I've written before of the need to match the training you get and the equipment you use to the life you actually lead, not the life you fantasize about leading.
What does this mean? It means that if you're training with a full-sized tricked-out autoloader on the weekends, but the majority of your waking hours are spent with a 5-shot revolver in a pocket holster, your training isn't going to be congruent with your expected use. Training done under such false pretenses is of significantly lesser value than if you’re honest with yourself up front.
It’s a better use of your limited time, money and energy to train with the tools that you are most likely to be using, rather than picking training gear because it looks cool or because it's what your instructor/guru uses or because it gives you an edge in the all-too-common class shoot-off.
Similarly, if your training event focuses on things like running through a shoot house taking out 'tangos' in various 'hostage rescue' scenarios, you're not training realistically either. You wasted training resources that could better have been used to simulate the kinds of attacks that are likely to happen to you at work, at the gas station, or in your home.
Even if you've covered all those plausible scenarios, it’s still not a good use of your resources to train in ways that aren’t similar to your life. If you take a class in advanced hostage rescue team tactics, that class will use up resources that could have been used doing things like taking a course in how to deal with massive trauma (a skill far more likely to be needed even than drawing your gun) or in de-escalation techniques or even in defensive driving. Those are skills which are far more likely to be needed for events which are far more likely to happen to you (by at least an order of magnitude) than being faced with a jihadi-infested three-story building.
"All trigger time is good" is a fallacy. Poorly planned or selected trigger time keeps you from focusing on more plausible, and thus more important, skills.
Sherman House, a dental surgeon with whom I have a passing acquaintance, has made a similar pilgrimage from tactical silliness to reality. He recently penned an essay for the I.C.E. Training Journal where he discusses his evolution and what his training looks like today versus what it used to look like.
Great reading and very much recommended. -=[ Grant ]=-
In case you missed it, the biggest news event to come out of the NRA Annual Meeting and convention this last weekend came from an unlikely source: a seminar on home defense concepts by Rob Pincus. (Those who know Rob may say it isn’t all that surprising he'd make headlines, but with the election of a new and indiscriminately vocal NRA president intent on reliving the 1990s it was surprising the press would focus on Pincus instead. Probably just as well that they did.)
It all started when the Think Progress blog, which has a decidedly anti-Second Amendment position, snuck a stowaway into Rob's seminar and videoed a couple of minutes which they put on YouTube. The video is part of his discussion on keeping a spare gun - should you have one - in a quick-access safe in your kid's room. The idea is that, in the case of a home invasion, it's very likely that you'll head to protect your kids first - and wouldn't it be a good idea to have a defensive tool there in case you hadn't yet made it to your safe room and retrieved its armament?
Here's the clip they posted:
Of course the key here is that the gun is kept in a safe, the same as it would be in your own bedroom. As Rob took care to explain, the safe in the kid's room is no more dangerous than the safe in your room. If the kids know there's a safe anywhere (and any conscientious parent will admit that you can't hide anything from kids - they will find it), they'll play with it. The fact that it's in their parent's bedroom makes it no less immune to their tampering than if it were on the coffee table in the living room. Kids, as I'm told, will be kids.
That's why the gun is in a quality, tamper-proof safe that's securely bolted down. The gun is no more dangerous than it would be in a safe anywhere else in the house, but it is accessible in an area where it is plausible that it would be needed. Logical, no?
The story was quickly picked up by any number of knee-jerk blogs and websites, including the Huffington Post (whose editorial board is a staunch supporter of the Bill Of Rights, except the parts they find icky - like the Second.) The response amongst the prohibitionists was immediate, predictable and nearly unvarying: "Gun Expert Urges People To Keep Guns In Children's Bedrooms!"
Once there, the story-that-really-isn’t-a-story made its way into some a few of the more mainstream media outlets with similar results. It got even bigger play across the Atlantic, where both the Guardian and the Daily Mail expressed their dismay over the perceived craziness in the Colonies. (If Piers Morgan hasn't hopped on this story yet, he soon will.)
The story may get a bigger boost today: Rush Limbaugh's website featured the story this morning, and as I write this his live show hasn't yet started but I expect him to talk about it. (I don't often listen to Limbaugh, as I personally can't stand demagogues on any side of any issue, but I might make an exception today.)
What do you think: does keeping a gun in a safe in the kid's room make sense to you? (Feel free to post links to any mainstream news site which features this story!) -=[ Grant ]=-
I'm tired. I always am after teaching a class, but it's a good tired. Knowing that my students emerged from two days of training with relevant, evidence-based defensive shooting skills is a wonderful feeling.
The class in question was a Combat Focus Shooting course held at Firearms Academy of Seattle. Though the current ammo shortages reduced the size of the class - two people dropped out only because they couldn't scrape up even 1/4 of the ammo they needed - we had a good group of very enthusiastic students.
One of the interesting things that came out of this class was a confirmation of the need to consider the student when we teach sighted fire, and by that I mean how we use our sights when we need to use them. In this class I had two students who, like me, wear bifocals. For quite some time I've said that using a traditional front sight focus is neither practical nor even possible for someone who needs supplementary close-up vision correction. In fact I even wrote an article for the Personal Defense Network on this very topic, titled "I Can't See My SIghts!"
Both of the students had problems using their sights when they needed to simply because they couldn't focus closely enough to get the front sight sharp. I coached them on the points in the article: focus on the target, allow the sights to blur, and then align and superimpose the sights on the target. Look THROUGH the sights, not AT them. Suddenly they were hitting even small targets at plausible distances, which neither had been able to do before then. We even had time to try a few shots at small targets from barely plausible distances, and both of them were easily able to land their rounds on target.
In our debrief one of them mentioned that his deteriorating eyesight had actually caused him to consider selling all of his handguns and using a shotgun for home defense. He decided to take this class because he'd heard of my target-focus emphasis and wanted to get some experience and coaching in this approach. By the end of the course his shooting, his balance of speed and precision, was very close to that of the younger and sharper-eyed students. He told me that he was astonished at how quickly his shooting turned around and was delighted that he not only wouldn't need to sell his pistols, but that he now felt much more comfortable carrying one for self defense.
The other bifocal wearer had been to other schools - very well known schools, in fact - that had taught an inflexible front sight focus technique for all defensive shooting. Using a target focus was new to him, but he rapidly grew to appreciate the fact that it allowed him to deliver whatever level of precision he needed, as fast as he could, at whatever plausible distance he found himself - which he'd not been able to do for some time. His debrief comments could easily be summarized by an old quote from Robin Williams: "Reality - what a concept!"
I've found that these reactions are pretty typical for people who have formerly trained with instructors who don't understand how the human visual systems work nor understand the need to modify techniques if the student's particular issues require it. (I've never had student tell me that he was considering selling his handguns because of this, however.) It was a pleasure to be able to give these two people the information they needed and help them learn the defensive shooting techniques that might someday keep them alive.
While you can see some of the interactions here in the comments to posts, some folks prefer to send emails expressing their thoughts. Some of them are interesting enough to talk about.
On the recent topic of not carrying all the time (which I should have called "everyone does, but very few will admit to it"), I got quite a few emails thanking me for expressing a non-macho point of view. Glad to do it, though it's not so much anti-macho as it is pro-intellectually-honest-with-myself (and therefore my students and readers.)
Those posts actually precipitated a somewhat heated exchange between two prominent industry members on Facebook, one of whom took the Marie Antoinette approach (so named because he was of the opinion that you didn't need to restrict you life at all to carry. Seems that he travels in Europe extensively, and has contacts there who supply him with guns and certain paperwork to be able to do so quasi-legally. Yeah, sure, like the rest of us can do that!)
The reason this is so important is because of the integrity topic of which I’ve commented from time to time. As an industry we tend to believe (and thus teach) that everyone can do what we do: carry a full-sized autoloader in an OWB holster all day long and don a “concealment” vest for those times we run into the grocery store. This leads us to ignore certain realities, like the fact that a lot of people carry in pockets and bellybands because that’s the only way they can conceal a gun in their workaday world.
My prediction about being ostracized by the more absolutist crowd in this business has apparently come true, as I got an email indicating that some folks on the more "warrior" side of the matter have decided I'm not really one of them. (Apparently they aren't regular readers, as I think I've made it clear that I don't think of myself as a superninjawarrioroperatortacticalguru. I don't even own a thigh holster or a plate carrier!)
On the subject of the formation of the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors (ADSI), I’m proud to report that it is growing faster than we expected. We're on the cusp of having 200 members already, and the feedback from members has been terrific. The defensive shooting fraternity has needed something like this for a very long time and there are a lot of instructors out there who see that need. I'm proud to have been invited to take part in the launch of this organization, especially considering the big names who are involved. I must say it's a little humbling!
Finally, you still have time to sign up for my courses this spring. I’ve reduced the ammunition requirements for all of my classes, making it easier to train during this time of ammunition shortages. There has never been a better (or more important) time to get in some relevant training, so click on the Training tab in the menu and check my schedule for a class near you!
Monday's post precipitated a number of comments; here, on Facebook, and in my email box. Some of them were complimentary, some weren't, while others were in the middle somewhere.
Many, I think, missed the point of the discussion. Allow me to illustrate with a question.
If there is a place where you cannot have your gun (because the law says you can't), do you avoid that place altogether? I'm not talking out of principle - that's another discussion entirely - but simply because you feel you can't protect yourself if not allowed to carry your gun.
If your answer is yes, does that mean that you're never going to Hawaii? Does it mean you'll never travel out of the country? In neither of those cases (with less than a handful of exceptions, none of them common or popular) can you be armed at your destination. Do you forego the pleasure of visiting new places just because you can’t carry your sidearm?
I hope the answer to that question would be "no". It shouldn’t be a matter of whether you'll go, but simply how you're going to protect yourself while there. Remember I said it's not so much about efficacy, it's about efficiency; you can be safe without the gun, but only if you understand that the gun is not the only tool you have - it’s simply the most efficient one for a very small percentage of cases.
The point is that there is more than one way to stay safe and they all start with an assessment of the dangers you face, the risks to you from those dangers, and alternative ways to reduce those risks. That statement would require a whole book to explore, but I hope you get the idea that it starts with thought.
Until now we've considered two rather discrete situations: those where you can have your gun and those where you can't. What about the stuff in the middle - the situations where you could carry a gun, but doing so entails a great deal of effort or risk on your part?
For instance, let's say you're taking a flight to a place where your concealed carry license is recognized through reciprocity. Do you go through the trouble of packing your gun up, going through the security theater, dealing with the poorly trained airline and TSA agents, take the very real risk of having your gun stolen from your luggage (it happens, probably more frequently than your needing it to defend yourself), and then take the risk that the police officer on the other end doesn't understand that his state recognizes your funny-looking carry license? (I haven't even touched on the possibility of being re-routed through a city where your gun is illegal and getting arrested for having it there. It's happened.)
At what point do the problems/risks outweigh the perceived benefits? If you take the absolutist view, you'll put up with any and all problems and risks to have your gun with you even if the chance of needing it is extremely small. That's a valid choice, in the sense that you're well within your rights to make it.
But now factor responsibility into your answer: what if your gun is stolen out of your luggage and ends up on the street, where it's used against another innocent person? Letting a gun out of your hands is always risky, especially in an environment where possessions (including guns) are known to regularly come up missing. Does your desire to be armed outweigh that very real risk?
Now zoom out to a wider view. Let's say that where you're going is a four-hour flight or a sixteen-hour drive. You've decided that you'll drive because you can take your gun with you and be armed the entire way. That's fair, but if your overall goal is to keep yourself safe, have you made the right decision?
The reality is that you are far more likely to be killed on the highway than in the air. By choosing to be armed over every other consideration, and therefore driving, you've actually dramatically increased your net risk of death. The belief in the necessity of being armed to be safe caused you to pick a transport mode that increased your risk well beyond that of the murderous mugger. How is increasing your chances of dying a good safety choice?
There are no easy answers to these questions, and anyone who tells you otherwise is simply not very insightful. For my part, I make such decisions based on a realistic consideration of the need and all of the compensating risks. Most of the time that means I'm armed with a gun, but occasionally it's going to mean that I'm not. I'm comfortable in either case because I understand that the gun is just a tool; I comprehend its place in the panoply of self defense and don't allow it to unduly dictate my decisions.
As Greg Ellifritz said in response to Monday's article: "Preparedness is important, but so is avoiding paranoia." I think he hit the nail on the head.
Every so often I'll get together with other people who are in the business of defensive shooting training. Invariably they are shocked - sometimes to incredulity - when I tell them that no, I'm not carrying a gun right now and no, I don't carry 24/7.
From their reactions you'd think I'd violated some sacred oath, or was insanely irresponsible, for being an instructor and NOT having a heater (and a backup gat) strapped to my person. I'm quite sure that in some circles I'm no longer considered part of the imaginary brotherhood of armed citizens, excommunicated from the religion of omnipresent preparedness.
I'm okay with that.
If I believed that only my handgun would keep me safe, to the point that I absolutely insisted on carrying it everywhere and all the time, I'd be turning it into a talisman: a thing invested with the power to protect by its mere presence. If I allowed myself to feel unarmed or unsafe because I didn't have it, that would simply confirm a belief in the talisman.
To be sure, the handgun is the most efficient method of protection when lethal force is warranted; of that there can be no doubt. But being the most efficient is not the same as being the only choice! The handgun is an invaluable piece of rescue equipment, but it's not the only tool I have.
After many years I've come to be at ease with those times when I'm not carrying a gun. When I'm on an airplane, for instance, I can't have one. I also don't worry about it, because I'm capable of using things in my environment and those things I bring with me to protect myself. If I can get to the point that I'm comfortable on a flight with 200 other people, none of whom I know, why would I feel any less safe in the restaurant at my destination?
Enabling that comfort is a realistic assessment of the risks I face. Recently, for instance, I taught a class in another state, one which required that I fly. When the plane touched down I was met by a driver who had been vetted by my hosts; I went from the car directly into the lobby of the hotel, where I checked in and secured my room against entry. The next morning I was greeted in the lobby by my host, who I knew to be armed, and was transported in his vehicle to a range where I was surrounded by good people with guns. We went to dinner with some of them that evening, and then back to the hotel where I barricaded myself for the night. The next morning I was greeted by my driver, who took me to the front door of the airport.
My risk was very low the entire trip. Was I likely to need a gun at any time during that sojourn? No. Was there a plausible lethal threat at any time? Probably not. If there had been, the vast majority of the time I was around other people who had guns. During the times I wasn't, I was mostly prohibited from having one anyhow.
Don't get me wrong: I carry whenever I can, and in my state that means the vast majority of the time. What I'm saying is that I don't allow my life to be defined or controlled by carrying, nor do I allow myself to feel unsafe when I can't. I understand that what I'm giving up by not having the gun is defensive efficiency, not absolute efficacy.
I know too many people who won't go to neat places and do neat things because they can't have their gun with them. (I'm talking about legally prohibited, as opposed to being lawfully unwelcome.) Frankly, I'd rather live my life - to go to the neat places and do the neat things! By carefully assessing my risk and the plausibilities involved, and taking appropriate precautions, I know I can be reasonably safe even without a firearm.
For a year now I've been working with some of the luminaries in the defensive shooting world on an exciting project. The idea was admittedly audacious: start a professional membership organization to bring together people who teach defensive firearms use. The goal would be to give defensive shooting instructors a place to congregate, share, network, increase their teaching skills, and ultimately advance professionalism in what can often be a contentious business.
It started very simply with a document called The Seven Tenets. That document was a non-doctrinal statement about the traits a professional shooting instructor should have, as opposed to what they teach. This was written up in many venues, including this blog, as the Code Of The Professional Shooting Instructor. It was signed by a large number of famous and not-so-famous people, all of whom can legitimately be considered movers and shakers in the field.
At some point someone said "hey, we need an organization that can help both the aspiring and seasoned instructors live up to those high standards.” From that was borne the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors, and we're officially unveiling it this week!
Rob Pincus, Omari Broussard, Paul Carlson and I have spent huge amounts of our precious free time getting this new organization up and running. (Turns out that starting a professional association from scratch is a lot of work!) We've been honored to be joined by John Farnam, Massad Ayoob, Tom GIvens, Ken Murray, Marty Hayes, Dr. Robert Smith, and Robbie Barrkman, all of whom support our goals and have agreed to serve on our Advisory Council.
They're not just window dressing, either! We've put them to work to get the ADSI on the map and to guide our future programs, which will be geared toward providing continuing education for defensive shooting instructors who want to become the best that they can be.
If you teach defensive shooting skills, or if you want to, you should be a member of the ADSI. If you know someone who is a defensive shooting instructor, please make sure that they know about the Association! If you run into an instructor at your range, or perhaps from whom you're taking or have taken a class, ask them if they've joined the only professional organization representing them and what they do.
In most areas of the country, it's generally held that you may use lethal force to protect yourself if you are in immediate and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily injury. One of the factors which can contribute to that perceived danger is known as "disparity of force"; that is, a marked difference in the ability of the parties involved to inflict injury.
If your attacker is much larger than you, or if he's much stronger, or if he brought friends with him to help, are all examples of disparity of force. This disparity can also be due to an infirmity on your part, making the attack one of the able-bodied against someone who is disabled (if only temporarily.) Unfortunately, it's a disability which might attract a predator in the first place!
His wife Julie was recently knocked off her feet by an injury, and what she and Andy discovered may be of use should you find yourself in similar circumstances. Recommended reading, and especially check out the comments where others weigh in on their experiences.
(Speaking of injuries, it's probably not a bad idea to have a left-hand holster around for your primary gun. Hand and arm injuries and surgeries are not unheard of, and just try to find a lefty holster when you really need one! This is one of the few times I recommend preparing for a relatively low-probability event, simply because of the availability of the necessary equipment.)
As I pointed out a few weeks back, I'm not a believer in the idea of a knife as an adjunct to a handgun. By that I mean I don't see it as a less-lethal defensive tool in the way that many do; the knife is a lethal object, and use of one will be prosecuted as such in just about any court in the country. It's lethal force, just a less efficient form of lethal force than the handgun.
That being said, I think the defensive knife has uses and one of them is in what I call the "Less Permissive Environment", or LPE. Those are the places (and there are a lot of them) where you cannot legally have or carry a firearm, but you can carry a knife. I've been in two states so far this year where I could not carry my handgun, and in those LPEs made do with a knife.
The problem with the knife is that it requires far more strength and skill to employ than the handgun, and very few trainers in the field have approached knife use with the kind of systems approach that we’re now familiar with in the empty-hands and firearms worlds. Luckily, a colleague of mine has stepped in to fill that void!
Alessandro Padovani is a multi-talented instructor who is certified to teach both SPEAR/PDR and Combat Focus Shooting. This gives him a phenomenal range of knowledge, from unarmed close-quarters defense to use of the handgun in those beyond-two-arms-reach situations that are extremely common. He saw a need to bring the same kind of emphasis on intuitive, efficient techniques to the use of the defensive knife, and thus was born his Safer Faster Knife Defense course.
For those who can't make it to one of his classes (I've been trying for over two years and haven't gotten there yet!), Alessandro has just released the first part of his course as a DVD through the Personal Defense Network's DVD collection. The Safer, Faster Knife Defense DVD is a superb introduction to his philosophy and his systems approach to the knife, always focusing on being efficient and intuitive.
The DVD goes through the fundamentals of using the knife, starting with a good section on practicing to deploy it under realistic conditions. That's something which is glossed over in a lot of other knife videos I've seen, and it's a welcome inclusion here.
He goes on to show how to train to recognize the targets of opportunity you are likely to have, how to best engage them, transfer of power to the target, angles and trajectories, and even the necessity of controlling your attacker's weapon before trying to employ your own. From the fallacy of contrived, choreographed footwork to understanding the effect your knife will have on the anatomy of your attacker - and more - he's managed to stuff a lot of information into this DVD.
For someone like me, who has taken a couple of classes and is conversant with the knife but is not an enthusiast or expert, this DVD was an eye-opener. As I said, I've seen DVDs from a few other instructors - some very famous - but Alessandro's approach to the topic made more sense, and was more plausible, than just about anything else I've encountered.
A story in USA Today a few weeks ago is potentially good news for defensive shooting training in the private sector: the Federal Bureau of Investigation recently overhauled their own training protocols. (Please go read the article - it’s surprisingly good.)
The FBI went back through 17 years of data and analyzed the kinds of gunfights their agents faced. They concluded their training, which historically emphasized long distance marksmanship, wasn't applicable to the threats their agents were actually encountering in the field. That data convinced them they needed to instead emphasize fast, close-quarters reactive shooting. Starting in January, handgun training and qualification at the FBI changed to reflect the realities of the field.
This is a major shift for the FBI, an admission that what they've been teaching for decades didn't match the circumstances under which they were actually shooting. They figured out that they needed to train in context: under the plausible conditions their agents would need to shoot. According the linked article, that means a greater emphasis on getting good hits in realistic strings of fire (3 or 4 rounds) at realistic distances (around 3 to 7 yards.)
What they found is surprisingly consistent with what researchers in the private sector have long known: that most defensive shootings come as a surprise and happen within roughly 15 feet, or about a car length (which makes sense when you think about it.)
Why is this good news for the private sector? Because many schools and trainers base their courses, to some degree, on what the FBI does. You'll find lots of classes that use a variation of the (now 'old') FBI qualification course, shooting out to 25 yards and emphasizing tight groups irrespective of the precision required by the target. If these same instructors change to reflect the new FBI protocols they'll have their students training and shooting at more realistic distances and under more realistic conditions, which will make them safer.
There will, of course, be those who won’t acknowledge what the FBI now knows (and the rest of us have known for years.) Just recently I saw a blog post (with accompanying videos) from a shooting school in California which insisted the only way for a student to be assured of performance in a defensive shooting was to practice precision marksmanship at long distances. If they did that, the article insisted, they would 'automatically' be able to shoot closer and faster.
That's what the FBI used to think, too, but they've figured out it just isn't true. They've learned that training under false expectations doesn't lead to excellent performance when the conditions change; only training under those conditions of use will give the desired results.
The FBI has finally realized what many of the more progressive trainers in the private sector have been saying for years: training needs to be based on the realities of use, and being a "good shooter" at long distances does not magically translate to being able to efficiently defend yourself in a much closer, more rapid encounter. I hope that many instructors follow their lead and evolve their own programs in similar fashion!
In the midst of the debate about whether teachers should be armed, a pragmatic approach has been quietly gaining attention. It's focused on giving students and teachers ways to fight back against attackers on school grounds, ways that don't rely on politicians and contentious fights over "guns in our schools." It's called the School Attacker Response Course (SARC).
It was borne in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school murders. Rob Pincus knew that there had to be a better way for schools to handle these kinds of events, so he took his police and SWAT experience, along with his martial arts training, and came up with some novel yet plausible and effective ways to counter the school attacker.
The School Attacker Response Course teaches students that there is an alternative to "duck and cover" - the Cold-War-era method of cowering in fear under desks. This tactic has been regurgitated for the 21st century in an attempt to keep kids safe not from Russian bombs, but from spree killers. It was silly then, it's silly now, and the School Attacker Response Course aims to change it.
The course, available free to any school administrator who requests it, doesn't talk about arming teachers at all; instead, it shows how teachers and students can fight back and escape should the unthinkable happen in their classroom. It emphasizes that these kinds of events are very rare, so it doesn't stoke children's irrational fears, and then talks matter-of-factly about what they can do if by chance it does happen.
The SARC just graduated its first class of volunteer instructors, and more are on the way. If you're an administrator who wants to really keep kids safe, or if you're interested in teaching this course in your local schools, go to the SARC website to learn more.
It's rather fashionable in the self defense world to carry a knife as a backup to a firearm. At any 'tactical' event you'll find people carrying a 'fighting' blade along with a 'backup' blade, and some practitioners advocate the knife as a primary tool for self defense.
