Arming My Daughter: A Defensive Handgun Trainer’s Personal Tale

Experiencing the reality that “a daughter is a treasure and a cause for sleeplessness,” the author determined to equip one of his own with the firearm skills necessary to survive in a harsh, unforgiving world.

by
posted on September 11, 2023
Justin Dyal and daughter

The father-daughter relationship is one of life’s most rewarding. When folks wistfully say how kids “grow up fast,” it is a universal truth that comes most clearly into focus only in hindsight. I can now see that there are overlapping phases of fatherhood. The first was to love, protect and provide for the young girls in my care—in my case, two of them. The second phase snuck up on me: to prepare each young woman to be an independent, successful adult. One not-insignificant part of that was teaching the girls to be responsible for their own safety and to have the means to defend themselves.

My oldest daughter, Laney, is finishing up college and is about to move on to a job in another state. She is an amazing young woman with many talents and a wide world of opportunity ahead of her. However, the world she is stepping into is not as safe and secure as any of us would wish it to be. She recently asked for some defensive-shooting practice and is considering whether she would like to get a concealed-carry permit. Of course, I was genuinely happy to oblige.

We set a date or two, and I began to think the situation over. It occurred to me that this was not just a range session but a major milestone. On the one hand, it was just me and my girl on the range, me sharing a skill that has brought me joy for as long as I can remember and professional satisfaction over my entire adult life, and her putting a more practical bent on the shooting skills she gained from plinking in her youth. But, deeper than this, I realized that somewhere there between the hot brass and powder smoke, we were acknowledging a transfer of responsibility. I could no longer be the protector; she was forthrightly accepting that burden to defend herself. The thought hit me hard—the preparatory phase was rapidly ending, whether she or I was ready for it.

Justin Dyal and Laney Dyal

In a perfect world, I would wish to prepare my girls much as I did the Marines I prepared for combat deployments—a week for advanced casualty care and world-class instruction on survival, combatives, evasive driving, off-road recovery, etc. How nice it would have been to somehow jam six months or a year in between college semesters and double down on all of the skills a paranoid father might wish to cover!

But the reality is that the available time and attention for many things is often cursory, so the only hedge against that reality is to start early, such that repetition lends familiarity and confidence. Childhood seems to conspire to leave a maddeningly small window between “too young to understand or learn” and “too busy to be interested or available.”

Releasing a young adult “into the wild” carries a good deal of soul-searching and stress along with it; did we teach her ABC or XYZ well enough? For a concerned parent, there is peril everywhere. In the space of writing this project, the girls had minor mishaps involving jumper cables and dead batteries, stovetop fires and more, which exposed my preparatory lessons as perhaps less thorough than required. The counterbalance is that none of us was quite ready for real life when we started clumsily living it, either, and the girls’ recent misadventures made for both the best stories and the strongest impetus to learn.

The ancient scribe Sirach wrote, “A daughter is a treasure and a cause for sleeplessness.” It is often hard for me to look at this exceptional young woman and see anything other than the 4-year-old image of her, my inseparable companion with much of her adult personality already visible. Seeing her go is going to be hard; however, I suspect that knowing she has the knowledge and tools to protect herself will help with the sleeplessness part.

Laney Dyal shootingRange Comparisons
When Laney came to me with the desire to practice defensive shooting with a carry-size pistol, the gun guy in me saw a unique opportunity. While she is familiar with shooting, she is not an enthusiast. She is petite—with small hands and not a lot of hand strength. I saw the opportunity to have her dispassionately shoot a simple scenario that would both serve as practice and allow me to compare her performance with three similar-size pistols in different chamberings: .22 Long Rifle, .380 ACP and 9 mm Luger. Many enthusiasts are often asked by petite women, arthritic seniors or novice non-shooters about the “best” carry gun. The replies are often long on conjecture and short on first-hand observation. Here was a chance to see what performance differences might show up with a great exemplar of a first-time buyer—in this case, a young woman with some basic shooting experience.

We headed to the range for a little science project. Laney warmed up with a .22 until she was feeling confident, and then we set up the test scenario. From 3 yards, she was to begin aimed in on the target—an 8" circle. On the shot timer’s signal, she would fire three shots as quickly as she could into the circle. We recorded the times for each run and repeated it enough times to get a pattern of performance.

There is an urban legend that the average defensive shooting is three rounds fired at about 3 yards and that it lasts fewer than three seconds. I’ve never been able to validate this old truism’s source or study its veracity, but the scenario has a simplicity and relevance that make for a starting point for defensive practice. Certainly, self-defense is a close-range affair, often uncomfortably so. If a young woman must fire to stop an attacker as a desperate last attempt, then the ability to rapidly and accurately place multiple rounds matters.

