March is the PERFECT time to train in TENNESSEE! Not freezing, and not ridiculously/painfully humid either! I’ve trained with both William and John in the past and their fast-paced, multidisciplinary format is great for high-yield/short attention span learners (like me!). So come train with us, and get your learn on!
About 20-something years ago, I was working as an armored truck guard. I remember showing up on my first day of work at the armored truck company, complete with body armor, multiple speed loaders, back-up ankle-gun, and black ripstop BDU pants and steel toe combat boots. In addition to being the youngest employee at my branch, I was also apparently the strangest. The looks I got on the first day from the veterans, were not welcoming. I had no pressed slacks, nor Chukka boots or Oxfords, nor six round cartridge slide. No, I was there dressed for, what I thought, work. Armored truck work differs from conventional security work in many ways, chief among them the requirement to actually DO WORK. Meaning, money (cash and coin) is heavy, and thus moving it from POINT A to POINT B requires brute strength, and sweat. Thus, dressing like an armed mailman seemed silly to me. Aside from the completely benign appearance, that, “pressed,” look didn’t seem extraordinarily ergonomic, nor easily maneuverable amongst the various lifting and loading tasks required of an armored truck crewman. Thus, I was termed, “unique.”
My, “uniqueness,” ended one afternoon following the disarmament and subsequent robbery of a fellow employee. Although my coworker was physically large, played college football, and generally kept his head on a swivel (if for nothing else than gawking at women) he got ambushed that day, and relieved of his weapon. The robber didn’t know how to actuate the safety devices/retention devices on the guard’s Uncle Mike’s PRO3 duty holster, and thus he made the guard give him his sidearm, with the robber’s own pistol thrust smartly into the guard’s head. When the distress/robbery in progress call came out on the radio, we all went into CONDITION ORANGE, and listened intently to the radio traffic exchanges. The guard was lucky to get out of that nightmare alive…
When I returned to the truck base the afternoon of the robbery, everyone asked me where I purchased my security holster, my body armor and external carrier, the steel plates it carried, the spare magazine carriers, the ankle gun and rig, the medical kit (albeit crude) and the various other support/street survival equipment I carried everyday. I was no longer the pariah…I was the weirdo who was ready.
Fast forward a number of years to when I was in dental school. A number of students in my school had been carjacked and relieved of their vehicles. A frightening number, in fact. Of my class of 65 students, FIVE were forcibly removed from their vehicles and left shaking and afraid on the side of the road. In my 4th year, a carjacker unsuccessfully attempted to carjack ME, and was promptly sent running in the opposite direction. I had spent a fair amount of training and effort on vehicular ambush techniques, over a couple decades, beginning with my experience as a law enforcement student at the community college, through my armored truck experience, and honed it into a reliable skillset that allowed me to recognize a probable threat early on, prepare mentally and physically for the interaction, and then counter the robbery with a preemptive surprise response. Of course, spending free time at the range running skill drills from a chair or a vehicle, and pre-planning tactics in my head made me strange to the casual observer…who does these kinds of things?
Weirdos do these kinds of things. At the base of it all, lies the MENTAL AWARENESS AND MENTAL PREPAREDNESS that Mas Ayoob talked about WAY back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, that survival minded individuals employ to give them the competitive edge against any existential threat that they come up against. You see, to the layperson, the WEIRDO looks like a fighting ant, with their bristled visage, guns, knives, medical kits, 4×4 truck and bail-out bag. To the uninitiated, the WEIRDO looks like a gadgeted freak, and thus the tactical accessories of the WEIRDO seem like talismans that have the ability to ward off evil-doers, and help the wearer steer clear of environmental pitfalls. This couldn’t be farther from the truth though. The WEIRDO has simply undertaken the task of preparing their hands for the unexpected; the mind is already so equipped. So when disaster strikes, and action is needed, they are ready. For the weirdo, the acceptance of the, “NOT IF…WHEN?” eventuality is already completed. One of my email taglines used to read, “IF YOU PREPARE FOR THE EMERGENCY, THE EMERGENCY CEASES TO EXIST!” The weirdo doesn’t like emergencies, but they know that they occur and thus they find the study and preparation for countering emergencies, useful. And lately, in our current times, emergencies seem to occur more frequently than in the past. So, be a WEIRDO. Encourage others to become WEIRDOS. And maybe, someday, we can live in a world where the WEIRDOS aren’t in the tiny minority, and even seem (dare I say) NORMAL.
When I hear or read the word, “gentleman,” what I immediately think of is some Englishmen, with a handlebar mustache, a suit made from fine cloth, with a bowler hat, and perhaps a pipe. Kind of a cross between Bat Masterson and the fictional detective’s sidekick, Dr. John Watson. What I do not think of are the various rapists, robbers, home invaders, serial killers, active killers, jihadists, gang members, car jackers or other miscreants. However, various news sources ROUTINELY refer to the aforementioned turds as such. This politically correct and possibly, hyperbolic, “sarcasm-speak,” has trickled down into the self-defense industry, and I’m really tired of it! If you possess the capability for sentient thought, you should be tired of it too.
The late Colonel Jeff Cooper referred to collective pack of miscreants as, “goblins,” (for all of you Lord of the Rings fans) which I like. Also, the late Louis Awerbuck (of which I was, and am still a big fan, see HERE) called these wrongdoers, “cookie monster,” as in (insert South African accent), “There you are minding your own business walking to your car when the Cookie Monster pops up from behind a parked station wagon, gun in hand.” I think that BOTH of these word choices are far superior to saying something that is quite antithetical to what we are trying to describe. “Gentlemen,” surely these hoodlums are not.
When I treat my patients, I routinely tell them what I want them to do. It is a physiological/psychological shortcut that actually works for me pretty well (I jokingly call it the, “Jedi Mind Trick”). For example, I tell them, “You will feel me push on your cheek and then you’ll feel pressure in your jaw.” What I don’t tell them is, “You will feel a puncture as I plunge this 27 gauge needle into your jaw, pass it through several sheets of muscle, knock it into the bone and then deliver 1.7 milliliters of anesthetic liquid into your tissues. That anesthetic is not isotonic to those local tissues, and it will burn tremendously, but gut through it, as it will only last thirty seconds or so!” By simply giving a relaxed person a simple verbal suggestion, I can shape what they experience.
In firearms training, as instructors we must also be cautious about what we say when we coach our students. If I tell a student to, “Press the trigger, just like you’re pressing a button,” they will. In their mind, they can visualize using their index finger to simply press a button. It is an operation that each of us thoughtlessly execute hundreds, if not thousands of times a day. So instructing a student to, PRESS the trigger delivers the desired result; a straight, continuous press to the limit of travel. But if we tell the same student, “SQUEEZE that trigger,” the first thing that they see in their mind’s eye is SQUEEZING a lemon, or SQUEEZING a hand in a firm handshake. They compress their entire hand, not just their index finger, and the shot they fire ends up going critically low, sometimes not even striking the target, even at close range. That’s bad instruction, and bad advice. Thus, SAYING the correct word with appropriate phrasing, is vital to communicate what we are trying to convey.
When you, or I, or the trainer you follow, or the news reporter you watch calls some law-breaking creep a, “gentleman,” they are accidentally and perhaps even involuntarily referring to the worst kind of person there is, in, “human,” terms. Perhaps it is a psychological coping mechanism to deal with the totality of their actions, I don’t know, I’m not a psychologist. I call these packs of losers, “Bad Guys.” I don’t have any issue with doing that. Someone is molesting a child? They ARE a bad guy. Someone is robbing a bank? They ARE a bad guy. Someone is randomly shooting innocent people in a mall? They ARE a bad guy. I would have no qualms about appearing in front of a judge and telling them that I was attacked by a bad guy…I was NOT attacked by a gentleman. And neither were you, and neither were they. So call them what they are. BAD GUY is objective; it tells you exactly and in plain terms what you NEED to know about that person in question. There are no active killers that AREN’T BAD GUYS. And there aren’t any active killers that ARE gentlemen.
Go back through this essay. I used every synonym for, “hoodlum,” I could think of. I’m sure you can think of a few more. Then, next time you hear the local news, a police officer, district attorney or whoever refer to human excrement as a, “gentleman,” correct them and remind them that the person to whom they are referring is MOST CERTAINLY NOT a gentleman. WORDS MEAN SOMETHING, they aren’t there just a temporal space filler or to generate online, “content.” So say what you mean, and mean what you say.