There is some eye-opening information in this issue, and if you carry a knife on your person (particularly of the one-hand-opening variety) I strongly encourage you to read the whole Journal. (Download the PDF version and keep it with your self defense reference materials.)
Please, go look at the list and check out the other winners - there are some really good articles and videos. If you're not spending time at the PDN site, you're missing out on some of the best self defense information on the 'net.
Since the horrific school murders last week it's become clear that our collective responses to these attacks is insufficient. The reports I've read indicated that it took police 20 minutes from the initial call to arrive; that's a lot of time for a madman to be loose in a victim-rich environment - no matter what he's armed with.
While the national debate rages about gun bans and mental health records, there are some logical, plausible, no-nonsense things that we can do right now to help keep our kids safe.
I'm going to ask you to watch these two videos by Rob Pincus about unarmed responses to a spree killer, and then to share them with everyone you know.
The second is from a seminar that he taught just yesterday to a group of kids. (You can't get more timely than that!):
This second video features excerpts from a 30 minute course presented to a group of children ages 7-17. The topic was practical responses to an attacker in their school. Rob, through his company I.C.E. Training, is offering this seminar program, free of charge, to schools wanting to present their faculty and staff with options to be used in the face of a worst case scenario school attack. If you represent a public or private elementary, middle or high school and are interested in hosting a course, please check the link to his site and then email him for details: firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, Rob has offered to any elementary or high school teacher who legally carries, or will commit to legally carrying, the chance to attend a Combat Focus Shooting course for free - that's right, free. Rob says “more teachers need to fight for the right to carry at work. I am willing to provide the training, but they have to take the first steps. I am interested in changing/causing the conversations and policy changes at the administration level in as many schools as possible.”
There isn't any single thing that's going to make our schools safe. Instead, it's going to take a number of things working in concert to do that job. We need to consider an interlocking approach, including student's response and ultimately the presence of countervailing force, to do that. Let the politicians do the finger-pointing and hand-wringing while we - both gun owners and non-owners - get together and actually tackle the problem.
Frankly, I think it's a perfect illustration of a controversial piece I wrote for the Personal Defense Network nearly two years ago. In it I explained why situational awareness simply isn't the magic wand that everyone wants it to be. Not that it's bad or completely useless, mind you, just that it doesn't do what you think it does.
In that article I point out that if the attacker is sufficiently motivated (i.e., there is enough reward in the crime relative to the risk he’s taking) he'll simply wait you out until you eventually succumb to a distraction. Since then I've expounded on that concept, but it boils down to the fact that sooner or later you're going to stop being 'aware' and start living your life. Whether it's reading the menu or watching your kids swing or admiring the form of the Hot Thing walking past, you will become distracted many times every day no matter who you are. The savvy criminal knows that innately and will simply wait for his opportunity unless something better comes along.
In this case we have a professional gang hit. The shooter, as we found out, got to that parking space several minutes before the victim and waited for him to pass. This suggests that there was active surveillance and that they were in contact with the killer. Short of a round-the-clock five man protective detail, there was very little chance this guy was going to survive that level of dedication to his demise.
He could have had his "head on a swivel" and been in "condition orange" all he wanted, but at some point he would have looked down at his watch or stopped at a store window or done something that would have allowed his attacker to pierce his invincible cloak of situational awareness. He was very obviously a high value target, his attacker was skilled and motivated, and it was just a matter of time before he got nailed.
This isn't an example of why situational awareness is a great thing; it's an illustration of why it's not the panacea so many make it out to be. Just so we're clear: this doesn't mean it's completely unimportant or that it has zero value, only that it needs to be understood in context and subject to critical analysis instead of defended with clichéd one-liners. (Or color codes.)
Mr. Guthrie bases much of his article on conversations with Ed Head, the industry veteran who most recently was chief of Gunsite. The article was pretty lackluster until Guthrie got to the part where he described Ed's practice and recommended use of the .380 pistol: he carries two of them, draws them simultaneously, and shoots them alternately at the target. Yes, you read that correctly: one in each hand, blazing away Hollywood style.
Guthrie calls this "unorthodox". I call it something else which I’m ashamed to repeat in a family blog.
If you've not fired one of the uber-small .380 pistols, they're a bit of a handful. Shooting them one-handed guarantees that your balance of speed and precision will suffer greatly compared to getting both hands on one of them. It does not matter how much you practice, you will always be less able to shoot one-handed than two-handed. Also no matter how much you practice, one of those hands will always be worse than the other. *
Shooting them alternately means that not only do you have much diminished control, it means you need to switch your attention between them constantly. You're using precious time and energy re-aligning each gun on target for one shot, which is much more difficult than aligning one gun after successive shots. What's more, even when you’ve spent that time and energy half of your shots will be slower and less precise than the other half, and all of them will be slower and/or less precise than shooting with two hands!
Wouldn't it be better to draw one gun, get both hands on it and achieve a superior balance of speed and precision, then if needed drop it and draw the next (a 'New York reload')? Yes, I believe it would. The .380 is not the complete weakling some make it out to be, and I think you'll find Greg Ellifritz's data show that where it's used six or seven rounds of .380 often end the fight. The faster you can get those rounds onto the target, the faster the fight is going to end. Alternating the shots from two guns simply makes that process longer.
While the article doesn't specifically say so, the genesis of the technique centers around Head's assertion that the small .380 pistols cannot be reloaded easily. He seems to believe that having two guns eliminates the need for a time-consuming reload. There might be some merit to that belief, IF the guns were used successively and the New York reload done when one ran dry.**
Doing this sequentially would at least mean that if you ended up running one dry and needed to access the second gun, you'd already have been able to put a full ammunition load into your attacker far faster and with greater precision than shooting one-handed alternately. You're more immediately disrupting his activity and lessening the amount of time you're exposed to danger.
Shooting the guns alternately simply gives the bad guy more time to hurt you - and, I submit, it's a whole lot MORE time. I can deduce absolutely no upside to this method.
Well, according to Guthrie there IS one: it makes you look like Antonio Banderas. No, I'm not kidding - he really said that. He calls the effect "impressive", without ever explaining exactly why or how shooting less precisely and more slowly is impressive.
That, then, is really the crux of his presentation - it makes you look cool!
I'll say this as plainly as I can: if you choose your defensive shooting technique because it makes you look cool you are simply foolish. That's also the best word to attach to this technique. I'm surprised that anyone would write a glowing article about such nonsense, and I'm surprised that Shooting Times would publish it.
But the bad judgement doesn't stop there! I'll talk about that on Wednesday.
-=[ Grant ]=-
( * - There are people who insist that they shoot "just as good" one handed as two, or that they shoot weak hand "just as good" as strong hand. Remember that shooting is always a balance of speed and precision; shooting as precisely but slower is not as good, and shooting at the same speed but with less precision isn't as good, either. Only if you can shoot with the same balance of speed and precision one-handed as two-handed, or weak-handed as strong-handed, can you claim to be "as good". I've yet to meet the person who can.)
( ** - Personally, I'd need to test that assertion for myself before I accepted it, and that's before factoring in the complication of realistically practicing the technique. I have done such a test with two revolvers, and found that the New York reload has very little advantage. I believe the results would be less persuasive with two auto pistols, given their reloading efficiencies.)
One of the concepts that we talk about in Combat Focus Shooting classes is that of task fixation: the diversion of attention to a particular sub-activity during an attack. We discuss this specifically relating to looking at the gun while reloading.
The concept is clearly illustrated in this video of a very dynamic simulation during a Craig Douglas ECQC class (one of the few on my "short list" of classes to attend.) Note that the gun fails to fire and suddenly the defender's entire attention is diverted to getting it running again, rather than dealing with his attackers. Craig even mentions that to the student at the end of the exercise, and the student admits to a fatal task fixation.
Many trainers maintain that the best place for the gun is in front of the face so that you can see both it and the threat while you reload. I don't believe that's a rational expectation when the body's threat responses have been activated, and believe instead what will happen is the task of reloading will divert attention completely from the threat in the way that a malfunction did for this fellow.
In the couple of seconds that any normal person is going to take to reload their pistol the threat can shoot or stab quite a few times, or cover a lot of distance to bring himself into contact with the victim. During that time it's more important that you avoid being shot/stabbed/beaten than it is to get a small (and theoretical) advantage in reloading speed. The first order of business is not getting hurt or killed in the process of defending yourself! That sounds silly, but the popularity of techniques that increase your exposure to danger rather than decrease it make it necessary to point such things out.
Instead of looking at the gun, we teach making the reload process a strictly mechanical activity that can be done with the gun out of the direct line of sight to the threat. (The specific ways to accomplish that are beyond the scope of this post, but it's not difficult to do for either autoloading pistol or revolver.) While the gun is being reloaded in that repeatable, mechanical fashion the defender is able to keep an eye on the threat and move, seek cover, or do whatever else is necessary to avoid becoming a casualty.
This is also why we approach the act of malfunction clearing similarly to that of reloading the gun, teaching a non-diagnostic approach to the problem which doesn’t result in the kind of attention diversion that happened in the video.
With the gun in front of the face, as some recommend, I believe (and this video supports my contention) that what will happen is fixation on the reload rather than on the threat. There are other downsides as well, some relating to the perceptual distortions that accompany the threat reaction and how they affect the “look at me” type of reload, but that’s another topic for another time.
It's Cyber Monday - the day when everyone shops from the comfort of their chair! There are some deals out there for shooters and those interested in personal defense, and here are just a few.
First off, a DVD that I've been recommending for some time is "Lessons From The Street" by Tom Givens. I consider it a must-have for any personal defense library, because Tom distills the lessons from the nearly 60 shootings his students have experienced. This DVD contains some really important information that counters a lot of the misinformation that's often encountered in the defensive training business. It's available from the I.C.E. Store.
What's the deal? If you use the code "ICEXMAS" at checkout you'll get 20% off this DVD - in fact, any of the DVDs that you order from the I.C.E. Store will be 20% off! There are a lot of terrific titles available, so don't miss this opportunity to stock up!
Speaking of DVD deals, the Personal Defense Network is running a Cyber Monday special: sign up for a PDN Premium Membership and get 3 free DVDs - over 3 hours of training. The PDN Premium Membership is one of the best-kept secrets in the defensive training world; for the price of a typical DVD you get access to tons of streaming training videos, many of which are available only through PDN. The DVD offer is like icing on the cake! Click here for the PDN Cbyer Monday DVD Deal.
I've got another new article up at the Personal Defense Network, and those of you who are pushing 40 (or pulling 50) will be particularly interested. It's called "I Can't See My Sights!"
It's the distillation of all the things I've learned over the past few years about how to adapt to vision changes, particularly those related to the march of time. If you have contrast or color blindness issues, or if you wear bifocals, this article will likely have something of special value for you.
A regular reader and Twitter user asked me about my favorite flashlight configuration for carry in non-permissive environments. I'll get to the specifics in a moment, but first a little recap on my reasoning for the flashlight as a self-defense tool.
There are many cases where carrying a lethal tool isn't possible - on an airplane, for instance. A Kubaton would normally be a possibility in such areas, but the powers-that-be have gotten wise to those innocuous little rods and they are now often verboten. A small flashlight, however, is still allowed everywhere despite making a pretty good impact tool. In addition the super-bright beams of today's lithium-powered lights make a good distraction device, one which I've personally used - twice - to interrupt the activities of would-be criminals.
The flashlight also makes a good tool for proactive safety, allowing you perform such tasks as checking the backseat of your car before getting in. Their powerful beams even make it possible to look under a car long before you get anywhere close, in case you're worried about someone waiting to grab your ankles (or trying to steal your catalytic converter, which is probably more common!)
For these reasons I'm a believer in the utility of the high-performance flashlight as an aid to personal safety, and my favorite carry light is the Elzetta ZFL-M60. I've carried other lights from far more well-known manufacturers, but the Elzetta is simply the best-built flashlight on the market. It uses Malkoff LED modules, which are as close to bulletproof as you get in the lighting business. If you've ever blown an LED module in a "Brand S" light, you'll understand.
The Malkoff modules are built into a solid machined brass heatsink, then "potted" - the electronics are embedded in epoxy, a time-tested method of making a circuit darn near indestructible. The result is an LED module that is impervious to just about anything short of anti-tank munitions. Nothing in the lighting world, and I mean this to be declaratory, is built like a Malkoff. Or an Elzetta, for that matter!
Elzetta starts with the Malkoff module of your choice (Elzetta stocks standard and flood beam modules, and more are available direct from Malkoff) and machines their flashlight bodies to fit those modules precisely. The key to LED longevity is getting rid of the heat they generate, and the Malkoff's brass construction combined with a tight fit to the Elzetta body results in a combination that dissipates heat quickly. No other light that I've seen has the kind of heat sinking that the Elzetta/Malkoff combination does.
One of the great benefits of the Malkoff/Elzetta combination is that the module can be easily and rapidly changed. With LED technology progressing as rapidly as it does, the Malkoff solution means that you can always have an up-to-date flashlight. (There is actually a thriving second hand market for used Malkoff modules, as they last forever and fit into some "Brand S" light bodies. Those bodies don't have the heatsinking or build quality of an Elzetta, however.)
While Elzetta sells both 2- and 3-cell light bodies (using 123-type lithium batteries, of course) I prefer the 2-cell version. The 2-cell is small and light, surprisingly small if you're used to the Surefire 6P-size lights, and fits a belt holster or a pocket easily.
Elzetta makes several different bezels (heads) for those bodies: crenelated, standard, and compact. Many people pick the crenelated bezel for increased effectiveness as an impact weapon. While I have no doubt the crenelated version would be better as a defensive tool, how MUCH better is still an open question.
If there were no downsides to carrying the crenelated bezel I'd pick it just for that extra 'edge' - but there IS a downside: they're often frowned upon by TSA screeners. Given the cost of a good flashlight I'm unwilling to take the risk, and so choose to give up a little (theoretical) effectiveness in order to be able to actually have it on my person in all environments.
Their compact bezel is a relatively new product which was unavailable when I bought my Elzetta a few years ago. I haven't actually handled one yet, but were I to buy another light strictly for carry I might consider it just for compactness. The standard bezel, however, is good looking and is larger in diameter than the body; I believe that step-up from the body to the head helps keep the light from sliding in one's grasp when used as an impact weapon. The standard head also features prominent anti-roll geometry, another point in its favor. Those two attributes also aid in-the-dark identification of the working end, yet another reason I prefer it.
If the light is to do general duty (in the house next to the bed as well as carry) I much prefer the M60F module, which has a wide flood beam compared to the standard module. When used in a house the flood beam is far less likely to produce glare from smooth or light-colored surfaces, and lights up an entire room without needing to "paint" the area like you would do with a narrower beam. It's simply a better choice for an indoor light, and I’ll gladly give up a bit of distance capability outdoors for the better indoor performance.
However, if I had a dedicated house light with a flood module and the Elzetta was to be used primarily for carry, I might choose the standard beam to get the extra throw outdoors. (Then again, if I were doing that I might bite the bullet and special order an M61SHO module which puts out a whopping 385 lumens! Of course, I'd need a larger battery budget - making lots of light sucks batteries dry pretty quickly!)
Elzetta offers several tail caps with different switches. The two I recommend are the rotary (push to turn the light on momentarily, rotate to lock on) and the standard clicky switch (press for momentary, press further to the 'click' to lock the light on.) My personal Elzetta has a rotary cap, mainly for a) durability and b) non-surprising operation.
The rotary switch is simply constructed; there is nothing to fail. I've seen many "Brand S" flashlights with failed clicky switches, but I've never seen a rotary switch break. With most clicky switches it's also too easy to press the switch past the momentary on in the heat of the moment, resulting in a light that remains on when you remove your thumb pressure and expect it to turn off. A rotary switch can't do that - press for on, release for off, and nothing else.
My preference, however, may be changing. I've handled an Elzetta clicky tail cap and talked to the folks from the company. They tell me that their switches are significantly more robust than those used by their far-more-well-known competitors, and I've got to say they certainly feel that way. The click action is far more positive and noticeable, and has a great feeling of solidity. Their switch also has a much longer throw to the click point; it's nearly impossible to click on without considerable effort. That translates to a switch that couldn't be inadvertently activated during a stressful situation.
For those reasons my next Elzetta will probably have a clicky in it, which will be a big first for me! If it were any other manufacturer I probably wouldn't take the risk, but Elzetta has always delivered on their promises. If they say their switch is better than the competition's, I'll take them at their word.
(I didn't intend for this to be a commercial for Elzetta! I own lots of expensive flashlights because I'm something of a flashlight nerd, but the reader asked which one I carry on a daily basis and why. It's simple, really - my Elzetta is the light I grab when it absolutely, positively has to work under all conditions. They didn't pay me to say any of this, have never given me anything, and did not seek me out - *I* found *them* and spent my own money because I wanted the best I could get. I've been happy with my choice, enough so that I will buy more of their products in the future.)
No matter who wins the election tomorrow there will be large numbers of people who will feel disenfranchised. Twitter has been abuzz with users claiming to be ready to riot if the President does not win re-election, and even if he does the "Lakers Effect" (so named because of the propensity of Los Angeles Lakers fans to riot when they win) may come into play with nearly the same results.
As I noted last week, the slowly improving mess in the northeast will not help matters, and in fact may prove to be the flashpoint for anything that does happen. I still believe that the potential for the spread of violence to other urban centers around the country remains very high.
Because of this I think it's prudent for those who live in urban areas, or who may find themselves in an urban area over the next few days, to think a bit about how to deal with mob violence. Given the increasing probabilities I feel it’s something that you should spend a little time getting to understand.
It must be said that I've never been in a riot. I've seen them on television, certainly, but they've not been something that this good ol' country boy has had to contemplate. Luckily for us, Greg Ellifritz has been in a riot. More than one, actually, and he has some great tips for staying safe.
When I was doing search and rescue some years back, one of the mantras we repeated was "always tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back." Texting makes this easy, and with group texting (which I understand not every phone supports), you can easily let a number of people know where you are and who you're with.
Watch the video. Heck, make sure your kids watch it too!
Several months ago I read a discussion about teaching women to shoot. In it was this gem (written, obviously, by a male of the species) about what a “woman’s class” should entail: "I would put a greater emphasis on field stripping, taking the gun down and putting it back together. Our society doesn't encourage women to mess with machines, demystifying the gun as a machine instills confidence." This comes from the same mindset that says a really important part of a shooting class is a drawn-out explanation of how the primer ignites the gunpowder and the difference between rimfire and centerfire.
As I've said before, it's silly to think that a woman who has mastered the complexities of driving can't figure out what a slide stop lever does. To take my automobile analogy a bit further, it's silly to think that a woman needs to know how to take an engine apart to "instill confidence" in her driving ability.
Don't get me wrong - if she doesn't have someone who will do the job of cleaning and oiling her gun, she needs to learn to do it herself. The gun has to be maintained, and someone has to do it; it's simply part of shooting. However, to label that maintenance as "demystifying" the gun and "instilling confidence” is nonsense. If she doesn't have confidence from proper training and regular practice, knowing how to field strip her Glock isn't going to give it to her any more than knowing how to replace a crank seal is going to make her a more confident driver.
I think it's more important for her to spend her limited training time and money learning how to defend herself efficiently, how to make the bad guy go away with the least expenditure of her defensive resources, than it is to repeatedly practice the disassembly of her pistol.
I'm gratified to see the defensive shooting world coming to some of these same realizations. While there are some folks out there who are still stuck with outdated beliefs, like the .45ACP being the "ultimate" defensive cartridge despite the lack of corroborating objective data, the movers and shakers in this business have long since moved on. Even some of the old guard have evolved to the realization that the 9mm cartridge and the modern striker-fired (MSF) pistol are the most efficient way to deal with criminal attacks, and now recommend that combination.
There was a time, more than a decade ago, when I espoused the .357 Magnum as the ultimate self defense cartridge. Even then, though, the data was a little hazy as to its effectiveness versus the .38 Special +P. After talking with a lot of people who'd actually had to shoot bad guys with those cartridges, I discovered that they all fired about the same number of rounds to get the bad guy to hit the pavement. It came down to a simple equation: if I'm going to need to fire x-number of shots regardless of the cartridge, wouldn't it be better to get those rounds into the bad guy as quickly as possible? Why was I putting up with the reduced controllability of the Magnum when the Special (with proper loads, of course) would do the same job?
That question caused me to switch to the .38 Special +P for carry, and today all of my revolvers are sighted in for that round - none of them are sighted for Magnums. I went through the same evolution with the 1911 versus the 9mm. Remember that I started out with the 1911 and the .45ACP for my autoloading needs, but quickly shifted to the 9mm and then almost as quickly adopted the MSF pistol (the Glock 19, specifically.) When I carry an autoloader, it's a compact 9mm loaded with Speer Gold Dot +P rounds.
Today, luckily, the choice has been made easier; the study that Greg Ellifritz did, for instance, puts better numbers to my informal research and gives a much better picture of the overall performance of the common self defense cartridges. I believe it to be the best data we have on a very difficult-to-quantify subject, and you should read the linked article. (It's important to actually read what Greg wrote; if you just look at the charts, you'll be missing some very important information.)
Back to Rob's article: he makes some specific gun recommendations, most of which I agree with. I'll add, based on my own experience, the Steyr M9 and C9 series, which we've owned for nearly a decade now and have proven to be very reliable. However, since ours have the Steyr trapezoidal sights I'll add the caveat that the recommendation stands only if the gun is ordered with the optional night sights, which are of a conventional post-and-notch arrangement. The trapezoid sights, with which I was initially enamored, have shown themselves to be less efficient and usable than the standard variety. (I'm not big on night sights generally, but on this gun they're the only way to get a conventional sight picture.) That being said, I think my next gun will be the new Caracal, which I like even more than the Steyr.
You'll note that Rob also recommends small revolvers for carry. The revolver shares some surprising characteristics with the MSF pistol, including efficiency (no controls other than the trigger to manipulate in order to shoot) and reliability. Of course, as he points out, there are compromises: the reduced capacity and the harder-to-master double action trigger. Still, the MSF pistol can really be considered the ultimate evolution of the revolver, which is why they're both the best choices today!
Some of the blogs, Facebook posts, and some forum discussions I've seen in the wake of the Aurora shooting are almost comical. There are people who suggest that concealed handgun carriers change their ammunition, their carry gun, and their training regimen to reflect the possibility of facing a crazed gunman in a movie theater through thick smoke. Some are suggesting carrying extra backup guns to arm other movie-goers, some are recommending spending more time on long-range handgun shots, and some are considering trading in their "low capacity" guns for something that will carry 15 or more rounds - all based on an event which is extremely rare, even considering its conditional probability.
Remember that none of us has the unlimited time, energy, or money to train for everything that could possibly happen; we have to make choices to most effectively apportion those resources, and not understanding the nature of risk can lead us to making inappropriate choices. The Aurora shootings may have slightly expanded the range of possible risks we might encounter, but it really hasn't changed the likely (probable) risks of everyday life.
Read Bruce's article, and remember that your chances of being mugged or car-jacked in the theater parking lot are still far greater than facing a lone shooter with smoke grenades bent on wholesale destruction. Prepare by spending your limited resources accordingly. -=[ Grant ]=-
P.S.: I'm waiting for the first training facility to buy a smoke machine and include 75-yard shots in low light conditions as part of their "vital skills" curriculum. It will happen.
I recently learned of a blogger and wanna-be instructor, a member of the disturbingly superficial "I'm cute and have a gun - read my blog!" trend, who wanted to have her picture taken with a well-known trainer who was visiting the area. Note that she didn't want to take the excellent class that he was teaching, she just wanted a picture to post on her blog to make people think that she had a connection with a Famous Gun Instructor!
At least she was honest about her intent; not everyone is.
Somewhere in the last week I was directed to an article titled "Races, Journeys, and Certifications”, written by one Jacob Steinman. While intended for a martial arts audience, it's very applicable to those of us interested in defensive shooting: it talks about people who take classes for reasons other than learning.
