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Fitting the defensive firearm: "good customer service is an automatic fit." (Lethal Force)

Personal safety and self defense are foremost on the minds of many of the customers who walk through the doors of your gunshop these days. For most of them, a handgun will be the defensive tool of choice, and your auto pistol counter will be the first stop for customers who have seen such firearms in the hands of television and movie police officers.

A good-quality, reliable pistol is a fine choice for the defensive customer, even the first-time buyer, but with so many options and after-market accessories available for most pistols, any customer can be better served with a little expert "gun tailoring."

Don't let your customers think that all pistols are the same or that "out of the box" is the only choice they have when selecting a gun. Grips, sights, and replacement parts make it possible for you to offer an infinite variety of pistol options to accommodate all types of shooters. Massad Ayoob investigates further.

In recent "Lethal Force" columns, we've examined the importance of fitting a defensive firearm to the customer. The success of your ability to fit a gun properly can decide whether or not your customer is satisfied enough to come back and/or refer other customers to your store. Now let's focus on how to fit the popular semiautomatic defensive pistols.

Big hands? Small hands? Average hands? Take a look before you make any recommendation. One popular .380 auto is notorious for slicing the base joint of the shooter's thumb as the slide recoils. It happens most commonly with larger hands, which generally belong to larger-statured people. This particular .380's big claim to popularity is its compactness and concealability.

Big people, who need its concealability less, are more likely to be hurt by it. I would recommend that such a customer check out a larger .380, the SIG, Beretta, Browning, or Taurus to name a few. A smaller-handed customer, who most needs the concealability of this particular gun and is least likely to be hurt by it, should have a demonstration sample in their hot little hands at the first opportunity.

The Multi-Gun

Let's consider the popular 1911A1 pistol, available in many incarnations and many price ranges (from Colt's, Springfield, Auto Ordnance, Norinco, etc.). Few pistols fit so many hand sizes as well.

In 1923 the U.S. military reviewed the Colt 1911 that had been adopted 12 years earlier and recommended various subtle changes in the design. These changes were incorporated during the period of 1927 to '28, resulting in the now-classic 1911A1 package.

Sights were improved. The mainspring housing on the lower of the grip backstrap was changed from flat to arched configuration. The grip safety tang was lengthened to prevent hammer bite. Most important, the trigger was shortened and scallops were taken out of the frame behind that trigger.

In WWI a number of soldiers complained that the trigger reach was too long for their hands. The average height of an American man at that time, given nutrition and other factors, was around 5' 6". Hand size was proportional and the shortened 1911A1 trigger fit small hands just fine. GIs never complained about it ... but serious marksmen would later demand a trigger of the greater length that had first appeared on the Browning-designed Colt 1911.

Half of the people the 1911A1 was designed for were 5' 6" or shorter with proportionally short fingers. Today that's the average size of some of your female customers and quite a few of your male ones.

You will find that, even without the currently popular and expensive custom gunshop modification of a slim-line grip, pioneered by Mike Plaxco in the early '80s for Sally Sayles, the standard short-trigger 1911 pistol -- whether full-size frame or smaller -- will fit the very small hand superbly and the larger hand almost equally well. Those who find it too large are generally failing to use an ergonomically correct grip.

It will be easier for the serious shooter to retrofit a long trigger to improve the fit of a gun he could manage all along than it will be for a small person to try to manage a long-trigger gun that is simply too big for them. If your customer does need a retrofit 1911 trigger, your shop should be able to take care of them. If not, you may want to work out a mutually profitable referral deal with a local craftsman who can do a good job.

Similarly, some of your customers will prefer arched mainspring housings on this style of gun while others will favor the flat housing. The flat housing is generally the most adaptable to multiple hand sizes, though this doesn't seem to be nearly as important as the "trigger reach" dimension in determining the fit of the pistol to the hand.

The Hi-Power

Another of those rare guns that fits multiple hand sizes is the 9mm Browning Hi-Power. I have handed Brownings to 5-foot women and seen them go from failing scores to 290 out of 300 on the police combat course. Recoil is mild, slide operation is easy (tell them to cock the hammer before drawing the slide back to relieve mainspring pressure), and this battle-proven weapon is the choice of professionals from SAS to the FBI Hostage Rescue Unit.

Don't Forget Double Action

Double action autos? Smith & Wesson's Model 3913, particularly in the LadySmith model, has proved to be an extremely popular choice among small-statured women who are professionals with the gun and the same will be true of your beginning lady customers once they are properly trained.

SIG Sauer was the first maker of compact DA autos to produce a retrofit short-reach trigger. If you're not set up for this type of modification, call SIGARMS for the contacts of the nearest police armorers they've trained for their product. Most police armorers have no problem working on their own time for a reputable gun dealer selling to good people, and the relationship will be profitable to you both. (The same will be true in other gun lines, for that matter.)

The H&K P7 in its slim-grip models -- the 9mm P7M8 and the slightly smaller, .380 variation -- are ideal for a majority of small-handed people. Women especially seem to do will with them. The squeeze-cocking mechanism forces them to maintain a firm hold. The price is high, but many of your customers will pay it if the gun does right by them, and a P7 will do that for all but the weakest, most willowy hands so long as the frame size isn't too large for a proper grasp.

More affordable and likewise easy to manipulate and shoot is the Glock. The one caveat would be the buyer, male or female, who for whatever reason cannot lock the wrist firmly. The polymer frame on this gun does not tolerate a weak hand on the controls and will jam. This can normally be remedied instantly by training, but if the customer is debilitated by arthritis or something similar, do what you'd do for any customer who couldn't handle the gun you first recommended: put them into something else. I can only say that when my oldest daughter was 11 she got her first Glock 9mm and it never jammed in her small hand.

A disproportionately large number of your female and first-time customers will favor the revolver, and the wheelgun is almost universally recommended for beginners. Its fit is even more critical than that of the autoloading pistol, and we'll discuss that next month.
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Author:Ayoob, Massad
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Aug 1, 1993
Previous Article:'93 may be an exciting year for Browning, Remington, and USRAC.
Next Article:Gunsmithing for the dealer: how you can give your patrons the "custom" treatment.

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