Cognitive Handgun Dissonance

Guns | Handguns |
What Do You Do When The Handgun You Like
Best Is Not The One You Shoot Best?

By Massad Ayoob
Photos: Gail Pepin

Online encyclopedia Wikipedia tells us, “In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, performs an action that is contradictory to one or more beliefs, ideas or values, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values. Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance focuses on how humans strive for internal consistency. An individual who experiences inconsistency (dissonance) tends to become psychologically uncomfortable, and is motivated to try to reduce this dissonance—as well as actively avoid situations and information likely to increase it.”

I’ve been reminded of this the last couple of years in one of my favorite competition shooting venues, the GLOCK Sport Shooting Foundation matches, in which I’ve consistently turned in my best scores in Pocket category, which began with the tiny G42 .380, and in 2015 was expanded to include the slim little G43 9mm. I tried the 43 in Pocket GLOCK at the Salt Lake City GSSF match in 2015, and didn’t do as well with it as I had the previous year with the 42.

Now, ya gotta understand, I’m the guy who said, “Friends don’t let friends carry mouse guns.” An adult lifetime of studying these things all the way back to the .380 ACP cartridge’s introduction circa 1908 (I wasn’t there then, I just look like I was, but there are artifacts to study) showed me why the .380 was just too feeble to count on to stop a fight, the occasional success notwithstanding. GLOCK took this into consideration with their GSSF rules: only in the Pocket GLOCK category is a hit on the plate good enough to count, while in every other category the plate has to be knocked down or you get 10 seconds per plate added to your time. This, I respectfully submit, tells us the .380 is a bit on the iffy side.

But, when five or more matches in a row showed me finishing better with the .380 than with anything else, including the .45 caliber G30 I shot in Major Sub and turned in about the same scores with, and I won two or three guns and a first place Pocket GLOCK overall in Clearwater, Fl., in 2015, I had to ask myself: “Aauugghh! What’s wrong with me?!?”


Spent hull near the ejection port, muzzle on target shows controllability
of G42 during a Pocket GLOCK Match, Orlando, Florida.

Let’s flash back almost half a century ago, to when I was a fledgling bull’s-eye pistol shooter in my late teens. I was there to learn. The 1911 already dominated Centerire Fire and .45 back then, but there was a fairly even popularity split in the .22 category between the High Standard Supermatic and the Smith & Wesson Model 41. Then (as always, I think) shooting champions were gracious with their advice to newcomers, and I remember asking one of the great champs, “Why did you choose the S&W over the High Standard?” What surprised me most about his answer was the way he said it, as if the question had tormented him and I had been the first to ask him why. “I like the High Standard better,” he said, almost desperately. “It fits my hand better. I even like the trigger better. But I shoot better with the Smith!”

And there were others who told me just the opposite. But you know what? When they used the one they shot better instead of the one they just liked better, they won. And there was a lesson there, too.

Back when I shot a lot of PPC matches, the K-Frame Smith & Wesson revolver fit my hand better than the Colt, Ruger or Dan Wesson. But, in 4-inch-barrel service revolver events, I discovered I shot my Moran Custom Colt Python better than my Smiths, so I went with the Colt, and won several state shoots with it. Pachmayr Presentation grips felt better in my hand than the finger-grooved Hogues cut to the backstrap of the frame, but on the range I learned my scores were just a little bit higher with the latter, so I went to the Hogues, and never had reason to regret it.

We’re seeing a lot of momentum today with folks switching from .40 S&W, .357 SIG, and .45 to the milder 9mm, on the grounds that better hits faster with a smaller caliber are better than poorer and/or slower hits with a larger bullet. If that’s the case for the individual shooter, the transition to the 9mm makes good sense. Going down to .380 is, however, a different deal. Notice no American police department issues a .380 to patrol officers. A lot of people shoot a .22 better than a centerfire, too, but in perspective, that doesn’t make the .22 a better defense gun. As the argument applies in the .380 power range, it’s largely a matter of degree.


Mas scores as high or higher shooting a G42 .380 (above, top gun) with
Tru-Glo tritium fiber optic sights and Tuff1 grip sleeve, than with
his custom Robar Custom G30S .45, (above, bottom gun).

In my case, I honestly can’t say I shoot the .380 better than the .45 in GSSF. With a stock G30 or G30 SF in the Major Sub division, the same course of fire as Pocket GLOCK (one shot per paper target, seven shots at six steel plates), my .45 scores hover neck and neck with my G42 tallies. However, those scores seem to place higher in Pocket GLOCK. The .380 is actually too small for my hand and I have to grasp it carefully, and differently from other GLOCKs, though when I do my finger is deeper onto the trigger and I have more flesh and bone wrapped around the grip, both of which work well for me. This may be why my two favorite GLOCK .45s have the grips thinned, an early 30 by Rick Devoid and a 30S by ROBAR. Alas, so modified, neither is eligible for Major Sub competition.

For now, I’ll try to learn the lessons. And seek therapy. Maybe 1,000 rounds of .45 ACP will help me replace the testosterone depleted by finishing higher with a .380 than with a .45.

GLOCK Sport Shooting Foundation
6000 Highlands Pkwy
Smyrna, GA 30082
(770) 437-4718

The Robar Companies, Inc.
21438 North 7th Ave, Suite B
Phoenix, AZ 85027
(623) 581-2648

Tarnhelm Supply Co.
431 High Street
Boscawen, NH, 03303
(603) 796-2551

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