If you’ve spent any length of time reading essays here at REVOLVERSCIENCE.COM you’ll notice that I hold the teachings of Tom Givens in particularly high esteem. This isn’t arbitrary, or simply out of convenience. Tom has made a career and a volume of life’s work geared specifically towards preparing the armed citizen for handling one of the worst days of their lives. And Tom’s current record of success (in reported incidents…there may very well be other numbers that simply aren’t reported) is 63, “wins,” ZERO, “losses,” and three, “forfeits.” Tom refers to the forfeits as such because on, “THE BIG DAY,” those unfortunate people were unarmed, and were murdered in street robberies for the contents of their pockets (the take-home lesson here being, “CARRY YOUR GUN EVERYDAY!”) yet they had the skills to be able to provide an effective defense against an armed robbery, they simply lacked the tools. The reason I continue to spend money every year on Rangemaster courses, is that Tom’s information and program works. When I was in dental school, I had several volumes of textbooks devoted to anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, pathology, and other basic medical sciences. I also had what were called, “High Yield,” study guides, and these were books that condensed down all of the relevant information into what a practitioner would be most likely to need in, “the real world,” outside of academia. For example, while I was required to study and dissect the human body from the scalp to the toes, the crux of my career and the board exams I am certified and licensed by, specifically pertain to the anatomy of the head and neck. Thus, my High Yield study guide, at the end of the year, was dog-eared, food and enbalming fluid stained and well used…my gross anatomy textbook was (and still is) in, “like new,” condition. Tom Givens’ Rangemaster classes are the, “High Yield,” knowledge and skills compendium required for civilian self-defense.
Tom described the need for EFFECTIVE AND COMPETENT self-defense instructors because of a number of recent developments in the United States:
there were 8 million to 12 million FIRST TIME gun buyers during the Obama administration
there were 47 million NICS transfers between 2015 and 2017
the MAJORITY of guns were purchased for self-defense (not target shooting or hunting)
a NEW RECORD was set in August of 2017 for NICS checks
Thus, as a self-defense instructor, you hold an ENORMOUS RESPONSIBILITY in your grasp…you literally hold your student’s physical life, their freedom and their family’s financial future in your hands. Thus it is of PARAMOUNT importance that you provide the best, most useful and practical program of instruction possible to your students, and avoid the ballistic masturbation and, “enter-trainment,” experiences that are so common in the training market these days.
Tom described the role of, “Subject Matter Experts,” in the world of firearms instruction specifically geared towards self-defense. He again illustrated the importance of knowing the WHY behind all of the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP’s) that are taught in a course of instruction. Also, attribution is required because plagiarism and thievery sucks, but also because it helps explain the WHY of the specific TTP. For example, many organizations routinely teach the, “tactical reload,” AKA the, “reload with retention,” with no earthly understanding as to why they teach it. They know that it is used in IDPA, and that it is an old technique, therefore it’s important to know. Right? Sorta and not really! The technique comes from Chuck Taylor, the 2IC at Gunsite in the 1970’s. The ranges at Gunsite were covered in coarse, rough gravel, and since nearly everyone shooting there (with the exception of the weird revolver guy, or the 1/1000 Browning High Power shooter) was using 1911 pattern pistols with GI magazines, that were not high performance, rugged magazines, like the kind we have from Chip McCormick, Wilson Combat, or Tripp today. They were soft metal, and dropping them on the ground repeatedly, over a five day course, meant that at the end of the week, your magazines were hashed. Thus, the, “tactical reload,” was born. It allowed the shooter to top off their pistol, pocket their partially loaded magazine, and go home without a duffle full of wrecked magazines! Mission accomplished! However, to the uninitiated instructor, and their involuntarily uninitiated students, they end up spending an inordinate amount of time trying to learn a skill that isn’t vital and difficult for most people to master, since doing the magazine transfer at the gun, takes large hands with nimble fingers. Doing the magazine transfer at the pocket, instead of at the gun overcomes the physical agility and hand size issue, but it doesn’t do much, as you end up with an unloaded gun dangling in space for a longer time then required. Thus, Tom teaches two reloads, the emergency reload (slide lock reload) and the speed reload (top off, slide forward reload).
On its face, this course, “seems,” like it is simply a course to prepare the student teacher to be able to effectively formulate, implement and maintain their own course of instruction in effective self defense with a handgun, but it is really much more than this. If you are a fan of Tom Givens at all, you’ll know that he is quite the prolific author and that he has written many articles as a staff writer for SWAT Magazine, written for many of the other gun publications, and authored several textbooks on the subject as well. Tom’s latest book is called, “Fighting Smarter,” and it contains a huge tome of amassed knowledge on the subject of fighting with a handgun for personal defense. Like I wrote earlier in this essay, you could characterize this course as simply an instructor course, but, for the avid student of self-defense, I think it is more accurately described as, “FIGHTING SMARTER: THE 3 DAY COURSE.”
Tom’s training differs from much of the available training (and I’ve had a fair bit of it…about 2500 plus hours in the past 27 years) in that it provides instant feedback into what the user needs to, “work on,” to improve their skills, but Tom also gives you the understanding and ability to put improved skills to work, immediately. Unlike many of the classes available, Tom gives his students exactly what adult brains need to learn complex networks of skills involving immediate cognitive recognition, and utilization of physical skills and eye-hand coordination. He does this through an adult teaching model consisting of:
EXPLAIN-the student must understand what it is you are trying to convey to the them. To understand fully, and to fulfill the mature brain inquisitiveness, you learn the, “why,” behind every skill and technique that is taught. Verbal instruction provides an auditory roadmap of what is expected of them.
DEMONSTRATE-any competent instructor should be able to demonstrate EVERY skill or technique they expect their students to learn. Without demonstration, a student only receives, “half,” of the information they need. The mirror neurons in the human brain allow the student to essentially, “mirror,” or copy what the eyes see, and thus a properly demonstrated set of skills or drill (a drill is a specific set of skills) allows the student to get a full picture of what is expected of them. This segment illustrates the, “visual,” portion of the roadmap that was verbally explained in the first step.
PRACTICE-despite the best verbal description through presentations, and the most skillful demonstration of skill, some students still won’t be able to do what you are asking them to do. This is where practice comes in. Practice under the tutelage of a trained coach’s eye is essential in reinforcing the CORRECT way to execute a particular skill. Thus, correct repetition of the required skills in necessary to ingrain the correct mental and physical heuristic in the student’s mind.
TESTING-adults learn, “best,” (meaning they retain the information learned) when they are tested to ensure retention of the learned information. This is doubly important for students of the defensive arts, as it provides an additional layer of stress that will better replicate the stress of self-defense events that they may encounter some day. Without testing, learning hasn’t really been effectively accomplished.
This course could literally be taken as an annual, “tune-up,” for one’s defensive skills and I don’t think you could ever walk away without learning something new. I have taken several Rangemaster courses from Tom over the years, and without fail, I learn something completely new that I either overlooked the first time, or simply didn’t, “click,” on the first pass! Tom issues each student a 200 page, spiral bound manual on the first day of class, that will serve as the student’s textbook and study guide for the written test on the final day of class. Nervous about tests? Don’t worry…in addition to the three tests on the last day of class (FBI Firearms Instructor Qualification Course, Rangemaster Instructor Course and Rangemaster Written Test) there are a number of impromptu tests that occur during the class on the range! However, Tom does a superb job of indoctrinating you to the packet of skills that are required to pass the tests, and he introduces them in useful ways that aren’t overwhelming or discouraging.
A word of advice, come to this class knowing how to shoot. I would estimate that an IDPA classification of sharpshooter/USPSA C+/B class or slightly better would be good to perform well in this class. You should know how to hit a bullseye size target (8″) out to 25 yards, on demand, as well as draw from concealment, shoot with either hand, load and unload your pistol, and clear malfunctions. If you can do all of these things, Tom can teach you what he wants you to know…and what he wants you to know are the skills and techniques that will be most useful in an actual fight for your life. Tom’s curriculum isn’t static; the curriculum changes to reflect what is working with his students, in real life self-defense situations. Nothing is theoretical or simply arbitrary. This is gold in my opinion, as there exists a market segment that is aimed at preoccupation with inconsequential increments, and DOES NOT translate well into real world application. Sure, it looks sweet on Instagram, but in the streets and parking lots of America, it is easily fouled.