I've seen this in action, instances where people attended a defensive shooting class (either as an end user or as an instructor candidate) only to get the paper, not to actually increase their knowledge or to develop new skills. It's diploma chasing: acquiring yet another geegaw to hang on the wall, another piece of external validation that serves to impress the impressionable, without actually absorbing the material. (As it happens, some of the worst teachers I’ve known have had the most impressive diploma walls!)
The ultimate manifestation of this would be the ditzy blogger referenced above: not even pretending to go through the motions but getting the benefit anyhow. Is she really any different than the person who acquires the certificate without having bothered to actually learn anything? Only in degree, I would argue. The result is the same.
The "money quote" from Jacob: "The certification process should not be an end point; it should not be something you do so that you can say it's done. It should be a marker--a waypost along the journey."
Lots of stuff going on and lots of things pulling me in different directions this weekend - all of them shooting related, in some fashion.
On Saturday ace gunsmith and all-around good guy Todd Koonce and his fiancee Amanda Anson were married. Sadly I had a prior commitment and couldn't be there, but I'm happy for the new couple. (Todd's the guy I pictured hovering over his bluing tanks in the Book Of The Revolver, and is soon to be seen in another book. Shhhh - I can't talk about that just yet!) They're great people and I hope they have a long and wonderful life together.
Rob was able to stick around to take Mas' MAG-20 (classroom) course, and came away with a sentiment similar to that which I've offered on many occasions: it is really a "must" course for those who are serious about keeping a firearm for defense. It covers all the “stuff” - the legal, practical, and ethical things - that you aren’t exposed to in courses that teach you to shoot. Mas is still THE GUY for this kind of information, and you should seriously consider signing up for that class.
Several people came up to me during the breaks to express their thanks for this blog and my book. Most bloggers are obsessed about the number of people who read their work, and it's easy to forget that it's not about the numbers - it's about how you can reach and help other people. It's really quite humbling to know that somewhere out there are real folks who appreciate what you do.
We arrived home at 1:AM this morning, tired but very happy that we've been privileged to know the people we do!
I'm pre-empting today's Friday Surprise for one from the Personal Defense Network (PDN) - because it's one I'm excited about and have been waiting for!
As (I hope) you're aware, PDN has become a premier site for personal defense information, articles and videos. I've contributed a number of articles (with more to come), and there are a ton of videos there as well. What's great about PDN is that the content isn't from any one point of view; there are a number of different perspectives from a wide variety of personal defense experts. Our managing editor, Rob Pincus, has gone to great lengths to make sure that there is a great variety of different opinions represented in the content. That's what makes PDN unique and uniquely valuable.
This week they've announced a big upgrade: Premium Memberships. For only $4.99 a month (or $34.95 a year) you can have access to defensive video tips and techniques, step-by-step training drills, feature length videos, complete personal defense courses, and full streaming DVD presentations. The videos are exclusive to PDN and all in HD video. The topics are timely, the information is authoritative, and the quality is superb.
I've watched a number of the Premium videos, and they're all good - in fact, they blow away a lot of the training DVDs you can buy. With DVDs running anywhere from $39 to $85 these days, I think that makes the $34.95 for unlimited access to all of PDNs Premium streaming content a great bargain. Of course, the Premium content is accessible from your computer or your iPad (guess I'm going to have to break down and get an iPad now), and you'll still have access to the huge and ever-expanding library of free PDN content - and there's much more to come!
This is the book I personally recommend for women who are new to or thinking about adopting a self-reliant life style. I've not read a better book on the topic than Gila's, and this is a chance to get it at wholesale pricing. Buy extras to give away to friends and family - it's that good.
I'm not creative enough to be a criminal. Whenever I study their behavior, the ways that they invent to bilk or attack the innocent, I'm often impressed with their originality - and occasionally just a tad frightened that I didn't anticipate the tactic.
There is a strong tendency in the world of shooting to apply concepts and techniques from the military to private sector self defense. I've written about this concept of context mismatch before, and the upshot is that it almost always works poorly. Just because the military uses guns and we carry guns doesn't make the two worlds analogous!
One of those misapplications is the work of Colonel John Boyd, particularly his OODA Loop (also called Boyd's Loop or Boyd's Cycle.) There are a lot of scholarly works on his theories which I'll leave the uninitiated to discover on their own, but the OODA Loop has been applied to everything from fighter dogfights to football teams - along with defensive shooting.
The issue is that it's not a good fit. A defensive response to a criminal attack doesn't allow for the kind of maneuver-to-advantage thinking that the Loop covers. "Getting inside your opponent's Loop" sounds great and tacticool as all get-out, but when an encounter's duration is measured in seconds that's simply not realistic.
Some years back I started an email conversation with Rob Pincus, who at the time I didn't know but whose writing had impressed me. I was then studying the ideas of stimulus-response and their application to defensive shooting, and over the next few years - first by email and then in person - we talked about that. Rob, like I, was convinced that application of the OODA Loop was incorrect in the context of private sector self defense and the criminal ambush attack. As his understanding of the brain's processing of information and how it uses pattern recognition to make non-cognitive decisions grew, he evolved a different way of looking at the subject.
He just wrote a new paper called "Evolution of the OODA Loop", and it's a highly recommended read. (There's a ton of background information from the world of neuroscience that's implicit in his conclusions, and if you're interested in a readable layman's introduction to some of the topics, I suggest the book "Blink' by Malcolm Gladwell.) -=[ Grant ]=-
The Armed Citizen's Legal Defense Network (of which you should be a member) has published an interesting look at the Martin/Zimmerman case in their June newsletter. The Florida courts, as their law requires, released all of the evidence related to the case a couple of weeks ago. In his article, Marty Hayes looks at a portion of that released evidence and makes some observations which might be useful to those who carry a firearm for self protection. I recommend you read the article.
One of the more intriguing bits was the condition of the area around the entry wound on Martin's body, leading to some speculation about the exact distance from muzzle to contact. This will, as Marty clearly points out, require ballistic testing of the gun and identical ammo to determine at what distance the test matches the evidence.
Since the court will likely not let the remaining ammunition in the gun be shot (that would be destruction of evidence), they'll need to get exemplar rounds (rounds which match exactly the ammunition used) to make those tests.
I point this out because there is still a vocal subset of people who insist that carrying handloaded ammunition for self defense is a perfectly good thing to do. (I do not know if Zimmerman did or did not; that probably won't be known until the testing progresses.) If Zimmerman did the smart thing and carried factory ammunition, all the defense will need to do is contact the manufacturer and get a box or two of the same ammunition, preferably with the same lot number. The results from firing that ammo in his gun should then match the results from the shooting, which will allow the defense to precisely determine the distance from which Martin was shot.
The testing could help validate Zimmerman's claim of self defense. Given his recent tribulations over bail revocation, he may need all the objective help he can get.
If this were a case where the shooter handloaded his ammunition, regardless of how carefully he kept records, the results of the testing would likely not be allowed into evidence. I won't go into detail as there is copious reading material available on this subject, but the bottom line is that the courts generally don't allow the defendant to manufacture evidence for his/her defense. If someone in a similar situation used reloaded ammunition, he'd be at a double loss: not only would the courts not allow the ammo in the gun to be used to support his claim, they wouldn't allow any other self-manufactured ammo to be used either.
It's not about what's "legal", it's about the rules of evidence - and they work differently than you might expect.
The supporters of handloaded ammo constantly repeat the refrain "if it's a clean shoot, then the ammo won't matter." Is the Zimmerman case a "clean" shoot? At this point I don't think anyone would be stupid enough to say that it was. It may turn out that he was completely justified (or not - we won't know until a jury comes back), but the arbiter of a "clean" shoot ultimately isn't you, or me, or the cops, or the DA - it's the jury. A shoot isn't "clean" until a jury says it is, and the ammunition used is going to be one factor in their determination.
It's something of a Catch-22: in a clean shoot the ammo wouldn't matter, but we don't know if it's a clean shoot until the jury has decided it was, and part of their decision making may involve having the ammo tested, which means the ammo DOES matter. See the problem?
This is why I only carry factory ammunition in my guns. I use my considerable reloading skill and experience to craft practice rounds that duplicate my carry ammunition in bullet weight, velocity, recoil, and point of impact, which I use only for practice or training. When I load the gun for defensive use, I put in ammunition made by someone who can supply a certified duplicate of what I've used should I need to shoot someone. Their word about the composition of the ammo will be accepted by the court, where mine wouldn't. This way I can practice cheaply and still have the backing of a reliable third party in case I need it in court.
This is also why I only carry ammunition from a major manufacturer. I don't carry "boutique" ammunition, the kind made by small speciality manufacturers, because a) those companies tend to go in and out of business with disturbing frequency; b) I don't know if they have the resources or motivation to keep samples of every lot produced in case it's needed by a court; c) I don't know if they have a credible witness who can get on the stand and testify to both the composition and chain of custody of the evidence they've provided. I know Winchester, Federal, Remington, and CCI/Speer can and do, and so I load my guns with their products.
(I also never use ammunition made by a company which is not a member of SAAMI, but that's another article for another day!) -=[ Grant ]=-
What follows came up in a discussion about the reliability of 1911 pistols, but is actually universally applicable: to Glocks, SIGs, HKs, rifles, shotguns - and, yes, revolvers.
The context of the discussion was the validity of looking at failures during a training class as indicative of larger problems. It usually takes a form similar to "I'm not going to fire 1,000 rounds in self defense, so a gun problem in a class proves nothing; my gun is reliable enough for the 10 rounds it's going to take."
The statement is valid - no one is going to fire 500 or 1,000 rounds in self defense - but the conclusion isn't.
A gun which is carried for self defense continuously deteriorates in terms of its operational condition. Lubricants ooze out and evaporate, while lint and dirt work their way into and onto the operating surfaces. A gun which has been carried without stripping, cleaning and re-oiling for a few weeks may in fact be at the same level of cleanliness, and the oil and grease at the same level of lubricity, as a gun which has just fired 500 or more rounds. (Yeah, yeah, I know - you clean your gun every night and twice on Sundays. You get a gold star that says "I'm the extreme exception!")
Now you might say that a failure at 600 or 700 rounds is immaterial because you never will shoot it that much in real life, but consider this: the gun that's been riding around in its holster for a while may in fact be a lot closer in terms of operational condition to that 600 round mark than you might believe. Since malfunctions are, at some level, random, that gun may be at the brink of malfunction with the first round - or second or third - that's fired in defense of its owner. The shorter the interval between malfunctions, the more concerning this becomes. Different story now, isn't it?
This is why it's important to test your self defense gun thoroughly, and yes - that means a days where you shoot 500 or more rounds through it without cleaning, oiling, or otherwise pampering the thing. It's not to prove that the gun will shoot that many rounds without malfunction; it's a way of helping you determine whether the gun will function in the non-pristine condition in which it probably always exists. The goal should be zero malfunctions, because that's what's necessary when our lives are on the line.
Over the last month or so I've started following a new blog devoted to security.
Though his focus is on information security and the technology behind it, Bruce Schneier also has some very interesting thoughts on security in general. His perspective is pretty intriguing, and so his Schneier on Security blog has been added to my daily RSS feed.
Not many blogs make that grade, but his is good enough that I look forward to reading it regularly.
I recently read an ongoing discussion about red dot sights on defensive rifles, and it got me to thinking about their utility to the defensive shooter.
First off, I like red dot sights when I'm shooting. My eyes are unable to focus cleanly on the front sight of a 16-1/2" barreled AR-15, and the red dot makes it easier for me to shoot. Not that I can't shoot with irons, only that it takes a little more effort. Red dots are a great invention, and they’re fun (and almost obscenely easy) to shoot.
Despite that, none of the rifles that I use for serious purposes carry red dot sights. Why? For the same reason that most building codes don't allow battery operated smoke detectors in new construction.
Hard wired smoke detectors have been required in new buildings for nearly thirty years (depending on the locale.) It's not that battery operated detectors don't work, but rather that they require maintenance. It's not a whole lot, mind you: check the batteries twice a year, replace once a year. Despite not being a huge burden, it often doesn't get done and the consequences are dire. Hard wired detectors eliminate that maintenance and guarantee that the devices are always ready to operate at any time. They should still be tested, but the risks associated with not doing so are reduced to nearly zero.
The cost (in terms of effort and attention) of keeping a battery-operated detector operational is therefore higher than that of the hard-wired variety. Not a lot, but it's enough that lives are routinely saved. Because of that cost, the predictability of operational readiness is lower with the battery operated detector than with the hard wired variety. (This predictability is the reason the trucks and engines in your local fire station are hooked into "shore power" when they're not in use, even with trained firefighters there at all times to check them.)
The same principle applies to the red dot sight. Yes, some models have batteries that can last years, but that means one has to remember to check them frequently. There is a risk it that the batteries will have failed since the last check, or that the electronics may have failed even if one has been extremely vigilant about the batteries. Though I handle my handgun on a daily basis, it's often many months between the times I pick up the rifle and thus many months can elapse between the necessary maintenance checks.
Here in rainy Oregon, we have increased risks due to the climate: when in use, optics occasionally get obscured by water drops and we're often discovering that a device's waterproofing has failed. I could go on, but you see the point: unpredictability.
Iron sights suffer no storage degradation nor do they suffer unexpected or unpredictable failures. Unless they're damaged to the point of not being usable (in which case I can tell before I fire a shot that they're not working), there is no doubt that they'll be there and ready to work when I need them. They're predictable, and predictability is a Good Thing in defensive firearms.
It's not Luddism, just an admission of the increased difficulty of keeping a complex device ready for use at all times and under all conditions. I want the rifle to be ready, now, regardless of the last time I checked the batteries or remembered to turn it off/on or any electrical/mechanical faults it may have suffered since I last shot the thing. I'm not claiming that I'm "just as good" with irons as with the scope, only that the mechanism of the iron sights is more reliable under more conditions for a longer period of time.
I can hear the refrain now: "but guns break, too!" Yes, they do. We accept that as part of the risk of using the things, but I see no reason to compound that risk by an order of magnitude (maybe several) for what is really a small benefit.
I like red dots, I like shooting them, my eyes thank me when I do, but for the gun that has to be capable of being run hard without warning or preparation? Give me iron sights.
We have a lot of trite phrases in the defensive training world, and one of them sets my teeth on edge: when someone asks how they should choose a gun for personal protection, the usual answer is to "pick the biggest caliber you can shoot well."
It's nonsensical, and I'm tired of hearing it.
The problem is how to define "well". Are we talking in terms of accuracy? If so, I contend that anyone can shoot any handgun caliber "well" - at least for the first shot. If we're talking group size, given sufficient time between shots I'll hold to my contention: anyone can shoot any handgun "well" if they have enough time to regroup between presses of the trigger.
I've heard the variation "....the biggest caliber that you can handle." Same thing - what do you mean by "handle"? I've seen many guys at the range who claim to be able to "handle" large-bore Magnums, but it's clear they have significant trouble with recoil control. Obviously there's a difference between what I consider control and what they do, which illustrates my point. Without criteria, there's no way to evaluate whether the person can "handle it" or not. Again, most people can handle any gun for a single shot. What about the second, third and fourth?
Some have apparently figured out that "well" and “handle” don’t mean anything and say instead to "pick the biggest caliber that you can shoot quickly and accurately." How quickly? How accurately? With any gun/ammo combination, given a specific set of environmental variables, there will be a certain balance of speed and precision which the shooter can achieve. A .454 Casull will have one, and a .22 LR will have another. Which one should the person pick? Which balance of speed and precision is best?
As one goes up in caliber or power, at any given level of precision the shooter's speed will decrease. How far along that line should the shooter travel before settling? There are many examples of arbitrary tests that people take to determine these things (so many shots in so many seconds with a minimum score), but they're contrived. Take a 12-gauge and a 20-gauge shotgun; any given shooter may be able to use the 12-gauge and pass a qualification, then logically conclude that it's the largest gun that he can shoot quickly and accurately. However, if that same person shoots the same course with a 20-gauge, they'll find that they can shoot it faster with the same level of precision. Which, then, is the better choice?
Starting to get the idea? These statements - and their variants - sound profound, but they're not. Unless very specific criteria are defined they mean nothing.
This is the concluding entry in my multi-part exploration of the “Code Of The Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor”. If you missed the opening article of this series, which has some background and a link to the Rob Pincus article where the Code was originally published, click here to read it.
It’s easy to think of the Code we've been studying as a condition, a state of existence at some point in time, of the professional defensive shooting instructor. Others on the signatory list may disagree with me on this, but I don’t believe it is.
A code, like the Code Of The Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor, is by its nature aspirational. It's a description of an ideal, a list of traits that other Professionals agree are desirable and laudable. It's not necessarily always achievable.
I don't know any instructor who is 100% on all of these, all the time. I'm not sure such a person exists. The difference between the Professional and everyone else is that he can go down the list and admit where his weaknesses are: "I wish I followed that one all the time; I need more work on that one; this one I'm pretty good on, but could always be a little better; D'OH! ", and so on. There is always room for improvement, for progress, for evolution, and the Professional understands that. He doesn't stand still.
The Professional will look at these Seven Tenets and agree with all (or at least the majority) of them, while at the same time admitting to himself that he doesn't always live up to them.
Being a Professional isn't a destination at which one arrives, it's a journey one makes. It never ends. A Code, like this one, is a guidebook for that journey.
If you're a student of defensive shooting, it is what you should expect of your instructor. If you're an instructor, it comprises the things that you should want to do -- to better yourself, better serve your students, and move the industry as a whole forward.
This is an entry in my multi-part exploration of the “Code Of The Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor”. If you missed the opening article of this series, which has some background and a link to the Rob Pincus article where the Code was originally published, click here to read it.
"I believe that the best instructor is an avid student, and I will strive to continually upgrade my own skills and knowledge. As part of this belief, I understand that my own teachings need to be subject to critique and open to evolution."
I think every instructor I've ever met espouses this belief. I can count on one hand that number that I know to really live it. How do I know this? Because they're the only ones who ever change!
If someone is really putting themselves out there to learn, sooner or later their opinions or beliefs are going to change - unless they’re just studying the same things over and over.
Being an avid student doesn't mean just signing up for another class from one's favorite guru, nor does it mean taking a class from someone whose methodology is largely consistent with one's current worldview. It means seeking out new information and different approaches; being open and receptive to new ideas and giving them full (and honest) consideration.
One reason this doesn't happen is ego, particularly when we're dealing with schools of thought that are of the, shall we say, more testosterone-laden variety. It's hard to admit that one doesn't have all the answers, or one's chosen school/guru might be demonstrably wrong about something. This is why Tenet #2 is so important, because clinging to something out of pride, emotion, or misplaced loyalty instead of logic and reason serves as an impediment to being a student. It keeps one stuck in the same place with the same people doing the same things for the same misplaced reasons.
If an instructor is truly interested in broadening his knowledge and skills, he needs to get beyond that rut. He needs to be able to compare what he knows now with what he'll be learning, and come to a decision that's based on fact, not emotion. Sometimes he'll find that what he's doing is in fact the best thing for his students. However, if he finds that not to be true he owes it to himself (and his students) to change.
There is a caution here: this doesn't mean that an instructor should put himself into this new environment if all he wants is to get validation for his already strongly held opinions - and not listen to anything which doesn't do that. I observed just that kind of person a couple of years ago in someone else's class, and the results were very ugly. This particular instructor was so determined to listen only to those things that he already agreed with that he actually failed to heed the common safety precautions he was given. Luckily no one was hurt (unless you count some ego bruising), but it illustrates the danger of applying this tenet inappropriately.
You have to be open to change. You have to be willing to evolve. You have to look at your curriculum honestly, and be willing to admit that maybe, just maybe, you don't have all the answers. Someone else may have one that you'll need for next week's class, and if you don't seek it out it's your students who suffer.
Being an avid student is intellectually risky. This tenet begs you to take those risks.
More than anything, I think, this tenet serves as a sort of litmus test for the professional instructor. Professionals in other fields, like medicine, engineering, law, architecture - heck, even electricians and plumbers - are required by their associations or professional licenses to have a certain number of continuing education hours every year. The idea is that they'll be exposed to the latest knowledge that their fields offer, so that they can put that new knowledge to work immediately. In the training world we don't have that - yet - and it's up to the individual to do it him or herself.
That's it for my exploration of the Code of the Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor. I hope you've found it interesting, but I also hope that you see the value in the tenets of which it's comprised. Tomorrow I'll have some closing comments, and on Wednesday we’ll be back to the normal schedule here on the blog.
This is an entry in my multi-part exploration of the “Code Of The Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor”. If you missed the opening article of this series, which has some background and a link to the Rob Pincus article where the Code was originally published, click here to read it. "I believe that it is valuable to engage my peers in constructive conversation about differences in technique and concept, with the goal of mutual education and evolution."
This tenet is almost self-referential, as drafting and sharing this Code has been an act of constructive conversation!
The field of defensive shooting has for too long been dominated by warring factions. I've even heard stories from some of the senior people in this business about certain high profile trainers refusing to talk to other high profile trainers when in the same room! It seems to have calmed down a bit in the last decade, but we still have a few rock-throwers (and their attendant partisans) here and there.
As new blood has come into the field I'm seeing a lot more civil discourse happening, and this is all to the good. Being able to talk to another professional about what we do, and finding out why they might do something different, is the basis of professional interaction. People in other fields do it, and it’s about time we made that a normal part of our activities as well. Thats why this tenet is a vital part of the Code.
Of course (as I've mentioned more than once) understanding what we're teaching and why we're teaching it is a prerequisite; it's very difficult to tell someone why we teach something if we don't know ourselves!
Every professional interaction I've had with other instructors has been an opportunity to learn, even when our approaches were quite different. In each of these I've come away with something that made me a better instructor - if only because it gave me an opportunity to advance my ability to articulate what I do.
Professionals talk to each other - they don't throw rocks. This tenet is all about not throwing rocks!
This is an entry in my multi-part exploration of the “Code Of The Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor”. If you missed the opening article of this series, which has some background and a link to the Rob Pincus article where the Code was originally published, click here to read it. "I understand that Integrity and Professionalism are subjective traits and I strive to maintain high levels of both. I am capable of, and willing to, articulate the reasons for the way I conduct my courses and how I interact with students & peers."
Growing up in a small town, it was pretty much assumed that your parents would make you answer for anything you did. If they did not happen to be present in the moment, any adult could fill in for them - and the kids all knew it. I think having to answer for oneself has a chastening effect, which makes one a little more cognizant about that "whats" and "whys" of daily life.
If you knew that you had to answer to someone, do you think you'd run your classes a bit differently? Yes, I know that ultimately we're all accountable to our students in a financial sense, but actually having to answer questions - from them or someone else - about how we behave and how we conduct ourselves definitely serves as a moderating influence.
Professionals in other fields have boards of inquiry or standards that ask those questions and censor those who come up short. We don't have that in the defensive shooting world, and I’m not sure we’d want it, but each of us should behave as though we do. We should commit to being above board with how we run our businesses, how we treat suppliers, students, and colleagues. We should do it voluntarily, not because someone is waiting in the wings to take away our license to practice if we don't.
This tenet asks us to be self-motivated rather than having someone in authority push us into doing the right thing. We need to be willing not just to be accountable to our students and our colleagues for everything we do, but to ourselves as well. Each of us should judge our own conduct against high standards and be open to constructive criticism when we come up short.
This is an entry in my multi-part exploration of the “Code Of The Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor”. If you missed the opening article of this series, which has some background and a link to the Rob Pincus article where the Code was originally published, click here to read it. "I will encourage my students to ask questions about course material, and I will answer them with thorough and objective explanations."
This is my favorite of all the Tenets, mainly because it's one of my "hot button" issues. I’ve experienced first hand what happens when an instructor doesn’t follow this, and can tell stories about many more that I’ve observed. I'm sure you know folks like this, too.
