By, Joel Rosenberg (Joel is an author, firearms instructor and defender of our Second Amendment rights.
Let's start at the beginning. If you're going to shoot something -- and let's start off with paper targets, say, at 15 feet -- one obvious way to do it is to use the gun's sights. You grip the gun with your strong hand, wrap your weak hand around the strong hand (this gives you a solid hold on the gun) and bring the gun up, into your zone of vision. You align your dominant eye with the front sight and the back sight, and adjust the way you hold your gun until the front sight and the back sight are lined up with the target.
You pull straight back on the trigger, not changing the way the gun is lined up, and . . .
bang -- the bullet (travelling at close enough to a flat trajectory for our purposes) hits the target where you're aiming it, assuming that the sights are properly configured.
There are some immediate problems with that. You only have so much depth of vision to use -- depending upon how much light you have to work with how young and flexible the lenses in your eyes are, it may be a fair amount, or not very much at all -- and you're going to have to pick which one of the three things that you can see (the target, the front sight, or the back sight) to bring into closest focus. Traditional sighting techniques tell you to focus on the front sight, letting the back sight get a little bit blurry, and the target get somewhat blurrier.
There some other interesting features about this. Remember, in order to line up your good eye with the sights, if you're holding your gun out straight in front of you, you'll have to tilt your head to the right or the left to bring your good eye into line. It may help to tilt your body to one side.
Which is how we get into stances. Let's simply here, by talking about only two: the Weaver and the Isosceles.
In the Weaver stance, you turn your body slightly away from the target as the pistol is brought up to eye level, and use the two-handed grip, with your strong arm slightly flexed, the weak arm flexed more. This lets you align the sights with the target, and the pushing-forward-with-one-hand and pulling-back-with-the-other tends to operate like a set of springs, bringing the gun back roughly to where it was as you recover from the recoil. The Weaver stance looks strange, but with a little bit of practice, getting into it starts to feel natural.
Cool, so far. It's particularly handy for rapid fire -- that dynamic tension of your arms helps to snap the gun back into position very quickly.
But there's some problems with it, if you're not facing a paper target, but something, say, that's trying to kill you. For one thing, you may not have the the presence of mind to take up a strange stance. For another, you may not have the time.
And then, when it comes to what to focus on, you may not have any choice. You may simply not be able to force your eye to focus on that little metal thingamabob on the end of the pistol, letting, say, the big guy with the knife go blurry.
So, let's back up -- and just forget about a gun for the moment, and stand fifteen feet away from a wall, and pretend that there's a guy standing in front of the wall with a nasty expression on his face, and a great big machete in his hand. What would you do? (Me, I'd start running, if I could. But let's assume that you're not going to, at least not for the moment. Maybe there's no way to run. Maybe he's going to chop up the infant behind you if you do.)
The first thing that would likely happen is that your eyes would lock on the threat -- the guy and the machete, or probably just the machete. You wouldn't instinctively cock your head away from that, to bring your good eye into line -- you're a binocular creature, and your hindbrain is clamoring for as much information about the threat as it can get.
You've also got some other reflexes going. That little lizard brain curled up around the hippocampus is giving out "fight or flight" messages, and even if you've decided to stand there, it's telling you that you've got to be able to either attack or flee, so your strong leg goes back just about half a step to enable you to either launch yourself at the guy, or (more likely) turn and run -- it's kind of on a head start.
If you've got, say, a six-foot pole in your hands, you'll push that pole straight out toward your attacker, trying to hold him off if/when he charges -- you want something in the way of that machete.
So now, let's try that. Face the same wall, put your strong leg -- right, if you're a right-hander -- back about half a step, grap the imaginary end of that six-foot pole, and thrust it straight out, chest-height, toward the imaginary attacker, at chest height, your arms all the way out, and your elbows locked.
Congratulations. You've just stepped into the Isosceles stance (your two arms stretched straight out in front of you, together with your shoulder width, creates something approximating an Isosceles triangle), and you're doing something that's pretty much natural, under stress, and doesn't require a whole lot of practice because of that. Just for practice, assume that as he charges at you, he dodges a little to the left or the right, and try to keep that pole pointed at him. Pretty easy, no? You just swivel a little.
Now, let's put that pole away, and go back into the same stance, except, this time, let's put an imaginary gun into your hand, rather than the pole. And let's assume that your grip on the gun -- your natural, unpracticed grip -- holds this gun so that the barrel is dead level, as you push it out in front of you.
Interesting. Unless the attacker is much, much smaller than you, or much, much taller than you, your handgun -- held out straight in front of your chest -- is pointing straight at his chest. Which is, by no particular coincidence, where you'd want to shoot somebody in self-defense; it's the famous Center of Mass (why it's a good idea to shoot to Center of Mass is an essay for another day).
Now, let's put ourselves out on the range, and bring back the paper target -- of a guy with a machete. In the Isosceles stance, focus on the target, and pull the trigger. Bang -- you get a hole pretty near the center of the target, but let's say it's just a little off to the left. Think "move to the right", and your shoulders or hips turn, just a little bit, to the right, and the next shot moves to the right. (Same for up and down, although you're likely to swivel your hips for right and left, and shoulders for up and down.)
That's point shooting. You'll notice that what you're lining up is how your body points the gun, not how you see the sights. You're not dependent on being able to focus on that sight on the front . . . and, in fact, this will work even if the gun's sights point to a different place than the bullets go, or aren't there at all -- as long as the gun points well for you.
This isn't a new innovation. The pioneering work on this was done by Colonel Rex Applegate, back during WWII, by incorporating what he noticed people instinctively do under stress into his training.
In the real world, though, the Weaver stance and sighted shooting has long dominated police training, and what the cops do has long been very influential in the civilian world -- even when what the cops are doing doesn't apply to civilians, and even when it doesn't make sense for cops.
There's no question that, when shooting at paper targets, particularly as the distances get longer, you can get smaller, tighter groups of shots with the sights. Beyond, say, 25 feet, point shooting gets less and less accurate, and there are few people who can reliably hit a man-sized target at, say 25 yards with point shooting. As a practical matter, it's very easy to measure somebody's proficiency when shooting at pieces of paper. For administrative purposes, having cops do qualifications using sights ups their scores, particularly at long distances.
As a practical matter, well, that's another thing.
For one thing, most shootings (police or civilian) take place in low-light, or worse. If it's dark enough, you can't even see the sights -- even if you'd be able to focus your eye on them rather than the threat under stress. For another thing, you probably can't focus on anything but the threat, no matter how much you've trained. (Videos of actual shootings seem to bear this out. The cops appear to always be looking at their attackers, and not at the sights, or the gun, for that matter.)
When it comes to teaching things that people might have to do under stress, I think it's likely to be a much better idea to focus on tweaking what's natural, just a little, rather than spending a lot of time on techniques that require some combination of good lighting, the time and ability to take up a funny stance, and the ability to focus on a little metal thingee hanging off the end of a gun rather than an attacker.
And that's why I'm such a strong proponent of point shooting for self-defense training.