Safety Not Guaranteed: VEHICLE TACTICS with JOHN FARNAM

A rifleman, and I (in the blue ear pro) defend our position from armed marauders, and eventually abandon the vehicle, all under the watchful eye of Mr. Farnam.

John Farnam is a front runner in the training industry over the last (nearly) five decades, more so than most people know.  He has been conducting, “road show,” or offsite training classes, since the 1970’s.  Anyone who teaches remote classes (meaning classes off of a range that the instructor owns/leases/operates) owes a debt of gratitude to John.  Although there WERE private sector trainers both prior to, and during the US Civil War, John was the first, post-war (I fully expect him to kick me squarely in the pants for that remark, next time he sees me).  He has been a Law Enforcement Officer, and remains so today, since 1970, after his time in Vietnam as a Marine Corps Officer (LT).  John is one of the few trainers today that has quality, actionable intelligence and information that is usable by all vocations of professional men-at-arms.  His, “Vehicle Tactics,” course is vocationally generic, but the lessons and skills it taught are applicable to military, law enforcement and Civilian Defender missions/contexts.  I have attended lectures by John at several Polite Society Conference/Rangemaster Tactical Conferences in the past, as well as read all of his books, but this was my first live-fire class with him.

What you reap from your own experience in this class, will be significantly different from mine, but as I’ve done in past essays I’ve compiled on this site, I’ll give you some of my key takeaways, and things that I’ve spent some time reflecting on.  I spent a decade working out of an armored truck, and nearly 20 years working out of first responder trucks and patrol vehicles, and of course I’ve driven since I was 15 years old.  I learned or re-tooled a number of my own ideas because of this class.

