Category Archives: deadly force

The Medina, North Dakota Shootout

Thirty-five years ago today, on February 13, 1983, a violent gunbattle took place in Medina, North Dakota. Although less well known than the Miami Massacre in 1986, it was every bit as bloody and violent. Something it had in common with the Miami Massacre was preparation for conflict and the decisiveness of long guns at pistol ranges.

On one side was a task force of US Marshals and local law enforcement officers. On the other side were members of a local Posse Comitatus group. Casualties were high on both sides. Four months later, a second related encounter, hundreds of miles away, brought more loss of life.

The Prelude

Gordon Kahl was a Midwestern farmer and Federal tax resister. He was a member of a loosely knit organization called the Posse Comitatus. The Posse recognizes no authority above the county level and held many hateful beliefs. He had been imprisoned for Federal tax evasion but had been released on probation. However, he failed to report to his Probation Officer and a Federal warrant for his arrest was issued.

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Lessons from an Armed Robbery

Barry Fixler, former Marine and Viet Nam veteran, owns a jewelry store in New York State. On Valentine’s Day 2005, a couple of criminals decided to relieve him of his merchandise. It didn’t turn out the way they planned. We are fortunate that much of the incident was captured on video. There are numerous lessons we can draw from the incident. Let me preface all my commentary by saying that I greatly admire Mr. Fixler’s courage and how he handled the situation.

Bottom Line Up Front: Good Guy 1, Bad Guys 0; that’s clearly a commendable victory.

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Why think ahead and why practice?

Today’s news contains an article with several lessons in it for the Armed Private Citizen.

Police: Man outside Walmart shot [his gun] in self-defense

The lessons cut across an array of topics relevant to Personal Protection. Let’s use the CAN/MAY/SHOULD/MUST paradigm as a basis for the discussion.

Continue reading →

Scientific Theory v. Legal Theory

The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. [Scientific theory] refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence.

For example, the theory of plate tectonics is a scientific theory. There is ample evidence, which is indisputable, that the surface of the Earth is divided into solid plates that have moved over geological timescales.

Scientific theory is much different than legal theory but those who casually study personal protection often confuse the two. “Legal theory refers to the principle under which a litigant proceeds, or on which a litigant bases its claims or defenses in a case.” Legal theory is much closer to being a hypothesis, in the scientific sense. In some ways, legal theories are not even hypotheses but are, in fact, merely speculation by an attorney.

We ignore this distinction at our peril. A recent court decision in Pennsylvania provides good examples of why. Among those with a casual knowledge of personal protection concepts, the phrase ‘disparity of force’ is parroted as an almost ironclad defense if a much larger person has been shot. However, ‘disparity of force’ is merely a legal theory that one’s defense attorney can raise at trial. While the defense might be bolstered in this effort by expert witnesses, the shooter cannot take it for granted this theory will have any effect on the outcome.

australianparrots-cropSimilarly, the concept of ‘shoot him to the ground’ is often blathered on about. This idea is rooted in the notion that ‘if the first shot was justified, the rest won’t matter.’ As can be seen in the Pennsylvania case, courts may find this idea unconvincing.

The Kimball case in Maine gives another example of how these two often regurgitated legal theories failed to sway either the jury or the court. “Kimball’s attorneys argue Cole made a mistake by not instructing the jury that it could find that Kimball had been adequately provoked by Kelley, who was 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds, after being repeatedly struck as he retreated away from Kelley.” The Maine Supreme Judicial Court found this argument unconvincing and rejected it. Merrill Kimball, 74 years old, will spend the rest of his life in prison, an unpleasant prospect. The fact he fired three shots rather than just one was raised at trial by the judge.

There are other legal theories I periodically hear that, while they sound good, similarly cannot be counted on to prevail in a courtroom. We need to be cautious about using potential legal theories an attorney could raise in our defense when formulating the doctrine we will use for our decision-making.