It's actually very easy to discourage students from asking questions! Think back to when you were in college: how eager were you to ask, in front of people you barely knew, what might be seen as a 'stupid' question? Anything that the student perceives as being dismissive of their questions, or worse belittling of their state of knowledge, will put a damper not just on their desire for clarification - but the rest of the class as well.
In order to encourage students to ask questions, it's imperative to make sure that the environment is conducive to inquiry. Every student needs to feel comfortable asking any pertinent question, and moreover it's important to always prompt for those questions. The students need to know that they can ask even the most probing questions about the material without being made to feel that they're unworthy.
A contributor to that kind of atmosphere are the answers which are given. Answers need to be complete and based on fact, logic, and reason. Too often I've seen instructors give the flimsiest answers to even simple questions, using flawed logic (all too often Appeal To Authority), unsupported conjecture, and incomplete or out of date evidence. An answer should never rest on what someone else says or what the instructor's personal preference might be. Neither of those is factual or objective. There should be a good reason - preferably several - for every answer that's given.
The very worst situation is when questions are answered with dogmatic sound bites: pithy statements that contain no fact at all, but designed to be memorable and boost the instructor's ego. In one of the first classes I took, many years ago, the instructor had a particular stance he wanted the students to use. When asked (not by me - I was too intimidated!) why he didn't use another specific stance, he barked "because it's not a FIGHTING stance." That was the end of the discussion as far as he was concerned! There was no reason behind the statement, no definition of just what "fighting" meant or how it was determined or who determined it, just a sneer delivered with the kind of body language that signaled no further inquiry would be allowed.
That is the polar opposite of what this tenet aims to promote.
Student questions, to be sure, are dangerous because they can quickly expose an instructor’s weaknesses. If he doesn’t really know the material, why he’s teaching it, and how it fits into his student’s lives, any but the most superficial questions will reveal his lack of knowledge to the class. Remember when I said Tenet #2 was critical to adopting the tenets which follow? This is a perfect example of why! Discouraging questions isn’t just a sign of poor communication skills; it may be an indication that the instructor really doesn’t know himself why his material is important.
The professional gives the students plenty of opportunity to ask questions. He maintains an atmosphere in which discourse about the topics is not only allowed, but encouraged on a continual basis (once at the beginning of class isn't enough!) The answers to all questions are respectful of both the material and the student, and are based on provable and supportable facts - never opinions or sound bites.
This is an entry in my multi-part exploration of the “Code Of The Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor”. If you missed the opening article of this series, which has some background and a link to the Rob Pincus article where the Code was originally published, click here to read it.
"I recognize that defensive shooting skills, along with the drills and gear used, are inherently specialized and usually distinct from those of target shooting, competition and hunting endeavors." One Sunday when I was eight or nine years old my family went to visit relatives. My uncle's Army buddy and family had just moved to Oregon, and he wanted our family to meet them.
Sometime during the festivities I found myself, along with my mother and some other kids, in the Army buddy's station wagon; his wife was driving. She was headed up a narrow gravel road at a higher-than-advisable rate of speed, and on a turn managed to get the car sliding sideways. All the kids screamed, of course, as the car hit the shoulder and spun to a stop. I believe it was my mother who advised the woman to slow down, and I've never forgotten the answer that came back: "Don't worry - I've driven the streets of New York City for thirty years!" What traveling on a paved street at slow speed in heavy traffic had to do with navigating a winding gravel road I couldn't fathom then, and to this day still can't.
In her mind a gravel road in the sparsely populated mountains and the streets of a major city were the same because the vehicle was the same. It seems silly, but the same type of mistake is made by too many firearms instructors: the jobs must be the same, because they all involve guns.
It should be self-evident that the tools used in defensive shooting are different than, say, skeet shooting. It may be less obvious that there are equipment differences between self defense and IPSC or IDPA shooting. What many don't recognize at all, like our friend with the car, is that there are significant differences in the skills required, differences which lead to variations in the drills required to develop them.
It’s not simply about being pro-competition or anti-competition. The professional instructor needs to understand what, where and why the differences occur, and be able to articulate them clearly if he/she is to give the students what they need. This goes beyond the obvious stuff; it's necessary to understand the nuances, the seemingly little things that actually require big adjustments in curriculum. This only happens if the instructor isn't wedded to one point of view and if he/she really understands what defensive shooting is about.
The key with this tenet, I believe, is realizing that context drives what is used and taught. What makes sense in the context of a hunting trip or a shooting match or a self defense incident will at some level be different, and the instructor needs to be cognizant of that if the student is to be well served.
This is an entry in my multi-part exploration of the “Code Of The Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor”. If you missed the opening article of this series, which has some background and a link to the Rob Pincus article where the Code was originally published, click here to read it.
"I believe that it is my responsibility to understand not just what I’m teaching, but WHY I’m teaching any technique or concept, or offering specific advice."
We had quite a discussion about this particular tenet! It's deceptively simple, yet difficult to put into practice without some work and introspection on the part of the instructor. It's also important to the rest of the Tenets, because unless this one is dealt with properly those which follow cannot be adopted with integrity.
It's been my experience that few instructors really know why they're teaching or recommending something. What I mean by that is they haven't spent a lot of time asking (and answering) probing questions about their material: is this relevant to my student's actual needs; does it make sense; is it supported by objective evidence; is it consistent with everything else I teach; can it be understood; am I capable of explaining it in a way that can be understood?
For instance, if the answer to "why do I teach/recommend this" is "because that's the way I learned it in the Army/Navy/Marines/the NRA/my instructor development class", or "my guru/famous shooter does it that way", or "I read it in a book by a renowned author", then that person doesn't really understand why. The answers "because it works for me" or "because I prefer it myself" are no better.
Here's the tricky part: whether the technique or concept happens to be correct for any random student is not the point! That's teaching by chance, and the occasional success isn't relevant if the instructor doesn't understand why it is. The whole point of this tenet is a deep understanding of what's being taught before it's ever presented to the student, so that each one gets what they need and can apply directly to their own situation. It's always about the student.
The right answer to the "why" question is "because it's the best thing for the student, and here are the rational reasons which support it.” Every technique, every concept, every recommendation has to be considered by that measure. Is it any wonder why I think this is the most difficult - and, next to safety, the most important - of all the Tenets?
This is an entry in my multi-part exploration of the “Code Of The Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor”. If you missed the opening article of this series, which has some background and a link to the Rob Pincus article where the Code was originally published, click here to read it.
“I am committed to the safety of my students, and hold that the expected benefit of any training activity must significantly outweigh any known or perceived risk of that activity.”
Safety, for both our students and ourselves, is always our first priority. Why, then, isn't this tenet a recitation of safety rules? Because without the instructor having the proper frame of mind, even the best safety rules can and will fail.
We all know that shooting guns in a training environment involves some level of danger. We minimize our exposure to that danger - our risk level - by taking precautions. There is, for instance, always the danger of hearing damage whenever guns are fired. We reduce that risk by wearing hearing protection, allowing us to engage in shooting practice without having to worry about our ears.
If we didn't do that, the damage to our ears would outweigh the benefit of the training. By using ear protection, the benefit of the training is greater than the risk of hearing damage. We require our students to wear hearing protection so that the benefit of their training greatly outweighs that particular risk.
All of our safety rules should serve to reduce the risk of the activity, and we should require that our students follow them. Sometimes that's not enough; sometimes there is no rule or procedure that can make a particular activity safe in the way we've defined it. If that happens, then the activity needs to be modified or eliminated so that the risk/benefit ratio is maintained.
This isn't a cookie cutter or paint-by-numbers approach to safety because as instructors, it's our job to understand safety at a higher level than that; it's our job to understand it as a concept. We need to know how to apply the concept in ways that keep our students safe, and we do that by having rules and procedures that are relevant to the student’s needs and abilities. We need to look at all of our activities and drills and ask hard questions: what is the real benefit, is that benefit relevant to our student's lives, and does that benefit really outweigh all of the risks we're taking?
The student only needs to focus on what to do, while the teacher needs to focus on why they're doing it. That understanding is the difference between the teacher - the professional teacher - and the student.
Those of you who've been reading my work for any length of time might have noticed that I don't spend a lot of time talking about calibers, stopping power, or any of that nonsense - especially as it relates to self defense. That's because I believe that there are more important things with which to be concerned, things beyond those trite topics which are the staple of gun magazines and online forums.
I approach teaching with the same attitude; I tend not to get wrapped up in learning some trendy new technique to show off to my students, but instead I spend time learning how to be a better teacher, how to communicate more effectively, how to bring concepts and ideas to life for my students.
Stan Kenton once said of Lee Konitz that he was someone who was in constant study; perfection was not enough, and he was intent on achieving even greater heights. Konitz is an inspiration to me for that reason.
A chance encounter a few years back put me into contact with people in the defensive shooting world who share those same ideals. One you know, and one you should: Rob Pincus and Omari Broussard. Their passion for teaching is infectious, and I'm lucky to be able to rub shoulders with them.
Several months ago an interesting email conversation started between us, and it’s a conversation that today is causing ripples in the defensive shooting community. Rob was intent on getting a handle on the slippery notion of what constitutes a professional in this field. He was interested in statements, in descriptions, in measurements of what a professional instructor believes and how he/she puts those beliefs into practice
He started the brainstorming session by offering up a few ideas. Omari and I gave our feedback and some ideas of our own, and before long we had seven statements that we believed described the essence of professional instruction. It wasn't just us, though - they were shared with some of the most respected and progressive people in the business, who each gave their own feedback (and sometimes justified criticism.) Soon those statements, through the oversight of many, had become principles - tenets - of defensive training.
I wrote in my SHOT Show recap that there had been an informal meeting of some of the training field's best and brightest teachers. It was at that meeting that these tenets were revealed for the first time to a large group of people, and I must say that their reaction was almost unbelievably positive. We had people who espoused many different positions on what they were teaching, but who quickly found solid common ground on how they should teach and on what an instructor should be. We all signed the same document that said, in essence, "this is what I, too, believe."
This is just the beginning. More great things are coming, and soon.
I'm proud to have played some small part in what may be a seminal event in the defensive shooting world. We have agreement from a wide range of professionals not about guns or calibers or stances or reloading techniques, but rather the important stuff: how we teach, how we evolve, how we behave, and how we bring the best we can to our students.
As I said, go read Rob's article and the Seven Tenets. Then, for the next seven days, I'll be exploring each of those tenets here. I'll explain what I think about each one, why I thought it should be included in the Code, and how it affects what I teach and why I teach it. (That's right, seven back-to-back days of blogging - and you won't want to miss a single one!)
In case you got here from an outside link, here are the links to the individual entries (updated as each one is posted):
Soon to be seen at all the better streetcorner vendors, no doubt.
Recently a county right here in Oregon produced a quality video that aims to reduce misconceptions about officer-involved shootings. Titled “Hollywood vs. Reality”, it counters many of the common misconceptions about shootings in the line of duty. When you remember that some of those misconceptions often persist in private sector self defense, the value of a myth-busting video like this one should be clear. Definitely worth watching!
At SHOT I made a passing comment to Pharmacist Tommy that, in the context of defensive shooting, practicing double taps was a tacit admission that a person wasn't able to control their gun. He looked at me quizzically, as I'm sure you're doing right now.
(Let's get some terminology out of the way. Most people shooting double taps are firing two rounds in quick succession with one sight picture. Adherents to the so-called "Modern" Technique would scream that the term is used incorrectly, and that they are actually shooting 'hammers'. I'll concede the point, in the same way I concede that the Battle of Bunker Hill was in fact fought on Breed's Hill - you'll note it's made no difference in elementary school history lessons, however. I'll continue to use Bunker Hill and double tap to describe what the majority hold that they describe, because arguing the point wastes my time and doesn't change the outcome anyhow.)
Let's start with a question: why practice the double tap as a defensive tactic? When I watch surveillance and dashcam videos, regardless of the training level of the shooter, I don't see the stylized double tap. What I see instead, very consistently, is a string of fire without artificial pauses. After all, bullets are what stops bad guys -- and the faster those bullets get to him, the better.
If you need to shoot your attacker six times, and choose to do so with three double taps, that means the half-second pause between those strings gives him a full second to hurt you more. How many bullets can come out of his gun in one second? How many critical stab wounds can he inflict? How far can he move? Giving the bad guy any extra time is counter to your own self interest.
How about double-tapping, then assessing (as is still the recommendation in some training backwaters)? The answer is that there is no way to know ahead of time how many shots it's going to take to make your bad guy go away. That being the case, why on earth would you stop shooting at an arbitrary point if a threat is present? The time to asses is after the threat is no longer in front of your gun, whether that takes one, two, or five rounds. Practicing to always do that at two rounds means that if your fight goes longer and you stop to make your well-rehearsed assessment, you're exposing yourself needlessly to danger.
I could go on, but my point is that the double tap makes no sense in the context of surviving a lethal attack. The logical practice routine would be to always fire a random-length string of shots: two, three, four, and perhaps even occasionally five or six. Mix 'em up; don't get locked into any one pattern.
The double tap really doesn't have a use in defensive shooting, yet people all over the country continue to practice it. I believe the answer is simple, and I've observed it in action: if you ask any random shooter, regardless of his or her proficiency or training level, to shoot a string of three or four or five rounds at the same cadence (with the same "split time", or elapsed time between shots) as the double taps they're flinging downrange, the chances are almost certain that they won't be able to do so.
What usually happens is that the first two shots land in acceptable proximity to each other, but the third will climb significantly and the fourth is usually off the target. In order to land all their shots inside whatever reasonable target area is chosen, they need to slow down - sometimes significantly. In other words, they can't control their gun at that inflated rate.
Now, just about everyone will be faster at the double tap than at an extended string of fire. The point is that the longer strings of fire are what are most likely in the context of a defensive shooting, because the natural reaction is likely to be shooting until the threat goes away. If the gun can't be controlled in such a realistic or plausible shooting scenario, then that shooter needs a different gun (or much better technique) instead of gaming his or her practice to artificially inflate competence.
Shooting double taps instead of more realistic strings serves as proof that one cannot control the gun for the use to which it is likely to be put. It's up to the shooter to recognize, admit, and change.
Early last year I embarked on something of an experiment: carrying my gun not on my belt, as I've done for more years than I can remember, but in my front pocket. Exclusively.
I've carried in a pocket holster from time to time, usually when wearing a suit, so I'm not at all unfamiliar with the concept. I've never done so as my default method, and I wanted to see what it was like. What kinds of problems would I encounter?
My constant companion was one of a pair of pretty much identical, save for color, S&W Airweight Cenennials: a blued Model 042 and the dull silver-gray 642. Both of these are stock guns, meaning that I've done nothing to either one. (No, really!) I tried several holsters, and found that most of them really weren't terribly well thought out. I ended up using a cheap, cheesy, but serviceable Uncle Mike's pocket holster for the vast majority of the time. I carried my spare ammunition in Bianchi Speedstrips.
Why did I do this? For some time now I've been talking about the concept of congruency: that students should train with the guns that they'll actually be using to defend themselves, and further that instructors should be using the guns their students will be using. The problem, of course, is that people generally don't do that, and as a result instructors allow themselves to believe that their students really do conceal full-sized Government Models in their workaday world -- because that's what they bring to class. It's a delusional feedback loop.
In reality, most of the people I talk to who are carrying medium- to full-sized autoloaders in class sheepishly admit that during the week they tote a compact auto or a five-shot revolver in their front pocket, because that's what they can easily get away with in their place of employment. As a fraternity, instructors are not doing a very good job of getting past this deception; I don't think they really want to know. Classes are structured to artificially favor the larger autoloading pistols, because that's what usually shows up on the belts of students. The students, for their part, feel compelled to "up gun" for the class so that they can perform well and save face. The loop intensifies.
What the instructor carries every day is irrelevant; it's what the student carries that needs to be the primary consideration in curriculum design. I decided that I wasn't living up to my own criticisms, and resolved to spend the majority of 2011 carrying not what I like to carry, but what an awful lot of people who look to me for advice and guidance are going to be carrying. (No, I didn't make the "I carry a 'J' frame as a backup, so that counts" rationalization. This was to be my primary, and only, carry piece. Just like everyone else.)
Save for one instructor's conference, where I used a Glock because a) I hadn't had any serious autoloader trigger time in a couple of years and b) had no one to negatively influence, I carried and taught with those compact revolvers for the year.
I liked (actually loved) the ease with which I could dress around the gun. I liked that I could carry in sweatpants in the same place and manner of my street clothes. I liked that wether I wore a suit or work pants, my gun was in the same place all the time. I learned a lot about deploying the gun from that carry position, from the difficulty accessing it at speed to the occasional instances of the holster and gun coming out as a unit. I came away with some very specific ideas on how a pocket holster for a revolver should be made and marveled that almost none of the holster makers have figured this out yet. (Then again, it’s hard to find really well designed revolver belt holsters, a lament that I made in my book.)
Did I ever feel under gunned? No. I remain unconvinced that it’s necessary to carry a 51 rounds of ammunition just to survive a criminal attack, an idea that has great support amongst certain segments of the training industry. (I'm still looking for all those cases in which someone involved in a private sector defensive shooting incident was injured or killed because their gun didn't contain enough bullets. Haven't found any yet, though I keep asking people to forward them to me.)
At the end of the experiment, I'm finding it very difficult to return to my belt-mounted carry pieces. I'm actually happy about that, because I think I've now got a solid understanding of the limitations (and the freedoms) that my students experience. Suppositions have been replaced by evidence.
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to decide between blue or plain aluminum for today.
I trust everyone had a good weekend, and I hope your Christmas was a joyous and meaningful time with family and friends.
From news stories it was apparent that firearms were a major item this year. Various explanations have been suggested for this, from concern about new purchase restrictions to fear of economically-inspired criminal violence, but I prefer to think of it as a sign that the pendulum has inevitably swung: guns are once again becoming socially acceptable.
Those who remember the 1950s and 1960s will recall that shooting was a big thing amongst the Hollywood crowd, and thus with the general public as well. Actor Robert Stack, for instance, was a champion shotgunner, and many recognizable names participated in 'quick draw' competitions as a hobby. This stands in stark contrast to recent decades when Hollywood has been the source of virulent (and hypocritical) anti-gunners.
I’m not yet convinced that the era of guns-as-common-recreational-objects will be resurrected, but they at least seem to have shed the worst of their manufactured reputation as evil objects to be avoided. The gun seems instead to be assuming the role of the speciality tool: something you own or use to do a specific task. The days of the anthropomorphized, self-propelled mayhem machine appear to be waning, and none too soon. Many people - yours truly included - have been equating the gun with the fire extinguisher or first aid kit, and I'm hopeful that those analogies are helping to fuel this resurgence in gun ownership.
This last week before New Year's Day is a good time for reflection and contemplation. From the standpoint of you and your family's safety and security, I hope you'll give some thought to getting good training in the coming year.
What is "good" training? Training which is congruent with the kinds of situations in which you anticipate using your gun. If you carry a handgun for personal protection, a course that teaches the best response to a surprise criminal attack would be advisable; if you keep a gun for home defense, a class on how to handle the scenarios you're likely to face in your own house might be in order.
There are any number of quality classes and instructors available today, more so than probably any time in history. (Permit me to toot my own horn in this regard!) Resolve to make 2012 the year that you increase your knowledge and skill level with the guns you own.
(If you're an instructor yourself, there will be opportunities for you to advance your teaching skills and professional standing. Take advantage of them.)
And now, a little tease: the first Friday of the new year will feature a really neat Ed Harris article which I just received. All I'm going to say is wait until you see what he got for Christmas!
Tom Givens is someone you should know. Tom and his wife Lynn run Rangemaster down in Memphis, Tennessee, where they teach people to protect themselves with a handgun.
Now, Tom and Lynn aren't your average instructors; while you may not have heard of them, they command respect from the rest of us in the defensive training field because of the top-flight instruction they provide to their students. Rangemaster occupies a very interesting place in the self defense universe because their students have been involved in (at last count) over 60 self-defense shootings -- with stunning results.
Memphis, as Tom tells me, is a very violent city that exists inside of a strong self-defense gun culture. The result is that bad guys in Memphis very often come up against legally armed good guys, and if those good guys (and gals) trained at Rangemaster they almost invariably come out on top.
Tom has taken the time to interview those students who had to pull the trigger in self defense, and today has the best database of private sector defensive shootings that exists. He's very thorough in his debriefs, and because of that the rest of us have hard data on which to base our training.
Recently Tom sat down with Rob Pincus and produced a DVD in the Personal Firearms Defense series. Titled "Lessons From The Street", it details ten of his student's incidents with lots of detail and lessons learned. I recently got a copy, and it is definitely worth your effort to acquire.
The realities that he presents may change your perceptions of what actually happens in a fight, and can help you evaluate (and perhaps change) your own training to reflect the realities of a criminal attack.
Tom tells me that he’s still got a few copies left, and you can get yours for $14.95 plus postage. To order, get your credit card ready and give Rangemaster a call at 901-370-5600. It’s a terrific and unique resource that you shouldn’t be without.
There's a lot to say about this incident beyond just the safety failures. What struck me, however, wasn’t his gun handling stupidity; is was the erroneous training decisions he made before he ever committed a safety violation. It's one of those decisions that I want to discuss today.
First, an illustrative digression: many years back I was in (ironically) Washington state shooting a "tactical" match. One of the stages had the shooter standing in front of a single cardboard target with simple directions: at the buzzer, draw and put one round into the IPSC "A" zone as fast as you can; re-holster, and repeat for a total of five shots.
I was using a Colt Python in a straight-drop tunnel-loop holster and realized that I could easily 'game' the stage. The target was set abnormally low for a person of average height, which made it just right for me. All I needed to do was pull the gun from the holster, raise the muzzle to place it parallel with the ground at roughly my mid-torso, and fire. I never reached extension; it looked very much like an old FBI point shooting technique. My first draw and fire was .85 seconds and they got a little faster from there. If my memory is accurate, the fastest was something like .70 seconds. All were hits.
It was an interesting exercise and I'm sure that there are those out there who think it a good defensive shooting drill, but it's not. I was standing in front of a target which had been identified for me, the area of precision I needed to hit was predefined, I had already determined exactly what I was going to do, and I had my hands in the perfect place waiting for a buzzer which I knew was my permission to shoot. It meant nothing other than I was really fast under those artificial conditions, regardless of the importance given it by anyone else.
The fellow from the news account made a similar error of concluding that his "quick draw" was a significant thing to practice -- so much so that he absolutely needed a realistically weighted magazine to make the drill complete. There are legions of people out there just like him, oblivious to the reality that how fast one can draw is really of little importance in a defensive shooting encounter. Far more important is the ability to first recognize that an attack is happening, then efficiently process that information and recall the skills necessary to respond appropriately. The time sink isn't in the execution of the learned skills -- the quick draw -- it's in the recognition and recall.
Practicing the drawstroke by itself is called “skills in isolation", and it's a common error people make in practicing for defensive shooting. Is getting the gun out of the holster important? Yes, it is. But learning to react to a threat stimulus, efficiently process that information and develop the mental linkage which allows relevant skills to be performed without cognitive thought, is more important. Skills need context, a real relationship to the circumstances in which they'll be used, in order to be useful.
Draw practice, pulling the gun from the holster after getting ready and knowing ahead of time what you're going to do, is a simple mechanical action. It's an athletic skill, nothing more, and relative to all the other things you need to do in a critical situation not even the most important. Figuring out that you actually have a situation where you need to shoot, and figuring out WHO you need to shoot, is more important and usually the most time consuming.
How should one realistically practice? Read the last two sections of this article over at the Personal Defense Network. A good defensive practice routine involves processing information and making decisions. It requires a random start command, one that forces the shooter to think about what he's doing, identify what he's dealing with, recognize the precision required, and recall the skills necessary to make the shot(s).
