Sunday, January 02, 2011

Officers and Ungentle Men

Spurred by a comment in a Michael Bane blog, I was tempted last week to read "Principles of Personal Defense", by the late Col. Jeff Cooper. When I ordered the book from, I noticed that "People who read this book often also read" the seminal work on Handgun Combat "No Second Place Winner" by William Henry Jordan ... Bill Jordan, as most of us probably know him.

The Cooper book (paperback pamphlet, 79 pages) cost $8.88; the Jordan book (hardbound book, 115 pages) cost $15.95. With $4.98 in shipping charges, it was significantly more economical to order them both together. And I've always wanted to read the Jordan book.

I ordered them just before Christmas; they were delivered on Friday.

Today I spent 2 hours and read them both. They had very little in common; Cooper was talking about Principles, and nothing at all about tactics, techniques, or equipment. Jordan, on the other hand, spent most of his time on the latter and little on the former. It occurs to me that they were two complimentary works, while noting that much of what Jordan had to say was dated by technological changes in firearms, ammunition and auxiliary equipment. Is it fair to say that Jordan's writing is "timeless", but Cooper's is "even more timeless"?

Principles of Personal Defense:

Colonel Jeff Cooper spent some quality time in the military (hence the "Colonel" designation), and later went on to found and run one of the Premier combat training ranges in the world. Thunder Ranch* Gunsite Academy established the Gold Standard of firearms training, and it is not by accident that he is sometimes referred to as "The Guru"

The book .. again, actually more of a "pamphlet" than a book, is organized to present his Seven Principles of Personal Defense.

  1. Alertness
  2. Decisiveness
  3. Aggressiveness
  4. Speed
  5. Coolness
  6. Ruthlessness
  7. Surprise
The list of Principles underscores that he wrote in terms of "Personal Defense", not for the service officer (either military or Law Enforcement). This concept has to do with one man finding himself in a situation where he must defend himself against an aggressor. It's especially noteworthy that Principle 6: "Ruthlessness", is absolutely not 'appropriate' to a Law Enforcement Officer (LEO). LEO's may well find themselves in a situation where Ruthlessness is needed, but it is decidedly not appropriate for a Public Servant to openly cultivate that quality. The common motto "To Protect, And To Serve" is not served by ruthless men.

On the other hand, it may be an unspoken necessary quality in men whose career choice is expected to lead him into confrontational situations on a frequent basis.

Here is part of what Cooper has to say on the subject:

"Anyone who willfully and maliciously attacks another without sufficient cause deserves no consideration. ... The attacker must be stopped --- at once, and completely. [Y]our first concern is to stay alive. Let your attacker worry about his life. Don't hold back. Strike no more after he is incapable of further action, but see that he is stopped. The law forbids you to take revenge, but it permits you to prevent. ... Take no chances. Put him out."
[Emphasis in the original text]

It is obvious in both this, and his other writings (especially including both Volumes 1 and 2 of "The Gargantuan Gunsite Gossip", where he refers to aggressors as "Goblins") that Cooper has no respect for the right of those predators to enjoy continued existence at a body temperature above room temperature.

Cooper's purpose here is clearly to encourage the reader to do whatever is necessary to avoid thermodynamic equilibrium.

No Second Place Winner:

Bill Jordan enjoyed decades of experience as a U.S. Border Patrol Officer on our Southern Border. Not to put too fine a point on it, in his own words, he spent the most productive years of his life as a federal officer charged with regulating predations of, as he unashamedly (and politically incorrectly) identified as "Pistoleros, Narcotrafficantos, and wetbacks". Many of his 'normal' engagements began in the dark of night, along the Mexican Border, with the Border Patrol announcement: "Manos Arriba! Federales!" (Hand Up! Federal Officers!)

He might as well have said "Let the Dance Begin!", for that is the not uncommon outcome of this introduction.

From that point on, the miscreants responded in either of two ways: either surrender and return to the Happy Mexican Ways, or a shootout in the dark, with the only light the muzzle flash of their guns. (Which, according to Jordan, was often the only indicator of who was armed. He mentioned that they made fine aiming points.)

Yes, there are a few War Stories there; most of them were identified as primarily being a way to pad the page-count of the book and make it 'entertaining', as suggested by his agent.

Most of the book, however (and in contrast to the Cooper book), was preoccupied by a discussion of weapons, equipment, tactics and other "technical stuff".

