“Lessons Learned From Watching 12,000 Gunfights”…a view from a middle-aged contrarian

L-R:  John Correia from Active Self-Protection, the author, and Chris Baker from Lucky Gunner

I had the pleasure last month, of attending the 20th Anniversary, Rangemaster Instructor Conference and Reunion, in Shawnee OK.  In addition to fun competition and socializing with like-minded weirdos (see here), there were a number of lectures from other instructors about specific areas of their individual expertise.  One of these lectures was from John Correia, of Active Self Protection.  John has a very popular Youtube Channel where he reviews security camera and body camera footage from self-defense scenarios and then gives his perspective on the successes and failures of each scenario.  (Incidentally, cell camera footage isn’t reviewed since the footage is legally qualified as intellectual property by the phone’s owner and thus subject to IP laws).  I watch John’s channel regularly, and I find value in it.

John’s lecture consisted of a number of points of congruence that he has observed over his review of the source material, and made note of.  John qualifies this material as, “experiential learning,” but I think of it more as, “vicarious learning,” since the observer’s experience is merely watching clips on TV.  They must use their imagination to activate any relevance to the material, relative to their own experience.  John has taken these points of congruence he’s noted, and formulated take-away points that he feels civilian self-defense instructors should note, and implement into their teaching and lecture programs.  John used the comparison of his, “experiential learning,” model to that of what is known in the medical field as, “evidence based medicine.”  As a health-care provider myself, I know the workings of evidence-based medicine, since I utilize it in practice, several hundred times per month.  The difference is that in EBM (evidence based medicine) the health care provider uses their clinical knowledge, the patient’s values, and the best available evidence to make decisions about the patient’s care.  In the experiential learning model John describes, through watching videos, the practitioner is dealing with only one fixed value…evil.  The defender’s response in the video IS NOT necessarily the best choice, since they often have little or even no formal defensive capabilities or training.  So, unlike EBM, we probably need to spend more time examining the, “disease,” or the etiology of the disease, instead of examining, “bad medicine,” and whether or not it works.

If you’re into the defensive arts, you should either read, or have read Massad Ayoob’s latest book, “Straight Talk on Armed Defense,” (I WROTE ABOUT IT HERE) and in there, you will find two contrasting essays.  One, is written by Tom Givens, and he describes the experiences and successes of his students in defensive shootings.  In another article, by (nom de plume) “Spencer Blue,” (Spencer is a detective for a large metropolitan area) he outlines his study of documented results from defensive shootings involving UNTRAINED participants.  Of the two essays, can you guess which experimental pool had more successes?

It’s important to note in John’s videos, that many, if not MOST of the defender participants are largely untrained.  Thus, if we had to drop a specific video into either, “trained,” (GIVENS) or, “untrained,” (SPENCER BLUE) bucket, I know we would find that the UNTRAINED bucket would soon be overflowing.  Why is that?  A few reasons:

  1. EVERYWHERE I GO, I SEE THE SAME FACES.  There aren’t many of us; the training community is very small.  In fact, you’re rarely more than one degree removed from any contact you make within the training community.  I’ve been attending nationwide training events for the better part of two decades now, and I see the SAME people, everywhere.  Yes, there are always new faces in the crowd, but the majority, “core,” group is relatively immutable.  For many of us, this is our hobby, if not our vocation (in some fashion).
  2. TRAINED PEOPLE TEND NOT TO GET INTO TROUBLE.  We’ve all heard the statistic that, “carry permit holders are the most law-abiding group,” and that’s most likely true.  Your gun isn’t a talisman (or as John Correia calls it, “a woobie!“) HOWEVER, your enhanced awareness, IS.  The more you hone your awareness skills (and the older and wiser you get) the less apt you are to find yourself in trouble.  So, I know that there are less videos of trained folks getting into gunfights, since trained folks, even if they’ve never heard of the John Farnam adage of, “Don’t go stupid places, with stupid people to do stupid things,” somewhat understand this intuitively.  Again, age and wisdom helps with that.
  3. JUST BECAUSE, “WE,” DON’T SEE THE GUN AS A TALISMAN THAT WARDS OFF EVIL, DOESN’T MEAN THAT THE UNTRAINED DEFENDER HOLDS THE SAME OPINION.  “Hey I’m worried about a kitchen fire…I need a fire extinguisher!”  Or, “I’m worried I might get in a wreck…I’ll wear a seatbelt!”  Or, “I might fall out of my boat, and drown!  I need a lifevest!”  Here’s just three examples where the mere presence of an object, with almost no input or training required (ok, a bit with the fire extinguisher, but the instructions are printed on the bottle) can be all one needs to avert death!  This false sense of equivalency is applied to firearms!  Got some death threats at work?  A GUN WILL KEEP YOU SAFE!  Have to work the overnight shift at the Qwik Stop?  A GUN UNDER THE COUNTER WILL SURELY KEEP YOU SAFE!  While we don’t subscribe to that line of fallacious thinking, most of the world certainly does.  Thus, these misinformed folks find themselves in situations where their ego starts writing checks that their body can’t cash.  And neither can their gun.