Can this be done at home? To a certain extent, yes. Having a training partner, or a smartphone app which randomizes the target calls and rounds needed, is a must. Couple that with one of the laser shot designators which are affordably available allows the kind of contextual training which is actually valid to developing self defense skills.
(There is a caveat: this is no substitute for doing the exercises in live fire. Shooting multiple 'shots' without recoil and muzzle blast is of no use. This kind of training is really only valuable to the extent of developing the necessary processing skills and verifying that the first 'shot' hits.)
The way I see it, this fellow set himself up for failure by insisting on practicing something of relatively minor importance, and doing so without any context to a real need. Forget about the safety rule violations for now -- his first mistake was making a poor decision about what he was going to "practice". The rest was simple negligence.
As I sat eating lunch last week I found myself perusing a gun forum with which I'm not all that familiar. On it I ran across a post from a fairly well known trainer, one that most shooters would not recognize but those familiar with the training world might. I've never met the guy, let alone trained with him, but his comments left me distinctly perturbed.
The statement was in reference to some particular techniques that he finds important to teach. In defending his approach, he wrote "I know, statistically, it is unlikely that you'll ever need these skills. Of course, statistically, it is unlikely you will ever need a gun at all."
I’m not at all sure that he understands the implications of what he said.
Let me start with some perspective. The American Cancer Society tells us that approximately 1.5 million cases of cancer will be diagnosed this year. With the U.S. population standing at a tad over 307 million as of the last census, that puts those patients at about .48% of the population. That’s right - less than one-half of one percent of the population of the U.S. can expect to be diagnosed with cancer, which one would have to say is a pretty small number. (As it happens, it's still quite a bit smaller than the percentage of people that Kleck and Gertz tell us will use a gun in self defense the same year, by roughly half. Keep that in mind.)
Those numbers make it statistically unlikely that any one person will develop cancer in any given year; the total number of cases is small compared to the whole population. Even though cancer of all types is not terribly common, we all know that not all cancers (nor diagnoses) are equally likely, let alone have the same outcome. Some cancers are far less prevalent than others; salivary gland cancer, for instance, occurs in perhaps 6,000 people per year - compared to nearly a quarter-million who develop who develop prostate cancer. That’s a huge difference despite the fact that neither is likely to occur.
What medical science doesn't do is to flail about and proclaim that since any cancer is "statistically unlikely" to begin with, they’ll throw the same treatment at all of them in hopes that something works. That's not how science is done, and it's not how lives are saved.
Within that small data set of cancer cases there is a huge range of probabilities and outcomes. It's that very fact that enables medical science to classify each case and use the best treatment approach based on where it falls in the data matrix. Since not all are alike, all do not get the same treatment.
This extends to the research realm as well. We don't spend as much time and money developing cures for salivary gland cancer as we do for prostate cancer. We put our research resources where they will do the most good, where they will save the most lives.
Am I saying that defensive shooting is the same as cancer? Of course not. What I am saying, though, is that just because an occurrence of an event is unlikely doesn't mean that all such occurrences are the same. A small data set does not imply homogeneity; even in small data sets there are differing circumstances and results. To imply otherwise is ignorant (or manipulative.)
Of course it's statistically unlikely that at any given time you'll need to use your gun. This is not news. Needing to use a gun to defend yourself is about twice as likely as you developing cancer this year, mind you, but it's still unlikely. Just because it's unlikely, however, does not mean that all skill sets related to a defensive shooting are of equal value!
Just as some cancers are more common than others, some defensive scenarios are more likely than others. For instance, how often in private sector self defense incidents are people called on to make 100-yard hostage rescue headshots with a handgun? It may have happened somewhere or at some time in history, but I think you'd be hard pressed to find a single case - let alone any sort of trend. Is that of equal probability to dealing with a simple assault in a parking lot after dark? Of course not.
Should we train equally in the skills necessary to deal with those two disparate events simply because neither is "statistically likely"? I don't think so.
When we look at defensive shooting threats and scenarios, there are some that are possible but have rarely (if ever) happened; there are some which happen occasionally but not often, making them at least plausible; and there are those which happen often enough that we can see some sort of likelihood, a certain probability of occurrence. Our problem as students is that none of us has the unlimited time or resources necessary to train for everything which is merely possible. We have to take into account the likelihood, the plausibility, of what can happen when we make training and technique decisions.
Using the "statistically unlikely you will ever need a gun at all" argument in relation to training is a smokescreen, a way to ignore the concept of plausibility. It's an attempt to deflect the student's attention, to get them to suspend their critical thinking so that they don't question the actual value of the technique. Yes, it is unlikely that you'll need to use your gun - but saying so doesn't magically transform "possible" into "likely", and doesn't elevate a rarely needed skill into something which is vital to learn.
The annual Conference is a chance for active Combat Focus Shooting (CFS) instructors to get together with peers to exchange ideas, learn new concepts, develop skills, and have a little fun at the same time. In this conference we looked at some of the latest information about how attacks happen and how the body reacts to them, and asked ourselves how that changes what we teach and how we teach it. We learned and we grew.
This DNA-level commitment to progress is one of the things that sets the CFS program far apart from others. In any field of human endeavor perspective changes along with knowledge, and defensive skills are no different. Collectively we learn more every day about how to survive deadly encounters; the problem is that so very few instructors or programs are truly committed to evolving with that increasing knowledge.
Let's face it: humans are often resistant to change, particularly when that change means admitting that we are in some way wrong. When we have a lot of ego investment in what we do and how we do it, it becomes darn near impossible to make substantive changes even when they're really necessary.
For instance, I've always considered myself reasonably fit. I'm no athlete, but owing to the heavy work I do around our homestead I'm in better shape than at least half of the people my age. As I learned this weekend I still need some work in that area, and it's important because fitness is critical to long-term survival. Being fit not only helps you survive a deadly attack, but also helps you to survive equally life-threatening but far more common things like heart disease and diabetes. Only by stepping away from my ego am I able to see that and make the changes I need to make.
In CFS we're able to make progress, to evolve our program, precisely because of this lack of ego. Don't get me wrong: there are a lot of Type-A personalities in our group, but very little ego. I know that sounds contradictory, but it's not! One can be very committed and very driven with regard to a topic without the exaggerated self importance that comes from ego.
Colleague Ricardo Pipa put it best: “we lack ego, we are collaborative." We acknowledge that sometimes new knowledge makes old positions untenable, and we change those positions to the benefit of our students and the defensive shooting community as a whole. That's what makes CFS, in the words of founder Rob Pincus, the most progressive defensive shooting program "on the planet."
On a personal note I progressed toward a couple of additional certifications: one for the rifle (Combat Focus Carbine) and one for a new program aimed at absolute beginners in the defensive shooting world (more on that later.) I don't yet know if I passed either one - CFS instructor certifications are notoriously difficult to acquire - but I hope to hear good news later this week.
Regarding my fellow CFS instructors, I don't wish to be maudlin. I'll close simply by saying that they are, in the words of the original Hawkeye Pierce, "the Finest Kind."
Seems a lot of people are interested in the lever action as a home defense weapon. Any choice of defensive armament has pros and cons, so let's consider the lever action chambered in a pistol cartridge. Some of these are true of all long guns (rifles, shotguns) while some are specific to the one under discussion.
Pro: Good power level, likely to stop a threat with a minimum of shots. Pro: Not overly powerful like a full sized rifle cartridge, less likely to over-penetrate target. Pro: Good magazine capacity - nine rounds is the norm. Pro: Generally ambidextrous operation. Pro: Simple manual of arms for the less dedicated in the household. Pro: Long sight radius results in better accuracy than a handgun. Pro: Low recoil level makes it easy for everyone to shoot. Pro: Increased lethal range over a handgun.
Con: Harder to maneuver in confined spaces than a handgun, is easier to take away in a struggle. Con: Harder/slower to reload, on the slim chance that it be necessary. Con: Requires some practice and dexterity to operate lever efficiently. Con: Slower to deploy/employ than a handgun. Con: Missed shots will penetrate typical exterior walls. Con: Difficult to use with flashlight. Con: Hard to run efficiently one-handed.
These are just off the top of my head; I'm sure you can come up with others.
Is the lever action right for you? That depends on the circumstances; in cases where the long gun makes sense the lever action is often a good choice.
If you live alone (or with your spouse), and won't be faced with the need to travel through your house to gather up loved ones, the long gun is ideal for defense of a barricaded position. If you have kids at home, and thus a very real need to bring them into the safe room which you control, the long gun is less than ideal. (Of course you can mix and match: use a handgun to get the kids back to safety, and switch to the long gun once you're in your safe position.)
If you live on acreage, especially if you have livestock that is subject to predation, a long gun might be an excellent choice as a "perimeter defense' tool.
If the long gun is appropriate for the intended use, the pistol caliber lever action has some advantages over the other choices in the category.
Compared to a regular rifle cartridge the pistol caliber lever action has less recoil, less muzzle blast, and substantially greater ammunition capacity. It's more than powerful enough for any plausible defensive use, enough so that it can even be used for hunting deer.
Compared to a shotgun it's easier to shoot. Even the light 20 gauge, of which I'm a huge fan, is substantially harder on the shooter than the lever action - there’s more recoil and the manual of arms is a little more complicated (you don't have carrier releases on lever actions, for instance.) I've found that the pistol-caliber lever action is a gun that even the least experienced and most sensitive shooters like to use. If you have non-enthusiasts in your household, having a gun that they actually like to practice with will go a long way to helping maintain their proficiency!
Again, the lever action isn’t perfect for everyone or every situation. It is, however, a compelling choice for many.
Something I've noticed in the last year or so: as I've incorporated the concepts of reality-based training (RBT) in my teaching and practice, my point of view has changed. I'm not really aware of it until I'm around people who haven't had that exposure, and then the contrast becomes stark.
The realities of how attacks actually occur and our reactions (instinctive and intuitive) affect not only how and what we train, but what we train with. My upcoming article over at the Personal Defense Network examines this idea with regard to the seemingly banal process of holster choice, and this weekend it cropped up during an informal gun test in which I participated.
I was assisting with a rifle class and one of the other instructors brought in one of the new uber-compact 9mm pistols that are all the rage. We all got a chance to shoot the thing, and the results were telling.
Most people's approach to testing a new gun is to get set into a 'proper' range-based stance, carefully line up the sights, and make a slow, smooth shot; repeat until the magazine is empty, and declare it a wonderful gun. Everyone at this range did that, and I used to do that too, but lately I've been testing guns under the conditions I expect to use them, conditions that are congruent with the gun's purpose.
For a defensive gun that means shooting as if I'm being attacked.
I'd already played with the thing, so I was familiar with how it worked and how the trigger broke. In terms of the gun's operation there were no surprises. I chambered a round and, from the high compressed ready position, extended and pressed the trigger repeatedly and rapidly. I shot at a pace that was consistent with how I shoot an Airweight 'J' frame, which frequent and realistic practice has taught me would deliver the balance of speed and precision needed to put rounds on the target (the ring in an IDPA silhouette) at the distance I was standing (about 5 yards.)
The results were awful. This particular gun is so slim and flat that the grip panels do not appreciably contact the palm of the hand, and the only points of real contact - the front and backstraps - were polished and finished in a smooth gloss. The result was an alarming lack of control when shooting at a realistic pace. My first three shots landed in the target area, but the final three drifted far to the right as the gun rotated against the pressure of my hands.
I inserted a second magazine and consciously tried to counter the torque of the little monster. The results were a little better, but the extreme amount of physical force I applied to the gun brought my group down and to the left. As long as the gun was shot sedately, like on a nice friendly target range, it performed. Pushed into a more realistic shooting circumstance, it simply failed because of design flaws - the people who built it didn't understand the context in which the gun would likely be used. They built a miniature target pistol, but they’re selling it as a fighting tool.
Are there some people who might be able to make it work under realistic conditions? Perhaps, but no one else that day even tried; the closest anyone got was to do a sequence of double-taps/controlled pairs (a shooting method which illustrates that a gun can't actually be controlled for a realistic string of fire) and the results weren't a whole lot better. Would more practice - familiarity - with the gun improve my results? Experience suggests this is unlikely, as the first couple of magazines/cylinders out of a new-to-me gun are almost always my best.
I’ve covered this before, and it bears repeating: any shooting you do has to be in context. Are you practicing for an IDPA match, or are you practicing for the time when you're surprised and in true fear of your life?
What I see when I watch videos of actual shootings isn't the carefully measured BANG.....BANG.....BANG.....BANG.....BANG.....BANG of the target range, and It usually isn’t the contrived BANGBANG.....BANGBANG.....BANGBANG of the shooting match. What I see consistently, when people are surprised and in true fear for their life, is BANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANG. That's because the human in full reactive survival mode wants the threat gone as quickly as possible, and knows that the only thing which will do that is rounds on target.
Whether or not he/she can control the gun in those circumstances is the variable, which is why I insist on training in context so that I know I can do so.
When training isn't congruent with the realities of the fight, or if the equipment doesn't work well in that context, the needed hits won't be there. We call that 'inefficient' - using more of our own resources (time, energy, ammunition, space) than necessary to achieve the goal (making the bad guy go away.)
Ironically, in these very small guns a lesser cartridge, like the lowly and maligned .380ACP, may actually be the better choice if it allows the defender to shoot with a balance of speed and precision that achieves the necessary efficiency.
The only way one can know for sure is to practice and test realistically. On this day, I did and it greatly affected my opinion of the hardware. If it weren't for the understanding of context in training, today I'd be telling you what a great little gun it is.
Sadly, I’ve seen it before: tactical 'expert' pronounces that if you don't use his pet technique, "you're going to get hit". A variation: "well, if you don't want to take a bullet you'd better do this."
Whether or not I agree with the technique being presented, I hate that method of getting a point across because everyone knows (or should know) it's nonsense.
Take, for instance, moving off the vector of an attack (which some refer to as "get off the X") while at the same time shooting at the threat. This has been raised to a religion in some schools, and one such congregant recently defended the idea by saying "people who stand still get shot."
If that's true, then there should be a whole lot of people around (whether alive or deceased) who can be used as examples. Humans have been defending themselves with firearms for more than a century, and the huge overwhelming majority of those people had no formal training before doing so. Since they were likely not trained to move, how did they manage to survive not getting hit? The fact that they generally did leads us to question the logic behind the statement.
I'm sure that with enough digging you could find one or two, but this fellow's absolutist statement would require that there be a whole lot of those folks - and I think even a little searching will show that there aren't.
This is the case with so much defensive training: when there really isn't logic or fact behind what's being taught, instructors will sometimes fall back on hyperbole to prevent the student from asking the hard questions. There may in fact be a benefit to a certain technique, but the benefit is less than the cost; there may, in fact, be zero benefit. It's up to the student to recognize when hyperbole is being used to mask a deficiency, and respectfully ask for a logical explanation of what's being taught.
Do I believe there is a benefit to moving offline during an attack? Yes. Do I believe that it is always a good idea to continue that movement while I shoot back? No, and I think that I do a pretty good job of explaining “why” to my students without insulting their intelligence or trying to scare them into compliance. There is a cost/benefit ratio with any defensive move, and I think it’s a disservice not to communicate that to a student.
Reason. Fact. Ask for them by name. Politely, of course!
An article by Greg Ellifritz, titled "An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power", caused some waves a few weeks back. Like all such attempts at quantifying shooting incidents, it suffers from a lack of strictly filtered data and results in less adherence to statistical principles and methods than I would like (no confidence interval, for instance.)
I acknowledge that this is a problem with all shooting studies, simply because no two bullet paths are ever identical. I think it’s important to understand that one must be extremely careful about applying any such study in a prescriptive manner, and cognizant of the potential inaccuracies that are part and parcel of the kind of data being studied. That being said, I think Ellifritz gives us a much more realistic look at the topic than Marshall & Sanow ever did.
Even with my reservations, there much in his compilation that I think is interesting from a training standpoint (even if it might not be a completely reliable predictor.) Take, for instance, the number of people who failed to be incapacitated by shots fired. His figures for all calibers remain remarkably consistent, hovering around 13%, right down to the lowly .380 ACP. Below that, the numbers more than double but again remain surprisingly consistent.
The reason this is interesting is because today's training emphasizes engagement until the threat ceases activity. In the old days, when lots of people believed that certain calibers were magic wands, the common training was to shoot two rounds and assess the situation. This was aided and abetted by the bogus one-stop-shot percentages that were all the rage at the time (and continue to be in certain circles.)
Thankfully that changed as more and more people noticed that bad guys didn't always stop with the first round, and that the best course of action was to keep shooting until he did. That's the norm today: shoot until the threat ceases (though there are still some backwaters where the outdated techniques are still taught with gusto.)
If we’re going to shoot until the threat goes away, are there any calibers which won’t reliably achieve that goal? Not as many as you might think.
If his data is reliable it would tend to support my long-held view that there is a floor beneath which calibers are not terribly effective for self defense, and that the floor is probably lower than most gunnies will admit. I know more than one gunstore goon who sneers at the .380ACP, yet I've met people who've used it quite successfully. Ellifritz's article suggests that their successes were not unusual.
Those same people think I'm daft for loading my revolvers with "only" .38 +P rounds instead of the .357 Magnum, but I'm more than comfortable with my choice because I know it's based on a rational assessment of its performance over a long period of time.
One thing to keep in mind: a lack of incapacitation does not mean that the rounds failed their job! Even though not incapacitated, the bad guys may have changed their minds and stopped their activity without being physiologically forced to do so. That's just one of the problems with blindly applying data from these kinds of studies, because the lesser calibers might in fact be more useful than this would suggest. Still, it is a different way of looking at the issue.
Bottom line: pick your gun based on your ability to use it efficiently, practice frequently and realistically with it, and you'll be far more prepared than the average gunshow denizen who loudly proclaims that all good self defense calibers must begin with '.4'.
On Monday I commented about a video from an outfit called American Defense Enterprises (ADE.) In it, a group of black-clad aspirants show us what they can do with guns. It was apparently so embarrassing that ADE actually pulled it from YouTube, but luckily someone managed to snag a copy and put it back up (and with a far more appropriate soundtrack!)
The whole video looks like a Hollywood caricature of firearms use; the word that kept popping into my head was 'choreography'. Hmmm....sure enough, ADE is headquartered on Wilshire Blvd in Los Angeles. That would go a long way to explaining why the video looks more like a video gamer's wet dream than realistic defensive shooting.
You really need to watch the video, as it illustrates some vital principles about how you should NOT train. How plausible are the scenarios they're setting up? Look at the safety aspect of some of their drills - is there a benefit that outweighs the not inconsiderable risks? My answers would be ‘not very’ and ‘no’.
I'll go out on a limb here: it's damn near impossible to produce an exciting video clip of quality defensive shooting instruction, because at its core it is boring. Learning to shoot efficiently doesn't lend itself to flashy room clearing footage, and how one deals with a real threat doesn't look anything like an exciting team assault. Defensive shooting is as much about concepts and processes as it is techniques, and when was the last time you saw a blood-pumping video of a concept?
If you want to see good defensive shooting videos, you can find them at the Personal Defense Network. If you want entertainment, watch the video under discussion.
While easting my lunch yesterday I decided to do a little surfing. I bounced around a bit, watched a couple of YouTube videos, and ended up doing something I always regret: checking out some of the more popular gun forums. Why 'regret'? Because they usually make my head hurt; inanity does that to me.
Yesterday's was a thread with the title "I need a gun-friendly lawyer." The writer goes on to say that he needs to find one in his area in case he's ever involved in a self-defense shooting.
Sadly, no one gave him the correct answer: "no, you don't. You need a lawyer who's good at his/her job."
If you're involved in a defensive shooting, what you want is a lawyer who understands the intricacies of the justice system, but more importantly understands the unique demands of making the affirmative defense that exists in all righteous self-defense cases: 'yes, I shot him, and I had a darned good reason to do so.' Whether that lawyer happens to be "gun friendly" is beside the point - you pick the lawyer on expertise, not affinity with your hobbies.
Though not related to self defense, I have an illustration of the concept. A number of years ago I was a member of a large gun club. Our club had a big parcel of land, part of which was encumbered by a power company right-of-way. There were a lot of complicated legal issues about what could and could not be done on that slice of property, and we needed the best real estate/natural resource lawyer we could get. As it happened, he was at best ambivalent about guns; he told the Board that he didn't really feel comfortable around them and didn't want to be. At first this angered the membership, who felt their dues were going to pay an anti-gunner.
Luckily the Board used their critical thinking skills and decided that it was a good idea to have an attorney who understood land use law better than ballistics. He turned out to be a tireless advocate for our cause, prevailing multiple times against a huge legal department filled with good lawyers. If we'd insisted on a lawyer who liked guns, we might not have been so fortunate.
Don't start your search by looking for "gun friendly" attorneys. Instead look for attorneys who have experience with prosecutions for serious charges. That might be a criminal defense attorney, maybe a former prosecutor who now works the other side of the street, or perhaps the lawyer who defends police officers when they've discharged their firearms in the line of duty. What you want is someone who can defend you, not who agrees with you. Once you've found that person, then you can decide if his/her opinions on firearms are likely to be a help or a hinderance in your case.
Of course if you can find a good defense lawyer who is also sympathetic to the rights of gun owners, so much the better. You’re not likely to find them on some ill-defined list of “gun friendly attorneys”; instead, such people tend to hang with the Armed Citizen's Legal Defense Network. Because of that it's an organization well worth your time to investigate.
Critical thinking: much better than listening to some anonymous guy who calls himself “Rock-A-Glock47”.
Every so often I'll have a spare moment and just happen to be sitting near the computer. It's at those times that I visit one of the gun forums (fora?) just to see what's up with the world. More precisely, what's up in some very small portion of the world, one which is usually severely skewed.
One such moment happened last weekend while I was waiting for dinner to finish cooking. (Actually, I was waiting for my wife to finish cooking dinner since my culinary skills are limited to "I'd like to place a to-go order".) I dropped in on one forum where the main topic of conversation appeared to be the emergence of flash mobs for nefarious purposes.
Up until lately flash mobs existed to do stuff like umbrella dances and public sing-alongs. I'd always found them charming in an urbanites-need-something-to-take-their-minds-off-the-cage-they're-in sort of way, but over the last several weeks they've come to be used for criminal activity. It was, in hindsight, inevitable.
The discussion on this particular forum centered on how to protect oneself from a flash mob attack. It started out with a discussion of how much ammunition you should be carrying on your person (naturally there was the obligatory picture of one guy's carry rig with the proud explanation that he'd found a way to tote over fifty rounds, ready to go at a moment's notice.) Talk quickly devolved to OC grenades and how many of them you should have in your car. Some were even wondering if they were legal for concealed carry.
Yes, grenades. Yes, they were serious.
You can't prepare for everything, if for no other reason than you can't carry everything you'd need for all contingencies. Like Steven Wright says: "You can't have everything -- where would you put it??" You have to decide what are the likely threats you'll face and pick your skills and equipment to deal with those situations. Whatever level that may be is going to be different from others, because the probabilities are dramatically influenced by your environment and your habits.
Just because some anonymous nut on a forum is carrying OC grenades doesn't mean that you need to. Remember, a dispassionate review of the risks involved would probably lead to the conclusion that HE doesn't need to either. Finally, keep this in mind: whatever hardware you decide is appropriate for you, it needs to be such that you can carry it all the time. Loading up for the Apocalypse on the weekend but having a .380 automatic in your pants pocket for the bulk of your week isn't consistent, and it's probably not congruent with the threats you're really facing and where they're likely to occur.
This piece is probably going to be controversial, because it takes a fresh and different look at how we think about accuracy and precision in the context of self defense. In it I make the case that shooting 'better' shouldn't be our goal -- shooting more appropriately should be. If I may be so bold, I think it's one of the more important things I've written.
It's a longish article that explores these concepts at a deeper level than you're going to find in the gunzines. Read it thoroughly and consider carefully the issues raised.
