Book Review – Handguns and Self Defense, (3rd printing, Mike Dalton and Mickey Fowler, 1984)

By the start of the 1980’s, the influence of Jeff Cooper on firearms training was at its peak. Most schools, including International Shootists, Inc. (ISI) run by Mike Dalton and Mickey Fowler, were teaching the Weaver stance and promoting the use of the 1911 semiauto pistol in .45 ACP as ideal for self-defense. Their core business was teaching defensive firearms classes to the general public in the Los Angeles/Southern California area.

Dalton and Fowler

Dalton, along with Mike Fichman, created the Steel Challenge pistol shooting sport in 1981, which was one of the first practical shooting matches to get wide industry support. Penny and I traveled to Piru, California to shoot the Steel Challenge World Championships many times in the 1990’s and 2000’s (archived match pics and videos from 2003 are here). They also produced a training video titled “A Woman’s Guide to Firearms”, using professionals from the film industry to create a high quality video that saw wide distribution in the VHS video-rental era.

They also published the book “Handguns and Self Defense”, which was reprinted several times.

Handguns and Self Defense book cover

At the time of publication it was an excellent summary of good advice and explanation of the best shooting and gunhandling techniques of its time. Much of the information is as correct and relevant today as it was then.

The first chapter (“No Other Option”) covers mindset and does a good job of defining the likely threats to armed citizens: attackers, locations, motivations, and behaviors. It includes interviews with police and security officers about crime profiles, mace, facility security and other topics, providing a good overview of general concepts in personal defense. It closes with the case for the handgun as an essential tool for personal defense in situations where all other measures have failed to keep the individual out of danger.

The second chapter, “Why the Handgun – Myth Versus Fact”, and the third chapter “Women and Self Defense” address common misconceptions about handguns, including a lengthy interview with a female ISI student about her perspective on becoming an armed woman.

The fourth chapter, “Safety”, doesn’t include Cooper’s 4 rules nor any other list of numbered rules. It does start with the phrase “Firearms are always considered to be loaded and must be handled accordingly”, and includes the phrase “Never point a firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy” in bold print. The remainder of the chapter goes into detail about loading, unloading and general gun handling, explaining how to handle a handgun safely.

The fifth chapter, “Basic Shooting Styles and Techniques”, starts with a picture series explaining grip and gun fit, the Weaver stance, sight picture (and the effect of sight misalignment), trigger finger placement, and other fundamentals.

1980’s Weaver grip techniques

One picture shows the ISI dry fire target kit (similar to the Ben Stoeger Pro Shop dry fire target kit.

1980s dry fire target kit

This chapter goes beyond fundamentals, explaining not only two handed aimed fire but hip shooting, point shooting, barricade shooting and low light shooting techniques.

1980s barricade techniques

Methods of concealed carry, including appendix carry and drawing from concealment are also shown.

Appendix Cross Draw, 1980’s style

They recommend that practice sessions consist of 50% drills shot from the standing position (standing or moving), 30% from behind cover and concealment, 10% strong hand only and 10% weak hand only using the standing and barricaded positions. This is still solid advice, in my opinion.

Their basic exercises are:

  • 25 yards – 6 shots (benchrest) bullseye target
  • 25 yards – 6 shots (two handed standing) bullseye target
  • 7 yards – 6 single shot draws, 1.5 second
  • 7 yards – 2 shots each on 3 targets, strong hand only, 5 seconds
  • 7 yards – 2 shots each on 3 targets, weak hand only, 6 seconds
  • 10 yards – “El Presidente” (2 shots each on 3 targets, reload, 2 shots each on 3 targets), 10 seconds
  • 10 yards – 1 shot – reload – 1 shot, 5 seconds, repeat 5 times
  • 7 yards – 2 shots body, 1 shot head, 3 seconds, repeat 4 times

Chapter 6, “Law and Self Defense” covers legal issues, including how to handle non-lethal attacks, potential negligent shooting of a bystander, and post-shooting aftermath (legal and psychological).

Chapter 7 – “Tactics”, begins with a discussion of home defense and floor plans, the question of whether to hold someone at gun point or not, and other topics specific to home defense. These diagrams are used in a discussion of location (attacker and defender) within a room.

Bedroom tactics diagram
Living room tactics diagram
1980’s low light equipment and tactics

Carrying concealed in public is discussed briefly, as are shooting moving targets and multiple targets. When the book was written, concealed carry was not as common (or widely legal) as it is today.

The final two chapters, “Recommended Equipment” and “Modifications”, focus on the 1911 pistol and double action revolvers, which were the primary guns popular with private sector trainers of that era. The chapters provide specific lists of recommended guns, holsters, ammo and gunsmiths.

Recommended reading for anyone interested in the evolution of handgun shooting technique and handgun training. Used copies of the book are still available online at reasonable prices.