One other caveat…John reviews both civilian (or off-duty law enforcement) shootings as well as on-duty/dashcam footage shootings.  I don’t consider the LE on-duty shootings in the same way I do with the strictly civilian shootings, and John doesn’t recommend that you do either, (sure, we can argue semantics and say that LEO’s are civilians…THEY ARE.  But their context is different.  They get into shootings at calls for service, on routine patrol [catching someone in the act] on traffic stops, and at domestic disputes and alcohol related [bar] enforcement).  LEO training is a whole other world of topics, but it is still germane to this conversation, because EVERY LEO gunfight involves one of the key elements that is seen in every civilian gunfight…EVIL.

John described 21 different observations and teaching points that he saw in these 12,000 gunfights.  Each observation had a counter or teaching point.  I won’t review all of them here; take his class or attend his lecture if you want to know them all!  However, in many of the points, the take home for the prepared Civilian Defender was, “NO KIDDING!” and, “THAT GOES WITHOUT SAYING!”  The epiphany I had following the presentation was, don’t pay attention so much to what the good guy’s TTP’s are(tactics, techniques and procedures), whether they work or not…PAY ATTENTION to the common denominator:  EVIL (and the badguys that come with the evil).

The kinds of humanoids that predate on other humans are operating under some guise of evil, and there is a continuum.  And I’d be out of my lane to talk about the psychology of it (but attend Dr. William Aprill’s lecture about it HERE).  The evil that is in these videos presents itself in various forms.  Some idiotic and clumsy, and some calculated, cruel and devastating.  All of it is problematic and should be treated with the same level of intensity by the Civilian Defender or the law enforcement officer, if they are confronted with a deadly force threat.

So, when I look at video footage of anything, I find it far more useful to analyze the tactics of the bad guys.  Aside from reviewing video footage, this technique is also useful for looking at scenarios from the, “pre-video,” days.  Stories like the Newhall Shooting, and looking at the TTP’s of Davis and Twining, or the 1986 FBI shootout with Platt and Mattix.  There isn’t video footage of either of those gunfights, but the reconstructions and eyewitness footage can tell us quite a bit about the TTP’s that they used against the CHP and the FBI, respectively.  And reviewing video footage of the millions of cases of interpersonal violence on the internet teach us the same thing, over and over that gets repeated and repeated, yet never seems to reach the future victims in time!

Of the 65 students (that Tom knows of…there may be more) that he has taught that have been in armed self-defense confrontations, 62 prevailed, 3 forfeited, and ZERO lost.  The three that forfeited were not armed at the time of their demise.  Nobody is psychic, and Tom certainly isn’t either, so he can’t tell you when and where you’ll need a gun.  If he did, why the hell would you go there?  Instead, treat everyday like it may be, “THE,” day, and prepare accordingly.
  1. BADGUYS travel in packs, so be wary of more than one attacker
  2. MULTIPLE precision rounds, delivered with two hands at eye level to the upper chest region are the best remedy to stopping a deadly threat.
  3. IF YOU CAN GET TWO, “WTF’S,” FROM A BADGUY, THAT IS USUALLY ENOUGH TO PREVAIL.  You accomplish this through movement, and furtive, quick and efficient retrieval and presentation of your firearm.

So in closing, when you watch videos, WATCH THE BADGUY!  You don’t know if the defender in the video is John Wick, John Belushi OR IF it was amateur night.  But the one thing that stays constant, in ANY recording of interpersonal violence is that there are bad guys (sometimes BOTH parties, but that’s another story) and bad guys tactics, techniques and procedures remain fairly constant.  They remain fairly constant, because they work!  Counter the constants, and you will recognize the pre-assault indicators and the angles of attack.  Then, vicariously, imagine how YOU would solve that particular tactical problem.

Want to get better at shooting?  Shoot against people that are better than you, and that can push you to your limit.  Oh, then do all that with a bunch of other people watching (and sometime heckling you)!  The other 12 folks in this lineup are PHENOMENAL shooters, but I am just extremely lucky!  I’m honored to be listed here.
I give you, ladies and gentlemen, part of the Rangemaster-Certified Instructor Cadre.  Good people, all.

Thanks for reading!

-Dr. House