The law is not logical and does not necessarily ‘make sense’ to the uneducated. We are best served by being knowledgeable, rather than speculating, about what it is or assuming what we think it should be. The one assumption we can make is that nearly everything we read on the Internet about the law is wrong.

chinese whispers

For those who carry weapons of any kind, including personal weapons (hands, feet, etc. as the FBI defines them), obtaining some real legal training is well worthwhile. Law Of Self Defense, Massad Ayoob Group, the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network, and other organizations provide information, not speculation, about what we can and cannot do in our defense and the defense of our loved ones. The cost is about equal to one hour of a criminal defense attorney’s time; that’s a good tradeoff.

Note: I am not a lawyer and by no means am I giving legal advice. I am merely pointing out fallacies in thinking that I often observe.

Fair disclaimer: I have taken training from Law Of Self Defense, Massad Ayoob Group, and am a local affiliate trainer for the Armed Citizen Legal Defense Network.

Spot shooting (Part II)

Yesterday, I was re-reading The Complete Book of Modern Handgunning published in 1961. It’s interesting to see how much has changed in the world of handgun shooting and how much has not.

The following gem is found in Chapter 11. How to Shoot

practical spot shooting from handgunning

It brought to mind an unintentional laboratory experiment that happened while I was teaching a snub revolver class. In 2012,  I taught a short block of instruction on snub nose revolvers at the Northeast Shooters Summit, just as I did in 2011. The same block of instruction was given both Saturday and Sunday to two different groups of shooters totaling about 40. Many of these shooters had almost no experience using any revolver, much less a snub. They fired approximately 40 rounds in two hours of training, followed by a 10 round qualification course at 5 and 10 yards. The way the training was structured was shooting on dot targets until the qualification course. I emphasized the concept of spot shooting that I discussed in my previous blog post.

The target used for the qual was the TQ-21TC(C) target photo target. The value of this particular target is that it has a visible aiming point at the base of the V formed by the open throat of the jacket collar.


In both years the success rate on the qualification, using that target, was 100 percent. This mirrored my results when teaching other snub revolver classes. On Sunday of 2012, there was a target mixup and my targets were used for a class before mine. The target available for my class was the DST-1A, which has no visible aiming point on it. It is an almost solid black silhouette with a head.


The difference in the students’ success rate from previous classes was stark. Approximately 50 percent of the students failed the qualification course when it was fired on the DST-1A. Their shots were all over the targets with many complete misses. The change from defined point of aim to ‘center of mass’ aiming altered the outcome of the test radically. This occurred despite them being told to try to visualize a spot to shoot at.

As I mentioned in my previous post about Spot Shooting, using blank targets is a poor way to teach people how to shoot. Sadly, the blank target concept has become the norm. Conversely, it is interesting to note that since the Bianchi Cup (NRA Action Pistol)  switched to the AP-1 target, which has a defined aiming point, from the D-1, which doesn’t, records have been broken every year.

The ubiquitous original B-27 target at least has an X to aim at, even if it is anatomically misplaced. Something to think about in training, practice, and actual incidents is to pick an aiming point or “Mark your targets before you fire.” as Colour Sergeant Bourne put it.

sccy lapd marked

Podcast about Standards

“If you don’t know where you’re starting from and you don’t know where you’re going then any route will get you there, but that doesn’t mean you’ll end up in the place you want to be.”

–The Tactical Professor

John Johnston and I discuss standards on his latest Ballistic Radio show and podcast.

Whose Standards? (Podcast – Season 5, Ballistic Radio Episode 207, May 7th, 2017)

  • what a standard is
  • the different kinds of standards we have in:
    • mindset,
    • gun handling and,
    • performance with firearms
  • the difference between training and education
  • the importance of the firearms community and its educational efforts
  • the difference between Personal Protection and Self Defense
  • where to start in your own progression of standards.


Revolvers will get you killed – Or will they?

Sheriff Jim Wilson posted an article on the NRA’s Shooting Illustrated website recently that has generated some controversy.

Pros and Cons of Concealed-Carry Revolvers

In particular, one of his statements wasn’t particularly palatable to many folks.

Frankly, while magazine capacity might be an issue for members of law enforcement, it is not much of one for the legally armed citizen. Research into actual gunfights involving the armed citizen seldom shows more ammunition is needed beyond what’s in their concealed-carry revolver.

Let’s look at some examples of how he might have arrived at this seemingly outlandish conclusion. At least one source that could be used would be The Armed Citizen (TAC) column of the NRA Journals. The May issue of The American Rifleman was just published.