Any good firearms class should start near the beginning with a thorough review of the, “Firearms Safety Rules.” Anyone not familiar, here is a refresher:
ALL GUNS are always loaded
NEVER let your muzzle point at anything you are not willing to destroy
Keep your FINGER off of the TRIGGER until your sights are on target and you intend to fire
Be sure of your target and what lies beyond it, and around it
Many classes cover the rules, but don’t go into tremendous detail on WHY the rules are important, why they occur in the order that they do, and what they mean to people who willingly choose to go about in the world with the, “armed lifestyle.” Because honestly, this is a lifestyle. Just like you weird crossfitters with your cultish WOD’s, and you, “eat every two hours,” fitness nuts, this is something that eventually becomes habit, but takes devotion and concentration to achieve. If you pay close attention to Tom’s lecture on the 4 safety rules, you’ll notice he is talking about far more than just what happens out on the firing range. For example, a defensive handgun has three places it should be. The defensive handgun should either be:
in the holster
at the ready (Tom uses a variation of the low ready where the handgun is indexed with the arms outstretched, gun in hand, and pointed at an area near the ground in front of the target, in a position where you can plainly see the target’s hands and waistline, as that is where weapons are carried, and the hands are what they’ll bring those weapons to bear on you with)
indexed on the target
Since you treat (1) all guns (as if they) are always loaded, and you (2) never point the muzzle at anything you are not willing to destroy and you (3) keep your finger off the trigger until the sights are on target and you intend to shoot then you will understand the WHY of the three places your defensive handgun should be! Makes sense! We all carry a pistol because there exists a time when we may have to shoot somebody. Thus, having a gun is important, and whether that gun is in the holster, at the ready, or on the target, the world around is in constant motion, and strict adherence to the Firearms Safety Rules are what allows us to operate it safely for everyone involved EXCEPT for the bad guy.
There is so much to cover in this class, I could go on for pages and pages, but I doubt most would read it. I HIGHLY recommend this class to anyone who wants to be better at defensive shooting, and ESPECIALLY to those that want to teach the craft to others responsibly. There are TONS of instructors on the training scene currently, both good, bad, and excellent (and recommended). Knowing which is which is important, and thus building a good foundation of education and essential skills is crucial in being able to evaluate programs objectively. Seek out and train with Tom Givens at every available opportunity. You won’t be disappointed.
Here are some other salient points that I noted in the class, that don’t fit into my previous narrative that you may find utility in.
DON’T FIGHT YOUR GEAR. There were many students in class that had inadequate holsters, holsters of poor design, or crap magazine carriers that they were hindered by it. You can be the Cool Hand Luke of the class, but if you get hemmed up with a bad magazine change or a botched draw, your performance will suffer. Also, only use a holster that allows you to get a, “FULL FIRING GRIP,” on your pistol. If you can’t get a FFG, get a new rig. Sell the old one on Ebay or better yet, throw it in the garbage or use it as a visual aid for, “what NOT to buy.”
PHYSICAL FITNESS HELPS. I’m not nearly as fit as I would like to be, but I work on it everyday. Classes like this are long, it’s hot out, and hydration is important. I recommend that people start hydrating (if you don’t regularly) for these kinds of classes two weeks out. If you aren’t adequately hydrated, and your cardio sucks, you won’t have a great experience because you’ll be sucking wind after some induced stress and minimal movement.
Bring a gun that is: LARGE ENOUGH (to shoot well) DISCREET ENOUGH (to conceal well) and POWERFUL ENOUGH (to stop the attacker). Many folks brought guns that were maybe a bit too large for them, and they had to crane unnaturally to reach the magazine release and/or trigger, or they ended up riding the slide stop because of a hand-size mismatch. These are all things that can be addressed BEFORE coming to class.
BRING QUALITY AMMUNITION. Tom warns people about this in the informational emails leading up to the class, but I’ll mention it again because people don’t listen or don’t heed his advice. BUY QUALITY AMMO. I brought 2000 rounds of 9mm 115 grain American Eagle brass cased ammunition. I had ZERO stoppages in the class (that weren’t from dummy rounds, or from illustrative malfunction clearance drills) with that ammunition. Others weren’t so lucky. Remanufactured ammunition, isn’t terribly less expensive than premium quality ammunition, but people buy it anyway. There was one student with remanufactured ammo that had FOUR rounds (the class called for 1000 rounds) that had primers loaded backwards into the primer pocket. Many of these, “functionally inert,” rounds were discovered during the qualification phase of the course, and thus time was lost clearing malfunctions instead of delivering precise fire on the target. Let alone the, “OH CRAP!” factor that an unexpected malfunction throws into your plan. Save yourself the heartache, spend the extra $30 bucks and get quality ammo.
REVOLVERS ARE DIFFICULT TO SHOOT. As Tom likes to say, “Revolvers are an expert’s weapon.” They require a LONG time to master with specialized skills needed for trigger manipulation, malfunction clearance and reloading. Instructors that recommend revolvers to beginners (outside of niche applications) are ill-informed, and may not be giving their students the best information. Most people will find the softer recoiling, easily manipulated and easily reloaded semi-automatic pistol better suited to defensive use. With a modicum of training (THAT’S WHAT THEY ARE THERE TO GET FROM YOU) NEARLY EVERYONE will be better suited with a semi-automatic pistol for self-defense. Revolvers are still useful as a backup or secondary gun, but as a primary, you’re better off with a semi-auto pistol. (I’m even questioning my 4 legged wilderness defense handgun choice…and thinking of changing from an N frame .44 to a USP .45 (my old duty gun) with Underwood ammo…but that’s another essay)
YOU MUST hit the target with every shot you fire! “On the street there are no misses; there are only unintended hits.” -Jeff Hall (Alaska State Trooper)
“DRIVE THE GUN. DO NOT RIDE THE GUN.” Just like in a car, if you are the driver, your job is to DRIVE. The passenger (the root word of passenger is, “passive”) doesn’t have anything to do with the driving operation. Thus, it is incumbent on you, the driver of the gun, to DRIVE it. You tell it what to do, and it will do it. Don’t let the gun beat you up and take you for a ride; you direct it to work for you and do the work.
Flagged thumb grip. Over the past 10 or so Rangemaster courses and seminars I have taken with Tom, I’ve always admired his recoil control skills with the .40 Glock 35 he carries. I’ve tried to change my grip to copy his, albeit unsuccessfully. I always end up defaulting to a semi-thumbs forward grip that I have used for the past couple decades. I intentionally made an effort to shoot with the, “thumbs up,” grip that Tom advocates, and it served me well. So much so, that I ended up shooting the class best on the, “Casino Drill,” which earned me the, “Challenge Knife.” (pictured later in the essay).
SEE WHAT YOU NEED TO SEE. I’ve heard people say this in classes since I took my first class back in 1992. I never really understood what it meant. Sure…I can and do shoot with my sights, “out of the notch,” at certain ranges, and would get acceptable hits, but I never really paid much attention to it. Now, with the sights I use (Heinie or Warren plain black sights with the front sight painted a day glow salmon color) I know that if I see even a sliver of salmon on my initial draw and presentation that my shot will go true. Couple that with getting on the trigger between the #3 and #4 positions, letting the slack out of the trigger, and you get a fast working shooting solution that is really helpful. Also, fast follow up shots are faster, and more accurate if you unwrap the premise from your mind that you must always have a, “perfect,” sight picture with no wobbling. As Tom says, “The gun will ALWAYS be moving. ACCEPT IT!”
THINK OF THE SIGHT PICTURE AS A SIGHT MOVIE…It isn’t static. As a follow on of the above point, nothing we do exists in a vacuum. Yes, you must position the front sight in the notch of the rear sight (SIGHT ALIGNMENT). But instead think of the optical relationship of the sights to the target as the SIGHT MOVIE. It’s moving, constantly, and what you see, “NOW,” isn’t the same movie as you see .25 seconds later! So change your idea towards that concept.
Pistol rounds are notoriously ineffective performance-wise. Plan for this eventuality and deliver multiple rounds as required, until the bad guy either disappears off of your front sight (because he’s down or he has run away).
KNEELING POSITIONS are important for tall lanky people like me because it makes me a smaller target, and allows me to get behind cover (at best) or concealment (if no cover is available). However, kneeling positions should be stable but also easily changeable and dynamic, so that you can move from point A to point B rapidly if required. Some folks don’t have the health, flexibility or prowess to pull off every kneeling position, so figure out what works for each individual.
