I’m right handed. Righties take the world, most of which was built by right-handed people, totally for granted. Books open the right, er, correct way, scissors are designed for right handed people, zippers work better for righties, pens don’t smearing, etc. Any left-hander will go on and on, usually good naturedly, about the tribulations of being left-handed. My mother and my brother are left handed and I’ve heard it all.
Shooting is no different. The vast majority of guns are designed for righties.
On most firearms, most, if not all the controls are on the left-hand side of the firearm, designed to be manipulated with the thumb and non-shooting fingers of the shooting hand. The slide stop is a simple thumb-operation most righties, again, take for granted. Most safety-equipped firearms are also designed as a right thumb-switch.
Roughly 90% of the world is right-handed. So, unless you’re at a left-handed convention (they actually exist) or one of those kitschy left-handed stores, any subset or subculture of the population will likely be about 90% right-handed.
So what’s a lefty to do?
Well, the news isn’t all bad. Hell, Gander Mountain has an entire section of the web-store dedicated to the southpaw. So does Bud’s Gun Shop. Many, if not all, of the very popular and well-respected Smith & Wesson M&P line have ambidextrous controls. FNH has left handed options. If you want to drop some serious coin on a sexy, sexy 1911, Cabot offers the South Paw. (I’ve never fired a Cabot but word on the streets is they’re exquisite. If you want to buy one, I’ll shoot it with you. Seriously. Buy one. Then call me.) There are also no shortage of after-market retrofit parts for lots of makes and models to make things more convenient for the lefty.
Like everything else in the gun industry these days, the array of choices is staggering.
It’s easy for my right-handed self to say this and I’m sure it’ll tick my mom off (sorry, mom) but here goes: You don’t need a left-handed gun. In fact, dear Lefty, if the purpose of your learning to shoot is for self-defense, I would strongly advise you to NOT buy a left-handed gun. If you’re not fuming at my right-handed privilege, please, read on.
As a right-handed instructor, it’s quite common to have a left-handed novice walk in. The discussion usually goes something like this:
Them: “I want to learn to shoot but I’m left-handed.”
Me: “You’re in the right place.”
Them: (hopefully) “Oh, you have left-handed guns?”
Them: “But I need a gun for lefties. I can’t use a right-handed gun.”
Them: “Lefties can’t use right-handed guns.”
Me: [picks up gun with my left hand, demonstrates manual of arms (locking slide to rear, racking slide, magazine manipulation, etc.) on a right-handed gun, but left-handed.]
Them: “YOU’RE LEFT HANDED!!!”
It’s always a disappointment for them to learn that I’m not, in fact, left-handed. In fact, it’s fairly well known that left-handed people can’t be firearms instructors (KIDDING). But as an instructor, I’ve had to learn to overcome the “left-handed curse” so I can instruct the lefties of the world. If I, as a rightie, can do it, you can do it.
Self-defense is one of those areas where I don’t think you should use crutches. Yes, I’m risking losing what readership I have left by saying that left-handed guns are crutches. Hear me out. You’re limiting yourself to a very small percentage of the gun-world by insisting on a left-handed myopia. What happens, my left-handed friends, when, God forbid, you find yourself in a life-or-death situation you have to shoot your way out of and the only gun available is your buddy’s bone stock Glock 19? You’ve spent hours on the range honing your skills with a left-hand gun or a left-hand modified gun. In that moment of sheer-terror-fueled adrenaline overload you now also have to figure out how to return the slide to battery or drop a magazine to reload. Because on your gun, the controls are on the other side… Okay – so that’s not very likely. More often then not, you’ll find yourself on the range with your buddies (90% of which will be right-handed) and they’ll all have right handed guns. Or, equally likely (and I’ve seen this happen) you’ll talk yourself into a lesser firearm which has left-hand accommodations because the better gun (and, let’s face it, the gun you really want) doesn’t. I had a student not a month ago talk herself out of a Sig P938 – an incredibly good gun – because it wasn’t available in left-handed configuration.
