Truths and myths about handguns in combat

A handgun is a close support weapon that is slowly losing its place in the military arsenals around the world


A question posted recently on Quora asked, "Does the military use handguns in combat?" Take a look at the answers below and add your own thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

By Jon Mixon, USAF Vet

A handgun is a close support weapon that is slowly losing its place in the military arsenals around the world.

A United States Army soldier in 2009 demonstrates the usage of his Beretta M9 sidearm
A United States Army soldier in 2009 demonstrates the usage of his Beretta M9 sidearm (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Why?

1. Range - Few people can routinely and accurately hit targets with a handgun over 50 yards away. Inside of that distance, you are probably going to be either shot and killed or overrun by a charging enemy.

2. Impact energy - Rifles hit harder than pistols. Since the advent of better carbine rifles (short barreled rifles) it's simply better to use this type of weapon across a range of offensive/defensive options than using a smaller weapon which won't strike your target with as much kinetic energy.

3. Different types of ammunition - Handguns require that different types of ammunition be stockpiled and distributed. Short barreled rifles chambered in the same rounds as the full-sized battlefield weapon minimize the logistics and costs issues related to this.

4. Training time - Simply put, it takes longer to train someone to shoot a handgun accurately than it does a rifle. That time differential decreases the desirability of a handgun in many military units.

While some people (particularly many officers and pilot/aviators) might continue to carry handguns into the future, overall we are likely to see the majority of these quietly disappear in favor of carbines chambered in the same rounds as the military force's primary battlefield weapon.

By Nick Layon

Yes, but they are not, nor have they ever been, a primary weapon to engage the enemy with. 

Pistols are for fighting your way to your rifles, and rifles are for engaging. Pistols and other sidearms will always have a place, and are not being phased out in any capacity, but they are not primary systems used to engage the enemy.

By Paul Mulwitz, Air Force veteran

Hand guns are ideal weapons for people to carry when they don't really expect to use them.

When I was in the USAF I saw two common uses of hand guns. One was security guards whose job was mostly to examine people entering their area and review their security badges. The other was a detail performed by lower ranking officers acting as couriers. By strapping on a pistol these people could be armed without using too much of their capability or attention. Instead the pistol just sat there in their holster where it could be accessed if needed but the need was something that rarely if ever came up.

For military members who expect to shoot at enemies there are much more effective weapons. These include assault rifles and battle rifles as well as sniper rifles. Pistols can only compete with these rifles in convenience to carry. They have much shorter effective range and less effectiveness as weapons.

The same idea applies to civilians who carry a weapon as well. A hunter or serious combatant will choose a long gun over a pistol in nearly all cases. However, a policeman carries a pistol for years without ever using it.

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