Active shooters (non-elevated) tend to scan at their own eye level for threats. Thus, lowering one’s silhouette (with a kneeling position) can give you a temporary reprieve from their scanning, and allow you to deliver accurate return fire to eliminate them. Thus, get smaller and rounder, and behind cover whenever possible. Dirt filled planters in the mall are great cover, as are fire hydrants.
Resist the temptation to eye sprint. I dropped one round out of the head circle, but LITERALLY 1/32″ on one of the qualification tests because I didn’t follow through properly and darted my eyes to the target without getting an additional sight picture. I immediately recognized that, and changed my game up to NOT do that again.
I used my preferred handgun, a Smith and Wesson M&P 9mm full size (Gen 1 V1.0) for the entire course. I brought an identical piece but didn’t need it. The gun I used is stock, other than the barrel and the sights. The barrel is a Storm Lake drop in that I used to replace the OEM barrel after it had 45K rounds through it. I also had a factory M&P Armorer go through the gun and replace the RSA and all the internal springs, to factory specifications, since this gun is my dedicated training gun. Like I mentioned earlier, it has the Warren/Sevigny sights, plain black with the front painted salmon red/pink. It is identical to my carry gun in all other respects. My weakness as a shooter is left (off handed) drills. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in essays on this site, I’m missing about half of the palmar surface of my left index finger, from a metal sliver/staph aureus infection I got while working on the armored trucks, back in about 1997. The resulting infection and serial wound debridements left me with a mutilated, and weakened left index finger. I can flex it completely, but the distal end of the flexor tendon was so destroyed by the infection that I can’t often pull the trigger on the M&P under less than ideal conditions. Being hydrated, outside in the heat and humidity, with tired hands, makes me default to using my left middle (AKA LONG) finger to fire the pistol, left handed. It works great, but looks weird. Most of my training partner/coaches, didn’t even notice until I told them. But, I want to work on having a more solid grip in that position, for the days when my index finger isn’t cooperating. Luckily, it doesn’t interfere with my surgery work, where my left hand is primarily tasked with holding a retractor, mirror or tissue forceps. Small tasks, under low stress conditions, aren’t the issue. A 6 pound trigger pull, under stress, while sweaty is!
“Your car is not a f****ng holster!” -Pat Rogers. This is particularly important here, in Nashville Tennessee, just two weeks from when the Antioch Church shooting occurred right down the road here. Carry your gun, ALWAYS, and fully adopt the, “armed lifestyle.” I’m not a psychic seer, and neither are you. Neither were the three of Tom’s past students who were killed because they weren’t armed on their, “BIG DAY.” Don’t be that guy/gal. Commit to carrying, all the time.
REDUCE SKILL SETS to three or four steps. “14 Step Drawstrokes,” or other ridiculously long heuristics or pneumonics aren’t helpful. Keep it simple, Sherman.
Use anecdotes that have a direct connection to the material at hand. Use examples from other people’s experiences. My experience, although related to the topics I teach, is limited in that it isn’t all-inclusive. By using the experiences of others, you can better illustrate your point without getting out into the weeds of war stories and tangents that waste time.
Use San Serif fonts, and black writing on a white background for PowerPoint presentations. This will allow the best presentation for everyone in the room, even if they’re color blind.
A SCORED COURSE OF FIRE should be used! You cannot tell if learning has occurred without them. They build confidence and they allow you to inoculate the student with stress. Scored evaluations also allow you to:
cycle through skills students don’t do well in
identify weak skill areas
provide a historical standard to compare to past and future classes
establish timing (i.e. how quickly can I hit THAT?)
DO NOT tell people what they shouldn’t do…tell them what you WANT THEM TO DO. And choose your language carefully…say, “PRESS the trigger,” not, “SQUEEZE the trigger,” as this will induce a milking response in their grip, and cause them to send shots low on the target.
watch for blanching nail beds on the shooter’s hands. If they aren’t blanched, they need to hold onto the gun more firmly.
If you forget ALL of the rest of the use of force lecture (how could you?), remember this: “I will forget I have a gun unless it is needed to terminate an immediate deadly threat to my or to someone for whom I am responsible.”
Hello Faithful Reader! I’m very privileged to be a guest on tonight’s (August 2, 2017) edition of, “Civilian Carry Radio!” You can watch at this link:
I am a regular listener of the Civilian Carry Radio Podcast and I think that Baraka, Karie and Allen do a great service to the CIVILIAN DEFENDER community by providing relevant, realistic and timely topical information from subject matter experts on topics related to personal defense! Tune in!
Every other year, on the weekend closest to Paul Gomez’ birthday (August 19-20, 2017), an eclectic group of individuals gather in the campgrounds, gravel pits, shooting ranges and sand lots of Northeastern Ohio to learn and hone a unique set of skills. If I had to choose a word to describe what kinds of skills are studied, I think that, “frontier skills,” best describes our interests. It’s not just, “gun,” classes, or, “knife,” classes, or even just, “medical,” classes. The skills studied encompass a myriad of subjects ranging far beyond what one might find at a, “normal,” self-defense, prepping, or tactical conference. By design, the conference was intended to allow instructors to teach students a variety of esoterica that lies often tangential, and sometimes separate and apart from conventional, “gun and knife,” training. We partake in this weekend of education to become what the late Paul Gomez called, “Agile thinkers, and capable doers.” Paul Gomez isn’t in attendance, but his spirit lives on through the teachings of his friends, peers and students, at an event we call, “Paul-E-Palooza.”
Paul-E-Palooza (Paul’s middle name was Everett) allows students to take a wide array of courses consisting of truncated versions of some instructor’s flagship classes (like Tom Givens’ “Combative Pistol or Dr. William Aprill’s “Violent Acts and Actors” or Chris Fry’s “Small Knife Skills”) or short format courses that covers a narrow band of the instructor’s range (Legendary Lawman Marshal Chuck Haggard’s “Between a Harsh Word and a Gun,” or Cecil Burch’s “Non-McDojo Kicking,” and Paul Sharp’s “Recoil Management for the Pistol”) and both formats allow the attendees to get a compressed, but meaningful taste of the instructor’s knowledge base, and allows them to find out, “how much they don’t know,” about any subject covered.
Paul-E-Palooza was conceived on the day I discovered that Paul had passed away. I had a vision to create a memorial conference where all of Paul’s friends from the multi-disciplinary community could gather, teach what we all love, and remember Paul. Although I’m a great, “idea man,” my execution, especially in endeavors with many moving parts, is extremely lacking. Enter Dr. William Aprill. I had known William as an attendee at past lectures and conferences of his, and through all of our interactions planning conferences, we have become good friends. William is a brilliant man and has always been the logistician behind all of the Paul-E-Palooza events.
All of this learning and fellowship with like-minded individuals, while great, serves a larger purpose; Paul left behind three young children (Lilith, Spencer and Gabriella) who, like all children, desperately miss their Dad. Our kids had played together before, and I could easily envision my own Son being in the same position. Thus, the thought was hatched to have all of the facilities, labor, instruction and associated minutiae donated, and allow all proceeds of the conference go directly into a trust fund for Paul’s children.
In the three previous iterations of Paul-E-Palooza combined, we have raised over $100,000 that has gone to pay for college tuition, Summer camps, orthodontia, healthcare costs, and everything else that a Father would normally provide for his children.
So join us, for two days of unrivaled quality instruction, a unique auction of both bespoke tactical weaponry and support equipment, as well as training vouchers for courses from most all of the organizations represented, plus many other national level tactical trainers. All proceeds go to support the Paul E. Gomez Memorial Children’s Trust!
Go to: http://www.paulepalooza.com for course descriptions, presenters, and associated information, as well as a link to purchase tickets!
Just yesterday, I had the fortunate break in my schedule to allow me to attend Andrew Branca’s, “Law of Self Defense Level One,” class at the Nashville Armory in Nashville, Tennessee. I have been familiar with Andrew’s body of work for several years now, having first read his excellent, “Law of Self Defense,” book (now in its third edition). Andrew is a legal consultant, now in his third decade of practice, with his practice limited to self-defense law consulting. This puts him in a unique niche in both the legal field, and in the, “gun industry.”
