Using The R.E.A.P. Test To Pick A Good Carry Gun

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Take from Your Defensive Handgun Training Program (book)-

Key Considerations in Selecting a Firearm – When selecting a gun for defensive purposes, I use what I call the R.E.A.P. test.  This acronym stands for: reliability, ergonomics, accuracy and power.  For me, reliability is number one, because in a gunfight, as well as my secondary use for most of my guns (competitions), reliability is very, very important.  One other note before I break down R.E.A.P. into more details, I STRONGLY recommend picking one model of handgun that will meet all of your priorities and needs, and spend your time and money (for ammunition) on that one gun.  If you are a very experienced shooter, then you can make the decision to switch back and forth between different guns, but the new shooter should stick to one thing.  This will allow you to focus on developing fundamental skills to an advanced level rather than chasing equipment and the newest gun or gimmick.  Remember the saying: “beware of the man with only one gun, for he probably knows how to shoot it.” Here is what you need to look at when selecting a firearm for combative purposes, listed in order of priority:

  • Reliability.  The number one thing a firearm must do is work.  Nothing else matters if you have a malfunction during a fight.  Most good production guns should be very reliable out of the box, and with a good gunsmith custom guns should work every time.  If they don’t work, get rid of them.  You will want to pay
    Some very reliable M&P's

    Some very reliable M&P’s

    particular attention to the ammunition you use, and the magazines you use to feed that ammunition into the gun, because the large majority of malfunctions are indeed caused by faulty ammunition or magazines, NOT the gun.  If you know without a doubt that the magazines and ammunition are good, and the gun fails, then it is time to do some trading.  Actually, if the gun is a carry gun, do someone a favor and get the gun fixed if possible before trading it, or at least let them know what they are getting so they don’t stake their life on the gun.  How reliable should a gun be?  An example would be my current teaching guns the M&P 9, 9C, and the XDM 3.8.  These guns are the ones I have used to teach almost every defensive/tactical class I have done over the last 4 years, as well as countless hours of training.  The full sized gun finally failed to eject (this may have been an ammunition issue) after 15,000 + rounds and fours years of hard training with very minimal cleaning (I did lubricate it…but did not clean it on purpose).  One of my carry gun, the M&P 9C gets cleaned regularly because it is a carry gun, and with more than 7,000 rounds, has yet to fail.  That is my idea of reliability.  If you can’t go through numerous training sessions without a malfunction, then your gun is NOT reliable.  Your gun should work out of the box in most cases, there should not be a reason to send it to the gunsmith to make it run!

  • Ergonomics.  The second thing I look for in a firearm is its physical design and ability to be shot well.  Generally a gun with a low bore to axis ratio will recover better during recoil because this low axis causes the recoil to travel straight back and through the arm, rather than up.  The recoil has to go somewhere, and a well-
    A 1911, an example of a gun with great ergonomics.

    A 1911, an example of a gun with great ergonomics.

    designed gun will recoil considerably less.  The slide lock lever, magazine release, and other manipulation devices should be located in easy to reach and operate spots.  If you purchase any high quality production firearm made by a reputable company, these items won’t be a problem.  Ambidextrous operating devices are preferred, and at a minimum the safety, if the gun has one, should be located and operable on both sides of the gun.  If you have a choice, you should select a single action type (or similar such as the triggers you will find on Glocks XDM’s, and S&W M&P’s) trigger design for the first and following shots, as double action triggers just require more work when trying to hit a small target fast on that first shot.  Please don’t take this as a knock on any gun type out there, but the simple truth is that a double action type trigger is significantly harder to manage on in situations where you have a high accuracy requirement.  While this may be less likely in a defensive situation, having a trigger that is easier to manage could be a big key if you are shooting around family members or friends that you do not want to hit.  Another feature you will find on most modern production guns these days is adjustable or interchangeable grip panels that allow you to modify (very quickly) the guns grip size to fit your hand.  I would strongly recommend a gun that offers this feature.   Lastly, the single best test of ergonomics is to shoot the gun and try to manipulate it while shooting.  You will find noticeable differences in different designs and the gun you can run well is probably the gun you should consider carrying.   Don’t carry a gun you can’t operate well!

