Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Day I Differed With Jeff Cooper

I'm a big fan of being olde fashioned. My primary carry gun is a revolver, my only "customized" gun is a five-screw S&W Model 10, and I still consider carrying my 1911 Commander in cold weather. I own books by Jeff Cooper, and read as much as I can of him, Bill Jordan, and Elmer Kieth. Most of the time, the best ways are the old ways (when it comes to combat anyway). 

But I was reading merrily along the other day, and found this quote from the late Colonel Cooper:

“It has never been clear to me why increased magazine capacity in a defensive pistol is particularly choice. The bigger the magazine the bigger the gun, and the bigger the gun the harder it is to get hold of for people with small hands. And what, pray, does one need all those rounds for? How many lethal antagonists do you think you are going to be able to handle? Once when Bruce Nelson was asked by a suspect if the thirteen-round magazine in the P35 was not a big advantage, Bruce’s answer was, “Well, yes, if you plan to miss a lot.” The highest score I know of at this time achieved by one man against a group of armed adversaries was recorded in (of all places) the Ivory Coast! There, some years ago, a graduate student of mine laid out five goblins, with four dead and one totaled for the hospital. Of course there is the episode of Alvin York and his eight, but there is some dispute about that tale. (If you read it over very carefully you will see what I mean.) Be that as it may, I see no real need for a double column magazine. It is all the rage, of course, and like dual air bags, it is a popular current sales gimmick.”

If Elmer Kieth was "The Grand Old Man of the Gun", Jeff Cooper was "The Grumpy Grandpa of the 1911".  Cooper was a great man by any measure, and probably saw more guerilla combat than I ever did. But he got a bit myopic about his beloved 30-06 and 1911. Yes, those two firearms are still relevant and still very effective. But there are better options now, and double stack mags are a HUGE advantage. He who reloads least, wins. 

True, your average armed citizen will probably not find need for more than a handful of rounds in any given confrontation, it sure is nice to have a subcompact 9mm with 13 rounds on board. I was sure glad to have 16 rounds in my G22 when I was a police officer. And I was REALLY glad to have 30 rounds in my Colt M4 on my last tour. 

The one line in Cooper's quote that I particularly take issue with is the line about planning to miss a lot. That is a grumpy grandpa thing to say about us damn kids with our loud music and hoola-hoops. The implication being that the only reason for more than seven rounds is poor marksmanship. I'd like to see Cooper (in his prime) shoot side by side with Dave Sevigny and a G21. I think he would find that having double the capacity would indeed be an asset. Capacity can be used as a crutch. But it can be incredibly valuable because you need to reload less often. Also, if your mags carry more ammo, you can carry fewer mags and leave space for other gear or water. That's pretty important if you're on foot and deep in indian territory. 

One day, I hope I'm half the marksman Cooper was. But not as emotionally attached to any particular caliber or platform. 


Al T. said...

Got to look at things in context. I've met COL Cooper and he was a thinker. In his heyday, your choices were 9mm ball or .45 ball. Obviously, 9mm ball sucked more than .45 (but both sucked). So there really wasn't much edge to packing a 9mm. Now we have great ammo due to the FBI Wound Ballistics work after the 1986 Miami Massacre. Add to that the increased emphasis on looking at what actually works (or not) in a fight and you'll find that the "state of the art" in training and equipment is a moving train. Thirty years ago a 1911 Commander was as good as it got. Today it's adequate, but not optimum. IMHO a 9mm with good JHPs and a 15 round capacity is as good as it gets. In 2042, that's probably not going to be true...

James said...


The Flatland Gun Nut said...

I had to stop and cry a few times while I wrote this article. But I prayed at my shrine to John M Browning and I think the universe has been righted.

Al, you're a lucky man to have met the Col. in person. He died before I really got into his work. I can see why he loved the 1911 so much. Tactics and equipment have jumped by lightyears thanks to the two wars. My days of operating in operational operations are behind me for good (barring the Barackalypse), but I would at least like to stay current on what the kids are up to. And avoid emotional attachment to training dogma and platforms.