Now, listen carefully: I’m not saying learn to shoot right-handed at all. You’re still going to be using your left hand to squeeze the trigger. I’m suggesting you learn to do the manual of arms, that is, to run the gun, right handed.
Here are the top three things I’ve seen lefties struggle with when shooting righties’ guns:
- Slide manipulation
- Magazine manipulation
- Safety manipulation (if applicable)
That’s it – notice: it’s just the administrative stuff. Nothing at all having to do important stuff – firing the gun. And with just little bit of training, you can develop the necessary muscle memory to pick up and shoot any ol’ right-handed gun.
This is usually the hardest one for people for some reason, despite being the easiest to work around. I mean, you really don’t have to do much slide manipulation using the slide stop, right? The only times you really need to lock the slide back are a) on ranges that require it and b) to actuate the takedown pin on some guns. Most guns will slide-lock to the rear on an empty magazine so, in a pinch, pop an empty mag in and pull the slide back. Wait… you’re not talking about releasing the slide are you? If you’re using the slide STOP as a slide RELEASE, right-handed or left-handed, that’s a habit you need to break. Now. Slingshot the slide as I discussed here.
Even still, here are three easy techniques to lock the slide of a standard, right-handed gun to the rear as a left-handed shooter. I apologize for both the quality and subject of the photos below. My hands look really old…
- Trigger Finger Bump: As you pull the slide back with your right hand, take your left index (or trigger) finger which, as you know, should be straight since you’re not actively shooting and use the right side of your finger to push the slide stop up as you’re pulling the slide. This takes a little bit of practice but becomes second nature quickly.
- Over Hand Grab: Grab the slide at about the ejection port (this will be different on each gun, depending on where
the slide stop is) with your right hand and pull it backward. Using the fingers of your right hand, reach down and lift the slide stop.
- Empty Magazine: Like I mentioned above, put an empty magazine in the magazine well and pull the slide back. On 99 out of 100 firearms, this will lock the slide to the rear. Drop the magazine. For what it’s worth, this is a technique I use to help many shooters shooters with bad grip strength regardless of dominant hand.
Unless you’re shooting a gun with what I’ll call a “non-standard” mag release button (H&K, I’m looking in your direction), it’s just aft of the trigger on the left hand side. You can depress this release with either your shooting hand or support hand.
- Strong hand: My least favorite of the two because it requires you to use your trigger finger and apply pressure in the vicinity of the trigger guard. Basically, you simply pinch the backstrap of the pistol in the “vee” of your shooting hand such that you can bend your trigger finger enough to depress the mag release.
- Support hand: Depress the mag release be inserting the index finger of the support hand
into the “notch” created between the trigger finger and middle finger of your left (shooting) hand.
Safety manipulation depends on the firearm. Most of my guns don’t have manual safeties but many popular guns, like the 1911, have safeties integral to their safe use. They’re usually on the aft portion of the slide and many come from the factory ambidextrous, so they’re not AS much of a problem for lefties. Find a technique that works for you: either the shooting hand or support hand thumb.
Whatever you do – don’t over look the safety. Far too often I see shooters, right- and left-handed alike, at the range with, say, their 1911 carry gun training with the safety off. Wrong answer – if your gun requires a safety in normal (read: non-range) applications, then you should be drilling with the safety. Again – muscle memory.
Like any other aspect of shooting, you get out of it what you put into it. All of these techniques require diligent training to build up the muscle memory required for it to be routine. Put the time in and you’ll never again find yourself on a range unable to shoot a really cool gun because you’re a lefty. Left-handedness is not a handicap – in fact, in many sports such as boxing and baseball, it’s seen as an advantage. Don’t let left-handedness deprive you of any of the myriad options this industry has to offer. And, most importantly, don’t let yourself train into a left-handed rut and find yourself unable to use anything BUT lefty guns! Every lefty I know is remarkably adaptable – they’ve overcome the curse of being a lefty in a right-handed world. Shooting should be no different.