Stick to what you know…

Charles Poliquin is a very well known and well respected strength trainer. I would hesitate to question any of his work in his area of expertise. Further, I wouldn’t be in a big hurry to start telling you how to strength train, because I simply don’t have the level of experience of folks like Poliquin. Unfortunately, Charles recently crossed that expertise boundary, and decided to write about firearms in a recent article titled “Tips to Increase Firearm Shooting Accuracy”, and made a number of errors related to firearms and firearms handling.

Before I dig into this, let me stress that I’m not intending to ridicule Mr. Poliquin with the below. I’d be more than happy to spend some time on the range with him to demonstrate the principles I’m about to discuss. My intent is to expose some common misunderstandings about handgun operation and wounding ballistics.

The basic premise of the article is that you need good shoulder strength in order to accurately shoot a handgun. This proposal is pretty flawed. There’s a lot of interesting discussion in the article about how best to strengthen the rotator cuff, and that sort of thing – I’m sure that information is quite useful for it’s intended purpose, and I certainly wouldn’t argue with Charles that strong, stable shoulders are useful things to have for a number of different reasons. But the problem appears when he steps into how that strength might affect a person’s ability to shoot a handgun accurately. Here’s the quote I’m most concerned about:

“1. The larger the caliber of the handgun, the more the rotator cuff helps shooting accuracy. As more law enforcement agencies are switching from the 9 mm to the .40 and the .45, it’s even more important to have a strong and healthy rotator cuff. One of the reasons agencies are using larger calibers is today’s obesity epidemic. If this unhealthy trend worsens, cops will need ammo strong enough to bring down rhinos and elephants.”

Let’s pick this apart a bit, because there’s really three issues here. First – The larger the caliber of the handgun, the more the rotator cuff helps shooting accuracy. This is simply wrong. Strength has absolutely zero relationship to accuracy (beyond the basic strength required to raise the gun and pull the trigger). Strength is directly related to recoil control and weapon manipulation, which lead to *speed*, and thus the ability to shoot quickly (and, if the shooter can execute the fundamentals at that speed, accurately). All you need to do to shoot accurately (where speed doesn’t matter) is keep the sights aligned on the target until the bullet leaves the barrel. That can easily be done by someone of very small stature using only a finger and a thumb to hold the gun, and a second finger to pull the trigger, and using a handgun caliber of any size available. This is easily demonstrable on the range, and I’ve trained some ladies of small stature and with very little in the way of upper body strength to successfully and accurately shoot large caliber handguns (quickly, too – because recoil control doesn’t really take all that much strength if appropriate techniques are employed).

One of the reasons agencies are using larger calibers is today’s obesity epidemic. How much investigation has Mr. Poliquin really done into the physical make up of the average street perp? From the variety of tapes that I’ve examined, the folks the police department are concerned about are not obese. At worst, some of them are a little over weight. There’s another problem that comes with obesity that tends to be somewhat limiting for perps – it’s pretty hard to run away from the cops when you’re a complete lard ass. So, why would a police department move away from 9mm to something larger? In large part, marketing – if there isn’t a reason to buy new weapons for the whole department, it’s hard for gun companies to make money, isn’t it?

There’s a second reason, as well, though it appears to only be secondary to this movement – that is penetration. Typically, a heavier bullet moving with the same momentum as a lighter one will penetrate somewhat further – .40 and .45 have progressively heavier projectiles moving with more momentum than a 9mm. This would initially seem to support Poliquin’s statement, so some discussion about handgun wounding ballistics might be in order. First, handguns suck at killing people – even skinny people with 5% body fat. Unless the shooting victim dies immediately from their injuries (say, ruptured aorta, or destruction of an important central nervous system structure), it’s quite likely that they’ll survive the gunshot, and frequently without the need for emergency surgery. From the standpoint of a law enforcement officer, or a civilian who carries a gun for self defense, this has a couple of implications – in order to quickly stop a threat to themselves or others, they need to employ a caliber that can reliably penetrate to the bad guy’s vital structures from all angles, and they need to be able to use it quickly and accurately (both to hit those small structures, and to ensure that their shots only hit the bad guy(s)…). Go grab a ruler and hold it up, with one end on the center of your chest, and the other out toward your arm. How far is it from the edge of your arm to the center of your chest? Typically, it’s a foot or more, except for very small people. So, we need a caliber that can reliably penetrate a foot or more of tissue, and associated clothing. Even a .45 has trouble doing this reliably with a 230gr hollow point projectile (typical for duty carry), especially if there’s heavy clothing involved. Most modern duty grade ammunition in the three major calibers will penetrate 12-13″ in ballistic gelatin, which translates into “fairly adequate” performance on humans. Still, they all leave something to be desired in this department. Generally, a handgun round won’t damage significant bone, and they tend to slide right off the cranium.

I haven’t done extensive, scientific analysis, but it seems to me that obese people are not all that much “deeper” in the important areas – around the abdomen, definitely so. But penetration to center of chest? Deeper, yes, but dramatically so? Hmmm… Fact is, given the above, if they’re appreciably harder to penetrate, they’re going to foil any of 9mm, .40, or .45 fairly equally. Again, handguns just suck for killing people reliably.

Finally, If this unhealthy trend worsens, cops will need ammo strong enough to bring down rhinos and elephants. Ok, a little bit of hyperbole, but again, a misunderstanding. Calibers larger than what we’re already discussing – things appropriate for hunting animals larger than humans, like .44 Magnum, have a tendency to simply over penetrate targets of our density, and go through typically causing less damage than those that penetrate an adequate distance and dump all of their energy into the target. Guns actually appropriate for rhinos and elephants, well… we’re talking the same effect. The real answer – for human targets of all sizes – is the long gun. This, of course, is one of the reasons we see officers in patrol cars armed with a 12 gauge shotgun or, more recently, a rifle – these weapons carry enough power to do much more significant damage to humans, and are much more effective at stopping a threat quickly.

So, in summary, you don’t need stronger shoulders because there’s on obesity epidemic (well, at least, not for the purposes of shooting a handgun accurately). And, fat bad guys are not the reason for a departmental shift to .40 S&W. Finally, accuracy with a handgun does not stem from strength. And, Mr. Poliquin (just like all of us) should probably consult with experts before he writes about subjects that aren’t specifically in his wheelhouse…

About the author


USPSA Grand Master, NRA Instructor, http://re-gun.com/about/

Permanent link to this article: http://re-gun.com/2011/12/stick-to-what-you-know/

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