I won’t cover the specifics of Andrew’s class word-for-word, because you owe it to yourself to personally take the course, if you carry a gun for self-protection. I wrote, in 2016, about the importance of legal preparation in my essay on, “BECOMING THE CIVILIAN DEFENDER.” I felt strongly about the necessity of legal training then, and I still feel that legal knowledge among defensive firearm users is woefully inadequate. Andrew Branca is changing the industry with his accessible training curriculum, and helping to legally redefine and clarify the, “rules of engagement,” for civilian self-defense. I would recommend that you read the latest edition of Andrew’s book, which you can order directly from his site, so that you can enjoy the full benefit of the curriculum, without having to familiarize yourself with the terminology and basic framework that Andrew builds the curriculum on.
A few personal take-aways I gleaned from the course:
Cameras are EVERYWHERE. This is both a good and bad thing. Good in that we (the good guys) rarely have a situation where there is too much good evidence…in fact, there is often a dearth of evidence, that leads to good guys ending up on the wrong side of the law. Conversely, there are cameras EVERYWHERE and thus you must always be on-guard, and know that every word and action you speak or do, can be called into question at a later date, if the need arises for you to defend yourself.
Avoidance is ideal, and really what you should, “shoot,” (pun intended) for. We don’t carry guns because we want to use them (at least I don’t). I carry a gun in the event of an emergency, where I have no other recourse and I MUST use the gun to save my life or the life of a family member or friend.
Most people effectively live their life with their heads in the sand…literally. People will either not see/detect obvious context clues OR simply notice them and pay no mind. Paying close attention to the totality of the scene, especially when moving through transition zones, is important to success (READ: not being a perpetual victim of crime) in today’s world.
Thinking through the legal ramifications of your actions well BEFOREHAND is extremely beneficial. Just like you (should be) thinking about your programmed, heuristic responses to violence against you or a loved one (i.e. winning the PHYSICAL FIGHT), you also need to think about your plan for LEGAL survival (i.e. winning the LEGAL FIGHT). If you don’t plan your response, you may very well survive the physical fight, and then find yourself with no, “legal leg,” to stand on.
The law is tremendously complex, and varies state to state…even the sharpest attorney that money can buy doesn’t know the entire letter of the law, verbatim! As a regular person, but a Civilian Defender, you will be held to a higher legal standard than the average, “man on the street.” Thus, it is to your benefit to commit Andrew’s algorithms he covers in, “The Law of Self Defense,” to memory, but also understand how they work in the real world, and in a dynamic, self-defense incident.
Andrew’s scenario simulator training at the end of the class teaches valuable lessons. I have used shooting simulators in my law enforcement training, armored truck guard training, and in the civilian training sectors, since 1991. The technology has advanced, but the value gained in stress inoculation is priceless and indisputable. You simply cannot replicate the stress of a self-defense incident without actually experiencing one…but you can come close. I get just as much value from seeing how others react in their simulator run, than I do in my own.
As an avid shooter, I don’t spend enough time shooting in live-fire and working in dry practice, from the low ready, or from a, “Sul,” type ready position. Not muzzling everyone on-scene is a helpful way to a) not look like a nut running around with a gun, willy-nilly b) not shoot someone who isn’t a threat c) convey professionalism both during (and also importantly) after the incident is over. As we all know, if we don’t practice it, we don’t own it, and thus we won’t use it when the time comes, so practice from the low ready and other ready positions is important. I mostly just practice from the draw out of the holster.
Attend courses with your significant other…especially if they also carry a firearm for self-protection. You SHOULD be on the, “same page,” as your spouse or significant other in more ways than just how you will respond in a self defense situation, but this could literally be the difference between life and death. Thus, it’s important to talk these situations out beforehand, so that you can anticipate how the other will act. For example, my, “line in the sand,” as 6’4″, 250 pound rugby player will be quite different from the boundaries of my 5’4″, 115 pound gal. That’s important to know, if you are on overwatch duty at an ATM kiosk, and you (or they) are attacked.
STRIVE to be the, “Reasonable and Prudent Person.” According to Andrew’s course, the, “Reasonable and Prudent Person,” should be Cautious (looks both ways before crossing the street and avoids trouble) Responsible (doesn’t leave the car running when out on errands, and ensures a high level of proficiency with their sidearm) Sober (may drink in moderation socially, never intoxicated) Slow to Anger (the guy that de-escalates conflict, rather than incite or escalate conflict).
Many folks don’t think of a legal continuing education class as a, “firearms training class,” but it should be seen as the foundation that all defensive firearms training is built upon. Without it, you are all legs and no brain. While you may reach the level of unconscious competence with your handgun, able to solve a myriad of shooting problems with a hail of gunfire, without the legal software running perpetually in your head, GUIDING your rules of engagement, you are a one-trick pony. Sure, you might get lucky and survive the physical fight AND the legal fight, but wouldn’t you rather hedge your bets closer to the winning side? I know I would. I recommend Andrew’s class without hesitation, to everyone who carries a self-defense firearm. Going about with a firearm in your holster AND Andrew’s algorithmic knowledge in your head, you are truly ARMED for both the physical fight, AND the legal fight that will follow!
To register for a course in your area, or buy a copy of Andrew’s book, go to
I know it’s been awhile since my last, “real,” essay, and I apologize. This website is about 99th on my list of priorities, and my family and my work precede its importance by several orders of magnitude. And since I don’t make a dime off of any of these works, they are printed at my leisure for your infotainment. Sorry if you’re signed up and expecting to get a daily, “blog,” post with me passively aggressively groveling about some issue in the community, or about how my pistol most recently puked in a simulated something or other. I only write when I have something important to say, OR, when one of my friends asks about something. This topic keeps popping up like an loosely nailed shingle, and also my LEO Brother Eric asked about it, so I thought it was time to dust off the draft, and get it out into the world. So thank (or blame) him!
XS sights seem to be akin to the perpetual arguments on the internet about, “9mm versus .45,” and the old one, “Revolvers versus Semi-Autos.” Meaning that it always stirs up an emotional response from the peanut gallery, with folks on either side saying, “They are the best sights for gunfighting!” While the people that are against them say, “Nobody issues them! That’s a sign!” And all other manner of argument.
Here’s how I look at it. Nobody looks at body armor and says things like, “What is the most comfortable armor to wear?” “What armor will allow me to have the most mobility and freedom to do my job (whatever that may be)?” Conversely, nobody asks the same thing about their underwear! Why? Because what you choose to wear under your clothes, while it may definitely affect your ability to move, and your comfort, nobody wants to talk about it. They should! As a rugby player, and former firefighter, I can tell you that what you wear under your uniform has an ABSOLUTE limiting capability on what you do on the field or on the fireground. But, that isn’t a, “tactical,” subject. Nobody wants to talk about it, because it’s awkward. But we are talking about lifesaving equipment, skills, and utilization. Is there any more topic that is MORE awkward?
I think that handgun sights are much the same. Are there sights that work better than others, for everyone? Nope. Are there eyeglasses that work well for everyone? No there isn’t. What about eyeglasses for people that have similar (or the same) prescription. There MIGHT be. My point is, it is difficult to deal in absolutes (you Sith, you) when we are talking about subjective experience. People confuse their logic and do (inaccurately) state their subjective opinions as FACT on a regular basis, though (Logical Fallacy: Argument from Authority). For example, SUPER INSTRUCTOR ZEUS says, “These sights are the ABSOLUTE best for gunfighting! I know…I’ve been in gunfights!” Well that’s all well and good for HIM, taking a narrow, experientially formulated opinion and offering it as proof of his argument. But it doesn’t work. What if the prospective buyer (who needs pistol sights) is color blind? What if they are near sighted? Far Sighted? ALL OF THESE variables alter that person’s experience, and make it incomparable to that of our hypothetical expert.
With that thinking in mind, I thought that I would tackle a drill that I haven’t done recently. I saw the great Ernest Langdon publishing his results on shooting the, “Hackathorn Standards,” and I thought that I would give them a go. The order of operations for the Hackathorn Standards are as follows:
10 SHOTS IN 15 SECONDS, AT 15 YARDS
10 SHOTS IN 10 SECONDS, AT 10 YARDS
10 SHOTS IN 5 SECONDS AT 5 YARDS
300 POINTS POSSIBLE, SCORED ON A B8 Bullseye Target
Seems simple enough, right? I did the drills from the low ready, since the range I was at gets nervy when there are other people on the line, and people are drawing from the holster. Thus, this drill requires the shooter to practice a number of skills, not the least of which include:
Presenting the pistol from the draw/ready position
Accurately (the bull is 1″ in diameter) place shots on the target in a time quota
Follow the front sight through the recoil cycle, and attempt to return to the reference point (bullseye… i.e. where you want to projectiles to burrow into)
Follow through with the trigger press on every shot fired
Still think it’s simple? The par times seemed quite reasonable…until you stick that gun out there into space and start pressing rounds, and then realize that Father Time is moving, even when you aren’t!
