If you have ever bought a handgun … or you ever intend to buy one for self defense … this might be the most important article you ever read.
Here’s why …
Because in today’s message we’re going to talk about how and why you should “test” a (new to you) handgun before carrying it or otherwise trusting your life to it for self-defense.
This is especially important because I just picked up two new Glocks that I’m in the process of testing right now before I carry them for self-defense.
Most gun owners don’t do this (I admit that I never gave it a thought in the past). They buy a gun, maybe run a box or two of ammo through it then say “it’s been 100% reliable!”
Or they think that “only” one malfunction per box of ammo is “reliable” … it’s not.
In short, if you have a gun that you’re going to use for self-defense, do NOT trust it until you test it …
Why and when should you test a gun for reliability?
Whenever you get a new gun for self-defense you need to test it. If you pick a well-known “brand” gun from proven companies such as Glock, Smith & Wesson, HK, or Sig Sauer, you might think that you will never have to worry about reliability.
You would be wrong.
While you are making a smart choice by choosing brands and guns that have been chosen by, literally, hundreds of thousands of police, military and others that rely on their gear every day … we’re still talking about mechanical devices that can fail.
You could have also gotten a “lemon” from the factory. During the last gun class I took, one of the girls on the line had the entire slide move forward off the frame of her Gen 4 Glock 19. The gun was practically brand new and the Glock slide lock spring (the thing that holds the slide on the gun, that you have to depress to field strip it) had broke.
You can never tell with these things. What is telling though is that she explained it had happened before. That leads me to believe that if the gun was tested prior to “duty” use — a problem like that would have shown itself early on.
It’s also important to mention that if you do any “custom” work to your gun or make changes to it mechanically, treat it like a new gun and test it again …
What is reliable?
When it comes to reliability and measuring it in your gun, there’s really two things we’re talking about:
1. Reliable enough to “trust” it to carry it
2. Reliable long-term …
For the purposes of our discussion, we’re talking about how to test your (new to you) gun so that you trust it for self-defense. That means your concealed carry, duty or home defense gun.
Essentially, you have to put hundreds of rounds through that gun with no malfunctions before you trust it. This also means that you should put both cheaper “practice” ammo (FMJ – full metal jacket) and the JHP (jacketed hollow point) self-defense ammo you’ve chosen to make sure there’s no compatibility issues (because some guns can reliably feed nose tipped full metal jacket bullets but will hiccup on some types of hollow points).
So how many rounds is enough before you can “trust” a gun?
How 3 experts test their guns for reliability …
First, Jason Hanson will explain his testing protocol for any new gun. He also explains that when he picks up his gun from the gunsmith or after doing any work on his guns, he puts them through the same testing routine …
“So here’s the simple test I do when I get a new gun and the one I’ll do when I get my 1911 from the gunsmith this week.
“First, I simply look the gun over. I look it over for any cracks, any sharp edges or anything that would immediately scream “this gun has problems.” If I don’t see any problems then I go to the range and put about 200 rounds of full metal jacket ammo through the gun. I make sure the gun cycles properly and that there aren’t any problems. I also make sure that the sights are properly aligned and they don’t need any adjustment.
“In addition, I also perform several reloads to make sure the magazines drop free and don’t stick, and that there aren’t any other problems I discover with the magazines.
“If the gun works shooting the cheap ammunition then I introduce my jacketed hollow point ammo. I’ll shoot between 100-200 rounds to make sure my gun feeds this properly. I know that jacketed hollow point ammo isn’t cheap, but I really wouldn’t shoot less than 100 rounds when testing out a new gun.
“After I’ve put about 400 rounds of ammunition through the gun I’ll take it home and clean it and look it over once again while the gun is apart. After I’ve done all this, then I’ll be comfortable enough to put the gun on my hip and start carrying it concealed. You may feel comfortable doing less or you may want to do more of a test, but whatever you do, don’t bet your life on a gun without first making sure it works.”
So Jason puts a minimum of 200 rounds of FMJ training ammo and a minimum of 100 rounds of self-defense JHP ammo–preferring 200 rounds of self-defense ammo (around 400 total rounds, a mix of FMJ and JHP ammo).
Next, let’s hear what Firearms instructor Todd Green says. Todd is a notable source when it comes to “reliability” because he has, quite literally, done, more handgun testing than anyone I have ever heard of.