One of the criticisms I often hear about The Armed Citizen column is that it may not reflect the reality of armed encounters. In other words, Citizens may get into troubling situations that reading The Armed Citizen doesn’t give a sense of. This is absolutely true but not in the sense that those who criticize it think. Years of research shows that those troubling situations, Negative Outcomes, actually involve shooting yourself, shooting someone you didn’t want to, either intentionally or unintentionally, or other problems that have nothing to do with either the capacity or caliber of the gun. In fact, such problems are usually the result of what Infantrymen jokingly refer to as ‘headspace and timing’ issues, not gun issues.

Here’s how TAC broke out for May. Before getting into issues such as capacity and caliber, it’s useful to see what tasks were involved.

The Armed Citizen task list May 2017 Skill uses
Number of incidents 7
Shoot with handgun 6 86%
Retrieve from Storage (handgun) 3 43%
Engage multiple adversaries 3 43%
Challenge (verbalize) from ready 3 43%
Move safely from place to place at ready 2 29%
Draw to Challenge (verbalize) 2 29%
Shoot with non-threats downrange 2 29%
Intervene in another’s situation 2 29%
Engage from ready (handgun) 2 29%
Draw to shoot (seated in auto) 2 29%
Shoot in midst of others 2 29%
Fire warning shot(s) 1 14%
Challenge (verbalize) with non-threats downrange 1 14%
Hold at gunpoint until police arrive 1 14%
Counter gun grab attempt 1 14%

Now that we have some idea of what we might need to do, let’s take a look at what we might need to carry out the tasks.

Number of Shots Fired
Average 1.43
Median 2.00
Mode 2.00
Max 2.00

Doesn’t look like a lot of ammo was required, does it? Looking at the circumstances of the individual incidents is also interesting.

The California arson attempt involved two warning shots. The homeowner chose not to shoot the would-be arsonist but rather to fire warning shots and hold him at gunpoint for the POlice. Holding someone at gunpoint is a skill not too many people practice.

Skills involved:

  • Retrieve from Storage (handgun)
  • Move safely from place to place at ready
  • Challenge (verbalize) from ready
  • Engage from ready (handgun)
  • Shoot with handgun
  • Fire warning shot(s)
  • Hold at gunpoint until police arrive

Adversaries: 1

Shots fired: 2

In the Indiana incident, a woman saw a sworn Conservation Officer struggling with an individual he was trying to take into custody. After retrieving her handgun, she came to assist. She then fired one shot, most likely at close range, at the man while the struggle was going on. He was hit in the torso, ceased struggling, and later expired.

Skills involved:

  • Decide to Intervene in another’s situation
  • Retrieve from Storage (handgun)
  • Move safely from place to place at ready
  • Shoot with handgun
  • Shoot with non-threats downrange

Adversaries: 1

Shots fired: 1

The Ill-Annoy incident has several interesting aspects to it. The Armed Citizen was seated in his car with a friend. When they were accosted by two criminals, he drew his handgun and shot one in the face, killing him. This caused the second criminal to become alarmed because he realized he was late for another appointment. As he turned to leave, he ran into the second bullet fired by the Citizen. This caused him to forget about the other appointment. He was transported to the hospital and was subsequently charged with Felony Murder because of his friend got shot in the face while committing a crime.

Skills involved:

  • Draw to shoot (seated in auto)
  • Shoot in midst of others
  • Shoot (someone in the face) with handgun
  • Engage multiple adversaries

Adversaries: 2

Shots fired: 2

Fortunately, the State’s Attorney for the County chose not to charge the Citizen with violating Ill-Annoy’s law about Concealed Carry. There is no reciprocity with other States and the Citizen’s permit is from Missouri.

Intervention was the cause of the Michigan happening. A woman was being beaten in a store by a former domestic partner of hers. Another customer intervened in the situation, first by challenging the maniac and then shooting him twice when the maniac tried to grab the Citizen’s gun. The maniac got the message and was subsequently hospitalized in critical condition.