Hopefully, you didn’t just skip ahead to this section! If you did, shame on you. If you didn’t, thank you for reading the preceding screed. I used three guns for this experiment. The experimental group consisted of:
Glock 34 with Warren Sights, with the front sight painted red, like I talked about here.
Glock 34 with Big Dot Sights
I took the slide off of the frame it resides on (the excellent LONE WOLF) frame and mated the slide to a Glock 34 frame, with completely stock internals, and used the same frame for both iterations of the experimental phase of the test.
The Control Group consisted of my Smith & Wesson M&P PRO 9mm EDC, that I carry with me daily. This is the pistol that I use the most, and thus have the most proficiency with. It has Trijicon HD sights on it.
I used CCI BLAZER BRASS 115 grain FMJ in all three weapons for the tests, and OEM magazines of standard capacity (17 rounds). There were no stoppages of any kind. I used a PACT Club timer, set for the PAR times.
Sights are a personal choice (unless you are talking about plastic OEM Glock sights…nobody takes those seriously, so if you are one of those folks that absolutely HAS to use them because [INSERT REASON] at least find a metal replacement set. You can probably find ones that have the same, “interesting,” sight picture but are just made of metal. You don’t want to have the unfortunate experience of shoving your gun out in front of you on the worst day of your life only to discover that your sights have left the building without your permission. So fix that.) and what works for your neighbor or your tactical guru might not work for you. Don’t rationalize your choice with the subjective opinions of people on some web forum…gather hard data to see where you hit with them, and what YOU need to work effectively. Can you improve with practice? Of course you can. But everyone has a natural baseline that appeals to their unique optical handicap constellation, and their own physiology. What works for me, may not work for you. But instead of reading through review after review after review, test it out, see what works, and then run that. I have good results with XS Big Dots, and contrary to internet rumors you may have heard about them, I can shoot groups with them. That has more to do with trigger control than sights, but that is another essay (another S.O. to Steve, “Yeti,” Fisher). If you can, “see what you need to see,” with any sighting system, that will suffice for defensive purposes. I have experienced the front dots of Big Dot sights spontaneously leave the gun, leaving behind the black, pedestal front, “blade,” that, if needs be, can still be used to great effect. I’ve also lost the tritium vial out of Warren sights, and also out of the Trijicon HD, and I’ve seen the entire, “Orange Circle,” eject out of the Ameriglo product. So no brand is immune from issues, and if you use your equipment regularly, it will wear and eventually fail. So take that out of your selection criteria, and find something that works with YOUR eyes, and for your self-defensive application, and then, WORRY ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE!
This is probably going to ruffle some feathers…but I’ve received emails asking questions or looking for further explanation on some things that I’ve talked about, and I want to address those. The email below sums up a good number of questions/emails I have received. If you’ve read my blog for awhile, you’ll notice that I very rarely stick to just one central topic in my articles. This is partially due to my quickly shifting attention focus, but also because I like to draw parallels between things that may, at first glance, seem relatively unrelated. So here we go…
Dear Dr. House,
I like your articles. However, I am a follower of Dave Ramsey, and I just refuse, nor do I have the money to spend, on a bunch of high tech gadgetry and gear to support my concealed carry lifestyle. I have a revolver, a pancake holster, a few speed loaders, and a very modest supply of carry ammo. I feel like the industry doesn’t support guys like me, and that everything I read makes me feel like I will probably get, “killed in da streets.” Any advice?
Thank you for the note. I too, am a follower of Dave Ramsey! And, I’m still working on my second baby step (the debt snowball…dental school cost me nearly half a mil!). So I get it. I don’t spend much money on equipment these days. That’s why you don’t see me doing too many gear reviews here. Occasionally I will purchase a new holster, or some other widget, but I almost always support that purchase through the sale of other holsters/gear that I no longer use. Of course, if all you have is one holster, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. If it works for you, there is certainly no reason to change up your game, equipment-wise. There are certainly far worse ways to be armed than with a revolver. If you are on a tight budget, I’d work on finding open source ways to increase your MENTAL AWARENESS AND PREPAREDNESS, like I describe HERE. I know that the industry tends to make the folks that don’t have the latest and greatest guns and gear feel marginalized, and inadequate, but that’s how companies sell products. It’s not just the firearms industry…it’s just marketing that works on humans. So, bottom line, worry about something else, keep your head on a swivel, maintain your physical health and fitness, identify, know and understand the criminal threats in your area of operations, be a skillful driver, learn some emergency medical skills to include CPR, the Heimlich and AED use, and get in a good dry-practice program with your revolver. Carry a tube of pepper spray on your keychain and a med kit in your vehicle, and get on with your life!
In the above link, my friend and Supercop Greg Ellifritz talks about the details of his own handgun stopping power study. In that study, Greg concluded that the .22 (yes…THAT lowly .22) actually produced an impressive record of effectiveness in a number of incidents. Think about a few things, relative to that, for just a second:
How many police departments or military units do you know that widely issue or use .22LR’s for general issue to their troops? I’m not talking about fish or game officers that may use a .22 for special applications…I’m talking about .22’s in the duty holster of the patrolmen on the street, or the soldier in the field. I haven’t been able to find any evidence of them being used. Thus, the body of evidence relative to .22 shootings come from the civilian world. That means it is either good guys versus badguys, badguys versus good guys, or badguys versus badguys. In any of the three scenarios, police/military units are not dispatching said .22 rounds at anything…it’s a person other than the police/military.
As Claude Werner has said in the past, a shooting involving a civilian crime victim has less at stake (for the bad guy) than a shooting involving the police. Shoot it out with the police? At best you’re going to jail, and at worst you will die. With a civilian shooting (botched robbery or carjacking, for example) that bad guy can still escape and maybe live to fight/rob another day. That means that the weapon you use to defend yourself doesn’t have to be a tremendous manstopper, it just needs to have to ability to change the direction of the bad guy’s intent, and Greg’s research (and Claude’s) shows that a .22 can make that happen.
The Ruger LCP, the Beretta Jetfire, or the Ruger LCR .22 Magnum you have on your person is better than the Glock 17 you have back in your safe at home, when life goes sideways. Now, this will probably peeve a bunch of my friends in the training community off, and I fully expect that Tom Givens will kick me in the pants next time he sees me. However, statistics relative to civilian gunfights show, that in a life threatening, lethal force situation, nearly any gun will do, if you will do! Regardless of caliber. Tom Givens maintains a database of 6o PLUS civilian shootings involving his students, and within that database, not all of those shootings occurred with handguns chambered in the minimum 9mm/.38 Special that most (including Tom) instructors recommend for self defense. However, Tom’s students that were armed, WITH ANY GUN, emerged victorious from their respective scenarios. Unfortunately, Claude Werner, THE TACTICAL PROFESSOR will soon retire from livefire training. This is really unfortunate, because Claude was one of the few trainers (the only other guy I know of is Erik Utrecht from MDFI) with a curriculum specifically aimed towards the civilian user of the infamous, “Mouse Gun.” For some folks, who may be restricted by budget, limited dexterity, hand strength, or concealment issues, “less than recommended,” caliber weapons can still be a viable option!
One of the few variables you can control in a fight is what you bring with you to that fight. For me, I personally bring a full size pistol (S&W M&P 9mm/Glock 19 or 34) or at the very least a J frame (if I’m at the beach) with me wherever I go, every-darn-day. However, I am also blessed with a profession that pays well, and my services are in high-demand, so the financial end of it isn’t a concern for me. I also work for myself and have no employment regulations to abide by. I’m also healthy and I have no issue wielding a full size, full caliber pistol. However, if I didn’t have the capacity to carry a service sized 9mm, I wouldn’t feel horribly undergunned for civilian self defense and home defense with a S&W M&P .22 Compact, or Ruger/Walther analog of said pistol, and a Ruger 10/22 at home for defense of my home. Ammunition choice is important with .22’s, not so much for terminal ballistics (you can only put so much lipstick on a pig) but moreso for ignition reliability, and Claude recommends that rimfire users load match-grade .22’s for self-defense purposes. The big issue with .22’s for self defense, is that many of the pistols are of poor manufacturing quality, and don’t tend to run well. If you must rely on a small caliber pistol for self-defense, use a quality brand.