Over a number of years, he chose one handgun to do a 50,000+ round “endurance test” with and record the results. This includes 62,333 rounds through an M&P 9mm, 91,322 rounds through an HK P30, 50,000 rounds through an HK45, 71,260 rounds through a Gen 4 Glock 17, and 64,579 rounds through a Springfield/Warren custom 9mm 1911 …
So when Todd talks about reliablity, I listen and you should too. This is what he has to say …
“For me to be comfortable carrying a new gun, it needs to shoot at least200 rounds of the same JHP defensive ammo that I’ll carry when CCW’ing without a single stoppage. Ordinarily, I’ll put at least 500 rounds of practice ammunition through the gun first… mostly so as not to waste the more expensive JHP ammo on a gun that might be having a problem. If the gun cannot make it through that 500rd of FMJ-style ammunition, I’ll examine it and attempt to fix anything either by working on it myself or returning the gun to the manufacturer. Then I’ll start the cycle over again, 500rd of FMJ followed by 200rd of JHP, minimum.”
“I’ve made exceptions in the past to the 500rd “warm up” before shooting the carry ammo, usually for backup guns like my S&W 442 j-frame or my Ruger LCP pocket gun. They still get 200 rounds of JHP, though. Yes, it’s expensive. But because I test the ammo during my normal shooting routine, it’s really just the difference in price between practice ammo and the JHP. Over the long run, I’d rather have confidence in my pistol’s reliability than a few extra shekels in my pocket.”
So Todd’s standard is at least 200 rounds of JHP self-defense ammo, along with at least 500 rounds of FMJ “practice” ammo before that. Putting the round count around 700 (although he admits the smaller pocket and backup guns he uses sometimes only get the JHP test).
And he also makes a good point about a gun having to re-earn your trust if it ever malfunctions, “Finally, I have one more personal rule when it comes to reliability: I won’t carry a gun if it’s had a stoppage within the last 200 rounds. So if I’m at the range and the gun fumbles, either I put at least 200 more rounds through it without a problem or I carry my backup gun on the way home. Because even if it’s a one in a million fluke, I want to be sure the gun hasn’t developed a breakage or other systemic problem that could go unnoticed.”
And that brings us to Doctor Gary Roberts, the terminal ballistics expert I’ve quoted often in these pages who gives this simple recommendation:
“… make sure you fire at least 500 and preferably 1000 failure free shots through your pistol prior to carrying it. If your pistol cannot fire at least 1000 consecutive shots without a malfunction, something is wrong and it is not suitable for duty/self-defense use.”
What I’m doing right now to test two new Glocks …
This article is timely for me because I’ve just purchased two new Glocks and right now I’m testing them before I start carrying them …
(I won’t reveal which Glocks they are yet … but the results have been interesting so far.)
Because I hate the stock, plastic Glock sights so much, I’ve also already replaced both with aftermarket “night sights” that I prefer, so that is also a part of my “function testing”.
At this time in my life, I typically fire around 200 rounds per range trip because I’m very busy and I simply can’t afford to spend that much time at the range. If I pre-load a dozen magazines before I go and choose a time when other people are not likely to be at the range (conversations waste time), I can get in a good practice, 200 rounds give or take, in less than an hour.
So basically the past couple of weeks, I’ve only run a few drills with my everyday carry Glock 19. The rest of the time I’ve roughly split between the two new Glocks.
Basically, I’ve been shooting them at different distances and recording the results, and how many rounds I’m shooting to see how they differ from my current gun. I’ve also been checking the point-of-aim (POA) verses point-of-impact (POI) with the new sights that I’ve installed on them.
I plan to put at least 500 rounds of FMJ through each of them and at least 100 rounds of the JHP ammo I’ll be carrying for self defense, if not 200 (currently Speer Gold Dot 124gr).
In summary, you need to test your guns …
The bottom line is that you should not be stupid like I used to be and just grab a gun and go.
That would be kind of like buying a new car and immediately taking it on a cross country road trip without checking the tires, the gas, or even looking the car over or “test driving” it.
Again, guns are mechanical devices and they fail. Additionally, with gun manufacturers turning out, literally, millions of these devices — even a 1% margin of error could mean a LOT of bad guns out there (think about it).
You never know if you can trust a gun until it’s proven itself to you. It may take a couple range trips for some people to fire 400 rounds or more … and a couple extra cents to test the self-defense ammo you’ll be carrying … but it’s worth it if you discover something that could save your life or the life of a loved one during your test.