  • Parked vehicle threats are down, nationally,  due to the improvements in anti-theft technology.  However, carjackings are up, statistically, because now the technology demands that the vehicle be occupied to be moved, and thus the driver must possess a key-fob or electronic card to, “activate,” and operate the vehicle.  Keyless entry is great because it minimizes the amount of time you have to spend fiddling with your keyring, pocket, bag or purse, and you can simply enter your vehicle and then get underway.
  • Stationary vehicles are dangerous; when the vehicle isn’t moving, get away from it, or get it moving as quickly as possible.  DON’T DITHER (This is a commonly used, “Farnamism,” or repeated theme throughout the class.  Weapon down?  Don’t dither, do something about it.  Weapon run dry?  Don’t dither…do something about it (eg reload, transition to a backup or move to cover.  Vehicle inoperable?  DON’T DITHER!)
  • Driveways and parking lots are the most dangerous places in the country.  Robberies and car jackings occur there frequently (because that’s where the cars are) and the construction and layout of modern parking lots allow the attacker concealment from onlookers.  If you’re forcibly proned out in between parked cars, nobody can see you to rescue you or call for help
  • Another Farnamism that is probably not adequately attributed to John is, “Don’t go stupid places with stupid people to do stupid things.”  If you think about this, it would allow most folks to avoid many confrontations.  And as John has said, “You win 100% of the gunfights you DON’T get into.”  Thus, John’s prescription of, “Avoidance, Deterrence and De-escalation,” make great sense, and great advice for anyone who doesn’t want to engage in interpersonal violence.  And that should be everyone!  Furthermore, avoid sleazy bars, protests or sporting events where people are in close proximity to each other and tempers can flare.  Although these places seem to skirt around the, “stupid trifecta,” they really do equate to, “stupid,” since stupid people, regardless of YOUR intentions (to enjoy the game, have a friendly drink with your peers, or voice your political opinion) gravitate to these venues and wreak havoc.  So avoid them if possible.
  • The term, “Good Tactics,” more appropriately equates to, “the best BAD tactics which seem to work based on the outcome.”  Just because the outcome was favorable, doesn’t mean the path to get there was good.  Don’t allow bad tactics that worked, guide your heuristics for tactics.  Use the tactics that work indubitably
  • Practice what John calls, “Aggressive Disengagement.”  Meaning a firmly voiced, medium volume, “NO THANK YOU.”  This will go a long way in dividing the focus of the inquiring individual.  Bad guys tend to probe a probable victim and if you fail their screening test, they’ll move on to someone that has a higher likelihood of success.  The average net from an armed robbery is $13…going to prison for 25 years isn’t a plan indicative of intelligence.  These kinds of predators understand aggressive, visceral action.  So broadcast your non-compliance quickly and succinctly, and then move along.  Be pleasant and you’ll avoid most fights you might otherwise get into.  “Nice,” doesn’t mean, “weak.”
  • Oddly, there is less penetration by bullets into vehicles that are moving, then there are on stationary vehicles.  I’d wager a hypothesis that this observation occurs based on Newton’s Laws of Motion.  Newton’s First Law States, “Every object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force.”  Thus, a projectile, weighing 123 grains, flying at a velocity of 2300 feet per second impacts an oncoming vehicle, weight 4000 pounds and moving at a velocity of 60 feet per second…the vehicle can change the straight line travel of the bullet by inertial disruption.  Also, Newton’s 3rd Law says that, “for every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  If both the vehicle and the bullet are moving, using the formula f=ma, the change or transfer in force results in an asymmetric reaction that can (and does) change the trajectory of the bullet.  This is testable in a laboratory with controlled conditions (Karl Rehn?  Let’s do this!)  Thus, if you’re in a vehicle, and someone starts shooting at you, GET OUT OF THERE AND DRIVE AWAY WITH GREAT HASTE!
  • Don’t crowd cover, especially cars!  Incoming rounds can bounce up and hit you, or roll across the sheet metal and have enough velocity to be lethal or incapacitating
  • “We,” (the good guys), use, “force,” which means, “to compel by physical means.”  They, (the bad guys), use, “violence,” which means, “the unlawful or inappropriate use of force.”
  • Rifles like the AR and the Kalashnikov has a sight line/boreline offset to compensate from the radiant heat issues (mirage) caused by fast cyclic rates of fire.  This is great for dealing with the mirage issue, but it creates other issues, that folks commonly overlook, and results in bullets ending up in vehicles because people do not compensate in their technique for the offset.  Also, close in targets require an adjusted hold to compensate for the sight/bore offset, otherwise the round will go low
  • John recommends a 40 yard zero for 5.56 long guns, as this gives a maximum pointblank range of about 260 yards, since the projectile crosses the line of sight at 40 yards, and again at 240 yards.  This means that from the muzzle to the maximum pointblank range (~260 yards) the projectile will not be more than 6cm above or below the light of sight
  • John’s classes are literally filled with quotable material, and a few that I particularly liked are:  “We’re here to inspire our students, not impress them.”  Students know who they are taking classes from.  If they want your entire resume, point them to your web page where they can read about it.  Don’t waste time in class reciting it.  “Learn from my mistakes so that you don’t repeat them.”  John has been in the game for decades, and he self-admits that he hasn’t always had great successes.  Yet, in the industry, despite the preachings of men like John and his peers/contemporaries like Mas Ayoob, Clint Smith, Ken Hackathorn and Tom Givens, HUGE bodies of knowledge and lessons learned go virtually unstudied or unnoticed, until some newbie on the scene, “Unearths,” some colossal truth, only to declare an eponym and commercialize it.  There is nothing new under the sun…listen to the wise-men of our community.  They know that of which they speak.
John demonstrating how high velocity projectiles that hit automobile hoods and trunk covers do odd things, like change direction and, “roll,” across the hood’s surface.  He demonstrated this with pistol caliber rounds as well.
John’s Signature AR, complete with forward mounted optic.  John told us that there is some inherent weaknesses mounting an optic so far out on the rail of the rifle, but he appreciated the ability to get fast target acquisition along with the ability to fully see and remain cognizant of his surroundings.  I tried out this setup and it worked really quite well!
My long gun for the course was a Barrett REC7 DI AR Pistol, in 5.56.  I used an Aimpoint PRO optic and a custom-made Blue Force Gear Vickers Sling.  This is a great setup, and I made on demand hits out to about 240 yards with it.  I used my carry gun, a S&W M&P 2.0 Compact, carried in a Safariland Level 3 duty holster, with a full Sam Browne belt setup.  It was cold out!  The stippling on the pistol’s grip were appreciated, and the Barrett’s proprietary handguard did such a good job of dissipating heat, that I wished it actually held a bit more heat so that I could warm my hands in between evolutions!

Safety Not Guaranteed

According to John, “There is no perfectly safe gun handling.  Even if you want to live in a perfect, gun-free utopia, guns will still exist because others will have them.”  Thus, you need to accept that there are relative risks in life, whether we talk about guns, cars, travel, sex, childbirth, medicine, food, etc.  Every interaction in this world contains an element of relative risk.  If you want an interesting and worthwhile life, there will be risks!  The thoughtful part and what John conveys through his unique teaching style, is that the student is left to devise the path best intended to get from, “POINT A,” to, “POINT B,” as safely and efficiently as possible.  But there is no, “perfectly safe,” way.  John is purposefully vague in the range commands he gives during his drills, because he wants students to think through and negotiate those types of problems on the fly, and then correct the errors after the students experience demoralizing failure.  “WE ARE HERE TO FAIL!”  The learning occurs when the student can not only see the WHY of their improper choice, but also formulate the correct path and the WHY behind it.