The only variables you can control relative to the projectiles you launch at your opposition are the projectile’s weight, it’s diameter, and the type of projectile (e.g. full metal jacket, hollow point, soft point, etc.). THAT’S IT. Everything else is left to chance, since bullets do weird things when they hit people. Now, that saying gets thrown around quite frequently, but those bullets still can’t defy the laws of thermodynamics, physics or science, in general. They will still behave relative to the physical constraints of our universe. Some people get their logic twisted and think that there is either a direct correlation between scientific fact, and anecdotal experience…in general the only correlation is that rarely do scientific fact and anecdotal experience collide! To expound, we all know people that will demonstrate to you, that they carry a Detonics Combat Master, 24 hours a day, INCLUDING the shower, loaded with .45 ACP hardball, since, “They all fall to hardball.” Well, .45 ACP hardball does have a record of performance worldwide, in many incursions, battles and fights, over the past century, but it also has had a fair number of failures. And, scientifically, in laboratory testing in ballistic gelatin, hardball is a consistent over penetrator (meaning it will penetrate PAST the 12-18″ that are considered ideal for human deterrence). We all ALSO know the guy that will tell you, “I carry a .22 for self defense because the mafia uses it for assassinations, and the bullets just do nasty things when they get inside of you. Like you can hit someone in the arm and the bullet will end up ricocheting all of the way into their brain! I know, my Uncle was a cop in St. Louis!” Again, projectiles can do weird things, but one thing that they cannot do is outstrip the constraints of science and grow new properties, like hyper penetration (in a lightweight/low weight projectile). It just doesn’t work like that. And, we have the laboratory, gelatin results for .22’s, and they are typically underwhelming in terms of penetration, often failing to meet the ideal penetration depth, of 12″ in tissue analog testing (ballistic gelatin). Unfortunately, these same people are often immune to logical proof, so debate with them is pointless. Thus, the seemingly perpetual motion machine of the great, “caliber debate,” that has occurred since people began launching projectiles of any kind at one another. I am a believer and practitioner of scientific skepticism, and I’ve spoken with people that claim they were abducted by aliens, and had various experiments performed on them. When you ask these people for proof, aside from their subjective, first person account, they have no proof. When you tell them that science as a whole doesn’t have definitive proof that ANY extraterrestrial life exists, they usually get angry and tell you that you simply refuse to believe, or that you work for the government. Sound familiar? This same type of, “cognitive dissonance,” (which is a psychological term to describe the feeling that a person suffers from when they attempt to simultaneously grasp two contradictory ideas) occurs in gunshops and discussion forums, daily. Too many of these folks walk around blissfully unaware of the wrong data that they spew from their mouths. And that’s a shame. Seeing aliens in the sky, Bigfoot in the woods, or bullets do magical things is a cultural phenomena…not a scientific one. Science doesn’t exist without physical evidence.
Effective shot placement is similar to real estate…it’s all about LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION! What the modern scientific literature shows, is that a projectile delivered to the central nervous system, or the great blood vessels in the upper chest, OR the heart itself, usually are the most effective on a living, determined attacker, REGARDLESS of species. We tend to over-generalize this, and say things like, “aim for the center of mass, or the head.” I would slightly amend that and say, “From the front or rear of the attacker, or from the side of the attacker, aim for the central midline structures!” The entire, “center of mass,” concept goes out the window when someone turns sideways. We’ve all seen people whose center of mass might be two inches above their 52″ belt line. And turning sideways doesn’t mean that someone is running away from you, or turning away from you. They could simply be bladed away from you, beyond what we normally consider, unlike an aggressive paper target would be on the range. Even non-lethal hits, when delivered to the midline of a living beast, have the capability of producing a psychological stop. Plenty of people get shot in the gut or the groin, and while they may not die immediately, they will often lose interest in their present plans. Of course, we should always strive to deliver hits to the areas of the body that we KNOW are most effective, however, that isn’t always possible.
I know that there exists a certain degree of equipment snobbery in the self defense industry. Those with less than state of the art equipment CAN feel underprepared, but it is usually hollow thinking, if that person has the requisite skills required to defend themselves. I think you’ll find little overlap between the guns and gear recommendations of those that train with firearms frequently, and those that are casual shooters. The training fraternity tends to shoot their guns, thousands, if not tens or hundreds of thousands of rounds a year. Thus, they tend to pick guns that work well in that high round count role. Can other guns serve for self-defense? SURE! Will those other guns last, if you were to subject them to a heavy practice regimen? They MIGHT. This is exactly why many students and instructors don’t recommend, “bargain,” brand pistols for serious purposes. You’d be better off to buy a used model of a known brand pistol or revolver. Same goes for long guns. COULD I rely on a Rossi Puma .357 lever gun for home defense? YES. But would I be able to practice with that carbine the way I want to, to gain the confidence necessary to have to shoot that weapon with great skill, against possibly multiple attackers, in close proximity to my loved ones? Possibly, but I don’t consider that gun to be tremendously rugged, and why push my luck if a 10/22, AR-15 or AKM will work effectively AND allow rigorous practice?
It all boils down to the user…If they have the mindset, tactics and skills in order, then the equipment is really a small, minor piece of the puzzle. Unfortunately, much of this, “equipment envy,” gets carried over from the competition, military, and law enforcement worlds. In the competition world, practitioners of high skill levels CAN experience a benefit in their performance, with careful equipment selection. In fact, some types of gear are required to make that person even competitive at all. And in military and law enforcement operations, where the good guys are actively HUNTING down badguys, of course you want to have the absolute best, most state of the art gear to do that. But in civilian self-defense, the gear isn’t the limiting reagent in that reaction. It will always boil down to the superior mental awareness/mental preparedness, tactics, and skills. And unlike the military and the LEO, the civilian has the ability (and some states even require the DUTY) to avoid confrontation and escape from the clutches of human violence, whenever possible. Thus, if you ARE the CIVILIAN DEFENDER, it is to your benefit to be the best at sneaking your way OUT of any situation you may find yourself in. I don’t know about you, but I worry far more about my stealth, sneaking abilities, and not being selected as a victim, than I do about anything having to do with the fully functioning gun and ammunition in my holster and magazine carriers.
I guess I need to start coming up with better clickbait titles. I’ll probably get a bunch of, “Fantastic Four,” and CM Punk fans, and that’s totally cool. But, not at all related to what I am going to write about here. If I call this, “Offensive Driving for Rookies,” most people won’t read it. Because most American males think that they can drive like Mario Andretti, shoot like John Wick and really, that’s just not factual. If you read my article on BECOMING THE CIVILIAN DEFENDER, you will recall that I talked about the need to have enhanced driving skills. These are driving skills that go beyond the basics of what one would learn in a high school driver’s education course. No doubt, those basic skills are important, and should be mastered, but for the truly prepared individual, it helps to learn and master a bit beyond the basics. Now, I’m not recommending that everyone learn how to drive like Steve McQueen, but it helps to know a few distinct skills and tactics that can help you get out of a hairy situation.
I came up with this list after years of working in the armored truck industry, and as a fireman and emergency medical technician. In the armored truck industry, the main requirement for ultra-defensive driving was to prevent ambushes and move around city and highway traffic safely. We used to call them, “Highwaymen,” and now we call them, “carjackers,” or simply, “robbers.” But, as long as people have been putting valuables into armored boxes and moving them from place to place, there have been badguys who are determined to get their filthy hands on those valuables. So you need to have some driving game to escape those situations. Remember, AND THIS IS IMPORTANT, the mission of the armored truck industry is to deliver the goods, and go home safely, after your shift ends…you know, JUST LIKE ANY OTHER CIVILIAN. Armored trucks have no duty to engage in a firefight with a bad guy, nor render mutual aid to law enforcement OR anyone else. Hollywood loves armored trucks, and 99% of what you’ve seen or heard about the armored truck industry is lore, and nothing more.
