I recently had the pleasure of hosting and attending a weekend of training with Lee Weems. Lee is a Rangemaster-Certified Instructor, as well as running his own training company, First Person Safety. Lee is the Chief Deputy for the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia. And although Lee embodies the archetype of the quiet, Southern Lawman, he has quite a bit to say about the lifestyle adaptations required to be a competent, safe, thoughtful man (or woman) at arms.
Lee began the class by talking about what most of us know as the, “Firearms Safety Rules,” according to Jeff Cooper. Sure, the NRA has their own modified version of this, but Lee gave the Cooper iteration. However, Lee deviated from conventional thinking when he outlined the rules in the framework of not just, “safety,” rules that we adhere to when on the range, but rules that are in-play, ad infinitum, whenever guns are present. Thus, when one goes about armed as a professional gun handler, it is incumbent on the user to think about, and unconsciously enact all four lifestyle rules. But wait…there’s more!
After outlining the emergency medical algorithm, the class bundled up in their winter wear (it was snowing, after all, and yes, it was April in Tennessee!) and headed outside to the well appointed Humphreys Country Sheriff’s Office range complex. After systematically unloading (and verifying empty guns) Lee took the class through a series of dry-practice exercises beginning with the 4-count draw stroke and presentation, which is standard doctrine of many other Rangemaster affiliates, like the great Tom Givens himself, as well as others like Craig Douglas. Lee walked the line and adjusted the grips, positions and presentations of several students until everyone was working competently and safely through the dry practice iterations. Then the class loaded their pistols, and were expected to keep their guns running thoughout the course, without further instruction, as Lee runs a hot range. Several short range drills demonstrated deficiencies in trigger control as well as eye darting issues.
A little bit about training in the cold. I am from Washington State, which isn’t well known for its sunny weather or tropical climate. Despite this, I find it very hard to run my gun like I want to when it is cold out. I hate shooting with gloves on, and I simply lose dexterity and proprioception in my fingers and hands when I am in the extreme cold. If you’ve never experienced this sensation before, give it a go under controlled circumstances, and I think you’ll be surprised at how much it dulls your senses!
We took regular breaks to rewarm ourselves and hydrate in the climate controlled classroom. During the breaks, Lee would review concepts he wanted us to know, and also gave us more information that was relative to the subject matter. In between breaks, Lee ran us through a series of drills that required an intermediate level of skill to negotiate, but, more importantly, the drills required absolute mastery of the understanding and utilization of the 4 FIREARMS LIFESTYLE RULES to pass…
FROM THE READY
Like all other Rangemaster-Certified Instructors, Lee teaches a, “ready,” position. Tom Givens, the progenitor of all Rangemaster doctrine, teaches a ready position where the student stands, arms extended in a firing position, but with the sights and muzzle of the gun at or below the belt line of the bad guy, so that the adversary’s hands are in full view. Lee teaches a variation of the, “Metro Ready,” popularized by famous LAPD super cop and SWAT pioneer, Larry Mudgett. To use the, “Metro Ready,” imagine aiming in at the belt buckle of the adversary, and then simply deflect your sights and muzzle off to the side of the adversary. On a conventional wooden target stand, I accomplished this by aiming in at a knot in the wooden target stand, just lateral to the IDPA target. My gun is pointing near the bad guy, but it is not YET pointed directly AT him. Thus, with my finger off of the trigger and in register, all FOUR FIREARMS LIFESTYLE rules are not being violated, and nobody is going to be shot, until it is time. From this position, on the command, you can simply bring your eyes to the target area, then the sights and press the trigger as required. Also from this position, you could transition to another target, or even holster your weapon and move or go hands-on, etc! It’s versatile and offers the gunman an option that gives a tactical advantage (gun is out of the holster, at extension and simply needs to be brought to bear on target) but also doesn’t violate the FIREARMS LIFESTYLE rules AND still is effective in sending the non-verbal message of, “DANGER!” and it also looks presentable on surveillance footage and thus would help avoid an errant aggravated assault charge if the adversary was inadvertently mistaken as a threat.
