Book Review – Basics of Pistol Shooting Pt 4 (NRA, 2020)

The National Rifle Association recently released a major update to the Basics of Pistol Shooting book. This is part 4 of a multi-part review of the book. (Part 1 of the review is here, part 2 is here, and part 3 is here.) Most of the book is excellent, with significantly better graphics and content than previous editions. However, because so many instructors and students will be using this book, I think it’s worthwhile to point out some of my concerns with the content.

This final review section focuses on the Guide to Concealed Carry holsters part of the book. As students check in on the range for classes, I and my assistants always check out their gear, looking for problems with holster selection, holster placement, and other little details that will either be a safety concern or just make drawing and carrying the gun more difficult. Unfortunately, many of the pictures in this section of the NRA book show the things we look for, but they are presented as “typical” or “acceptable”, not illustrations of what NOT to do. They are the sort of errors made daily by gun bloggers, marketing people, photographers with no gun training, and people selling gear at gun stores — all people who don’t have to deal with the problems the bad and wrong things they show or sell generate for trainers trying to teach people actual skills.

The photo below, to the untrained eye, just looks like someone drawing from an inside the waistband (IWB) holster. Look carefully at the way the grip is being established on the gun. The slide is lined up with the first joint of the thumb, not the web of the hand. In a proper drawstroke, there’s no “get the gun partially out, stop and fix your firing hand grip” step. But there will be for this person, unless they follow mistake #1 (bad grip on the gun with the firing hand) with mistake #2 (try to shoot with the gun recoiling over the thumb instead of the web of the hand). The fundamentals of proper alignment of the pistol with the firing hand have been understood since the 1930’s (at least) and are explained in the 1959 NRA basic pistol book.

Adding to the failures in this picture is holster angle. The gun is canted forward so that the barrel is nearly 90 degrees off from the natural angle of the arm bones (a common problem among those that buy holsters intended for behind-the-hip placement who wear them too far forward). That’s going to result in a draw where the wrist is curled under, at a very awkward angle, leading to an awkward draw. It appears the holster being worn by the model is a “sticky” holster that depends on friction, rather than a belt or pants attachment, to keep the holster in place. Many of those holsters don’t keep the gun at a consistent angle.

Here’s another example of wrong holster angle. Guns worn at the 3 o-clock position should be straight up and down, not canted forward. That holster is a duty type holster that would require a trenchcoat to conceal. There are plenty of outside the waistband holsters (most made using a pancake design) that are much better choices for concealed carry.

One problem with a holster like the one shown below for concealed carry is that if the gun is worn with a straight cant, the butt of the gun and grip will stick out behind the shooter, printing badly. But the “solution” to that problem is not to cant the gun forward so it’s awkward to draw. It’s to get a different holster and/or carry the gun in a different position around the hip.

This picture shows the classic “women trying to wear a holster made for male body geometry” problem, where the gun is angled into the body, poking against the rib cage, again making the draw awkward and difficult. And as with the earlier picture, this is a duty/open carry holster poorly suited for concealed carry.

The one piece plastic “easy on/easy off” belt clips work great right up until the gun hangs just a little in the holster, and then you get the gun and the holster coming out when you draw. This happens most often when people wear thin dress belts or the new thinner tactical belts. The plastic one piece clip works best with a double thick leather belt so there is more belt for it to grab. The model’s trigger finger position is excellent, and firing hand grip on the pistol is not too bad. The model is jamming her thumb all the way down on the grip, which isn’t necessary if the modern “thumbs forward” grip is being used. This video from Scott Jedlinski (start at 2:56) shows a better way to place the thumb when drawing. This works for AIWB and IWB.

