Adapting to Change

See that Veiled Chameleon in the photo below? It symbolizes the fact that sometimes we need to change for reasons of survival. There was a time in the 1960s when I considered myself armed and ready with a  five-shot .38 Chief Special or an eight-shot Colt .45 auto with no spare ammo. The only competitions I shot in were classic bulls-eye. I didn’t even think about carrying a gun at home. Things happened in my personal experience and the institutional knowledge I gained as a researcher to change that.

veiled chameleon
When needs and threats change, so must training, tactics, and gear.

More than half a century as a firearms instructor later, and with going on four and a half decades as an expert witness in actual shooting cases, I carry a fighting-size semiautomatic pistol as primary with spare mag(s) plus a backup gun, and I arm myself when I get up in the morning and get dressed even if I don’t plan to leave the house.

Continued learning, and continually changing societal threat profiles require us to adapt accordingly. Let’s look at some examples.

Ability vis-à-vis Gun Choices

I’ve been shooting 1911 .45 autos since 1960. I came to prefer them with ambidextrous thumb safeties for logical tactical reasons. In the last couple of years, however, I noticed that advancing arthritis had enlarged the knuckle of my dominant hand index finger to the point where it pushed the safety upward, into the “on-safe” position instead of the “fire” position. Adaptation: when I carry a 1911 now, it has a single-side thumb safety.

1911 pistol in hand with knuckle activating safety
The enlarged arthritic knuckle of my trigger finger has inadvertently pushed the safety up and “on” with this Colt Lightweight Commander with Ciener .22 conversion unit.

Back in 1993, the police department where I then served as a captain and senior firearms instructor adopted the Ruger P90 .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol, and for some time made it mandatory standard issue. The damn thing fit my hand like a brick with a trigger, but it was an excellent pistol otherwise. One of my mentors, former Border Patrol gun expert Bill Jordan, once said that while the Border Patrol’s campaign hat never quite fit his head, his head came to fit the hat. Similarly, my hand came to fit the P90: I won a state shoot for cops with it (50-yard shooting involved) and carried it with confidence, but went with something else as soon as the policy changed.

Back when I shot competition on the “pro tour” I started using Red Dot sights in competition at Bianchi Cup in the late 1980s. I watched my friends Jerry Barnhart and Brian Enos win matches with them and understood their advantages, particularly for folks who were visually challenged due to disease or advancing age. The time came when cataracts turned what you might see as a red dot to what I saw as a starburst blur I couldn’t aim with. Cataract surgery on both eyes in 2019 changed that for the better, and reminded me that individual needs must be taken into consideration.

Mas shooting LTT custom Beretta 92 with Trijicon SRO red dot optical sight
Shooting a LTT custom Beretta 92 with Trijicon SRO red dot optical sight, a game-changer for many with vision problems.

At a young age, Jeff Cooper and Ray Chapman personally taught me how to dump an empty magazine with my (dominant) right thumb on an auto pistol reload. In the late twenty-teens, arthritis compromised my thumb enough that I couldn’t reliably do that anymore. I started relying on my trigger finger to eject spent mags, flipping the release buttons on the Beretta, SIG, and Gen4 and Gen5 Glocks to allow that for my dominant right hand.

Two guns with mag release switched
When an arthritic thumb made it hard for the right-handed author to dump empty mags with the thumb, he switched .45 Glock 21 and 9mm Wilson Beretta 92 Compact, among other guns, to a right-side mag release button operated by the trigger finger.

Other Factors

I watched my older predecessors — Pat Rogers, whom I didn’t know, and Walt Rauch and Frank James whom I did know, unfortunately none still with us — scale down from .45s to 9mms because of the recoil factor on aging, battered delicate hands. Once a .45 and .357 Magnum guy, I now find myself carrying 9mms somewhere between three-fourths and two-thirds of the year.

Higher cartridge capacity with smaller calibers factors into that, because of current criminal attack patterns. We are seeing more multiple instead of single perpetrator carjackers, armed robbers, and home invaders. More “bad guys” wear body armor than ever before, and more bad guys use skilled tactics of movement and cover, all of which can require more rounds-in-gun to solve an immediate life-threatening problem in an unforgiving time frame.

As I write this, I’m wearing a Wilson Combat SFT9 — a high-tech, aluminum frame, 16-shot 9mm 1911 loaded with 127-grain Winchester Ranger-T spec’d for 1250 feet per second out of its slightly over four-inch barrel. That gives about the same ballistics, if not better, than the legendary “man-stopping” 125-grain .357 Magnum round out of a snub-nose revolver, with much less blast, flash, and recoil. I for one am damn comfortable with it.

Wilson Combat 16-shot 9mm on left, S&W 1911SC 8-shot .45 on right.
When medical conditions make .45 recoil too much, you can switch to lighter kicking 9mm in similar platforms, and get more rounds on board to boot. Wilson Combat 16-shot 9mm on left, S&W 1911SC 8-shot .45 on right.

We have to adapt in the changes in our own bodies and abilities, and to the changes in our specific needs at different times in different places. It is true with Life, and it is true with The Gun.

Massad "Mas" Ayoob is a well respected and widely regarded SME in the firearm world. He has been a writer, editor, and law enforcement columnist for decades, and has published thousands of articles and dozens of books on firearms, self-defense, use of force, and related topics. Mas, a veteran police officer, was the first to earn the title of Five Gun Master in the International Defensive Pistol Association. He served nearly 20 years as chair of the Firearms Committee of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers and is also a longtime veteran of the Advisory Bard of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association. A court-recognized expert witness in shooting cases since 1979, Ayoob founded the Lethal Force Institute in 1981 and served as its director until 2009. He continues to instruct through Massad Ayoob Group,

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