Good Advice from George Patton

Those who have read The Patton Papers may recall that Patton was very fond of a saying that the perfect is the enemy of the good. His usual context was that a good plan of attack, executed quickly and with vigor, was better than a presumably perfect plan put into action days later. For years, when I was beginning to enjoy disposable income, all too often I purchased an additional firearm because one or another of the gun magazines touted that latest offering as the best of its breed.

Some of the most valuable lessons I have learned in the field of the defensive use of firearms were not learned from big-name instructors, for whose teaching I had paid handsomely, but from friends who shared what life had taught them. One of those lessons came from a friend on the L.A. Sheriff’s Department, who told me of the day he was working in plainclothes and reached for his revolver, in its customary place on his belt, only to be reminded that he was wearing a shoulder holster that day. I have confirmed that the shoulder holster has not left the drawer in which he placed it when he got home that evening, a few decades ago.

Over time, it struck me that it was not only mode of carry that ought not to be varied but also the guns carried. While I had read recommendations not to mix different operating systems (e.g., single-action pistols with safety levers that disengage with a downward motion with double-action/single-action pistols with safety levers that disengage with an upward motion), I came to believe – particularly when it struck me that the most likely use of a handgun in self defense will occur at a distance where it will be fired before it can even rise to the sighting plane – that the less variation in the feel of the gun, the better. By feel, I mean such things as grip, grip-to-bore axis, relationship of the trigger to the grip and trigger stroke. When your conscious mind is processing all the information that may determine if you will become your state’s version of George Zimmerman, any manipulation of your firearm should be subconscious.

I have a personal preference for carrying revolvers – in the plural. For a short period I swapped the one in my pocket for a small 9mm pistol with a double-action-only trigger because it allowed me the installation of a sight system that would afford me a precisely aimed shot with my aging eyes. After a few months, I decided that the need to remember to adjust my hold for a radically different grip-to-bore access and to mate the flat portion of the small grip frame with the flat area of my palm was unrealistic under stress. The relief of feeling the same shaped grip on my pocket gun as I’ve got on my belt guns, when I switched back to a revolver in the pocket, was immense.

“Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, U.S. Third Army commander, pins the Silver Star on Private Ernest A. Jenkins of New York City for his conspicuous gallantry in the liberation of Chateaudun, France, October 13, 1944.”

During most of the last three decades of my employment history, I enjoyed an income that allowed me to purchase many firearms that I did not really need. (Admittedly, a few were purchased with the rationalization that they might make good loaner guns for students who had not yet purchased handguns of their own.) For most of the last decade, however, most of my handgun purchases have been duplicate, triplicate or quadruplicate copies of those guns that I actually carry.

I’ve almost outgrown the habit of casting pearls before the swine but I still can be tempted to do on occasion. The most common occasion is when someone posts in one of the very few online forums that I still visit, asking his fellow chairborne rangers which of a list of guns he should next add to his growing collection. I will usually invest a few keystrokes advising that, rather than diversifying his collection, he should determine which of his guns has been the most practical one for his daily use, then start acquiring multiple copies of it. Under the worst of circumstances, a gun used in self-defense is virtually guaranteed to vanish indefinitely into an evidence locker. Even under routine circumstances, a gun may need to go in for repair. While I’ve been blessed not to have experienced the former, I have twice gone into a safe for a duplicate copy of one of my carry guns that was about to get shipped off for repair. Life is much easier when the replacement gun fits the same holster and your presumably well developed reflexes. Sadly, I’ve yet to have anyone thank me for that advice. My view is that it’s best to find one good design that works for you, then rather than continuing to search for a perfect one, take the steps to ensure that you’ll always have access to a copy of the good one.

Getting back to George Patton… While he did occasionally switch handguns and mode of carry, from my reading, his most constant companion – at least in the WWII years –was the Colt .380 Pocket Model of 1908 – probably issued as a General Officer’s Pistol –which he reportedly carried in an inside breast pocket. While he did use his ivory-gripped Colt Single Action Army revolver in a fight during the 1916 Punitive Expedition into Mexico, my impression is that, by WWII, his open carry of that revolver – paired with an ivory-gripped, registered, 3½” S&W .357 Magnum – was mostly for show.

Image Credit: Office of War Information via Wikipedia.