ENGINEERING -- WHAT IS IT AND WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?
We hear a lot
these days about the various characteristics of the fighting handgun
and what makes certain guns superior to others. Among these are
accuracy, functional reliability, size, weight and power, to name
but a few. Yet, of at least equal, and probably even more, importance
is an additional element that's usually overlooked completely –
What is "human
engineering?" you say? It's how the gun fits your hand, how
it feels, how it points. It's where the weapon's operational controls,
such as slide release lever, thumb safety, magazine release and
such are located. Moreover, it's how they're configured, thus dictating
how quickly and efficiently they can be operated in stressful environments.
Why is "human
engineering" so important? Well, consider this – self-defense
shooting situations all have certain elements in common with one
another. First, the altercation is nearly always fast. The annual
FBI Uniform Crime Report stresses over and over again an average
time-frame of between 2 1/2 and 3 seconds. This means that if not
already in-hand, your weapon must be brought into action –
and used – quickly. It also means that once the piece is in
action, it must be fired rapidly and accurately in order to bring
the fight to a favorable conclusion in the shortest possible period
of time and with as few shots fired as possible.
Second, it means
that accurate shot placement is critical. Filling the air with bullets
in a handgun fight not only takes too long to do you any good, but
actually increases not only your tactical, but criminal and civil
liability as well. A couple of quick shots on a single adversary
or a single shot against multiple assailants is all you have enough
In order for
both of these requirements to be successfully fulfilled, the weapon
must be "user friendly," another term for "human
engineering." For it to be quickly acquired, indexed in the
firing hand, presented to the target and brought into action, the
gun must fit the firing hand and point at least reasonably well,
something seen with only a few of the self-loaders introduced in
the last decade.
– to compete in a shrinking marketplace, their designers have
largely sacrificed grip index and pointability and concentrated
instead upon large magazine capacity to entice prospective buyers…commercialism,
in other words. This has often resulted in grip frames that are
excessively thick, too thick to index in all but the largest of
shooter's hands and frame angles that prevent fast pointing.
Yet, the real
issue has nothing to do with large magazines. Instead, it has everything
to do with getting hits, quickly and accurately. In order to accomplish
this critical requirement, the gun's grip angle and thickness must
be compatible with the shooter's hand. It's that simple.
influence this requirement and should be examined carefully before
installed on your piece. Regardless of what material they might
be made from, if they increase the thickness of the grip frame area
or make the grip angle more vertical, they should be avoided.
guns, although more controllable, are noticeably slower to bring
into action, whereas a medium framed piece would provide faster
presentation and would also be less fatiguing if carried for long
periods of time. Here, Colt's "D" or "I" frame,
or S&W's "K" or "L" frame are good revolver
choices while, as an example, the Colt Lightweight Commander or
Glock 19/22 offer good results in the self-loader category.
The high shooting
speeds inherent to self-defense situations also dictate that weapon
control is a critical factor. Yet, the design of many of the more
modern self-loaders incorporates a great deal of slide mass located
well above the firing hand, causing excessive "flip" and
torque effect, both of which slow down shot-to-shot recovery a great
In truth, it
should be the other way around. Slide mass should be minimal and
placed as low as possible in the firing hand. This way, recoil forces
are distributed in a more linear manner and more directly into the
web of the hand, rather than causing the muzzle to rise radically
as the slide reciprocates rearward.
of the weapon's controls also greatly influence its performance
under stressful conditions. Slide release levers, for example, should
be narrow and edge free in order to present the best combination
of "user-friendliness," mechanical reliability and concealability.
Magazine release buttons should not protrude excessively, lest they
be inadvertently activated during carry or firing, thus causing
either loss of the magazine completely or a Type One (Failure To
The thumb safety
of a single-action self-loader such as the M1911 .45 ACP or Browning
P-35 9mm, should be shaped to accommodate rapid manipulation by
the firing thumb, but not, in order to prevent unwanted disengagement
during carry, be excessively wide. All three should be carefully
configured for maximum efficiency but be absolutely edge-free.
greatly influence performance. Everyone knows that high visibility
is important, but not everyone realizes that this should not be
accomplished at the expense of the sights presenting an excessively
high profile. Anyone who has experienced his weapon catching in
his shirt or concealment garment during a fast presentation because
the sights snagged is all too aware of this factor!
fast sight acquisition cannot be over-emphasized. If low light situations
are expected, tritium insert in your sights are an immense help,
provided they're configured properly. Avoid vertical bars, outlines,
diamonds, squares and the like and instead use the proven horizontal
3-dot type, as they're much quicker and easier to align.
If you opt for
a sub-compact self-loader, but sure that it has a magazine extension
to allow the little finger of the firing hand to be properly placed.
Otherwise, control suffers greatly…too greatly to be justified
on the basis of concealment needs alone.
is also important. The closer the front and rear sights are to one
another, the less forgiving of alignment errors they are. If you're
about to select a snubbie revolver just because you think it will
be easily concealed, think again. Except in highly specialized situations,
to sacrifice the more efficient sight radius of a four-inch barrel
in favor of a two-incher for concealment purposes is a mistake.
Moreover, the longer barrel will give you higher bullet velocities,
a fundamentally critical factor in frangible bullet performance.
represent the more subtle design criteria called "human engineering."
In order to be capable of maximum efficiency when the chips are
down, they all influence weapon/operator performance at least as
much, perhaps even more, than simple mechanical engineering and
workmanship. If you can't get the gun into action, fast, and shoot
it quickly and accurately, then how many rounds of ammunition it
carries or how cool it looks instantly becomes academic.
To prevent loss
of perspective on this important factor, examine your needs carefully
and honestly, paying particular care to your life style, the environment
in which you operate and the potential situation for which you might
need the weapon as a result. Don't allow others to make your decisions
for you, because what works for them might not work so well for
you. If you do this, you'll find that, subtle or not, human engineering
is near the top of the list for any fighting weapon – and
in so doing, the life you save, just might be your own!