And speaking of appendix carry, the picture below shows the most common problem (and safety hazard) that people trying to carry in the appendix position have. That holster sits too low relative to the belt. There’s no room between the frontstrap of the pistol and the belt and pants for the shooter to establish a full firing grip on the pistol before lifting it out of the holster. What those carrying in that way end up doing is palming the gun up and closing their fingers to establish grip as the gun rises. That’s inefficient, and worse, the fingers of the hand are closing AFTER the trigger is no longer protected by the trigger guard, dramatically increasing the likelihood that sympathetic movement of the trigger finger, as all other fingers are closing, could fire the gun. And while any negligent discharge resulting in self-inflicted gunshot wound is bad, shooting yourself in the femoral artery is extremely bad. Again as in the other pic, the plastic one piece belt clip riding on a thin dress belt is shown — a guarantee that the gun angle is likely not consistent. While I have no problem with students drawing from appendix carry, and I’ve carried that way (and taken multiple classes carrying that way), I won’t allow students in my classes to work from an AIWB holster riding that low. If they can’t establish a full firing grip on the pistol without lifting the gun up, it’s a no-go. (I have loaner holsters)

Aside: if you have one of those one piece plastic belt clips on your holster, you need the Discrete Carry Concepts monoblock. It replaces the plastic belt clip with something that has as lot of tension and prints less. It holds the gun and holster in place securely. Yes, it’s a little harder to take on and off, but not that much harder. (And you should not be taking your gun off and on all the time anyway. Pants on, gun on, as the saying goes.) The DCC clips can be used with or without a belt. I’ve had female students come to class carrying AIWB in jeans, wearing no belt, using the DCC clips on their holster, and the holster stays in place through hours of training and many draws at realistic speed. That endorsement is not a paid ad, but I like the DCC clips so much that I’ve replaced all the belt clips on every holster I use and several of the loaners in our class supplies with them because they are so much better than any other belt attachment.

This next picture is an absolute NO.

Here are some reasons you shouldn’t carry “small of back”. There’s no shortage of data proving that having the gun in front closer to your center line is fastest, and draw speed slows down as the gun is moved farther and farther around the hip. (Clearing the concealment garment gets more difficult as well.) So “small of back” draw is slow and awkward. On a firing line in a defensive pistol class, someone drawing from small of back is likely to muzzle others on the firing line, and possibly the instructor behind the line, as they draw. (Well, actually they won’t, because many instructors won’t let someone carrying that way on the firing line in the first place…) Those that specialize in “gun grappling” and integrated close quarters for concealed carry overwhelmingly prefer appendix carry. Defending a gun parked behind the spine against someone behind you in line at Walmart lifting up your shirt and trying to grab your gun is more complicated than blocking the same attack from the front. And falling backward on a hard surface is going to jam that gun right against bones and discs. Trying to draw the gun from behind your back, while lying on your back, is hard and awkward.

The list of reasons why NOT to carry small of back is what should have been in the NRA book. Whatever company made that holster probably makes holsters for other carry positions that could have been shown instead.

While the text that goes with the picture above is correct…but the mag pouch shown in the example is not the best choice. Most that conceal carry don’t carry a spare magazine at all, and many of those that do only carry one spare. And those that carry one spare choose a lower profile mag pouch or just carry the spare in a pocket, not on the belt at all. The giant, flat outside the waistband double mag pouch is the sort of thing people wear to training classes but take off before they leave the range, because it’s bulky, and doesn’t conform to the body’s curves. Even those that carry two spare mags often use two single mag pouches instead of a rigid double.

In the next few days I’ll be teaching an instructor certification course for the new NRA CCW course. Unlike basic pistol, that course includes specific instruction on holsters and drawing from concealment. The NRA released the CCW course without a textbook to go with it, using the new Basics of Pistol Shooting and the older Personal Protection Outside the Home books (both of them) as the textbooks for the course. The CCW course, with its modular design, is the right path forward for NRA training courses for beginners and carry permit holders. Hopefully some of the issues I’ve raised in my review of the Basics of Pistol Shooting rewrite will be addressed and improved in the CCW book, whenever it is completed and released.

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