A while ago I got the following inquiry: “[a cop] called me today to ask why a small statured female cop should not be allowed to use two fingers (presumably the index fingers of both hands) to pull the trigger. … What is your view on this issue?”

Unfortunately, it isn’t all that uncommon to find a woman/gun combination where the only way she can pull the trigger is to put both index fingers on it. Sometimes the shooter can manage the trigger in the conventional manner for a while, but as fatigue sets in, trigger finger strength decreases below the level required to pull the trigger. At this point the two-finger shortcut is often discovered.

Is this bad? Well, it certainly isn’t good – it compromises the grip because the support-hand index finger isn’t available to assist with holding the gun steady. But it isn’t always as dangerous as the wild muzzle-waving that can occur when a barely-able-to-cope trigger finger tries to pull a heavy, double-action trigger.

Another problem with the two-finger technique is that it precludes one-handed shooting. This may not be an issue under extreme stress when adrenaline provides extra strength, but then again, it might. However, do we really want armed people on the street who can’t practice one-handed on the range? And if a woman must pass a qualification course that includes one-handed shooting, she is out of luck.

Anyone with small or weak hands who forces herself to shoot the “proper” way with one finger on the trigger has a potential problem, though. There is the possibility of seriously injuring the hand on the practice range by repeatedly stressing the trigger finger to its limit. Such injuries do not heal easily, and can compromise the use of the hand for all other activities.

The index finger can be strengthened by exercise, if the shooter is dedicated to doing this, and if she is given guidance so that she doesn’t overdo it and injure her hand while exercising. But even if she gets stronger, she might not be able to become strong enough to handle the gun easily, and that is likely to result in poor performance.

If the gun is DA/SA, one way to avoid the heavy DA pull is to thumb-cock or slide-cock the gun before the first shot. This is a bit slower, and takes two hands, but is likely to make up in accuracy and confidence what is lost in time. A compromise might be to have the shooter normally use this technique, but occasionally fire the first shot DA so that she knows she can do it one-handed if absolutely necessary.

The problem might not be just the trigger weight, but a combination of a heavy trigger and a long reach to the trigger (the distance from the backstrap to the trigger face precludes using the trigger finger pad or first joint to pull the trigger smoothly). Both trigger reach and weight must be taken into account when a gun is properly fitted.

The best solution is simply to use another gun, one better suited to her hand size and strength. I realize that this advice is easier to give private citizens, who have plenty of options in their choice of firearms, than police, who are often bound by department policy to a single gun.

If you can’t pull the trigger with control any other way, in an emergency it is probably safer and more accurate to fire with two fingers on the trigger than one, but it is better to get a gun that fits properly.

Do you own a defensive handgun that you can’t safely shoot one-handed? Get rid of it, lest you set yourself up to injure or kill someone other than your intended target. There’s no excuse for carrying a gun that you have to shoot with 2 fingers; that would be negligence on a scale to make a trial lawyer’s eyes gleam.

Suppose you are in a situation where you (unarmed) are accosted by a man with a gun, and during the attack he drops the gun, and you pick it up. If he continues to threaten your life with his bare hands or some other weapon, you are justified in shooting him. If he has an unmaintained .38 revolver with a 14 pound trigger that you just can’t operate in the normal way, I think you are entirely justified in putting two index fingers on the trigger to get the job done, and nobody will be able to accuse you later of knowingly carrying a weapon you could not handle.

Police have another set of problems that can be imposed by unreasonable standards. Any police department whose stated policy forces a small-statured officer to use a firearm in an unsafe manner is setting itself up for a lawsuit (either from the woman herself, or from someone involved in the unfortunate injury or death that takes place because she either couldn’t deploy her gun when needed or because it wasn’t safe when she did).

As long as there is a gun of adequate stopping power that she can handle safely and qualify with, she ought to be allowed to train with it, qualify with it, and carry it. Anything else is a major safety and liability problem.

Personally, I see nothing wrong with a female cop on the street carrying an “old fashioned” 1911 cocked and locked, if she is competent with it. She might have to train longer to become expert with the single action gun, but if she does reach, and maintain, that competence, she (and the public) are much safer than if she was carrying a DAO that she can’t control.

Police are allowed to adjust the seats in their patrol cars forward and back – nobody would dream of insisting that a 6’6″ officer drive with the seat in the same position as someone 5’6″. Why should they assume that a single gun can be adequate for all officers?

In fact, most departments permit detectives and plainclothes officers to carry guns that are different from street officers, so why shouldn’t street officers be allowed to use those same guns, if they can qualify with them?

It isn’t just the smaller people who can have problems with gun fit and trigger control. I’ve seen small guns that were highly dangerous and inaccurate in very large (male) hands that couldn’t get and maintain a solid shooting grip.

Bottom line: Don’t shoot with 2 fingers on the trigger unless it is an absolute emergency; get a gun that fits. Don’t injure yourself by using ill-fitting equipment, or by exercising improperly to try to strengthen your hands. There are many guns on the market that have female-friendly triggers. Don’t you deserve one?

This article was reprinted from Women&Guns magazine, Mar-Apr, 2002, Copyright © 2002, Lyn Bates