Here's how things work around here: I collect interesting snippets of information that are relevant to the topics of this blog (namely revolvers, shooting, and self defense) and write posts inspired by those snippets. Sometimes it's a news story that sets things in motion, sometimes it's my own experiences, and occasionally it's a remark by another blogger.
I usually write something up and hang on to it for release when I have room. For instance, Fridays are always devoted to an off-topic surprise so I hold any topical things for the following Monday. This week the CenturioGroup nonsense about lumens popped up and I was so excited to comment that I bumped the article I'd planned to today. It was based on a post last month at another blog, but there was no hurry because it wasn't any sort of current event.
In the meantime several other bloggers jumped in to comment, making me look like a Johnny-come-lately. This isn't the first time I've been scooped, though; I've lost count of the number of times I've thought "I'll get to this next week", only to have the entire blogosphere jump on the topic while I was busy doing more important things -- like earning a living.
Just so you know: I wrote the following last week. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Miguel over at The Gun Free Zone recently wrote a piece defending the 'shoot me first' vest -- that item of clothing, usually attributed to photographers, which is often the choice of the IDPA crowd. I don't like the things. Not necessarily because a bad guy will target the wearer of such a vest (there is no evidence either way on that assertion), but simply because they are an affectation. They always have been.
Back in the early 1980s I was working in a camera store and selling gear to actual working photographers. We had 'photographers vests' for sale, but rarely sold any -- and never to a real professional. Everyone considered them a mark of the dilettante, and no one I knew would be caught dead in one. Flash forward to 2011 and they still look silly.
That's not to say that you can't wear one (it is, after all, a semi-free country), but it's advisable to do so only if it's not out of place in your environment. I'm a big believer in blending in whenever possible, of not calling any more attention to oneself than necessary, and the 'photographer's vest' is almost always anomalous. Off the top of my head I can’t think of an environment where one wouldn’t stand out, save an IDPA match.
The funny part is that if one is fixated on concealing via a vest there is almost always a style that will look right at home. Here in the Northwest, wool vests from Filson hit just the right balance between casual and business formal and look right at home in a wide variety of settings. For women, a patterned vest of some type usually looks good with just about any pants outfit. Canvas work vests are common in the trades, and in the trendier areas one can still occasionally find an argyle vest (though I think of them as quite hipsterish.)
When you get asked if you're a photographer or a fisherman that's not proof that you've pulled off some great feat of concealment; it's a sign that you've stood out enough to make people question your presence. I remain (while admitting that my Stetson occasionally puts me in that situation) of the opinion that such an event is not a Good Thing.
Stan Kenton was a standout iconoclast in a field of music that is, by definition, iconoclastic. Some of his albums were a difficult experience because they demanded so much of the listener. If one is not conversant with at least a little music theory, much of what goes on flies right over the head.
I remember reading, somewhere in the intertubes, a critical review of a Kenton album from just such a person. The writer opined that Kenton's music just couldn't be any good, because none of his personnel had successful solo careers.
Aside from the sheer ignorance of that comment, it struck me that this person suffered a common logic fault: looking for some sort of validation of worth or quality based on an external factor. This fellow wasn't capable of assessing the music as it stood, but instead looked to a unrelated metric to back up his opinion (a metric that was't even correct!)
This happens frequently in all fields, to include that of shooting (specifically defensive shooting.) Rather than consider the logic of a technique or concept, many will evaluate what's presented to them on the basis of who else has adopted that same point of view. I've seen the question asked in all kinds of courses with all kinds of instructors: "what police agency/military branch/well known school teaches that?" A declarative version of the question is "so-and-so teaches something else, and he was a Navy Seal/in Desert Storm/on a SWAT team."
If one doesn't understand the material being presented, either due to not putting forth the effort to do so or because the instructor isn't taking the time to explain things, then one is left to rely on an external 'authority' to make decisions. If the context in which the authority evaluates something is different from the student's, it may not be relevant. It may not even be workable.
If you don't understand what you're being taught, and why, the burden is on you to ask questions. Respectfully, of course, but you still need to ask and get intellectual clarity on the subject. If your instructor himself uses the appeal to authority, justifying what he's teaching by telling you about the large police agency or secret military organization or champion shooter that uses it, that's not the answer you need.
When it comes to protecting your life, techniques and concepts need merit -- not endorsement.
This splashed onto several blogs last week, and it's just too good a train wreck to ignore. Do not be mislead: the advice this guy gives is a sure ticket to a jail cell. The ‘term clueless loon' comes to mind...
For years people like Mas Ayoob and Marty Hayes have been educating people on the realities of the legal side of self defense, but apparently this guy missed every freaking memo - or, perhaps as likely, willfully ignored them. Rest assured that if you follow any of his advice, you will go to prison.
Don't be this guy; learn about your rights and responsibilities, how shooting cases are investigated, and how claims of self defense are tested in court. The information is out there, it's readily available, and it can keep you from making stupid mistakes.
(This video also serves as a perfect illustration of why you should never take medical, legal, or self defense advice from anyone who hides behind a pseudonym on the 'net.)
I keep my ear to the ground for new self defense blogs, and a colleague recently alerted me to this one: Kicking Sacred Cows. Written in a distinctive style, the author says that the blog is about change and evolution in self defense and martial arts training.
It presents some interesting ideas. I'll be checking it regularly.
Some time ago Force Science News told the story of a police officer named Dan Lovelace. He shot and killed a suspect who tried to run him down and was almost convicted of second degree murder. Prosecutors argued that he lied about the shooting, and one of their sterling pieces of evidence was the location of a single piece (Lovelace fired one shot only) of expended brass.
One. Single. Piece. (Note that I'm not commenting one way or the other about Mr. Lovelace's guilt or innocence, only on the reliability of certain kinds of evidence that might be entered into any 'righteous' shooting investigation.)
Force Science recently did an interesting followup study about the patterns of ejection from autoloading pistols, and basically found that one piece of brass told nearly nothing about where the shooter might have been during an altercation.
As I've said before, and as I'll continue to say, there is no such thing as a 'clean' shoot - at least until a jury says there is. It behooves you to understand all of the things that can affect the evidence presented, how they’re interpreted, and most importantly the counter-arguments to neutralize them.
Her remarks about physical fitness resonated with me. Thanks to lots of heavy chores around the farm my strength level is pretty good, but because of my general lack of aerobic exercise (despite daily woodsplitting) my endurance isn't what it should be. According to my physician I'm also 15 pounds heavier than ideal, which is a lot on a short guy like me.
I think losing the extra pounds just became a higher priority.
I've been pretty clear over the years about my belief in the myth of the 'clean shoot'. It's a phrase that comes up with amazing regularity in various forums and in gunshops all across the country: as long as your shoot is 'clean', nothing else matters.
As I've pointed out, the people who decide if your self defense act was 'clean' sit on a jury. Whether you think it was a 'good' shoot, whether I do, whether your instructor does, or whether the anonymous guy hiding behind a pseudonym on your favorite gun forum does, is completely irrelevant. The people who decide if you were in the right, if what you did and how you did it was reasonable, are the men and women on your jury.
The problem is that it can take a lot of time, money, and anguish to get to the point where they decide you're clean, time/money/anguish that could have been saved had you paid some attention to your situation ahead of time.
Yet another cautionary tale in how things can go from bad to much, much worse comes from the life of one Gerald Ung. It's obvious that he did some stupid things, but according to internet experts all over those things shouldn't have mattered if his shoot was 'clean'. They did matter, and it took some time and money and stomach lining to get a jury to exonerate him.
Don’t be ‘that guy’.
(Another illustration of why I never take medical or legal advice from someone who won't use their real name.)
The limitations of the equipment that we discussed in the previous installment aren't the only things that affect the utility of force-on-force training. The way that drills and scenarios are approached is important as well.
I'll use two terms to describe broad categories of FOF training. Drills are man-against-man tests of mechanical or physical skills: drawing the gun, moving off the vector of the attack, and so on. Scenarios, on the other hand, test decision making and information gathering skills. They may also include a physical/mechanical component, but their primary purpose is to test judgment.
At the top of the list, as it always should be, is safety. FOF training demands a sterile, segregated environment. Any course that doesn't enforce both should be avoided at any cost. The risk of accident is too high to trust anything other than a rigorous, and rigidly enforced, exclusion zone for live weapons. That means all weapons: firearms, knives, chemical and electrical weapons. The only weapons allowed inside the FOF training area should be simulated - and that goes for the instructors, too! If you encounter a FOF course where the students are required to disarm but the instructor(s) aren't, that's your cue to leave. Vociferously, I would add.
As I mentioned last time, a drill or scenario which continues past the first shot is suspect. As I’ve pointed out, the lack of ballistic effect on both ends of the muzzle means that multiple shots from a simulated handgun have little to no value. If the scenario or drill is set up so that the gun serves as a marker, a device to signal force has been used and how successfully placed that force might be, then there is no need for more than one shot. If, on the other hand, it is set up so that some predetermined number of shots have been fired or - worse yet - unlimited shots are allowed, then its value as a teaching tool must be questioned. Remember that any simulated munition has value only in that it provides first round accountability; after that, it's just recreation.
It’s common to see FOF drills that attempt to teach something which is affected by a student's foreknowledge. For instance, a student knows that he's in a FOF class, he's got a loaded sim gun in his holster, and he knows that the drill is testing his reaction time or ability to do a specific task. His anticipation of the need to shoot is sky high. If the technique works, all it shows is that the student could do it when he had advance warning of the event. Would it work if he wasn't already primed for action? The trouble is that this can't be tested in FOF, because there will always be that anticipation. FOF drills must be carefully selected so that the skill being developed or tested isn't negatively affected by that anticipation. They also can't be used to justify training that benefits from anticipation, a fault I see all too often.
I've seen FOF courses that employ students as both attackers/antagonists and defenders/protagonists. With the possible exception of what might be akin to a martial arts flow drill, where the same pattern is repeated multiple times to build familiarity, I don't see the point in letting students fight things out. The antagonist in a FOF drill or scenario is the agent by which the protagonist, the student, learns whatever lesson is being considered. I don't see where the learning occurs if both parties are ignorant of the lesson.
Allowing two students to go at each other, no matter how well coached, seems to invariably devolve to the the equivalent of a dodge ball game. This is exacerbated by the lack of ballistic effect which we discussed last time. Students as counterparts works; students as teachers, I'm not at all sure of.
Scenarios that test decision making are a natural use of FOF. Here, too, care must be taken to ensure that there is actual instruction. One flaw I see is that scenarios are designed with arbitrary outcomes, and the student spends his or her time not evaluating the environment for what it actually is but rather for what the instructor wants it to be. In other words, the scenario becomes a puzzle where the student is figuring out the instructor, not the situation. This is very common in 'tactical' shooting matches, and is part of the reason that even the best stage design isn't all that realistic. The scenario has to be designed so that the situation, the interactions, and the conclusion are all plausible.
That's easier said than done! It is very difficult for a scenario designer to avoid bringing his or her idiosyncratic biases into the design. Scenarios shouldn't be puzzles and shouldn't be difficult to figure out, but it seems that many people are intent on making them so. If the student is forced to examine vague and misleading clues in order to arrive at the 'correct' solution, how does that in any manner relate to a plausible real life interaction? It doesn't, and that's the point.
At the same time, the people playing the antagonists in scenarios have to be good actors. A thug on the street behaves in ways that we all recognize (or should recognize), and the person playing a thug needs to be able to replicate that behavior. If he/she can't, then the protagonist is back to figuring out the puzzle rather than reacting to a real stimulus. The actors must be well practiced and disciplined - again, another strike against students being used in such roles. (Heck, it may even be a big strike against many instructors. I know how a crackhead acts, but I also know I’m not a good enough actor to recreate one realistically enough to teach a student what such an interaction is like!)
This is true even in drills. The antagonist already knows what the student is going to do, or at least has a very good idea. That foreknowledge allows him to act and react in ways that a real attacker couldn't or wouldn't. This skews the results of the lesson, and requires that the instructor both take the role and be able to play it as 'straight' as possible.
It sounds like I'm not a fan of FOF. That's probably true on some level, because I don't think it has the wide application that so many think it does. I think that it has some use in very specific circumstances, but not as a general teaching tool. Its utility is probably in well thought out scenario training, and less so - perhaps much less - in simple mechanical drills. To be valuable it has to be carefully conceived and implemented, something that doesn't seem to happen all that often. It's not the ultimate test of defensive preparation, as some contend, but properly and sparingly used it can be valuable.
Force-on-force ('FOF') training has become all the rage in the last couple of years, with some instructors making it a hallmark of their courses. Everyone, it seems, is buying Airsoft pistols and touting their FOF credentials. Supporters of the concept have done a very good sales job, as I routinely am asked if my courses have a force-on-force component.
Such questions remind me so much of my college days working in a camera store. People would walk in, look at a lens, and proceed to ask how many elements it contained. That's a useless bit of information to anyone other than an optical engineer, but these folks had been told by someone, somewhere that it was an important question to ask. They didn't understand the question, and certainly didn't know how to interpret the answer, but by golly they were going to ask anyway!
I've played with FOF a bit (yes, I bought the requisite gas-powered Glock lookalikes.) Understand that I don't claim to be guru at FOF, nor am I a super-tactical-high-speed-low-drag-tier-one-operator kind of guy. I am, however, fairly intelligent, reasonably well informed, and possess an inexorably analytical mind. I can truthfully claim to be a good diagnostician - figuring out how things work and, more importantly, why they don't. I also don't believe everything I'm told, no matter how well sold it may be.
What I see too often with regard to FOF promotion is a certain lack of critical thinking about the concepts, and it starts with the equipment used. FOF naturally is limited to the ability of the equipment, so it's important to know what the gear does and does not do.
Whether AIrsoft or simulated munition, FOF guns all do one thing: to the extent that they mimic a gun you actually own, they give you first shot accountability. That's it. Read that again, because it's important to the discussion. This is all they do!
When you discharge an Airsoft in a drill or scenario, where the first round hits will probably be pretty close to where it would have hit had you used a real gun (within the range limitations of the pellet, of course.) In other words, if you used a simulated Glock 19 and you regularly carry a Glock 19, you can be reasonably sure that the first simulated round would be representative of a real round.
Understand that this is only true if the guns match. If you use the Glock Airsoft in FOF training, but actually carry a Beretta 92, the value of that first round has been diminished. You don't know for certain that you would have shot your Beretta just like you shot the Glock simulant.
Beyond the first round, the predictive value drops to near zero. This is because of a lack of ballistic effect, from the standpoint of both the shooter and the shootee. Simulated rounds don't have the recoil and muzzle rise of a real gun, so each additional shot can be made much faster, with greater precision, than can real rounds; the shooter's balance of speed and precision is skewed. If the technique you're learning in FOF only works when you can discharge 10 rounds in under a second, how valid will that be when you're using a real gun with which you can't?
Just because a person can land multiple, fast shots with an Airsoft does not mean that he'll be able to do so with a real gun. At the very least, he'll shoot a real gun slower and with greater deviation than a simulated gun. Any conclusions drawn from the second, third, fifth, or ninth shot with Airsoft or Code Eagle has virtually no predictive quality with regard to a real gun with real ammunition.
The first time I picked up an Airsoft and started doing drills this became clear. As I was going through the exercises I thought "I'm kicking butt!" I quite literally put down the Airsoft, picked up a real Glock, and tried the same thing on the same target. Surprise! I couldn't shoot nearly as fast, with nearly the deviation control, that I could with the Airsoft gun. What, then, was the value of those extra simulated shots from the standpoint of the physical shooting skill?
The lack of ballistic effect is important on the other end as well. The pellets - be they Airsoft or paint capsules - don't stop people. There is no effect on the target other than a small sting (if that), and there is no cumulative damage. This means that where a real bad guy might start slowing down with the first shot and might be on the ground with the third, the simulated opponent can continue full speed, full power charges through the tenth, twelfth, or fifteenth round. The rejoinder, of course, is that one never knows how many rounds it will take to stop an attacker (true), so one should keep shooting until the threat goes away.
This also is true, but we have to go back and reconsider the lessons from the preceding paragraphs: you can't shoot a real gun that way, and the target won't react that way, so where's the learning happening? It's a vicious circle: with simulated guns, the more rounds you fire in an attempt to be 'realistic' the less 'realistic' the exercise becomes.
This is the basis for my belief that, in most cases, force-on-force drills which continue beyond the first shot are probably not of great value. They may be fun, may be exciting, but one has to critically examine whether they're really teaching us anything that is relevant to an actual encounter.
Next time we'll look at the structure of FOF drills and scenarios, and some of the issues they raise.
It was a bit of an eye-opener for me. This is something men don't normally deal with, and thus I'd never really thought about such nuances of interpersonal conflict. I've read studies that put the number of sexual assaults where the victim knew her attacker at something on the order of 80%. Now I've got a little better idea of how that happens.
It's this kind of insight that's going to put the holistic approach of Wrong Woman on the map. Mark my words.
This one is sure to raise a few eyebrows. In it I question the value ascribed to situational awareness as it is taught in most self defense courses today. Note that I don't suggest that it has zero value, only that it has a different value than what most believe. It's that difference which affects how and what we should train.
This is such an exciting time in the field of self defense study! More and more reality-based courses are being offered, and we're finally starting to see true integration of all the pieces of the defensive puzzle: armed and unarmed, lethal and less lethal.
One the newest and most innovative approaches comes to us from Columbus, Ohio. Kelly Muir, an accomplished martial arts instructor, has put together the first truly integrated and comprehensive self defense course for women. Called Wrong Woman, it teaches intuitive skills across the entire range of response.
The course starts with a Fundamentals class, where the students learn the basics of intuitive skill development. From there they can choose to take classes tailored to their particular interests: unarmed response, use of chemical/electrical tools, and firearms. Many of the classes are offered in both basic and advanced form and there's even a class devoted to risk assessment and decision making.
It's a great new building block approach to personal defense, where everything that's taught has the same basis and progression. As the student's life evolves she can simply 'plug in' the course that best applies to her current or anticipated situations.
My wife, herself a longtime student of defensive shooting, is anxious to take Kelly's course and is just waiting for her to come to the west coast! Those who are fortunate enough to live anywhere near Ohio should get to Columbus and enroll in Wrong Woman. Be sure to check out the Wrong Woman Facebook page, too.
An area of defensive preparations where I've been quite deficient is in empty-hand techniques. I've been trained to shoot (obviously), to use a knife, and to use a Kubotan - but have learned precious little about using no tools other than what nature has provided.
The gun is an appropriate tool for encounters that happen beyond, say, two arm's reach. Inside that space, however, the handgun is probably not the correct first choice. (It may come into play at some point, but immediately going to guns within reach of the assailant is generally not a good initial response.) Empty hand skills come into play when you're in a non-permissive environment (no weapons allowed) or the incident occurs within two arm's reach. If we examine our lives and habits closely, I think many of us will recognize that those are very common situations - and that we've not done much to prepare for them!
Head over to the Personal Defense Network forum and check out the discussions on 'realistic' training. Feel free to jump into the discussion, as this is a topic which is important to all defensive training.
One consistent theme amongst the less informed is that all you need worry about in a defensive encounter is that it’s a “good shoot.” Nothing else, according to these keyboard commandoes, matters - you can do anything, as long as the shoot is "clean."
The trouble is that neither you, nor they, get to decide what's "clean" and what's not. In my state, a Grand Jury makes the first decision, and if they say it isn't "clean" it then goes to a trial jury to make the final decision. They're the ones who will scrutinize any self defense shooting, and the pseudonymous self-appointed experts from your favorite forum will be conspicuously absent.
You see, what looks "clean" to you may not look "clean" to another person. Even if you explain it in detail they may still not see it your way, especially if it's a jury weighing your explanation against someone else trying to convince them of the opposite. Malicious prosecutions and lying witnesses exist, and they don't make that job any easier.
For those of you who still don't get this concept, I urge you to run over to the Armed Citizen's Legal Defense Network and read this month's Journal. It is devoted to the story of Larry Hickey, who just recently won his freedom after two trials that stemmed from a defensive shooting. His ordeal, recounted in complete detail, serves as a caution to all those who still believe in the myth of the "clean shoot."
Don’t get me wrong - I’m not saying that you necessarily need to indulge in some fearfully exaggerated lawyer-proofing of your defensive preparations, but you do need to understand that you can’t run around like Rambo, either. This article dramatically illustrates the the value of knowing how to interact with the police after you’ve been involved in a shooting, the need to be able to articulate why you did what you did, and how evidence can be ignored, lost, or even turned to your disadvantage.
The article runs twenty-two pages, and I believe it to be invaluable for anyone who carries a gun for self defense - and should be required reading for anyone who pontificates about legal issues on gun forums. The Journal is in PDF form; here's a direct link to that file.
When the locks first came out there were a few reported cases of locks self-engaging. The wisdom of the internet held that the locks were just fine, that S&W would never knowingly introduce something that would put people at risk, that the reports were fabricated, and so on.
As time wore on it became apparent that the issue was real, but seemed to mostly happen with lightweight guns shooting heavy recoiling loads. Then I started getting reports of lightweight guns shooting normal loads experiencing the problem, followed by the "big boomers" and hunting loads. Most recently I've heard first-person accounts of steel guns (all J-frames, so far) shooting sane cartridges having their locks self-engage.
I've collected enough of these accounts over the last several years that I simply won't carry a S&W with a lock. The incidents are numerous enough, and the consequences dire enough, that I simply don't trust the mechanism. I recommend that all my clients seriously consider carrying a non-lock gun; if you tuned in last week you found that my usual carry revolver was a Ruger, partly because they don’t have such a mechanism.
(Just for the record: I have no financial stake in this debate, as liability issues demand that I do not deactivate a safety device - no matter how questionable - from a gun. I'm not making any money by suggesting that you carry a S&W sans lock.)
I get many emails asking what I carry on a daily basis. While my choices are mine alone, and aren't meant to be prescriptive for you, why I choose certain items may be of some help to you.
As most probably already know (or, from the picture above, have managed to guess) I generally carry a revolver. Not 100% of the time, mind you; there are instances when I carry an autoloader, and have done so for many years. A careful analysis of the likely risk of the environment determines what type of handgun I carry. Most of the time the risk profile favors the revolver, so that's what I carry. When I do carry an auto, it's virtually always a Glock 19.
Over the years I've carried many different revolvers. My favorite remains the Colt Detective Special for its combination of size and capacity. As I've lamented many times, it's a shame that the ultra compact 6-shot revolver is now a thing of the past. There is nothing on the market which has that combination of attributes.
I still occasionally carry a Colt, and sometimes I'll be found toting a S&W Model 42 or 642. The lightweight 5-shooters are great for pocket carry, and though I have belt holsters I rarely carry them that way. One of my favorite carry methods is a "belly band" holster worn so that the gun is under the armpit - much like a shoulder holster. With a dress shirt and tie on it is completely concealed.
Those are the exceptions, however. The majority of the time you'll find me carrying a Ruger SP101 or GP100 in a belt holster. The reason is simple: the Ruger guns simply have fewer failure points than any other revolver. There are no screws to back out, no extractor rods to come loose, they rarely develop timing problems, and firing pin breakages are virtually unknown. (I LocTite all screws and extractor rods on all revolvers as a general procedure, but sometimes even that doesn't work.) WIth a bit of work the Ruger's triggers are as good as can be found anywhere, and their reputation for strength is unmatched. The guns simply run, and in my mind that's A Good Thing.
It's easy to get preoccupied with in the shooting part of self defense preparations. Let's face it: shooting is fun!
If you take self defense seriously, however, at some point you have to ask about the "after part" - what happens after you've discharged your gun at an assailant. This is an area that is infrequently covered, or simply covered in misinformation.
It's a very readable introduction to the considerations which should be made before you're involved in a self-defense shooting. It lays out, it easy to understand language, the legal ramifications of the use of deadly force and how to best prepare to navigate the legal system.
