it do we really need — and is it overrated?

Before I retired I took a hard look at 70+ shootings by my old agency’s officers. The time period covered went from the middle 1980s to the early 1990s. The closest distances were muzzle-contact, and the furthest one (by a patrol cop, as opposed to a SWAT rifle shooting) was about 37 yards. The average was about four yards for all the shootings combined, and the majority (about 40-percent) were within contact and six feet. The next majority was between six and 15 feet. This mirrors data I found on a comprehensive study of NYPD shootings during the 1970s.

So reach your arms wide and take a look at the space you hold between them. If you ever have to unlimber your defensive handgun, chances are very good those measly six feet will be the average distance you’ll be engaged by a bad guy. And more than likely, it will be even closer.

So why then, are we so enamored with guilt-edged accuracy in our defensive handguns? I’ll tell you why — it’s because we don’t have anything better to do. As consumers, we’re constantly forcing the makers to up the ante; to make it more accurate, shoot faster, look cooler … or we won’t buy it. How can one brand, or custom maker, help their product stand out? Easy: “Ours can shoot sub-one inch groups, and those others can’t.” Just as a car maker claims “Our Jupiter Zoomer can go 0-60 in 5.2 seconds while the other guy’s only does it in 5.8 — gun-makers play the same game. Once again, in the real world, who cares if your car is a 5.2 or even a 10.5 second ride? When do we need to go 0-60? When do I need to shoot 1″ groups?

I’ll grant you, if it’s for fun, that’s another thing entirely. I like accurate handguns, especially if I’m hunting with them. I even appreciate fast cars that handle well. But for my daily driver, I have a 1967 Dodge D100 pick-up. It does 0-60 in about a week and is about as “accurate” when it tracks as an old pitchfork thrown by a drunk farmer. But oddly enough, it not only gets me from here to there, it does it with style, a certain level of panache (or at least I believe it does) and it can carry all sorts of useful stuff. Suzi’s low, fast European car goes 0-60 in about six seconds and leaves a sonic boom in its wake, will make your liver tear loose in the turns, and you can carry two bags of feed corn in the trunk if you have to (although people do stare at Tractor Supply). But, it can get stuck on the ice and in the mud, and don’t even ask me how much it costs to get repaired. So most of the time we take the Dodge to town, and people still stare, but I like to think it’s because she’s a most marvelous color of sky blue.

And what does that all mean to us? If you like accuracy, great, “I got it,” as Clint would say, and you should go for it. But … if you are actually looking for a defensive handgun, you need to put accuracy way down on the list of must-haves. Better to think of utter reliability, versatility and long-term toughness first, and think about accuracy last. A tuned 1911 displaying mind-boggling accuracy is very cool, but if it bobbles — even only “now and again” — it’s not good enough for self-defense. Oh, it’s still good for the sheer fun of it, and that’s a good thing too. Perhaps even a great thing.

Give me a 4″ S&W K-frame .38 Special in a decent holster and a speed loader or two, over the fanciest, most accurate gun out there — if that gun is not as reliable as we wished. If you know it will work well enough to hit a mythical target more than likely six or less feet away, you can rest easy. Or at least easier.

Hunters talk of “one-inch of deer” at 100 yards as being good enough accuracy. And hunters who can’t shoot better than 10″ at 100 yards take millions of deer every year. Can we apply that principle to defensive handguns? You bet.

If a defensive handgun works — and will shoot within “one inch-of-felon at ten feet” — it will probably serve you just fine. And what would that mean? I suppose it’s whatever you would be comfortable with. It seems if a gun will work and shoot within a 4″ paper plate at ten feet it will probably protect the “average” you, and even further than that if you need it too. There’s no need for hysterical internet forum arguments and no need to lose sleep over worrying about whether the new Slam-Fire .49 Magnum shoots 1.78″ or 1.96″ at 25 yards, unless it’s just fun to think about.

And with all that free time you’ll have now, you can worry about other important things — like the 1967 Dodge trucks in your life.

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