Of Gangsters and Duellists


I’ve never considered a correlation between the stereotypical sideways grip of a gangster and a dueling, but the article below makes such a thought plausible:

Super Modified Gangster Grip:
Matt Steele teaches the Gangster Grip, Modified Gangster Grip and Super Modified Gangster Grip.

Jon Davis, a Marine Corps weapons instructor, posted a long article on Quora in which he suggested that gangsters hold their gun sideways due to the mistaken belief that you can aim faster that way …


I am a former Marine Corps marksmanship instructor. I specialized in pistols and have fired these weapons thousands of times. That said, the thought has crossed my mind. The answer didn’t come to me until another coach (from the “hood”) gave me a good reason why this technique would be used. In practice it actually does utilize one very important sighting practice, but fails overall. This is a good idea in theory, but fails miserably in the actual execution.

My theory is that gangsters shoot poorly on purpose. They need to be seen to be dangerous to both their comrades and to their enemies but the cost of actually killing someone is very high (prison and/or retaliation).

If a gangster is obliged to shoot at another gangster, he is much better off not just missing but also signalling to his opponent that he is not trying to actually trying to kill him. Holding a pistol sideways like an idiot is one way to signal intent to miss. Holding an AR-15 with an EOTech while wearing a ballistic vest signals the opposite.

The practice of shooting at someone with the intention of missing goes back to the days of duels. To delope is to throw away a shot. Alexander Hamilton infamously let it be known that he intended to delope during his duel with Vice President Aaron Burr, but Burr shot him dead anyway.


Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky’s duel by Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin [ Many thanks to jdun1911 & mrsatyre for emailing me the tip. ]

 There are different systems of honor that many of us would not consider honorable in the least, but honor is a subjective concept. We must accept, or at least acknowledge that there are different codes (Pirate code, honor among thieves, etc.) that are incompatible with our particular moral beliefs. Truth may be absolute, but morals and honor are interpretable.

But back to the article, why use a flimsy, inaccurate grip as a way to delope? It’s not spelled out in the article above, but it is a way to save face while maintaining that hardcore “gangsta” persona. It’s primal. It is staring in the face of death and hoping ones adversary desires life as well.

Historically, most duels were a show of honor that one hoped would not result in death (my interpretation), although many did. They were also by and large subject to a Code Duello with resolution mechanisms built in to avoid the duel if at all possible. The code was not law, but it was ingrained in the system of honor.

As the 19th century rolled on, duelists turned pugilists (the increased lethality of pistols probably was a huge contributor) put down their arms and put up their fists to resolve disputes. The era saw the Code Duello evolve into the Marquess of Queensbury Rules for boxing.

As time passed, even boxing to resolve disputes was seen as a barbaric means of maintaining one’s honor. In a world of email flaming and nasty Facebook posts, I can see a place for dueling, but in a non-lethal and acceptable fashion. Here is my proposal for when one’s honor has been sullied by an adversary:

  • Obtain a copy of John Lyde Wilson’s The Code of Honor (print, ebook).
  • Read the book and try to settle the dispute without violence. Have your second handle the negotiations. You do have a good friend to be your second, don’t you?
  • If that doesn’t work, buy a pair of identical paint ball guns, an inexpensive model like this would fit the bill well. Don’t forget the safety gear
  • Abide by the rules. Don’t be a brigand.
  • After the affair is settled and your honor is secured, sit down with your “adversary” and your respective seconds for a cup of tea or whatever. Enjoy the fact that you’ve resolved your matter in a good old fashioned duel and nobody had to die. You might have a bruise for a day or two if your opponent had a well placed shot, but you both get to go home to your families with your egos intact.
[Update: 17 October 2012]
A colleague pointed out that my idea is not that novel. Retronaut documents a 1909 duel where wax bullets were used.

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