Marty has spent years studying the topic, first as a police officer, then a shooting instructor, and now as the possessor of a degree in law. Marty is in the unique position of knowing not just the theoretical application of the law, but how it it plays out in real life.
He told me that he wrote the 16-page booklet to counter "the oft times incredibly bad advice" that abounds in gunshops and on the internet. His goal is to "change the paradigm in which people receive their training in deadly force for self defense." It's a tall order, but this is a great start! It lays out a superb introduction to the legal realities of self defense. It's factual information that every gun owner needs to read.
You can download your own free copy from the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network. Just click on the image of the booklet and it will download as a PDF file. Print it out, read it, keep it handy.
I'll be giving a copy to everyone I know and everyone I teach. You should too.
Though I’ve made reference to each of these in the past, it’s about time I actually plugged some of the people & organizations that have value to those interested in defense of themselves or their loved ones.
The U.S. Concealed Carry Association's purpose is to educate responsible armed citizens. Members have access to their full website, online forums and one of the best "gun" magazines published today. If I were forced to recommend a single resource for the person who carries a gun for self defense, it would be the USCCA. (Disclaimer: I do write an occasional article for their magazine. Since it's only available with membership, you can't read them if you're not a member!)
The Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network started a couple of years ago as a sort of "union" for gun owners. I've heard of many a self defense shooting in which the defendant was facing huge legal issues, and often wondered how they were going to get through the legal process and put their life back together. You've probably seen such cases in the online forums, accompanied by requests to donate to some legal defense fund. The ACLDN serves to pool member's strength to protect one another when one of them comes under scrutiny of the legal system. It's a unique organization, providing a unique service worthy of your consideration.
The Personal Defense Network aims to be the premier source of self-defense videos and articles on the 'net. Less than a year old, PDN is growing rapidly and already has a lot of great content available. The forums are dedicated to self defense issues, keeping the clutter to a minimum. (Disclaimer: I also write articles for PDN.)
The ProArms Podcast continues to have some of the very best in-depth interviews with people in the shooting world, usually focusing on self defense and training issues. If you missed their recent interview with Chicago cop Bob Stasch, a veteran of 14 gunfights, go listen. Now. It may be one of the best they’ve done.
It seems that every time I turn around I’m recommending Kathy Jackson’s website The Cornered Cat. It deals exclusively with women, guns and self defense, and is the very best resource on the ‘net for women who have chosen to arm themselves. I’m not exaggerating when I say “the very best” - there is no other site I’ve seen which even comes close to Kathy’s creation. If you know a woman who is interested in self defense or in firearms in general, but is a bit apprehensive and doesn’t know where to go to find other women with the same interests and concerns, send her to Kathy.
Finally, my interest in shooting and self defense has allowed me to meet some of the best (and most interesting) people. One of them is trainer Robb Hamic, who writes an interesting blog dealing with a wide range of self defense issues. In a recent post he had this gem, one I think that everyone with an interest in self-defense should take to heart:
“I walk around with a smile and I try to be happy but if someone crosses my path that wants to do me, my family or a person that I choose to protect harm; I will do whatever is necessary to keep us safe, based on my perception of danger. Up to and including taking another person(s) life. If it is the only option, I will exchange my life for my wife or children’s life. If I have to fight, I will use every once of aggression, decisiveness and intelligence in my body to overwhelm my attacker(s). ”
Rob Pincus' original book on Combat Focus Shooting was published in 2006, and in a very few pages - 120, give or take - managed to present an entirely new way of looking at defensive handgun training.
Instead of forcing contrived techniques onto a fight, techniques that might not be appropriate or even effective, CFS offered a radically different perspective: pay attention to how the body reacts to a threat, base your techniques on what works well with those reactions, and train in those techniques as often and as realistically as possible. It was a concept-driven philosophy, and stood in stark contrast to the majority of training that was (and remains) technique-driven.
CFS sounds simple, and at its core it is. The concepts that back it up, however, draw from many fields, and explaining them in writing takes a bit of space. The brevity with which the original book it was written meant that some parts of the program didn't get the exploration or explanation they deserved.
At the same time the Combat Focus Shooting courses, which were the origin of the book, were evolving. Much new material was added, and there were changes to the way the program looked at certain aspects of defensive handgunning. It was time to update the book.
What an update Pincus has brought us!
"Combat Focus Shooting - Evolution 2010" is not just a simple edit. It's been greatly expanded, now over 210 pages and with very little fluff. Gone is the minimalist treatment of the concepts that underlie the program; the new book feels luxurious in comparison, with every facet of the Combat Focus philosophy explored and explained. The new edition makes it easier to understand what CFS is all about and especially why it's different from other courses. It's much more readable and closely follows the path of a live CFS class.
Of course nothing beats taking a CFS course in person, but this book will give you a good grounding in the concepts and science behind intuitive shooting. If you want to develop defensive shooting skills that reflect the realities of actual encounters, "Combat Focus Shooting - Evolution 2010" should be on your reading list. It's a must-have for every serious student of defensive handgunning.
The Truth Is Out There: I've mentioned Kathy Jackson's CorneredCat site as the best resource on the web for those women who want to get involved in the firearms world. This week on the ProArms Podcast, Gail Pepin interviews Kathy about one of her all-time classic articles: "How to Make Your Wife Hate Guns." The interview is even better than the article, and is a must-listen for any man out there who wishes for his wife/significant to start shooting.
Guys, I'm not kidding - you need to listen to this podcast. Kathy's interview starts about 20 minutes in, preceded by Dr. Paula Bratich talking about concealed carry in Illinois.
Better Late Than Never: Prior to the SHOT show, The FIrearms Blog reported that Ruger was going to show a .357 version of the LCR. It was only slightly premature, as Ruger showed it off at last week's NRA Convention. Not for me, thanks, but I'm sure that there are those who will love it.
(Quick aside: if you want to hear one of the better interviewers around, listen to D.J.'s show. He formerly hosted the critically acclaimed "Point Of Inquiry" podcast, where he built a reputation for his ability to intelligently discuss all sides of an argument regardless of his own position. His shows are as good as podcasting gets.)
Dr. Tavris is an expert on cognitive dissonance - the inability of the mind to hold two conflicting pieces of information without resolving the conflict in some way. (I've talked about dissonance before, as it relates to commonly promoted safety rules.) Dissonance theory, as I learned, has a profound effect on how we make decisions and how we come to hold certain beliefs. Dissonance occurs when evidence contradicts firmly held conviction. The subconscious, in an effort to resolve the conflict between what it believes and what it sees, will go to astonishing lengths.
One way the mind resolves conflict is to devalue the incoming evidence by belittling its source. This is what we see in so many forum fights over shooting gurus. If what one instructor teaches is in opposition to another instructor, supporters often react by attacking the source: "he's a convicted criminal." "He's never been anywhere." "He wrote a porno script!" "He's a womanizer." "He drinks too much." All in an effort to avoid examining what we believe, lest it be proven to be wrong.
Human beings are incredibly reluctant to change their beliefs. Dissonance in action shows in the statements of crime victims: "I couldn't believe it was happening to me!" Dissonance theory explains this easily, and what is going through the subconscious looks more like this: "I'm a smart and successful person; being smart and successful means that I would never live in a slum where crime is rampant. If crime happens here, it must mean that I'm not smart or successful, so this attack isn't really happening!" The danger to effective self defense preparations should be obvious.
The chapter dealing with memory is probably the most interesting of the whole book. Dissonance is so powerful that it can cause people to remember events differently than they actually happened - sometimes, the exact opposite of the real event. Ever wonder why witnesses to something often have conflicting views of what happened? It's not because their physical sight was different; it's because what they saw is modified unconsciously by their prejudices.
This has implications for survivor interviews when they’re used to support a specific type of training. Is the subject’s subconscious desire to justify their pre-existing knowledge, or to support their self image, influencing their memories? Unless we have objective observational evidence, such as a videotape, we don't know. The lesson is clear: we must be very cautious when making decisions based on singular events, unless we know for a fact what actually transpired.
This self-delusion isn't something humans set out to do; no one does it consciously. This is a mechanism that the subconscious uses to reconcile what we believe with what we see, and it’s transparent to us. People who perceive past events as being the opposite of what actually happened aren't lying. They honestly believe their version of what happened, because their subconscious has told them the new version is correct. (The book chronicles the astonishing detail that the subconscious is able to construct to support its version of reality. It's an eye-opener, believe me!)
Mistakes Were Made is less a textbook than it is a collection of stories with explanations. The book is heavily geared toward a self-help audience (hence the cover blurb "Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts"), but the research behind it is solid. Tavris and Aronson are well regarded in the field of psychology, and their ability to explain difficult concepts in clear language goes a long way to helping us understand this powerful facet of our minds. While this knowledge won't make us immune, it will help us recognize that what we believe isn't always correct.
If you'd like to get a feel of the subject matter, listen to the aforementioned interview with Dr. Tavris. Mistakes Were Made is a good way for non-scientists to get a grasp of what our minds actually do with conflicting information. Recommended reading, but only if you're ready to face the idea that your mind may not always be telling you the truth!
Rivalries among neighboring schools are nothing new. They start in high school, and continue into college: here in my slice of heaven, it's the Oregon State University Beavers versus the University of Oregon Ducks. In Texas, it's the Aggies and the Longhorns. Alumni from the respective schools can get downright cantankerous when discussing the "other" team.
So too with shooting schools. Graduates of one school (or, more commonly, one instructor) hold their alma mater or guru to possess the "true way" and refuse to even acknowledge that others exist. In the worst cases, the arguments end up sounding an awful lot like "my Dad can beat up your Dad".
This came up the other day in a discussion I had with AFGWWWTRA. The term that sparked the conversation was "disciples", and I think that conveys the thought quite nicely. Once one has invested time, effort, and money into an area of interest it's hard to accept that there are other, competing, interests in the world which might just have validity as well. The guru becomes infallible, because if he/she isn't the disciple has wasted time, effort, and money - and who is ever going to admit to that?
I'm not immune; I went through a mild episode of school spirit some years back, but since then I've progressed a bit. I'm open to new ways of thinking and new methods of doing, and my attitude has gone from "so and so says this and it is immutable" to "show me why." The litmus test of any technique or opinion is not the logical fallacy of argument from authority, but rather that it makes sense given an open and agreed-upon criteria.
In an odd coincidence, I just started reading a book that explains this behavior, and as it turns out the concepts involved may have profound implications for self defense. They go well beyond the guru, school, stance, grip, or anything else, and deal with our behavior at a surprisingly base level. In other words, discipleship in and of itself, irrespective of doctrine or dogma, may affect how one performs in a violent encounter.
I'm too lazy to go look, but I think I've mentioned that I consider the high-powered flashlight to be the most important non-lethal self defense tool one can carry. When it comes to light output, I'm also of the opinion that more is better, and lots more is lots better. When I hit the switch, I want all the light I can get, and frankly anything under 200 lumens doesn't cut it as far as I’m concerned.
Not long ago it came to my attention that not everyone shares my predilection for light. Usually the contrary opinion is something like "that much light causes glare, which makes it impossible to see. Don't carry a really powerful light for that reason."
Poppycock. The issue with glare isn't in the amount of light being generated, it's in the nature of the beam.
If you pull out a flashlight (any flashlight, really) and shine it on your ceiling you'll notice two parts to the beam. The central part, where it's brightest, is called the 'hotspot'. The surrounding corona of dimmer light is called the 'spill'. The hotspot consists of light that is more collimated; that is, the rays are more aligned than the scattered rays of the spill. It's collimated light that causes glare, and since most flashlights have a hotspot most lights will cause glare if the conditions are right.
If something of light color, or of reflective nature, ends up in the hotspot the collimated light will be bounced back to your eyes, which is perceived as glare. This condition most certainly makes seeing things more difficult. The cure, which most people discover right away, is to illuminate such objects with the spill portion of the beam. Those scattered rays dramatically reduce, or even eliminate, the glare.
Most people think that glare reduction is due to the spill being dimmer than the hotspot, but that's not the case - it's because the spill is more diffuse, and less likely to reflect from the object.
If you try out a number of flashlights, you'll find some major differences in the beams they produce. The size of the hotspot varies, as does its definition. Some hotspots have very sharply defined edges, dropping abruptly into spill, while some are more gradual. There are even beams that have no really defined hotspot, in which the entire beam is a flood of relatively diffuse light. Those are the beams that are least likely to result in glare, and thus are preferred for a self-defense light.
A beam that is pure flood, that is to say with no definable hotspot, will light up an entire room with nice, even light. That's what we want to see! It doesn't matter how bright that flood is, as long as there are no collimated beams the incidence of glare will be reduced.
(All this will be old news to any experienced photographers in the audience. They know that you get more glare from a specular silver umbrella than a softbox, and that it's completely independent of the amount of light being generated.)
A flood beam makes it easier to spot threats, and it makes shooting with the flashlight easier as well. That's what "tactical" lights are supposed to be for, correct?
Sadly, the presence of the word 'tactical' on a flashlight's marketing blurb doesn't mean that it's suitable for such use. As it happens, there aren't a lot of flashlights with flood-like beam characteristics. When people look at flashlights they want to know how far it casts a beam, a desire which favors lights with very collimated and well-defined hotspots. A flood beam simply won't 'throw' as far, even though it's a better choice for the illumination of lethal threats. Bottom line: they don't sell as well.
I've been there; up to a couple of years ago, I too was more interested in how well the light illuminated distant objects than how well it illuminated things that actually posed a threat to me. I've learned since then, and today I look for the flood-iest beam that I can get.
Believe it or not, it's tough to find a light that is truly suitable for self defense, which favors a broad flood beam. Surefire used to have a couple of great candidates in the Lumamax L2 and L4 models. Their flood beams would light up an entire room from a doorway, but over the last couple of years the beams have changed a bit as the LEDs were upgraded. (I also suspect marketing had something to do with that, as we've already discussed.)
The L2 and L4 of today have a little bit of a hotspot and thus aren't nearly as good as the older versions, although they're still better than any other "off the shelf" light you'll find. They would be my first pick.
That is, unless you have a Surefire 6P (who doesn't?) or similar light. If so, all you have to do to make it into a first-class defensive tool is to replace the bulb with a Malkoff M60F LED module. It will give you a pure flood beam that, as of this writing, is the best on the market. (It’ll fit the aforementioned 6P, as well as the 6Z, M2 and G2 and perhaps a few others.)
As always, having a bit of knowledge helps you make better decisions. Lumens aren't everything, and just because it's expensive, from a name manufacturer, and says 'tactical' on the side doesn't necessarily make it suitable for defensive use.
A LITTLE RECOGNITION - Many people have asked about the site's redesign. The site is built in RapidWeaver; the theme is from Nick Cates Design. Last week I received an email from Nick, who said he was impressed how I'd used his template. He asked if he could feature grantcunningham.com in his Showcase, and of course I said yes! You can see it here.
HOUSEKEEPING - You may notice that the tag cloud has changed a bit. I wasn't happy with how I'd handled the tags, so I erased them and started over. Hopefully what you see now is an improvement in usability.
It is only now that society is beginning to recognize what those of us who've been married for decades know all too well: men and women are different. 'Equal', as it happens, does not mean 'the same', and we are slowly coming to realize this. (Back to the future!)
Because we're different, it's difficult - if not impossible - for a man to understand, let alone sensitively address, the feelings and fears that women experience as they approach the very concept of self defense. "A good man always knows his limitations", says Dirty Harry, and all men have this one. (Any man who believes he doesn't is in denial.)
Recognizing my limitations requires that I refer the women in my life to the best source of information for their personal safety. For the last decade-and-a-half, that source has been the book "Effective Defense" by Gila Hayes. It deals with the gritty details of self defense from that particular perspective only women possess.
Last year, Gila was given the opportunity to completely rewrite her landmark tome, to bring it up to date and expand on many of the topics. The result is "Personal Defense for Women", and I'm happy to say it is even better than the original. That, folks, is saying a lot.
Though the word "defense" is in the title, Gila's book is a comprehensive guide to women's safety, which goes well beyond what we think of as defense. Gila explains: "...I earnestly advocate crime avoidance over fighting, and escape over shooting. Safe housing, safe behavior, and awareness of danger when you're at home, work, in your car or in public, are among the first survival lessons I want to emphasize."
This is evident just by looking at the table of contents: the first nine chapters deal with avoidance, not shooting. Gila tackles things that would be taboo for me to even broach; for instance, the delicate topic of drawing unwanted attention with a revealing wardrobe. She points out that certain activities are inherently more risky than others, and the aware woman needs to acknowledge that choosing some pleasures may carry larger risks than less exciting options.
Gila talks about responsibilities as well as rights, gently pointing out that the self-reliant woman chooses her safety level through her actions. This sounds simple, but as she expounds on the topic the power of that concept becomes evident.
The rest of the book deals with the active defense - fighting in all forms. She starts with information on empty hand defenses, and moves through various less-than-lethal tools before starting a particularly comprehensive discussion about firearms. Gila is a renowned trainer and champion shooter, and her fluency with the subject is obvious. Women just starting out with firearms could not be in better hands. She provides authoritative and clearly articulated information about guns, ammunition, shooting techniques, and even a great exploration of the merits of the home defense shotgun.
One chapter I liked very much was devoted to the use of the Taser, and one very needed chapter deals with dressing around a handgun. (Men have it incredibly easy compared to women, and we always fail to appreciate the difficulties they have concealing a pistol!)
While all the chapters are good, there are a couple of standouts that make it a "must buy": one deals with safety on school and college campuses (including the active shooter scenario), and the other is a sensitive discussion of rape prevention and survival. These are important topics, and Gila deals with them in the way that only she can.
If it seems that I like this book, I do - very much. It has instantly become my new recommendation for all women interested in self defense, and I can hardly think of a better gift for a wife, girlfriend, sister, mother, or daughter than "Personal Defense for Women."
Now a disclaimer: At Gila's request, I provided some of the pictures in this book, and my name appears in a couple of places. Many of the actors in the pictures are people that I know well. It would seem that I am biased with regards to the merits of "Personal Defense for Women", and you're right - but it's because I've been consistently and actively recommending its predecessor for 15 years! The old book was good, and this edition is even better. I'm proud to have played a small role in its production.
This is a worthy update, and there is so much new information that owners of "Effective Defense" would be well advised to pick up a copy of "Personal Defense for Women."
A few weeks back, I took some flak for suggesting that a working knowledge of cognitive science - especially neuropsychology - was a valuable instructional tool. Such knowledge allows an instructor to better serve his/her students, and gives the students the tools they need to self-correct aberrant behaviors. Some apparently don't believe this, or perhaps simply don't understand why.
Some years ago I was having a specific shooting problem, one which I had a great deal of difficulty solving. During a course I approached my instructor, a person of some renown in the business, with the issue. I was hoping to gain an insight as to what I could do to solve the problem, but the response was a curt and dismissive "dry fire." I countered that I had done quite a bit of that, and it wasn't helping. "You need to do it more," was the conversation-ending reply.
As it happens the problem couldn't have been helped by any amount of dry fire, but it took me quite some time to figure that out. In retrospect it was obvious, but only because I'd gone to a great deal of trouble learning how the brain works (without which I'd never have found the solution.)
A little close observation will support his contentions; for instance, I notice that even relatively new shooters have no problem learning how to reload their autopistols. Push the button, the magazine drops out, insert new magazine, release slide using whatever method one prefers. Easy, right? Physically, yes.
The issue comes when it's time to reload during a string of fire. When the gun goes empty, the student usually try several times to shoot again, only slowly realizing that there is a problem. They tip the muzzle up and observe that the slide is locked back, then stop for a second or two while their mind confronts the situation: "Oh, I need to reload!" The physical manipulation of the reload proceeds smoothly and quickly, compared to the awkward moments before the decision to reload was made.
Dry reps will not make the situation better, but rather will reinforce this behavior. Rob explains why.
(Interestingly, I've observed the same phenomenon among some "experienced" instructors. They may have practiced slide-lock reloads dry, but since that practice lacked context they never developed the reflexive sequence of recognizing an empty gun and reloading it efficiently.)
Read the article carefully, as there is some terrific information to be gleaned.
Regular readers know that, despite my (occasionally) bombastic promotion of the wheelgun, I'm the first to admit that it is not the perfect tool for all jobs. The revolver's suitability for self defense depends on the nature of the threat one expects to encounter.
The revolver's greatest weakness is its limited capacity, while its greatest virtue is its resistance to externally induced failures.
It is something of a trend among today's fashionable criminals to attack in multiples, i.e. more than one assailant. If each of the assailants is committed to the success of the attack, especially if each of them will have to be shot more than once, the revolver may in fact be at a disadvantage. Remembering that there is no such thing as a magic bullet, if you have three assailants and only five rounds you may have some hard choices to make.
This scenario often plays out during home invasion robberies. In these types of incidents, a revolver for home defense may be sub-optimal; a high capacity autoloader may be a better choice.
While many may scoff at the idea of more than a single attacker, or believe the old saw "shoot the leader, the rest will run", this is a very real risk. This is particularly the case in areas with substantial gang activity (which is just about everywhere these days.) If you keep a revolver for home defense, this is a possibility you need to consider.
On the other hand, most assaults are still of the good ol' one-on-one variety, and those outside of the home tend to fit this profile. These are personal crimes, and the action tends to be close in, fast, and violent - conditions in which the revolver, being the quintessential reactive tool, shines. It is quick into action and is less likely to experience functional failure in a close fight; there is no slide to be pushed out of battery, or slowed to induce a jam.
That isn't to say an autoloader is useless in that environment, only that it requires a bit more management. Gabe Suarez is at the leading edge of teaching close-in handgun deployment, and he's developed techniques to keep autos running in tight conditions. A revolver, though, is largely immune to the mechanical difficulties of fighting "in the hole", and remains a viable choice for that reason.
Is that a reasonable tradeoff for capacity? I think so.
I get a surprising number of inquiries about carrying in an office (suit and tie) environment. I spent a few years wearing Italian suits and selling to corporate types, so I'm passingly familiar with the problems involved.
There are a number of ways to carry a gun in a suit: belt holster, shoulder holster, pocket carry, bellyband, Thunderwear (aka 'crotch carry'), and in an ankle holster.
Belt and shoulder holsters can be considered together, as in a corporate environment they share the same major disadvantage: you can never take the jacket off. If you go to your office every day, sooner or later your co-workers are going to notice that you never remove your coat! For a salesman, who doesn't actually work in the offices he visits, these can be viable. In those cases, the suit needs to be tailored to fit around the gun - and no, going to Men's Wearhouse to buy your suits isn't going to cut it. You need a real tailor, who can either make a custom suit or modify an off-the-rack example to fit properly.
Of course, this means you need to wear the gun and allow the tailor to work around it. This can be easier said than done, particularly if you live in a gun-unfriendly city (which is to say, most of them.) The best thing to do is call around and discreetly inquire if the tailor has experience working with legally armed clients. There are always a few, and it pays to seek them out.
(My favorite clothing store back in the day was owned by a mother and son, neither of whom had any problems with concealed carry. In fact, I got to know the son fairly well, as he routinely carried a very nice Colt Model M in .380, aka Model 1908 Pocket Hammerless. It was his opinion that the sleek little Colt was "the perfect gun for the well-dressed gentleman.")
If, like most people, you need to be more flexible with your habiliments, a close relative of the belt holster is generically referred to as a "tuckable." This is an inside-the-waist holster that allows you to cover the gun with your shirt - the shirt slipping between the gun and your waistband, then bloused a bit to conceal the outline. This leaves a small leather keeper visible on the belt, but if the belt and holster color are well matched it is difficult to spot. Of course, you end up looking a bit lopsided with a bulge on your belt; proponents argue that blousing of the shirt properly on the off side will help conceal the protrusion, but many people dislike the somewhat sloppy appearance which results.