MUZZLING THE GOOD GUYS
In a real-life scenario, as armed professionals (whether by vocation or not) we simply cannot run around the country with guns out, muzzling good guys that don’t need to be shot, with our pistols. Doing so would result in numerous criminal charges depending on jurisdiction. So, the armed professional must use the absolute pinnacle of precision when it comes to who and where to point their weapon when it is out of their holster. Lee incorporates drills that encompass the need to complete the exercise, coupled with the intensity of man-on-man competition, and/or the peer pressure of having other students watch you, laugh at you, and tease you (all in good fun) all while being 100% mindful of the firearms lifestyle rules. A big rule, and automatic disqualifying error was, pointing the muzzle at ANYTHING you’re not willing to destroy!
I’ve shot IDPA and USPSA matches before, and many of the stages set up in both leagues of competition, incorporate, “no-shoot,” targets that incur a penalty, when shot. Of course, the verification for the penalty requires a bullet hole in the no-shoot target! So as long as you don’t shoot the, “no-shoot,” you don’t incur any kind of negative penalty, but of course that is just competition. There IS NO penalty for muzzling every no-shoot, essentially pointing your pistol around, “looking,” for bad-guys to shoot. But not so in real-life. As many instructors are fond of saying, “Each bullet has a lawyer attached to it.” Along with that heavy consideration, comes the further need for understanding that there are cameras everywhere! From the surveillance cameras, traffic cameras and personal cellphone cameras that everyone carries in their hands at all times, if there is gunplay afoot in public, chances are, it’s going to be filmed, everyone is going to see it, and any misplaced, dangerous, or ineffective gun handling is going to be forever memorialized in digital format. Thus, it is HIGHLY incumbent on the competent shooter to use extreme caution and care when handling their gun at all times.
I’m hammering on this point so heavily because, as someone carries a gun both in my personal and professional life for two decades PLUS now, it is very easy to get complacent with gun handling. Sure, whenever we are on the range, we are, “ON,” and handle the guns appropriately, but even the most steadfast man-at-arms can become lackadaisical in their routine, and screw up. Unfortunately, it only takes one screw-up to have a career ending or life-altering mishap. SO, Lee’s heavy emphasis on this idea of the, “4 Rules,” as LIFESTYLE rules and not simply RANGE RULES, makes a ton of sense! As my old, late buddy Paul Gomez used to say, “There are two kinds of gun owners in the world: those who’ve had a negligent discharge and LIARS.”
And while we can all agree that negligent discharges are bad, they happen because of the ignorance and improper execution of at least two of the the four firearms lifestyle rules. Meaning, to park a round into the wall next to your gun-safe, you have to 1. IGNORE that all guns are always loaded and 2. IGNORE that you are allowing the muzzle to cross something you aren’t willing to destroy, and 3. IGNORE keeping your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target and you’ve made the decision to shoot. So, you can virtually avoid having a negligent discharge if you DO NOT violate two of the four firearms lifestyle rules, simultaneously. HOWEVER, you can find yourself in a tremendous amount of legal trouble, lose your right to carry a gun, and possibly find yourself a felon and face incarceration if you unknowingly or accidentally point your gun at someone who doesn’t deserve it. I have to say, in the years before this course, I never really gave much thought about this, and I simply kept my gun in the holster, at the ready, or pointed at things I intended to shoot. Now, after this course, I give much more thought into the full application of the firearms LIFESTYLE rules.
The astute reader will notice that I didn’t break down this essay into specific sections, or days. I think reviews for classes these days are largely dull, and I don’t often read them because of that. I’ve taken thousands of hours of classes at this point, and the unifying theme between all is that the engagement material, i.e. how to shoot effectively under pressure, doesn’t vary between instructors. Everyone is falling off of different sides of the same table when it comes to the simple execution of shooting skill. For me, the difference in instructors and courses boils down to their application and differences of philosophy. And Chief Lee Weems brings a unique philosophical perspective. He isn’t the first person to call what is commonly referred to as, “Cooper’s Firearms Safety Rules,” into the 4 FIREARMS LIFESTYLE RULES, but he is the first person in my experience to emphasize them as the cornerstone and substructure of his range training program. Experienced shooters, who have no issue with common marksmanship and shooting tasks, will find themselves flummoxed when they have to dodge around no-shoots WITHOUT MUZZLING THEM! It’s a simple concept in theory, but one that training scars and competition scars makes very difficult to negotiate under controlled circumstances, and even more difficult under peer pressure!
This pair of classes was Lee’s first foray into out-of-state training, and he mostly teaches at his home range in GA. However, as he branches out further, consider hosting him at your facility, or attending his courses in or near your area. He’ll expose you to a block of thinking and philosophy not commonly encountered in modern defensive firearms training.
Thanks for reading!