Book Review – Defensive Pistol Fundamentals (Grant Cunningham, 2014)

Grant Cunningham’s Defensive Pistol Fundamentals is a fairly complete collection of the essential topics any armed citizen should know. From a historical perspective, it’s a time capsule of material commonly taught by many trainers in the mid 2010’s.  I read this book right after Dalton and Fowler’s 1984 Handguns and Self Defense book, which provided a good snapshot of what has changed and what has not during that 30 year gap between books. 

The book opens with a discussion of ‘what are we training for?’ – scenarios, threats, situations, and the NRA 3 rules of safe gun handling.  In comparison with the Dalton/Fowler book, Cunningham’s book provides little detail into the specifics of safe gun handling, telling the reader what they should do without explaining how to do it.  Before techniques are discussed, the concept of efficiency is presented. Often the convoluted (and incorrect) catch phrases combining the words “smooth”, “fast” and “slow” (smooth is fast, slow is fast, slow is smooth, etc.) get mindlessly repeated by people attempting to explain the concepts related to developing fast, efficient gunhandling and shooting techniques.  Grant uses a different approach, with sections titled “More Efficient Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Faster”, “Efficiency in a Defensive Shooting Context”, “Efficient and Effective Aren’t the Same, Either”, and “Efficiency Also Involves Your Equipment”.   This provides some guidance for the process of skill development, selection of skills to practice and explanation as to how equipment selection may change the techniques you need to master.  Grant, like most trainers, advocates training with what you carry as opposed to training-class-only gear that may make certain skills easier – but does not build the specific skill that might be needed in an actual incident.

The next section of the book, “The Hardware, Your Pistol and How it Works” covers handgun selection, with some useful pictures showing grip length relative to hand size, discussion of full size, compact and subcompact pistols, action types, caliber and ammunition types.  

The section on assessing your pistol’s reliability includes a detailed process the reader can follow to check mechanical function.  (For most gun owners, the process is simply “go shoot the gun”, but the process in the book is much more structured and likely to reveal any problems.)

Section 3, titled “Concepts You Need to Know” focuses on evidence-based training, using Tom Givens’ student involved shooting data and data from scientific papers listed in the chapter footnotes.  Like the “myths” material from the Dalton/Fowler book, this section compares what occurs in actual incidents to what untrained gun owners expect or what is depicted in television and movies.  One chapter in this section addresses natural body reactions under stress, again citing scientific studies.  Another chapter in this section discusses the importance of automaticity, which means training a skill (such as the drawstroke) to occur without significant conscious thought beyond the “go” signal.   The balance of speed and precision is explained over two chapters, with emphasis on being able to hit an IDPA target’s 8” zero-down ring as quickly as possible at varying distances.  The final segment of this section explains the concept of “necessity” – or as Grant puts it: just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Section 4, “The Skills You Really Need”, focuses on identifying the essential skills an armed citizen needs to practice.  It starts with fundamentals, ready positions, trigger control, target focused vs. front sight focused shooting, drawing, reloading, scanning, dealing with multiple aggressors, and malfunctions. 

In the book, Grant espouses the ICE doctrine of not looking at the gun when reloading, a technique that I (and every other trainer I’ve studied with in the past 30 years) do not recommend.  In other sections of the book Grant emphasizes using intuitive and efficient techniques. Running the shooting test for the Texas LTC program for thousands of students over the past 22 years has given me many opportunities to see how untrained gun owners “intuitively” change magazines. There’s no time allocated in the LTC course to teach reloading, and reloads are done off the clock in the qualification course of fire.  What untrained shooters intuitively do is look at the gun.  And highly trained shooters, who have the most efficient, fastest, consistent reloads, load with the gun close to the eye target line, using brief, limited visual information. Here’s a video of me doing a reload at medium speed. It shows how you can do an emergency reload keeping the head and eyes up but still “looking the magazine in”.

The final section, “Integrity In Training”, addresses why the armed citizen should practice frequently, how they should practice, and criteria they should use for selecting a trainer.

Included in the book are articles from Rob Pincus on “Respectful Irreverence” and a reprint of Greg Ellifritz’ “An Alternate Look at Stopping Power

The complaints I have with the book are minor, mainly related to small issues with the shooting techniques – but the core material is solid. The book covers all the topics commonly taught in everything from the NRA’s new Concealed Carry course to most 2-5 day defensive pistol courses.

For those that have attended training beyond the state minimum, the primary value of this book is providing insight into the curriculum taught by the ICE/Combat Focus Shooting program. The book is available in both digital and print editions.

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