One often overlooked method is the bellyband. Originally designed to be worn just above the beltline (hence the name), it can be effectively employed at the mid- to upper-torso level. At this position the gun is placed under the arm, very much in the same position as a shoulder holster. Getting to the gun is done through the shirt front, (again) using the same movements as one would with a shoulder holster. The shirt button at the base of the sternum is left undone, allowing rapid access to the gun; one's tie covers the buttons anyhow, so that the arrangement is not detected. Be sure that you do not wear 'athletic' fitted shirts - standard shorts only to allow plenty of room to hide the firearm.
The Thunderwear carry is often touted as a solution to many problems, but for those who sit for long periods of time they prove to be quite uncomfortable. They're also slow to access, and the size of the gun is very constrained. I do not personally consider them suitable for a primary sidearm, though they may be useful for backups or deep cover assignments.
Ankle holsters are another special-purpose carry method. They are very slow and cumbersome to access for a primary arm, and are best used to carry a backup pistol. Yes, I know that there are some fancy ankle holster draw moves which are surprisingly fast, but I encourage you to try them in a realistic force-on-force exercise. You'll quickly learn why I don't feel ankle holsters are a good choice for general armed carry.
Finally we come to pocket carry. With a proper holster and loose-fitting slacks, this is perhaps the most viable method of concealing a pistol in a corporate environment. They're reasonably quick to access, comfortable (if used with a lightweight gun), completely invisible (unless you wear your slacks tighter than a gentleman should), and has the additional benefit of allowing your hand to be on the gun without alerting anyone.
You'll need to shop for slacks with front pleats (provides blousing to hide the gun's bulge) and deeper pockets (some have shallow pockets from which the gun's butt can peek out.) I also recommend a medium-weight pant, which typically features a satin lining between the pocket and leg. The lining dramatically reduces chafing as the gun moves around, and makes sitting for long periods more tolerable.
I now realize that I like looking at beautiful sunrises more than beautiful sunsets. I'm sure there is some deep psychological significance to that preference, but it as yet escapes me.
Everyone, it seems, is making a "tactical" pen these days. Benchmade, Schrade, Tuffwriter, Hinderer, Surefire - and now Smith & Wesson. Who will be next?
I have nothing against the concept, as it's simply a return to the roots of the familiar Kubotan (the techniques for which were originally intended for the common Cross-type pen.) These, though, all look like rejects from The Mall Ninja Outlet Store. I have half a mind to make one myself - classically styled out of real rust-blued steel, of course.
One of the better (most balanced) preparedness blogs extant is Jim Rawle's SurvivalBlog.com It's one of the few blogs on my morning "must read" list, and has been since I found it several years ago. This morning he posted the sad news that his wife Linda has died after a long illness.
He's shared the progress of his beloved in the blog, and while not a shock it's still depressing to hear. My wife and I extend our heartfelt condolences to Jim and his family.
It's necessary, if one is to maintain proper perspective, to learn from those whose experience is different from yours. Take, for example, an interview with a WWII Soviet tank crewman (thanks to Tam, who finds the most amazing stuff.) What he says about the Sherman tank, the Tommy gun, and the .45ACP cartridge are very interesting and definitely challenge certain widely held opinions.
(When you read what he says about the mighty .45, think back to the very similar stories regarding the .30 Carbine.) If you have any interest in WWII, armaments, or the nitty-gritty of battle, it's a great read.
If you go to a car show featuring hotrods from the '50s and '60s, a common sight will be a pair fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror. They're always carefully chosen to complement the paint color, and I've even seen fastidious owners arranging the dice "just so" to get the proper look. Fuzzy dice are an accepted, and expected, part of the decor.
Take those same fuzzy dice, run over to the Tour de France, and hang them from Lance Armstrong's bicycle. No matter what color dice you pick - to go with his jersey or the bike's paint - they'll just look silly. Fuzzy dice on a racing bike? Preposterous!
Yet, objectively, the function of the dice has not changed. That is, they really have no function. They don't do anything, they serve no architectural or mechanical purpose, they simply have mass and occupy space. They derive whatever value they possess from the context in which they occur, but that value is not intrinsic; it exists only because the context allows it to exist. Think of it as Second Life with mag wheels.
Once taken out of the expected setting, stripped of the value of that context, the reality of the fuzzy dice becomes apparent. Understand this: whether on a '57 BelAir or Lance's Trek Madone SL, fuzzy dice are silly. In the former case, we don't see them as silly because we've been conditioned to accept them in that environment. In the latter, if every Tour de France competitor were to carry them for a few years - perhaps a decade or more - they would become part of that context too. They'd still be silly.
The same is true for the tacticool accessories Tam questions. (A bit of a correction: the device hanging at the muzzle isn't strictly a white light - it's a combination light and laser.) We're accustomed to seeing lights, lasers, and milspec red dot scopes attached to autopistols. In the gun rags, in the movies, and especially in video games, we're told that "serious" guns carry these things. Tough guys, warriors and operators, have these on their guns. Thus the context is constructed, such that we no longer objectively analyze the value of those things.
Putting them on a revolver takes them out of context. (After all, "operators" don't carry revolvers!) Once out of context their true worth becomes easier to evaluate, and laughter is the result.
This whole idea of context is particularly important to those of us interested in the concept of self defense. There are a lot of instructors out there who teach what can only be termed range tricks. In class, the instructor's reputation and manner of delivery combine to create a reality distortion field that even Steve Jobs would envy; in that context even the silliest ideas sound valuable. They may be useless and even counter productive, but if the student can't evaluate them outside of their context that reality will be hidden.
The same thing happens with people who get their firearms training from Hollywood - what I've heard called the "Mel Gibson School of Firearms". In the movies, the good guy always orders the bad guy to drop his weapon. The good guy gives the bad guy a chance to redeem himself, to straighten out his horrible life and repent for his sins. Naturally the bad guy doesn't take that opportunity, wheels around to shoot the good guy, at which point our hero drops him neatly with a single shot. Roll credits.
Inside the context of the movie script, this seems perfectly plausible. Through repetition the scene is burned into our subconscious, to the point that we start to accept it as normal. Unless we learn to force ourselves to evaluate the behavior outside of the theater we may find ourselves repeating it.
This apparently happened to a certified good guy up in Washington a few years ago, who faced a gunman in a mall. From all reports, it seems the good guy drew his legally carried gun, then challenged the bad guy to drop his. Life isn't like a movie, and the rampaging gunman simply shot him - five times, paralyzing him permanently.
It's important to develop both the ability to look at things objectively and critically, and the judgement to recognize when it's necessary to do so. I'd say that anything dealing with defensive firearms needs such evaluation.
This morning I got a very nice email from a concerned gentleman in a southern state. His NRA instructor gave him numerous pieces of incorrect information about his new GP100, one of which I've heard many times before: "Don't carry Magnums, because the muzzle flash will blind you in a self-defense shooting!"
With all due respect, bull twaddle.
The .357 Magnum is notorious for muzzle flash, based largely on some well-known pictures from the 1980s. These days, even the Magnum uses flash-suppressed powders, and muzzle flash with the .357 has been dramatically reduced.
Still, the misconception remains that any muzzle flash will blind you and make it impossible to deliver followup shots. In my experience, that isn't the case.
I once did an experiment, in front of witnesses, on our club's indoor range - using not some wimpy .357 or even .44, but a Dan Wesson .445 SuperMag with a 3" barrel. I personally loaded the rounds to "full house" status, which means maximum velocity, recoil, and flash.
We turned off the range lights except for one in the adjacent classroom, which gave just enough illumination for me to make out the IDPA target about 20 feet downrange.
KA-BOOOOOOOOM! If you've never experienced a SuperMag on an indoor range, it's a treat. If, that is, you like lots of noise, concussion, and muzzle flash. We're talking muzzle flash that witnesses confirmed extended 5 feet from the barrel. I wish we'd taken pictures.
Guess what? I could still see my target; I wasn't blinded at all. So I fired another shot. Then another. Still no flash induced blindness. I could still see my target, but most importantly I could still hit it. Understand: I'm not saying that it had zero effect on my vision. I could see the afterimage of the fireball, but it wasn't at all debilitating even in near darkness.
Is this conclusive proof? Of course not, it's just one person's experience - but it's a heck of a lot more experience with the subject matter than most gunstore commandoes appear to have. No matter how impressive the fireball, it just doesn't seem to possess sufficient intensity to markedly reduce one's vision.
If a non-flash-suppressed SuperMag won't do it, I hardly think a .357 with modern suppressed propellants could. Of course I'm willing to be proven wrong, but at this moment I consider it ill advised to pick a round (caliber or brand) based solely on muzzle flash characteristics.
First I must apologize for this entry being a day out of sync. My normal routine has been altered this week, and those things I normally do on Thursdays were bumped to Wednesday which means that I'm doing yesterday's stuff today. (At least I remembered to take the trash out this morning; thank you, iCal!)
I kept tabs on the concealed carry reciprocity bill that failed to clear the Senate this week, and the debates brought to mind comments I heard years ago regarding concealed carry proponents: "intelligent people have no need for violence." "We need to reduce the violence in this world, not increase it."
This reveals a fundamental ignorance regarding the place of violence in a civilized society. Violence, which is usually defined as an exertion of physical force against a living being, is a necessary part of human behavior. CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver are quite violent acts, and I doubt that even the most lily-white member of the intelligentsia would ever decree those lifesaving actions to be repugnant. Yet violent they most assuredly are, and a necessity if our species is to survive and thrive.
The same is true of violence used to save one's own life from the actions of another. If you carry a firearm for personal defense, understand this: you will be perpetrating violence on another. He will have already done that to you, and your actions will be in response to his, but it's still violence. Get used to that word, and become comfortable with it. If you recoil at the thought of being violent, if that word shocks and bewilders you, a necessary part of your preparations has been missed.
Violence is nothing more a tool, one that can be used for both good and evil. It's up to you to use violence for proper, useful and legal purposes, but also to remember that it's still violence - and there's nothing wrong with that. Don't let the misconceptions of others convince you otherwise.
I've been collecting conspiracy theories for the ammo shortage, and I recently heard a great one that supposedly came from a local gun store: FEMA has been buying ammunition companies, then shutting them down to eliminate all civilian ammunition sources.
One needs an awful lot of foil for a tin hat that big...
Uncle and I have something in common: here in Oregon, our legislature also passed a "no texting" law. We went further, though - we added that you couldn't use a handheld cel phone at all. Then we enacted $2 billion of new taxes and spending in the state with the second-highest unemployment in the nation. We're number 49! We're number 49! Go team!
If it's as accurate as expected, I may have to own one. (Sure, I could build one myself, but I'm too busy doing guns for other people. Remember the parable about the shoemaker's children?)
Now, if we could just get them to cease doing business with H-S Precision...
Dr. Helen brings us the story of a woman who fought back against her knife-wielding rapist. Read the comments - some insightful, and some very amusing (in a train wreck sort of way.)
From the Irish Times comes news that the powers-that-be want to ban "practical" shooting (i.e. IPSC, IDPA.) The Irish Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, had this to say:
“It’s simply not in the public interest to tolerate the development of a subculture predicated on a shooting activity which by the liberal standards of the US is regarded as an extreme shooting activity." He said any cursory research on the internet showed that these activities were marketed as being at the “extreme end” of handgun ownership and were “anathema to the tradition of Irish sporting clubs”.
There is a concept that, in order to properly teach the use of a firearm for self-defense, one must have been in a shootout. The term most often used to describe that state is "seeing the elephant." (I'm not sure how the phrase got corrupted to mean shooting at someone, but I am sure that I find it quite annoying.)
The assertion, of course, is that only those who have drawn blood with their weapon are in a position to talk about it, and anyone else isn't worthy of attention. This harkens back to the days of the warrior caste, when knights were the privileged class and could own mere peasants who weren't supposed to voice their opinions. The same dynamic is in play today, especially amongst a certain cadre of defensive shooting instructors.
I'll admit that I've gone through an evolution with regards to this. There was a time when I thought that only experience counted, but over the years I've come to realize that experience is just another data point, and one point may or may not be adequate to promote a conclusion.
Rory Miller, whose book "Meditations On Violence" I've already gushed over, deals with this up front. As he correctly observes, all fights are idiosyncratic - one will not necessarily be like another. While there are some characteristics that are true of a large number of incidents, there are many more that vary from encounter to encounter. As he puts it, no one person can have been in enough fights to generate enough data to make generalizations. Experience is important, he believes, but not to the exclusion of everything else.
This was brought home to me in a recent ABC News story out of Tampa. A woman was carjacked, and successfully ended the encounter with her own gun - but not in the way you might think. She punched the assailant in the forehead with the muzzle, which caused him to jump out of her car.
She did everything wrong (starting with her beliefs about the use of deadly force), and yet she came out on top. Would you want to emulate her in any way? I would hope that you answer "no"! Imagine this, though: she could start teaching other people how to defend themselves with a gun, claiming authority based on experience. How silly would that be?
If you didn't know the nature of her experience, and/or had no other reference with which to evaluate it, it wouldn't seem silly at all. It's only when you can put her performance up against the experiences of a large number of others can you gain the perspective necessary to draw conclusions. It's what we call 'research', and is just as important as optical observation of the genus Loxodonta.
The archives over at Force Science News continue to fascinate. Issue #68 deals with several myths about the use of deadly force, myths that a large percentage of the population (regardless of their level of firearms knowledge) believe. The whole article is interesting, but it's the first myth - that of the Demonstrative Bullet - that is most immediately useful.
The article discusses the myth from the standpoint of those who judge an incident after the fact. However, the material is also of great importance to the person in the incident. The lawful user of lethal force needs to understand that bullets don't act like we see in movies, including the fact that one bullet simply isn't enough to guarantee rapid incapacitation of a determined attacker.
Belief in the "one shot stop" is prevalent at gun counters, in classrooms, and on firing ranges all over this country. The simple fact is that no handgun round - no matter what caliber or weight or velocity - will reliably incapacitate an attacker, immediately, with a single shot. It just doesn't happen all that often, which is why we need to train to put rapid, multiple, appropriately placed shots on our target. Any time, at any realistic distance, one hand or two, in all lighting conditions, from any stance, while moving, in the rain, from behind cover or in compromised positions. Can you? Be honest with yourself.
Yes, it's a tall order, but that is the reality of the situation. I've said it before: you either acknowledge reality and use it to your advantage, or it will automatically work against you! What you can do on a nice range, in perfect lighting, after carefully working yourself into your favorite stance, isn't the same as what you will be called to do when feral man chooses you as his prey. You need to train for the latter, not the former.
Of course it's easier (and cheaper) to simply Believe, which is what most gun people choose to do. Listen, if you want to believe in the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, fine and dandy! Those things are inconsequential. Belief in the Demonstrative Bullet, on the other hand, can get you killed. Educate yourself, get relevant training, and practice.
Over the weekend I got a nice email from the shooter in last week's article. Sure enough, the screw had backed out and let the crane past. He's ordered a new screw, and plans to LocTite it in. Good plan!
(The sad thing was that he was shooting really well up until that happened...ruined a perfectly good stage.)
Those of you looking for Lubriplate SFL grease may be in luck - I got this interesting email last week:
Just for your info, I'll be offering the Lubriplate "SFL" NLGI #0 grease in 16 oz. cans starting in about two weeks.
The grease will come in screw-top metal cans with a brush attached to the inside of the lid, real handy for applying the grease without making a mess.
Retail will be $19.95 plus actual shipping, without any inflated "handling" charges.
He goes to great lengths to dispel both our romanticized notions of what violent acts are really like, and our belief in our own ability to deal with them. Early in the book, he says "you are what you are, not what you think you are." (Emphasis added.) The rest of the book shows us what why that's true, and why what we believe is not always reality. His perspectives on training, of what is/is not valuable, follow the same hard-nosed refusal to buckle under to fantasy.
This book has earned a permanent place in my library, which is not something I can say of many works. I highly recommend it to anyone who carries a gun for self defense, and perhaps even more to those who don't. (One warning: this book may be unsettling to those who've become attached to their images of how a predator interacts with his/her prey. As Miller reminds us, reality is rarely pretty - and his work is chock-full of reality.)
I recently received an email asking about the feasibility of mounting a light on a revolver. The writer was concerned about clearing his house at night and being forced to shoot one-handed with a separate flashlight. Would it be possible, he asked, to somehow mount a light to his wheelgun, to approximate those that are widely mounted on autoloaders?
That's a tough one to answer, because it's really two questions in one: can it be done, and should it be done.
I'll address the feasibility portion first: yes, it can be done, though the approach varies a bit with the make/model. In all cases, their are some limitations - mainly, the light has to clear the ejector rod as it swings away from the frame. The larger the light, the smaller the gun, and/or the more closely the light is mounted to the bore axis or to the cylinder, the more likely it is to interfere with proper cylinder opening.
The best choice is to make provision to mount the light in a forward position, in front of the ejector rod. This is the approach taken by S&W in their 327 TRR8:
The problem with this is that it makes activating the light on a momentary basis from a firing grip difficult (if not impossible.) One is left with the necessity to turn the light on and leave it on if one wants to shoot with a two-handed grip.
To provide a platform on which the light can be mounted, a short section of Picatinny rail can be attached (via screws) to the barrel's underlug. If the particular gun doesn't have an underlug, the barrel itself can be carefully drilled & tapped to accept the rail - only, of course, if the barrel is of a bull (heavy) configuration. There are also some clamp-on solutions available.
The other half of the question is "should you?" I'll put on my Tactical Tommy hat here, and say that I think it's a bad idea except in very specific circumstances.
For a gun to be used in an ensconced position the attached light has merit. All you're required to do is wait, and the light is nothing but a shooting aid: confirm the target, and allow a clear sight picture.
Using it to check your house, on the move, is another matter entirely. In this case, the light takes on multiple functions: navigation, search, identification, and (in the worst case) shooting aid. The trouble is that if it's attached to your gun, then you have a loaded weapon pointing in all sorts of directions that proper safety habits say it shouldn't!
A loaded gun is not a tool for navigation or searching, and using it as such is (in my opinion) irresponsible. Think of it this way: would you be pointing your gun in all directions and places in the daylight? I would hope that the answer would be 'no.' If that's the case, why would you deem it acceptable to do so in the dark?
The light on the handgun is a limited-use device. Don't try to make it into something it shouldn't be.
I continue to get email from last year's "Self defense, stopping power, and caliber" series. It remains the second-most visited page on the site, behind only my article on lubrication, and appears to be well received by the majority of readers. Thank you!
As you might imagine, such popularity generates feedback, and some questions pop up more than once. While not exactly a FAQ, here are some of the common emails I've received.
Email: You didn't cover the difference between crush and temporary cavities, which I think is very important. My answer: No, I didn't - because I don't consider it critical to the discussion. You see, I really don't care what the wounding mechanism is, as long as one exists. Going back to the article, as long as the bullet a) reaches something that the body finds immediately important, and b) does rapid and significant damage to that thing when it arrives, then I'm really unconcerned about how it actually does so.
Email: Can you comment on ammo from [a smaller maker], whose stuff is just as good but doesn't waste money on advertising? My answer: In general, I recommend that one avoid "boutique ammunition." The majority (if not all) of such ammo purveyors are simply loading bullets made by someone else, but without the knowledge of how to make those bullets perform their best. Why should I risk unknown quality control to get a product that, at best, can only be as good as what I can get from a producer that has actual design and test budgets? My advice is to stick with known quantities: Winchester, Speer, Federal, Remington.
Email: What's your opinion of the book "Handgun Stopping Power" (aka "Street Stoppers", aka 'Marshall & Sanow')? My answer: There are a number of solid, critical analyses of their work online; I suggest that you read some of them, as the problems with their "research" are both serious and numerous. In case I was too subtle in the articles, I consider stopping power ratings in general to be complete hogwash, and theirs are particularly so.
You'd be further ahead to take the money you would have spent on their book, and practice until you can shoot to a high standard of accuracy under stress. Couple that with a quality hollowpoint from a major manufacturer, and you'll be much better prepared than any ten people who swear by their scribblings.
(This should not be construed to mean that I am a follower of their chief antagonist, Dr. Martin Fackler, either. He concocted his ratings from a different sort of nonsense than Marshall & Sanow, and came to different conclusions - which were just as useless. Again, there is criticism of his work that can be found on the 'net, if one is so inclined.)
Email: Is there any reliable source of information on bullet performance? My answer: Because of the huge number of variables in any shooting, and the relatively low number of incidents, the idea of hard statistical data is meaningless. What we're left with is anecdotal evidence which, while not valid in a scientific sense, does give us some rough feeling for what is and is not working. That's the best we can do under the circumstances.
One of the more prolific collectors of such information is Massad Ayoob. He is in a unique position: since he travels all over the country both as a trainer and an expert witness, he's thrown into contact with large numbers of police trainers and shooting survivors. He elicits their opinions of their issue ammunition, based on shootings in their departments. He gets some great feedback, which he doesn't try to disguise or characterize as anything other than raw opinion from people who have actual results to talk about.
I meet many people who possess concealed handgun licenses, but don't carry on a regular basis - let alone every day. The explanation is usually something along the lines of "I carry when I'm in a bad area" or "if I'm going into a situation where I'm more likely to need it, I'll take my gun". There are myriad variations, but the excuse always boils down to confusions between likelihood and consequence.
Likelihood (probability of attack) is variable. Yes, there are areas (and times) in which one is more likely to be attacked. This is what most people base their carry habits on: the less likely they are to be attacked (the lower the probability), the less compulsion they feel to carry a firearm.
While likelihood changes, consequence doesn't. Consequence refers to the impact on the victim of an attack; consequence is a level, a magnitude. An attack that justifies the involvement of a personally carried firearm is, by definition, of extreme magnitude and thus high consequence. For such incidents, consequence is a constant - it is the same for all times and places. Thus, the necessity of response is the same.
The problem is that most people base their carry habits not on consequence, but on likelihood. I'm not sure of the reason, but perhaps it is societal: we have a tendency to defer issues of consequence to others, because facing them is unpleasant. Dealing only with likelihood allows people to focus on the pleasant (the probability is, after all, that everything will be fine) rather than dwelling on the unpleasant.
Acknowledging the consequences of an attack is frightening to a lot of people; not only do they have to contemplate their own death or injury, they also have to consider that of their opponent. It's ultimately about mortality, and that is more than many people can handle.
You'd think that the possession of a carry license would mean that the person had considered these issues, at least minimally. My experience says otherwise. Even serious gun enthusiasts seem to only face up to the realities of consequence when they have to, which is why even they don't carry all the times that they could.
Are you basing your carry habits on likelihood or consequence? If the former, you're not as safe as you believe yourself to be.
There is a perception amongst a large percentage of the gun-toting public that guns are magic wands: one shot and the bad guy flies backward, landing in an unconscious heap at the bottom of a wall or tree.
Think I'm exaggerating? Spend a few minutes at a gun counter sometime. Random samples would tend to support the supposition that the majority of people carrying guns get their information from Hollywood, not Paulden.
There are, of course, a number of unanswered questions: was the good guy's gun not adequate for effective defense? Was he not able to draw and shoot in time? Did he make an effort to "get off the X" or did he simply "stand and deliver"?
We don't know. Sadly, we may never know. All we do know is that something went horribly wrong, leaving the good guy six feet under and the bad guy getting three hots and a cot.
4) Break the habit of just standing and shooting; learn to get off the axis of a violent attack. (This is not the old "take one step to the side and shoot" exercise - it is far more dynamic. Love him or hate him, Gabe Suarez has been preaching this for many years, and only now does the concept seem to be gaining traction.)
5) Understand that one shot is quite unlikely to do the job, and that the old "two shots center of mass, then evaluate" doctrine may just give your opponent the opening he needs. Learn how to quickly put multiple, accurate shots on target - while moving.
6) Understand that you can do everything "right", and still lose. This is a concept that seems to be lost to even the best instructors: luck plays a huge role in survival. Do everything you can to put as much of it on your side as possible.