Skills involved:

  • Decide to Intervene in another’s situation
  • Draw to Challenge (verbalize)
  • Challenge (verbalize) from ready
  • Challenge (verbalize) with non-threats downrange
  • Counter gun grab attempt
  • Engage from ready (handgun)
  • Shoot with handgun
  • Shoot with non-threats downrange
  • Shoot in midst of others

Adversaries: 1

Shots fired: 2

A revolver was used in the Georgia episode. A store manager was attacked by two criminals in the parking lot of his store after closing. Although the criminals got one gun from his car, he had another stashed and managed to shoot one of them once. The shooting jogged both criminals’ memories about other engagements they were late for. The County Sheriff’s Deputies subsequently assisted the men with an appointment to remain in the jail. Because the manager’s pistols were being held as evidence, a local gun shop gave him a new S&W .38 Special as a replacement.

Skills involved:

  • Draw to shoot (seated in auto)
  • Shoot with handgun
  • Engage multiple adversaries (sort of, since one was already running away)

Adversaries:  2

Shots fired:  1

No shots were fired in the New York incident. A woman pulled an ice pick on a taxi driver in lieu of paying her fare. The taxi driver drew his pistol and warned her not to approach him. She decided that was a good idea and was subsequently taken into custody by the POlice.

Skills involved:

  • Draw to Challenge (verbalize)
  • Challenge (verbalize) from ready

Adversaries:  1

Shots fired:  0

A storekeeper in Washington became alarmed when he saw two men enter his store with bandanas over their faces and pistols in hand. He declined to make a cash donation to their cause and pulled out a .40 S&W instead. Two shots were sent in their direction, which caused them to remember being late for another appointment.

Skills involved:

  • Retrieve from Storage (handgun)
  • Shoot with handgun
  • Engage multiple adversaries (or fire in their general direction, anyway)

Adversaries:  2

Shots fired:  2

Notice how many non-shooting tasks were involved in relation to the shooting tasks.

  • Decide to Intervene in another’s situation
  • Retrieve from Storage (handgun)
  • Move safely from place to place at ready
  • Challenge (verbalize) from ready
  • Draw to Challenge (verbalize)
  • Challenge (verbalize) with non-threats downrange
  • Counter gun grab attempt
  • Hold at gunpoint until police arrive

From the technical standpoint, the marksmanship tasks were both simple and low round count. It would seem that all of these incidents were much more intensive on incident management skills and much less intensive on capacity issues.

So maybe carrying a revolver won’t get you killed on the streetz, at least if your headspace and timing are set correctly.

Standards (Part V – Know the Rules)

Deputies: Homeowner arrested after fatally shooting intruder in shower

The man went inside and confronted another man he found in his shower, deputies said. The homeowner left after the two exchanged words.

‘He returned home, retrieved a firearm, came back over to the residence and fired multiple rounds into the shower … killing the intruder,’ said Mason County Sheriff’s Lt. Travis Adams.

The homeowner called 911 and told dispatchers that he had just shot and killed an intruder, Adams said.

It’s not clear how long [the intruder] had been inside the home, but detectives don’t believe the homeowner gave him any warnings before he fired his gun, they said.

Deputies later arrested the homeowner for second-degree murder. They believe he had ample time to call for help when he went back home.

The odds are that the shooter will spend a significant portion of the rest of his life in prison. This is a Negative Outcome. It’s a clear example of how foolish the “I’ll shoot anyone I find in my house” ideology is.

I’ll shoot anyone I find in my house.

Bad idea

When I posted the link to the story on my Facebook page, one person replied that he SHOULD have been allowed to kill the intruder. My response was: “No, adjusting our response to the context of the situation is what keeps us from being savages.” Usually, it makes me cringe when news stories refer to someone being ‘gunned down’ but in this case, I think it would be appropriate. What the shooter did was a savage act of unnecessary lethal violence. It wasn’t motivated by fear for his safety or the safety of his loved ones; rather, it was a senseless expression of emotional outrage. We shoot people only when we have to not because we want to.

Another person commented that it was his property and the intruder had committed the offense of breaking and entering. The question was why wasn’t this a Castle Doctrine case. The Castle Doctrine is not an absolute defense. Reasonableness of your response will almost always be applied as a test of the response’s legality. Gunning someone down while they’re taking a shower isn’t likely to be viewed as ‘reasonable.’ As Massad Ayoob put it in the linked article:

Yes, your home is that castle. However, that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to install an execution chamber.