When a student comes to a fork in the road, they must make a choice…go left or go right.  But which is the right path?  Because they fear that they will make the wrong choice, MANY choose to do, NOTHING.  NOTHING?  YES!  “The beauty of doing nothing, is that nothing can be done perfectly.”  It requires zero effort!  This all boils back to John’s point earlier about DITHERING.  “Dithering,” is the absence of perceptible progress nor failure…and results in absolutely NOTHING.  Don’t be a ditherer, and don’t tolerate dithering from your family or teammates when only decisive action and good tactics will allow you to regain and maintain the initiative.

The 4 “D’s” of Fighting

  1. DIVIDE his focus
  2. DISRUPT his plans
  3. DISABLE his body
  4. DESTROY his will to FIGHT

John applies this thought model to the style of unknown contact interaction he teaches, as well as how he recommends you solve tactical problems.  Don’t think of it as a replacement or re-manufacture of the OODA loop, but an expanded progression of it.  For example, in the aforementioned verbal interaction with the aggressive panhandler, the loud, clear, “NO THANK YOU,” with a simultaneous sidestep DIVIDES the focus of the possible threat.  Your self elected removal from his proximity as well as your verbal command alerts others in the vicinity and DISRUPTS his plans.  There is no need to DISABLE his body, nor DESTROY his will to fight, because the confrontation was avoided in the selection phase and both parties go about their separate ways.

Imagine this confrontation if the panhandler changes his motive from the acquisition of spare change to the forcible theft of your vehicle, by using a small revolver he has concealed in his coat pocket.  On your unsuccessful verbal exchange, and your aggressive body posture, the man produces a weapon and you do as well, simultaneously sidestepping while bringing your front sight to bear on his upper chest region.  His continued actions indicate to you that he intends to shoot you, and thus you fear for your life and are prepared to defend it!  The aggressive sidestep/lateral movement DIVIDES his focus.  Even the most calculated miscreant gets a good buzz from the effects of epinephrine on their nervous system, and thus tunnel vision shrinks their usable field of view considerably.  A quick lateral movement can seem like you literally disappeared!  And, as Tom Givens is fond of saying, “If you can get two WHAT THE F**K’S?? out of a bad guy that is usually enough to win the fight.”  You’ve also DISRUPTED his plan, because he was hoping for a compliant victim, not a resisting fighter.  Your bullets DISABLE his body by involuntarily overwhelming his nervous system and his cardiovascular circulation by lowering his blood pressure, or through organ damage and system failure.  And finally, you DESTROY his will to continue fighting by not surrendering the initiative and maintaining a tactical vantage point through the use of sound, useful tactics that leave the adversary at a disadvantage.

I don’t mean to sound snide when I say that John truly is the Elder Statesmen of our community.  The amount of knowledge he has contributed to the craft has been immense, and the contributions evolve, and continually expand!  I spent each meal from the start of class on Saturday, until the end on Sunday evening, listening to John talk about all manner of subjects from Churchill and the Boer Wars, to Abraham Lincoln and even Thomas Custer and the role he served in evacuating his brother’s remains during the Battle of Little Big Horn.  John’s knowledge base seems limitless, and even so, his inquiry into his students own experiences and what they do, is both humbling and kind.  John spent no less than a half hour asking one student about his 30 year experience as a bail bondsmen and fugitive recovery agent.  I think that to really be engaged with the field of personal self-protection, the instructor should truly be a man-for-all-seasons;  a fighter, poet, philosopher, psychologist, empath, historian, physical therapist, medic, race car driver and an eloquent speaker and  comedian.  John Farnam truly embodies all of these traits into a very quotable and approachable, Man-at-Arms.  Many trainers from the law enforcement and military communities have difficulty in transmitting Civilian Defender curriculum, that is accessible to the average Joe or Jane, but John’s course, like I mentioned earlier, is completely vocationally generic.  Train with him every chance you get!

“Have patience, Margaret, and trouble not thyself. Death comes for us all; even at our birth—death does but stand aside a little. And every day he looks towards us and muses somewhat to himself whether that day or the next he will draw nigh. It is the law of nature and the will of God.” 
Robert Bolt, “A Man for All Seasons”