handgun grips

Why Handgun Grips and Ergonomics Matter

As it turns out, ergonomics is a legitimate scientific field attached to product development and when applied to topics like handgun grips, it’s used to incorporate a human-based understanding of the capabilities and limitations attached to a given firearm.

It’s not just a way to justify weirdly shaped keyboards.

According to the American Psychological Association, ergonomics became an actual concern and picked up proclivity as a science during World War II in order to improve the performance and safety in military systems like aircrafts and large-scale weapons, and because of work in this area of this field by early researchers, this globally recognized science expanded into space systems, consumer products and industrial systems.

Handguns were also impacted by this science.

The Impact of Ergonomics on Handgun Grips

pistol grips

Hal Hendrick, a past president of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, which is a scientific community in the world of ergonomics that releases a peer-reviewed journal, co-authored a book that touched on the ergonomics of handgun grips.

The method by which a handgun fires a round of ammunition is an interconnected system of separate features all interacting and mingling in a way that hopefully improves effective shot placement.

The interaction between grip size and hand size will have an effect on finger placement on the trigger.

Hendrick explains in his book, “Too small a grip size can result in a right-handed shooter placing too much finger on the trigger, thus pulling the gun to the right when firing. Alternately, too large a grip may result in the shooter placing too little finger on the trigger, thereby pushing the gun to the left.” And vice versa for lefties.

Of course, size, weight, training and other components will factor into accuracy, but grips are not always one size fits all. Many handgun manufacturers, like Beretta with its APX, will ship interchangeable backstrap options in small, medium and larger sizes to accommodate different sized hands.

Proper hand placement on the backstrap will also factor into maximizing leverage when racking a slide, making the right size a priority. Many grips have an indentation to tightly position in the “V” between the thumb and index finger, which is a way to help mitigate recoil while minding the slide.

Ergonomics come into play when all the variables of proper grip come into play, because the recoil will subsequently be absorbed into the arm and body as opposed to jerking the hand in an unnatural way.

“Typically, if a hand is too small for a given firearm, the thumb supports the center rear of the grip and is pushed backward at the time of recoil. If a hand is too big, the center rear portion of the grip usually is seated into the palm of the hand, and the wrist is pushed back at the time of recoil,” according to Hendrick.

This will impact the firearm’s position in the hand and therefore the support the shooter has on the weapon. That alteration, if unwieldy, will affect the handgun’s alignment with the eye and potentially minutely sway the direction of fire.

A support hand will play a role in the shot as well, obviously.

The grip angle will change between firearms and affect how the barrel is directed and the position the arm/body must compensate to. Some grips will be at 18 degrees off square, others like competition pistols are as high as 50 to 60 degrees.

The weight of the trigger and the distance it must travel before breaking also play a role in ergonomics.

The Ergonomics of Trigger Control and Bodily Interaction with the Firearm

ergonomic pistol grip

Trigger control, while internally a mechanical process, is intrinsically an interaction between the shooter and the firearm and therefore is affected by human conditions.

A simple example: hand strength.

Trigger pull weight is the amount of pounds of weight necessary to discharge a firearm, and will differ with types of trigger action. The weight of a trigger pull can play a factor into measure of intent in legal battles, with heavier triggers showing more of a mindset to actually fire, not negligently discharge, because of the effort required to engage the handgun.

Beyond a legal perspective, the maneuver of pulling the trigger backward will be determined and impacted by how hard that action is for different demographics.

The movement of the trigger finger is one portion of the equation, but the entire bodily process of firing a round of ammunition or emptying an entire magazine at the range is an interplay between muscles, bone, gun and bullet.

Bracing the body for recoil too early or more than necessary can affect accuracy. Losing the front sight or not being able to accurately line it up with the target will negatively impact shot placement and grouping.

Even the shape of the trigger guard will factor into placement and passive retention within a given holster. Accessibility is another ergonomics form factor. How far is the safety from the thumb, is it able to be easily engaged and is it ambidextrous? What about magazine releases?

The carrier should think about these matters when considering one handgun over another, but this is by no means the sum total of all ergonomics on a handgun.

As previously mentioned, it’s an entire science within the industry, but that doesn’t mean the average everyday carrier can’t study and apply practical knowledge.

Jake Smith  

About The Author

Jake Smith (@notjakesmith) is a copywriter in his final year of studying public relations and apparel at the University of Idaho.

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