The number of people who own firearms or other deadly weapons and yet haven’t the slightest clue about the legal ramifications of their use is astounding. Know the Rules needs to be a standard of our conduct just as much as the physical ability to use the weapon. What you might think the rules are or should be is irrelevant. The actual rules are all that are important.

It used to be that reliable information about the legalities of personal protection was hard to come by. Not anymore. There are numerous readily available sources of information about the law. Without leaving the comfort of your home, several good sources are available.

For the lack of reading and understanding a book, the Washington shooter will pay dearly. His legal fees for the trial will most likely cost him everything he owns and he’ll still probably go to prison.

I recently attended the Law Of Self Defense Level I and II classes. They were an excellent legal education resource, tailored specifically to the State I live in, Georgia. The law does not necessarily make sense nor does it have anything to do with what you think it should be. The cost of such training is minor compared to the cost of a trial or even just being arrested on a charge that is later dropped. The optional simulator exercise at the end of the day was also a sobering demonstration of how poorly unpracticed people tend to shoot under stress. LOSD classes are available all over the country and are specifically tailored to the laws of the State they are given in.

LOSD certificates

A benefit of membership in the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network is the training DVDs provided with membership. Once again, you can learn a great deal about the appropriate and inappropriate uses of forces without having to leave your living room.

Don’t guess, don’t listen to the foolishness you read on Internet Forums, and don’t make decisions based on what you think the rules SHOULD be. Invest at least a little of your resources and find out what the rules really are. It’s true that most situations are fairly cut and dried and work out legally for the defender. The issue is that when things go bad, they tend to go really badly. The rest of your life can easily be at stake. Very few of us would look forward to spending decades in the can (prison) without a Man Lock by McGard.

McGard Manhole ad crop

Perhaps the most unintentionally funny advertisement ever.

Also, if you’ve taken a State CCW class, the one hour briefing when your eyes glazed over doesn’t count as any kind of meaningful legal education. Don’t confuse that with education that actually teaches you how to apply the law to your personal situation.

Fair disclaimer: I was a guest of LOSD for the classes and didn’t have to pay for them. However, no promotional consideration for my recommendation was offered nor accepted by me.

Endnote: The intruder in Washington was probably a confused drunk. That’s not going to go over well for the shooter, either.

Standards (Part III – Who Sets the Standards?)

I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people and I require the same from them.

–J.B. Books

When discussing Standards, we should keep in mind that Standards come from several sources.

  • Ourselves (personal standards)
  • Private Sector (social values and employment criteria)
  • Public Sector (legal requirements)

Of those, the standards we set for ourselves are the most important. For instance, I don’t drink if I’m driving. I enjoy having a cocktail but I either have one at home or in the company of a designated driver. That’s my personal standard. In most cases, I could probably ‘get away with’ driving home after I’ve had a drink. However, even if I wasn’t close to the legal limit of intoxication, alcohol consumption reduces the margin of safety I consider acceptable for operating a two ton potential manslaughter machine. Not only is my personal safety at stake but the safety of others. It’s the same reason we accept not handling firearms after consuming alcohol as personal and community standards; to maintain an acceptable margin of safety.

What are some other personal standards that might apply to aspects of personal protection and shooting? A few come to mind immediately:

  1. Know the rules (law) of where we live and places we travel to.
  2. Shoot only at positively identified threats.
  3. Shoot only in a manner we can make 100 percent hits on a threat, thus not endangering innocents downrange. Factors affecting this include:
    • Personal skill
    • Distance
    • Cadence (rate) of fire
    • Relationship of the weapon to the eye-target line

My presentation at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference last week was titled Strategies, Tactics, and Options for Personal Protection (STOPP). Since many of us were not from Arkansas, I asked the audience how many of them from out of state had researched the Arkansas statutes about the Use of Force and Deadly Force. Not everyone had. Researching this piece of information took me less than 30 seconds on my phone before I entered the State. Was it a prudent decision to do so? I think so.

Arkansas Code Title 5. Criminal Offenses § 5-2-607. Use of deadly physical force in defense of a person

I’ve harped quite a bit about Identifying Friend or Foe already so, for the moment, Point 2 requires no further elaboration . Please remember that the Flashlight Practice Session of Indoor Range Practice Sessions is available as a free download.

