One immense training challenge is the transfer of verbal and practical knowledge to a student who operates his or her handgun with the opposite hand than the instructor. The percentage of right-handed shooters is greater than those who shoot left-handed. If this weren’t the case, manufacturers would pay more attention to lefties. Statistically speaking, 7 to 20 percent of the overall population is left-handed. Truly ambidextrous shooters are as rare as hen’s teeth.
Use Neutral Terminology
The challenge comes with effectively communicating commands to left- and right-handed students at the same time. Terminology becomes crucial in order to keep everybody functioning in unison. In the interest of simplicity, an instructor may prefer to use “strong” when referencing the dominant hand and “support” when referencing the non-dominant hand. An acceptable alternative could simply be “dominant” and “non-dominant.” In either case, the commands are not specific to the left or right, which allows effective communication regardless of hand dominance.
A word of caution when performing movement drills with mixed-dominance students: Ensure there is sufficient space for the movement to be performed without encroaching on the space of other students. If space is limited, such as on an indoor range, segregating the lefties from the righties with an empty space between the two groups will usually accommodate the drills or exercises.
A second challenge in teaching left-handed operation of right-oriented pistols arises when instructing predominately right-handed shooters to operate their guns with their non-dominant hands. However, there are several benefits for taking this track.
In personal defense, there are no guarantees that the dominant hand will be available to employ the firearm. Injury to or occupation of the dominant hand may preclude using the “strong” hand to operate a weapon.
Competitive and sport shooters enjoy great benefits by practicing shooting and firearms operation with their support-side hands. Training with both hands increases the familiarity of performance and decreases the mental concentration necessary to carry out tasks with the non-dominant hand.
All shooters should learn and become proficient in shooting and running their sidearms with either hand, regardless of their primary purpose for owning and using a firearm.
Design Can Help or Hinder
Fundamental handgun operation can be a challenging skill to teach new students, regardless of hand dominance. Fortunately, many of the new generation, plastic-frame, striker-fired pistols feature ambidextrous controls. This makes it relatively easy to teach magazine or slide release as well as locking the slide open with the thumb of the firing hand.
Unfortunately, not everybody has the desire or opportunity to purchase an ambidextrous handgun. Firearms instructors must employ adaptable teaching methods to account for the various brands and models of handguns.
Some guns that are optimized for the right-handed shooter just won’t serve a lefty in their stock configurations and will likely need to be modified for optimal performance in the left hand of an operator. For example, the quintessential 1911-style pistol, carried in the holster cocked and locked, requires the thumb safety to be disengaged prior to firing at the intended target. There is no easy way to accomplish this for the left-handed shooter.
Likewise, the 1911 requires the use of the index finger to depress the magazine release when the pistol is being operated in the left hand. Raising or depressing the slide stop also requires the use of the left index finger. Hand size and finger length dictate the viability of using these techniques.
In the interest of simplicity, an instructor may prefer to use ‘strong’ when referencing the dominant hand and ‘support’ when referencing the non-dominant hand. An acceptable alternative could simply be ‘dominant’ and ‘non-dominant.’
Pistols like the double-action/single-action SIG Sauer present another set of challenges in manipulation. These guns feature a frame-mounted de-cocking lever and place the slide catch lever at the center of the left grip plate.
Depending on hand size and flexibility of the left index finger, the shooter may be able to use it to depress the de-cocking lever. Otherwise, digits from the opposite hand will likely be needed to perform this operation while maintaining a shooting grip. As you might imagine, mid-critical-incident isn’t necessarily an optimal time to be holding a pistol that requires both hands to safe or de-cock.
Locking the slide to the rear on pistols with the slide catch centered at or near the top of the left grip, such as the SIG Classic Line or most Glocks, is a simpler process for left-handed shooters. Draw the slide to the rear by gripping it behind the ejection port between the heel of the thumb and the index finger. This leaves the tip of the thumb free to lift the slide catch into the arresting notch of the slide when the two are aligned. The shooter may release the slide however he or she prefers, as slide release is rarely impacted by right- or left-handedness.
As firearms instructors, it is in our best interest — and that of our students — to be familiar with several handgun models. Knowing how to manipulate, articulate and demonstrate to both left- and right-handed shooters with a variety of equipment is crucial to everyone’s continued success.