Every firearms instructor worth their salt will tell you that when it comes to choosing a defensive handgun, or any firearm for that matter, that function is the number one consideration. That advice is really is a no-brainer or a truism.

We give constant lip service to the fact that the top quality of any firearm chosen for combat or fighting is reliability. However, the truth of the situation is that more than a few online tactical gurus and gun shop experts favor popular mythology over reality based on experience and fact.

For instance, the non-stop drivel about the .45 ACP overshadowing the 9x19mm cartridge in the “stopping-power” arena still abounds.  First of all, there is but a fraction of a difference between the actual ballistic performance of either cartridge. Secondly, as they are both handgun rounds, the use of the term “stopping-power” is a bit ridiculous. Such an argument would be akin to debating over whether the Toyota Prius or Ford Focus would be the better choice for the Talladega 500.

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When it comes to adding accessories or upgrading a fighting handgun, there are practical or functional add-ons and their are cosmetics. Cosmetics are fine. Hell, everyone likes to put their own special touches on their property; cars, motorcycles and guns all fall into that category.

The trap that many fall into is ascribing practicality to cosmetics. Are Cocobolo grip stocks and hexhead screws more “tactical” then the factory Walnut stocks with flathead grip screws?  Is a  MagPul FDE colored gun more reliable than a flat black gun? I know these might seem to be rhetorical questions, but that’s the kind of logic thrown out today.

Handgun: Tool not Trophy

MP357 handgun is a fighting tool, not a trophy.
MP357 handgun is a fighting tool, not a trophy.

A fighting handgun is supposed to be a tool, not a trophy. The best tools are the most reliable and robust. Who in their right mind would keep using a hammer with a flimsy handle or a circular saw that only worked when you jiggled the power cord just right?

I’ll never forget standing in an indoor shooting range watching a guy shoot an M1911 pistol with his left hand index finger placed deliberately atop the slide stop.

You see, more often than not, when he fired the pistol the slide would lock back even though the magazine wasn’t empty. He used the left index finger to depress the slide stop and get the gun back into battery. I looked on in amazement as he fired a couple magazines full of ammunition in this fashion.  The handgun in question did not look old or decrepit, as a matter of fact it had a nice after market finish and expensive looking grip stocks.

Driving Home the Point

I have been giving the idea that fighting handguns should be robust and reliable above and beyond cosmetic features considerable thought. Most recently I secured a police trade-in Smith&Wesson M&P357 duty pistol from Century Arms. Understanding that police guns are generally carried a lot and shot comparatively very little, I knew it should be in excellent mechanical shape. I was not disappointed in that regard.

Now the .357 SIG cartridge, as wonderful as it may be ballistically, is both expensive and difficult to come by through normal channels. My first step would be to secure a KKM conversion barrel to allow me to shoot 9x19mm from the gun. As .357/.40S&W magazines do not reliably feed 9mm ammunition I would need to throw some M&P9 magazines into the mix.

Next up on the practical scale was to replace the existing “low mount” 3-Dot Tritium sights with a set from XS Sights. The original Tritium sights had long since lost their luminosity and the “snag-free” rear sight is the opposite of correct for a fighting pistol.

The last physical part change would be the addition of a stippled backstrap from Damato’s Custom Stippling. No, it wasn’t absolutely necessary, but I wanted to try it out and see if I could appreciate any difference.

Finishing Touch

Don't be afraid.
Don’t be afraid of a handgun.

Finally, the most striking upgrade was the addition of DuraCoat Wild Yellow using their brand new aerosol cans. The M&P pistol was completely disassembled save the removal of the sights. Those suckers are on good and tight and I wasn’t going to mess with them. I simply taped over the front and rear sight.

In addition to the pistol parts, I applied the Wild Yellow color to a Blackhawk Serpa holster and a matching single magazine pouch.  Light DuraCoat colors such as yellow, pink, etc. first need a base coat of DuraCoat white.

Why yellow? Because I wanted to drive home the point that cosmetics and color do not determine whether or not a fighting gun is reliable and robust. Just as importantly, I put DuraCoat yellow on a pistol because Nanny Bloomberg doesn’t approve of colored guns and actually made them illegal in NYC. This S&W powertool is the epitome of toughness and reliability. It does not matter one bit whether the color offends you or intrigues you.

When it comes to choosing a tool that you may be called upon to defend you life, I would suggest that you focus less energy on how “cool” or “tactical” it looks. Instead focus more on how well it will function. In the end, it is your life to save or not.

Drive on.

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Paul G. Markel has worn many hats during his lifetime. He has been a U.S. Marine, Police Officer, Professional Bodyguard, and Small Arms and Tactics Instructor. Mr. Markel has been writing professionally for law enforcement and firearms periodicals for nearly twenty years with hundreds and hundreds of articles in print. Paul is a regular guest on nationally syndicated radio talk shows and subject matter expert in firearms training and use of force. Mr. Markel has been teaching safe and effective firearms handling to students young and old for decades and has worked actively with the 4-H Shooting Sports program. Paul holds numerous instructor certifications in multiple disciplines and a Bachelor’s degree in conflict resolution; nonetheless, he is and will remain a dedicated Student of the Gun.

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