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Hand size counts in safe handgun use

A surprising number of handguns are not safe for most female and some male users

Selection and use of handguns by police officers have serious safety ramifications, given the purpose and power of a handgun. If a police officer fires a handgun at someone, he or she must be able to draw, aim, and fire the weapon repeatedly, avoid injury from recoil, and hit what is aimed at. Although this group of events may not be "safe" for the person being aimed at, it constitutes safe operation from the officer's perspective. Any other outcome may injure innocent bystanders, expose the police officer to injury from recoil or from the subject, or allow the subject to escape.

I have served as a consultant in two lawsuits involving female plaintiffs, each of whom had applied for employment to police departments. Both claimed that a condition of employment was to qualify with a specific model of handgun and that the handgun in question was too large for safe operation. In each case it was found that the handgun was too large for the plaintiff to position her hand in the proper firing position (to be described next), and neither handgun could be fired safely.

In this article, I address the importance of the proper match between a handgun and its user's hand, describe a critical anthropometric dimension of the hand, and present a step-by-step method for selecting handguns.

Safe Hand Placement

In addition to other ergonomics considerations, the size of the police officer's hand is especially important in the proper use and selection of a handgun, because size, unlike strength, cannot be changed. To shoot safely, the hand must be positioned so the thumb crotch (the web between the thumb and index finger) is on the center of the backstrap (the rear of the handle) and the distal pad of the index finger (the pad beyond the last knuckle) is on the centerline of the trigger. The part of the distal pad in question is the part close to the distal
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Contact: Lois Smith
lois@hfes.org
310-394-1811
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society
5-Feb-2001


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