Probably more ink gets spilled, and more pixels get launched onto LED screens, on the subject of is-this-pistol-better-than-that-one, than on any other subject in the gun world. There are many approaches to the question of which-handgun-is-best, and it’s a mug’s question, because at some point you have to decide: best for what? What’s best for a hideout pistol is not what’s best for a cop’s service pistol, and in turn a military service pistol might demand a whole different approach.
We’re going to suggest a radically different approach:
It doesn’t matter.
For most people, the question to answer is not which pistol, but a pistol.
For most personal defensive uses, any pistol that meets certain threshold requirements is good enough. And no pistol is the approach that is not good enough.
The cop who doesn’t get a dedicated off-duty gun, but lugs his G17 around, printing like a doofus, is not necessarily acting irrationally. He’s got a gun, right? In Mayberry, everybody knows he’s a cop, anyway, and so he doesn’t gain anything but expense and complication by carrying a G26 or G43.
On the other hand, the guy who must have the very best per use is illustrated in this fascinating article by Duncan at Loose Rounds on the short-lived Glock Gen3 RTF2 pistols. He takes some time getting to the features that make the RTF2 frames, the most important of which is the grip texture which is different from any Glock before or after, and concludes:
In my opinion the RTF2 frame is the pinnacle of the Glock line for a duty, home defense and training firearm. It is also the best feeling and handling Glock made frame.
“Pinnacle” — that word is a marker for an optimizing approach. Optimizing comes natural to most people — it describes an approach to making a decision or selection which requires you to:
- Define the characteristics of the “best” choice; and,
- Select the best choice according to that definition.
And Duncan runs right into one of the problems of an optimizing approach: what makes something the best choice for one task may not make it the best for another. He finds that the Glock RTF2 is a bit of a “horses for courses” specialist, and one of its less optimal courses is the one that most people select a handgun for, for concealed carry and self defense:
Now, if you are looking for a daily conceal carry handgun, The RTF2 framed Glocks are not ideal. If you are trying to conceal an RTF2 Glock, having it right next to your skin is not going to feel great. You will have to wear a layer of protective clothing. Also, the RTF2 frames are extremely rough on all clothing, gloves and even your seatbelt. For a training course, duty carry or home defense firearm, the RTF2 is the best of the Glock offerings, for a very positive grip.
This shouldn’t surprise anybody. A gun that’s optimum for this may not be optimum for that. It requires a compromise, but then, so does every gun. So whether you are a huge army trying to select a service pistol, a PD trying to equip your patrol officers, or a single individual looking for a gun you can carry to make a positive contribution to the safety of yourself and your loved ones, you can’t just pick one characteristic and give it ultimate weight. An optimizing approach either devolves into a matter of guesswork, or results in building a complex weighted matrix (such as a Pugh Matrix, explained here at the American Society for Quality), where every weighting value is a new point of possible error injected into your calculations.
A lot of time, optimizing is used not as a decision basis, but as a means to rationalize an a priori decision. As human decisionmakers, we are all great rationalizers.
A satisficing approach sets a minimum threshold, and then accepts the first acceptable alternative that presents itself, or the best of a few that present at once. It’s meant to get you most of the way up the curve without expending a lot of time, money, brain cycles or combination of the above to try to get close as possible to the ideal. It recognizes that the ideal is an asymptotic value: you can only approach closer to it at ever-rising expense, but never actually achieve it.
The guy or girl who holsters a .45, or a Beretta, or a Glock, or an M&P, or a Chief’s Special five-shot revolver, for that matter, and closes the book on pistol selection can get on to the more serious business of pistol training and practice. The principle resource that satisficing can buy you is time, which is the one resource you can’t buy or produce more of, and the one resource that is ever in short supply.
Are you armed with the perfect gun? Probably not. Are you armed? Then you may be armed with something close enough to the perfect gun… to satisfice.