Just in passing:
  • If you want to practice with your revolver without spending too much money, it's a good idea to make 'wax bullets' -- he provides detailed instructions on how to roll your own;
  • Revolvers are a better combat handgun than automatics ("Yes I know ..." that they're actually Semi-Automatic Pistols) because he's an LEO and is obliged to use Factory Ammunition. The .45 ACP is probably the best of the bunch, but FMJ ammo is not very effective and semi-wadcutters are not reliably fed into autos.
  • The best stopping round available in revolvers is the .357 Magnum
  • The VERY best stopping round in revolvers is the .41 magnum, and within ten years (the book was published in 1965) there will probably be enough manufacturers of .41 Magnum pistols that they will replace the .357 for police departments across the country
  • Equipment: best holster leaves the trigger exposed, is hip-mounted, and includes a metal 'shank' in the suspension of the holster so it can present the revolver vertical, grip away from the body, and it can be bent and/or twisted so that when you draw the gun you get "a fistful of gun", rather than "a fistful of everything"
  • "Practical Pistol Competition" is better than no "high pressure at all" training, but its emphasis is on competition, not on survival in a combat situation
  • The 'grip' on a double-action pistol which is best used for "long range" shooting (over 25 yards) includes having the left thumb over the right wrist; this allows the shooter to easily re-cock the hammer for single-action shooting; otherwise, the left thumb should be overlapped by the right thumb
  • Most pistol (read: "revolver" in this as in most discussions) grips are not what we might call "ergonomic"; they either don't fit the hand, or they fit the hand 'wrong' as they don't accept the weight of the pistol on the 2nd finger of the right hand, and they tend to force the hand down toward the butt of the pistol. (This is just wrong in so many ways, when you may have to take multiple shots.)
Techniques of the draw; the trigger pull; the sight picture (necessary only at distances in excess of 25 yards, when shooting at a human target); point-shooting as an essential element of fast-draw combat shooting ... these elements and more are covered by Jordan and one cannot fault his expertise as he has demonstrably excelled in all of these areas.

Equipment requirements of the pistol, the sights (when used), the grip, the ammunition, the holster; training, practice -- all of these elements and more are covered by Jordan in this, the recognized most authoritarian work on Combat Shooting.

And rightly so.

Some of Jordan's prognostications do not take place. He predicted that the .41 magnum cartridge would replace the .357 magnum; that didn't happen. In fact, the FBI tried to introduce the 10mm (.40 magnum?) and found that it wasn't acceptable to agents any more than the .41 magnum was accepted by police forces.

Why? Because the average agent or LEO wasn't willing to "man up" to the increased perceived recoil of either cartridge.

Actually, I don't much blame them. They were accustomed to either 9mm or .38 Special cartridges, and compared to that the 1omm and .41 Magnum were bears .. hard to get use to, and the recoil included some pretty intimidating muzzle-flip, compared to the cartridges they (the agents and the LEOs) had grown accustomed to.

NOTE: Long after Jordan's book was published, Smith & Wesson came out with pistols chambered in the .40S&W (Smith and Wesson, although I tend to refer to them as "Slow and Wimpy" ... because it offends people, and because I can) which was actually a fairly acceptable compromise between the .38/9mm and .41m/10mm. It took a while to get accustomed to the (slight) difference in perceived recoil, but it wasn't intimidating. Read: scarey. And lots of pistol manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and provided (semi-automatic) pistols in that caliber. Smith&Wesson, Colt, and even foreign interlopers such as Glock and Sig Sauer.

Sure, there was a period of KaBOOMS! type experiences with pistols in that caliber, until (a) the manufacturers decided that merely using 9mm-built pistols in the new caliber wasn't enough .. they needed to consider using .45acp-built pistols because the new cartridge was closer to the .45acp than to the 9mm; and (b) they needed to use fully-supported chambered barrels to managed the increased pressures; and specifically IPSC competitors needed to avoid using the really-really fast gunpowders, and to load the cartridge with a LONG over-all length, because seating the bullet too deep into the .40S&W case tended to create really monstrous over-pressures on a cartridge that wasn't really built for that kind of pressure.

But those learning-curve experiences, and the technological changes which were the result, happened LONG after Bill Jordan put his two cents worth of (very usable) advice into 115 pages of surprisingly well-written and exceedingly readable lore.

Yes, some of what Jordan wrote has been obviated by technological advances which he couldn't possibly have foreseen. And much of what he wrote in 1965 may have been obviated, but that doesn't mean that what he said wasn't universally legitimate, reasonable and (generally speaking) very good advice.

Anyone who picks up a revolver today with the expectation of using his advice in either a combat or a competitive application will find that, except for the unexpected technological innovations which he could not have anticipated (such as various effective ammunition for, and changes in the design of the 1911 pistol), every word in his books is golden.

Just pure 24 caret gold. And I don't care if I am a 1911 bigot. Reading Bill Jordan gives you the pure pleasure of sharing the thoughts of a man who really knows what the hell he's talking about, and speaks intelligibly and entertainingly.

* Thanks to Guy for correcting my error. Cooper did indeed establish Gunsite Academy, not Thunder Ranch.

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