The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills
The title of this book is somewhat misleading. Very little of it has to do with “handgun skills,” with that taken to mean skill with a handgun. A look at the cover indicates this, showing a target, shooting glasses, and three pistols, but also a couple of cartridges, ear protectors and cleaning materials. It's really a personal look at handguns, attempting to cover all of the bases and not delving too deeply into any of them.
The author, Robert Campbell, is obviously very taken with handguns and has been for quite some time. He professes interest from an early age, some experience with law enforcement, and a definite bias toward his own handgun preferences. For example, in the Preface he states, "Some of the young lions have succumbed to commercialism and opted for small bores and plastic pistols, but that is ok for them and their personal worldview. Their infidelity to the great handguns and the big bore cartridges is disturbing, but they have only themselves to answer to... I prefer reality, however harsh a cup of coffee it may be. That is what you will find in this book: reality."
Not so much. If you buy into Mr. Campbell's biases, then you will get a pretty good, wide-ranging survey of the different types of handguns he prefers but, for example, any gun with a polymer frame is not going be mentioned without some negative criticism. In the section on modern semi-automatics, for example, the new Ruger polymer framed guns like the SR9 and 9c, the LC9, which won "Handgun of the Year" this year, and the LCP, a wildly popular small pistol, are not mentioned at all. Glock gets small mention, but is quickly passed over.
So, what does the reader get for his money? About five pages on the history of the handgun, sixty-four pages on the different types of handguns – revolvers and automatics – then we get into Handgun Skills in chapter seven, "Methods of Operation." I suppose if one were a novice, this is an important chapter. The author presents detailed information on how revolvers and automatics work, are loaded and unloaded, and "handled." He calls this an "essential part of your handgun encyclopedia." I suppose it can be considered part of Handgun Skills, but it delves pretty far into the arcane for a “skills' book.” An example: Discussing revolver operations, "In early designs, including the Colt 1892 and the Smith & Wesson Hand Ejector, the ejector rod latched only at the rear of the cylinder. In later designs the cylinder is secured both front and rear. (A number of inexpensive designs still use a single-point lockup more or less successfully.) The famous Smith & Wesson Triple Lock revolvers featured a three-point lockup. Today, a number of modern Magnum revolvers lock up at three points, the third using a spring-loaded stud on the crane."
Next come chapters on Safety, Marksmanship and the First Handgun, meaning, your first handgun. Then Making Brass, before we get to the meat of the thing: hunting and personal defense. I skipped the hunting part. Not into that. But, I am into personal defense. The seventeen pages the author devotes to this topic are all well written, informative, and important. He covers all of the main schools of thought and tactical considerations well, though briefly. However, in keeping with his biases stated in the preface, he is a "big caliber" supporter. He won't recommend anything under a 9 mm or .38 Special caliber, and feels that the .357 Magnum or .45 caliber handgun is the best. Believe me, plenty of ink has been wasted in discussion, argument, and dissertations on this idea of the "best," whether it be caliber or gun. In my opinion, this argument is a canard. What matters are two things: having a handgun when you absolutely need one, and being able to hit what you aim at and nothing else.
Big caliber guns are big. And heavy. Mostly they are a pain to carry as a self-defense gun and often are left at home or in the car and aren't around when they are needed. Also, shooting at an attacker with a .357 magnum is bringing some heavy-duty firepower to bear but, if you miss, or hit some part of your adversary that doesn't stop the bullet, it's going to sail on, maybe punch through a wall, and perhaps hit someone else. Not a good thing. Smaller caliber handguns have proven very effective at stopping a lethal threat over the years and they are cheaper, easier to carry and conceal and, for many people, easier to shoot. But, as I said, it's an argument that shows no sign of being closed any time this century. My criticism with this book is in the author's flat refusal to deal with any handgun or caliber outside his own preferences.
So, as a "manual of handgun skills", this volume leaves much to be desired, especially at its almost $30 USD asking price. For a good, thorough, and very personal review of handguns, shooting, safety, history and encyclopedic facts, it's not bad.
Thanks to Zenith Press for the sample and to IPMS/USA for the opportunity to review the book.