© 2014 Grant Cunningham Click to email me!

Change is inevitable. Growth? Not so much.

Rob Pincus asked one of his favorite questions on the (members only) U.S. Concealed Carry forum last week: "what have you changed your mind about?"

It's a simple question, and it's amazing how many people couldn't answer it. The most common reply sounds like something from a cookie-cutter PR firm: "Of course the world is in a constant state of change, and the prudent man, woman, or transgender individual is best advised to take note of such change and incorporate that which is applicable to his or her current situation to prepare for the future." Reading some of the responses reminded me of the old joke about the politician talking about prohibition: "some of mah friends are for it, and some of mah friends are against it. I tell you here and now, that I stand forthrightly behind mah friends!"

The question isn't concerned about what's changed around you, but rather in what has changed inside of you.

We all make decisions and adopt opinions based on any number of inputs, including raw evidence, our emotional reactions to factual information, and (all too often) what someone else thinks about those things. The problem is that we tend to treat those opinions and conclusions as static even as the world around us shifts. At some point our original positions are likely to become outdated, and some will be downright wrong. It's whether - and why - we make a conscious decision to amend or replace those positions that's important. If we're observant and engaged, we change our minds about things. If not, we persist in beliefs and practices that may not be congruent with the current realities.

Prejudices are like that. My late father grew up in a time and a place where anyone with white skin was deemed to be of lesser intelligence, honesty, and motivation. ("Stupid, lazy liars" in the vernacular.) Over the years he would be put into contact with one ethnic group after another and be forced to change his opinion of that group. Unfortunately he wasn't able to extrapolate those experiences to cover all ethnicities, but he was at least able to find common ground with Japanese, Hispanic, American Indian, and Chinese people. He changed his mind based on his first-hand experiences.

That kind of change is hard for some of us because it means admitting that, in some way, we're wrong about something. That might be because we misinterpreted something along the way, or it might mean that new facts or evidence were uncovered. It might mean that we relied too much on others to shape our opinions for us, or it might simply mean that we've grown up. We might have been right at one point, but the growth of the rest of society rendered our original position untenable.

Whether we changed or the universe changed is irrelevant to this discussion; what's important is how we ourselves adapt to that change. Can we accept new facts and evidence, or are we going to bury our heads in the sand?

Case in point: for a long time I've held an opinion about Taurus revolvers that is now evolving, based on their increasing levels of quality. Am I ready to put them on the same level as the market leaders - S&W and Ruger? Not quite, but I am willing to admit that perhaps they are making headway in product quality. I'm revisiting my opinions in response to what's going on around me, and I look forward to the day when I can say I've changed my mind about them.

Don't assume that I'm talking only about physical things (people, guns.) I'm also talking about concepts. How and what we train is subject to the same dynamic of change. For instance, I used to practice and teach one-handed shooting with the gun canted strongly toward the centerline. The idea is that it straightened the wrist (which it did) and increased recoil control (which it also did.) The problem is that it's much harder for the eye/brain combination to correctly align the gun on target when both the x- and y-axis are in abnormal positions. This is especially true when shooting quickly, as it significantly degrades one’s balance of speed and precision. The increase in recoil control, which enables the shooter to get back on target faster, is negated by the increased time required for the shooter to recognize and apply the necessary deviation control.

My opinion was wrong because I focused on an overly narrow aspect of the shooting task. I changed my mind based upon a broader understanding of what I was trying to achieve, and as a result no longer teach or practice that technique.

What specifically have you changed your mind about? What do you consciously believe or practice today that's different than, say, a year or two ago? Why?

-=[ Grant ]=-

What is the true value of "dry fire"?

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.)

Why was dry fire not the answer? Well,
Rob Pincus recently wrote a terrific piece titled "Dry Reps can lead to Poor Performance" which answers that question. Rob is one of the few people in this field who has a good grasp of how the brain interprets information and makes decisions, and he's applied that knowledge to his Combat Focus courses.

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.

-=[ Grant ]=-

On dry firing.

One of the great advantages of the double action revolver is that the mechanism makes dry firing easy. Unlike the majority of autoloaders, you don't have to break your grip to operate the slide or recock the hammer; just maintain your grip and pull the trigger, over and over. As a result, I suspect most revolvers are dry fired with greater frequency than most autos.

Various pundits have opined over the years that it is perfectly safe to dry fire any modern gun without regard to mechanical consequences. Some have even gone so far as to claim snap caps to be some sort of conspiracy against dry fire!

In my experience, that point of view is a bit misguided. I recommend the use of snap caps for any extensive dry fire practice, and with good reason: I have to fix the guns that break!

The problems involve broken firing pins, both hammer mounted and the in-frame variety. I do occasionally see broken pins that, upon investigation, would seem to have been caused by dry fire practice. Colt revolvers are probably the worst offenders; their firing pins tend to be harder than those of other makes, and subsequently a tad more brittle. I've seen many broken pins in Pythons and Detective Specials, and more than a few in the other models. If you have a Colt, I consider snap caps an absolute must.

Smith & Wesson revolvers seem to be a bit better in this regard, as I've not seen the number of broken pins that I have with the Colt products. They will occasionally break, however, and as a result I do recommend the use of snap caps if one is planning to do a significant amount of dry firing.

I've never seen a broken Ruger firing pin (though now that I've put this in print I'll no doubt hear about a rash of them!) However, snap caps seem to reduce peening of the back side of the firing pin, which serves to maintain ignition reliability. I don't consider their use as important as for their competition, but I believe them to be a good long-term care strategy.

-=[ Grant ]=-