We tried the scenario with three pistols: a Walther P22 in .22 Long Rifle; a Glock 42 in .380 ACP with an extended magazine to allow for a full grip; and a Langdon Tactical Technologies custom Springfield Hellcat in 9 mm Luger. Each is roughly comparable in size. My daughter was able to shoot all three pistols quite well from a relaxed two-handed hold in slow fire. She fired nearly identical groups centered within a 3" square sticky note at 7 yards with each pistol; you definitely wouldn’t want to challenge her to a plinking contest with any of the three pistols.

The easy-to-shoot little Walther rimfire, with its minimal muzzle blast and low recoil, was used as a baseline to establish what was possible as an “ideal.” While some folks may rely on a .22 LR for self-defense, I am still wary as to whether rimfire ammunition will have the absolute reliability I expect from centerfire.

We collected data on two range days with the results averaged in the accompanying table. We used a shot timer to measure the total time and the time to recover the pistol in between each successive shot (“split” time in shooter’s vernacular). Even though she was attempting to hit the 8" circle with each shot, firing the micro pistols at speed led to some impacts wide of the mark. The illustration above simplifies the results down to a 10-shot group average of the larger data sets per chambering.

Results On An 8" Target At 3 YardsIn general, the results in both speed and accuracy degraded as the pistol/ammunition combination increased in power. The performance gap between .22 LR and .380 ACP was much smaller than I anticipated, while the gap between the .380 ACP and 9 mm Luger was significant. There were numerous strings where my daughter could have fired two well-placed shots with the .380 in the space of time it took to recover the Hellcat and fire a shot that had a strong likelihood of flying wide. The micro-compact 9 mms are remarkable little pistols and they sell like crazy, but they can be a handful. Her most successful runs with the Hellcat came at a more deliberate tempo where she was able to focus on gripping the pistol with more force and recovering the sights fully before breaking the next shots.

My daughter’s subjective response to her ability to manipulate and employ the pistols went from “full confidence” in the .22 to “very confident” in the .380 and to “less confident” in the 9 mm Luger. She could retract the slide on the Hellcat with deliberate effort and control the recoil with focused concentration, but, at that point in the training, it was a little intimidating. I’ve worked with enough women shooters to know that, with time and effort, she could gain more confidence in the micro 9, but at the time, it was a tough sell. She was happy to shoot the .380 and enjoyed it, while with the 9 mm she wanted to shoot only enough to gather the data.

I’ve felt that the red-hot market trends of pocket-size .380s and micro 9s have left somewhat fewer choices in the “in-between” micro or compact, locked-breech .380 category. The results with the extended-grip G42 here suggest that such a platform has solid potential for less-experienced shooters and those with smaller hands or diminished grip strength. Maybe there was something to the “ancient wisdom” of small, steel-frame .32 ACPs and .380 ACPs in this application after all.

To bookend the data, I shot the same simple test with all three pistols. Of course, as a more experienced shooter with large hands, I found no meaningful distinction between the three guns. I was able to place hits tightly within the circle as fast as I could work the trigger with all three. In fact, I was most confident with the Hellcat, as it had the best trigger and fit my hand slightly better than the even-smaller-frame P22 and G42.

As Laney and I were working on defensive practice, her solid foundation in safety, handling and marksmanship allowed her to easily focus on the more urgent tempo and application. I was thankful that she had a strong grounding in casual shooting and operating full-size plinking and target pistols. This allowed her to adapt to the micro pistols safely, although it took a magazine or two to get accustomed to the smaller handguns. She was able to focus on the simple 3-yard/3-round defensive scenario with relative ease and less stress than would otherwise have been the case.

SHOOTING averages, laney Dyal (3 Yards)

In a pinch, she may have been able to make do with a defensive pistol in an emergency simply from our range sessions in her youth, however, following our sessions, she now has far greater confidence. Laney said that the many repetitions of the simple test scenario helped her in several ways. She gained confidence in operating the pistols in an emergency scenario, which she told me gave her far more peace of mind in actually having a handgun of her own. She also began to feel that, rather than simply being able to shoot well, she could actually defend herself with such a tool.

SHOOTING averages, Justin Dyal (3 Yards)

For a young woman who is sweet and kind, I also saw flashes of fighting spirit in many of those drill repetitions. As a father, it was this flash of resolve that gave me peace of mind. I could sense that she had acknowledged the world in its imperfect state and was claiming her natural right to protect herself. I’ve had many range days—this was one of many milestones where I’ve been a proud father.


Note: The author would like to thank Joe Mobley for graciously allowing the use of his farm for testing and photography.

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