In the public safety industry, whether you are driving a police cruiser, an ambulance, or a fire engine, your need for defensive driving is underlined by the fact that despite the flashing lights all over your vehicle, and the 150 decibel siren you have screaming out from under your grille, most drivers are completely oblivious to their surroundings, and what is going on outside the cab of their respective conveyance. Whether they are tied up in a verbal domestic with another occupant, or be-bopping to their tunes, or talking on their phone or even worse, TEXTING on their phone, they simply do not see you. So, half of the peril in being a first responder is GETTING there, in one piece, so that none of your coworkers have to be in the, “rescue the rescuers,” role.
With all of that said, here are a few points and skills that I think, are important to consider for the truly prepared CIVILIAN DEFENDER. These are the tips I would give my rookies, in the ambulance and in the armored truck, to help them ensure success. After all, they are driving around with me in that truck, too. I’ll also teach my Son these tricks, in the next few years as he learns to drive.
KNOW, instinctively, the location of all four (or six) wheels of your vehicle, as easily as you know where your hands are in the dark. Webster’s Dictionary defines, “proprioception,” as: ” the reception of stimuli produced within the organism.” By this, I mean you should know, without thinking, where the four corners of your vehicle are, when you are behind the wheel, and by knowing this, also know where your wheels are. If you do, you can look at a space and judge whether or not you can fit there. I know my truck is 74 inches wide…two inches narrower than I am tall. I can look at a space and determine if I can fit there, and if I can fit, so can my truck! Go to any parking lot and look around. How many of those folks have done a crap job of parking their cars? Crooked in the space, too far to either side, extended into another space. Those folks either knowingly parked like a jerk, or they simply don’t know what they are doing. I’d wager to say that most of them simply don’t know. Another good example of this is when people attempt to back into a spot, or make a three point backing maneuver to get into/out of some space. We’ve all seen that person turn a simple two point maneuver into a seven, eight, or NINE point turn. We laugh because it’s funny, but we also laugh because it is true! If that person had any inkling of the actual dimensions of their vehicle, they’d know that they in fact had FEET around them, and weren’t in danger of hitting any obstacle. They simply didn’t know what they didn’t know.
KNOW the performance capabilities of your vehicle…and DO NOT overestimate or underestimate them. How many times have you seen an obviously off-road capable vehicle (like a Toyota FJ, or a 4Runner) slide off of the side of the road, when it is snowing (or even raining) simply because the driver didn’t know what their vehicle was (or wasn’t) capable of doing? It happens in inclement weather states, all the time! Years back, in Western Washington State, my roommate and I made several hundred dollars a day just driving around in the snow, looking for motorists that had drifted off the road in the snow, and needed us to pull them out (using a Jeep and a winch). “Want to get back on the road? $20 please!” Furthermore, how many people think that they can, “dodge,” out into oncoming traffic, in a vehicle that does 0-60mph in MINUTES? That doesn’t work well either, for anyone involved. So don’t get out onto the open road until you know how much, “go,” your vehicle has, as well as how well the vehicle stops, and how tight you can turn (in the event you need to make a U turn on a street without breaking traction).
Don’t allow yourself to get, “stuck,” anywhere. At a stoplight? Make sure you have enough room to move. How much is enough? I like to be able to see the area between the tires of the vehicle in front of me, and the road underneath it. That gives me enough space to maneuver my pickup truck or my SUV laterally, if I need to get out of that area, quickly. It also prevents me from getting pinned between the vehicle in front of me, if there is one. Too many road rage incidents happen these days, and usually one of the involved parties is unwilling to engage. Hopefully, that person can simply escape the area and get mobile. The last place you want to be in a violent scenario is trapped inside of an immobile vehicle. Think of yourself as a shark…if you quit moving, you die! READ THIS recent account of one of my esteemed colleagues, and an incident he got into with a road rager!
You are behind the wheel of an extremely effective battering ram…if an attacking vehicle attempts to block your egress, BLIND THEM WITH SCIENCE! This thought process applied well to the armored truck, since they contained a tremendous amount of mass (20 tons) in a package just slightly larger (taller) than an extended length SUV. If you aim the centerline of your vehicle at a car that is attempting to block your path, aim for the axle closest to you. On impact, that vehicle will rotate about the opposite axle, and be quickly, and forcefully whipped out of your way. You can do this driving forward, or in reverse, direction doesn’t matter. If the vehicle is traveling head on, align the center of your vehicle with the outer edge of the attacker. Of course, in a truck that you have to back with mirrors alone, this is more difficult, but still not impossible. In a conventional passenger car, truck or SUV, this also works well. Also, you don’t have to be traveling tremendously fast to get good results with this. You’d be surprised what one 4000 vehicle traveling at 15mph can do to another vehicle trying to impede its progress…it can blow it right out of the way, with just a little direction and TWO TONS of science!
LOOK in the direction your vehicle is going. We get too reliant on mirrors, cameras and technology, and forget that the headrest on the passenger seat is there to give you something to hold onto and bolster yourself against when backing! I read once that, “MOST motor vehicle collisions are caused by people NOT looking in the direction that their vehicle is traveling!” Can you believe that? It sounds inane, but in my experience, I’ve witnessed many vehicular collisions that were realized when the person looked up from whatever they were doing, which wasn’t looking in the direction their vehicle was traveling! So simple, and yet so common.
You’ve never been lost until you’ve been lost at MACH 2. As a child of a Naval Aviator, mantras like this were common in my youth. And having learned to drive from said aviator, I quickly learned, by the loud voice coming from the passenger seat, to keep my, “eye on the sky,” ahead of me…several vehicles ahead of me. If you don’t, you are relying on the guy in front of you to react to whatever threats come along the road. Broken tires, radar traps, potholes (big hazard in Tennessee…like knock your tire off the bead potholes) drunks, erratic drivers. All of these things don’t exist in a vacuum, and the easiest way to avoid them is to simply NOT be there when they pass. See them, identify them, take evasive action, look for the next threat. Of course, you aren’t traveling at MACH 2, but you get the point. Even at a modest 60 miles per hour, you are moving along at 88 feet per second! To even react to something (human reaction time is .25 seconds average from visual stimulus) at 60 miles per hour (like a collision in front of you) you have already traveled 22 feet! So conserve your mental focus, maintain your following distance, and keep your eyes on the road!
The driver DRIVES, the shotgun SHOOTS. When I was in my law enforcement degree studies, a part of the training was relative to what was called, “Officer Survival.” One of the tactics germaine to the topic was to not let anyone, “walk up,” on your patrol car, since they could essentially fill your car full of bullets, while you just sat there and took it. So, to pass that grading portion, you had to be hypervigiliant about NOT getting caught in your vehicle. And I figured out quickly that the best way to rapidly egress my vehicle on an aggressive walk up was with a pistol already in hand! Well, fast forward to my first foray into the ghettos of South Seattle, in a fully armored truck (my door doesn’t open, mind you…it’s bolted shut, in fact). I pull to a stop light, and notice that there are six youths posted up on the corner, and all of them are mean mugging me. The light is still red. They start to walk, all at once, directly for my door, and I draw my pistol, instinctively and bring it up to eye level. The light turned green and I hit the gas, blowing past the six turds, who stood there, in a cloud of black diesel smoke. I looked in the rear view mirror at my partner who said, “Mr. Sherman…you’ll find that our vehicle is quite resilient against anything a bunch of hoodlums in shorts and undershirts can conceal on their person. You just worry about driving.” I felt like a dope, holstered my pistol, and went back to worrying about driving. The reason that you and your friends yell, “SHOTGUN,” (meaning the guy that rides in the passenger seat, up front) is because in the, “old days,” when an armored truck consisted of a stage coach with an iron and wood, “strong box,” mounted somewhere in it (usually under the butts of the crew) the guy that handled the reins of the horses was called the, “driver.” The guy with the shotgun was called the, “shotgun messenger,” or just the, “shotgun.” His job was to shoot any highwaymen, or interlopers that would impede the normal progress of the coach. Same with the armored truck…same with you and your soccer Mom van…when you are moving, and still capable of moving (meaning your vehicle has not been disabled by physical damage) your best defensive and offensive weapon is your vehicle! Someone tries to pin you but you smash them out of the way and round a corner? KEEP DRIVING AND CALL 911! Let the police get there and stop the bad guys. Under most circumstances, unless your vehicle becomes irreparably immobile, does the, “driving solution,” go out the window in favor of the, “shooting solution.”
There are other skills and tactics that you can think of, and if so, share them in the comments section. These are a few that I KNOW work, because I’ve used them myself, or seen them used in my presence, OR I’ve seen the aftermath as a first responder.