  • Accuracy.  Accuracy is third on my list because while it is important, it is not the most important factor since
    Group at 15 yards, the shot to the right was a called flier.

    Group at 15 yards, the shot to the right was a called flier.

    most handgun fights will occur at very close ranges.  I do prefer a very accurate gun if I can get the first two requirements (reliability and ergonomics) met as well as accuracy.  I am pretty particular about having a carry gun that will shoot as good or better than I am able to shoot it, and with some of the high quality production guns on the market today this is something that is possible to find (one of my current carry guns, a S&W M&P C, shoots as well as I do).  Production carry guns should be capable of shooting a group of four to six inches at 25 yards at a minimum, and if they can’t, I suggest you research aftermarket barrels to try to increase accuracy.

  • Power.  While I am not inclined to get into a stopping power discussion you might see on a .45 versus .40 forum string because it is such a hotly debated subject, I will say that stopping power is something that should be considered.  Select a caliber that offers the most stopping power and compromise of controllability you can find.  We would all carry .50 caliber handguns if we were able, but there is always a compromise between recoil and the size of the gun versus stopping power.  Guns with bigger more powerful bullets (ammunition) are often bigger guns and are harder to carry and conceal.  They also recoil more, which isn’t a bad thing if you have the ability to control that recoil.  In terms of stopping power, the human body requires a certain amount of penetration (10-12 inches) for a bullet to affect damage to vital organs via a crushing mechanism and “stop” the threat.  In addition, a bullet that is built to cause the most damage and largest temporary and permanent (the most important) wound channel is likely to be more effective than one that does less damage.  For me, this is a 9mm or larger, with a good bullet design.  If you are interested in researching this topic as well as finding out how your current carry round (or the one you are thinking about carrying) performs, I strongly recommend you visit and read some of Dr. Gary Roberts material, one such forum currently being  Dr. Roberts is in my opinion one of the best sources for data in relation to ammunition performance that there is.  His material is easy to find, and even easier to understand and apply.   Do the research and pick the best caliber you can, so you can spend your time training for better shot placement at faster speeds while others argue about stopping power.

In addition to these four performance related factors, I would also try to select a firearm that meets some (or all) of these secondary considerations:

  • High Capacity.  The more bullets I can carry in the gun, the less I have to reload it.  I have no interest in having to reload during a fight, as doing so costs time that might allow my enemy to overcome me.  The downside to a higher capacity gun is that they are usually thicker and harder to conceal, especially in an IWB holster (inside the waist band).
  • Lightweight.  Heavy guns are harder to carry.  I carry a small lightweight Smith and Wesson M&P C most of the time, and in some cases switch to a full size gun.  When doing so I immediately notice the additional discomfort of having that extra weight pulling on my belt.   Try to find a gun that is comfortable enough that you will be okay carrying it all the time.
  • Stock Ready.   This means that I recommend you select a gun that is ready to carry right out of the box.  The most likely replacement from the factory should probably be sights.  High quality manufacturers offer “stock ready” guns right out of the box.  There are some things to consider when “setting” up your gun though, and some aftermarket changes are a good thing.  Others are probably not recommended.  The following section will provide that information…..(more can be found in Your Defensive Handgun Training Program)

The last thing I want to make sure you understand is the importance of testing the gun on a regular basis.   I recently had the experience of watch a student pull out one of his everyday carry guns only to have it fail to extract each time he shot it.   Something had happened to the gun, and it was now a one-shot gun!  Imagine that in the middle of a high stress encounter that requires more than one round to stop a motivated and aggressive attacker!   Shoot your gun regularly.  One thing to consider on that note is that if you are someone that has the time and resources to really put the rounds through your carry gun, I recommend considering a primary carry gun and an exact duplicate training gun.   I used to follow that model with my competitive guns.  My high round count gun was my practice gun (i.e. the higher round count increased chance of breakage), and the lower round count was my match gun.


Until Then – Train Hard

Mike S.

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