Let’s consider point 3. My colleague Darryl Bolke’s presentation at the Conference included an important tidbit about the rate of shooting. The LAPD SWAT Team, one of the most highly trained and experienced shooting units in the world, practices to shoot at .5 (½) seconds per shot, no faster. They do this regardless of whether they are on the square range, in the shoothouse, or in actual confrontations with criminals. Why? Because that’s the rate they can identify threats and make decisions about using or continuing to use (follow up shots) deadly force.

The Force Science Institute has found that it takes about .3 seconds or more for the ‘stop shooting’ decision. That’s considerably longer than the splits we consider important in the world of competition shooting. There is a tension inherent between those two situations.

We all like to consider ourselves to be responsible gunowners. Is it prudent for us to practice shooting faster than we can guarantee a hit and whether it’s necessary to shoot at all? That’s an open question in my mind. I shot the Match at the Conference very deliberately and relatively slowly. I’m okay with that. All my hits were exactly where I wanted them to be and nowhere else. In the measured environment, that’s now become my personal standard.

Claude, I’m haunted by that last shot because I don’t know where it went.

–A friend who is both an Expert competitive shooter and a practitioner of personal protection.

Going to public sector standards, a fear is periodically raised that the standard will be set too high for gunowners to meet. The State of Illinois was the last State in our Nation to allow concealed carry because its political elite has a pathological fear of firearms (hoplophobia) in the hands of private citizens. Consequently, that State makes an interesting case study regarding Standards for private citizens. Let’s compare the standards Ill-Annoy has established for police officers v. private citizens.

Tested Criterion Police Citizen
Rounds 30 30
Strings of fire 12 3
Furthest distance 15 yards 10 yards
Time Limits 6 – 10 seconds None
Target 8.5″ x 14″ (119 sq. in.) Entire B-27 (~700 sq. in.)
Starting Position Holster Ready
Hit Requirement 23/30 (77%) 21/30 (70%)

Strings of fire is a useful criterion to include because less skilled shooters tend to ‘walk’ their rounds into the center of the target during a longer string. Having more strings reduces the effectiveness of this technique and makes a given course of fire more difficult for an equal number of rounds fired.

The qualification requirements of some States are so low that a reasonably skilled shooter can literally pass them blindfolded. For instance, the State of Michigan requirement is to hit an 11×25 inch target (three sheets of paper) at four yards with five rounds, two times out of three tries, starting from a ready position. It should be noted that although this seems like a large target, it has roughly the same area as the FBI ‘Q’ target; 281 square inches v. 275 square inches, respectively. The fear of established marksmanship criteria being excessively high seems unfounded in reality.

It should also be noted that reflexively firing a number of rounds can be a legal liability. In the Mike Kimball case in Maine, the first shot was deemed by the medical examiner to be deadly. The two additional rounds fired by Kimball were raised as an issue by the Judge in his trial. Kimball was ultimately convicted of murder and will most likely spend the rest of his life in prison. There were additional factors in his conviction, but the number of shots was definitely a question.

A lawyer friend pointed out recently an aspect of the California jury instructions regarding self-defense cases. The wording can be interpreted to mean that shots fired after the threat has ceased could be viewed as excessive force and no longer reasonable self-defense. Whether we like it or not, the rules are the rules. We need to be cautious about parroting and then internalizing memes such as ‘shoot him to the ground.’

When you start [and continue] shooting at someone, you have to assume you’re going to kill them. That’s why we call it ‘deadly force.’ Doing so needs to be a decision not a reflex.

–The Tactical Professor

Make good decisions model

Should we settle for having mediocre personal standards and being able to only do the bare minimum? It’s true that ‘getting better is not for everyone.’ Especially if that is the case, having an objective benchmark of how we can and cannot perform is worthwhile information. That’s the main reason there is a benchmark test included in Indoor Range Practice Sessions. link to purchase all 24 Sessions

JB Books wont be wronged

Standards (Part II – Why)

A good man always knows his limitations.

–Inspector Harry Callahan

As early as the colonial times, it was recognized that shooting firearms is an athletic endeavor. Thomas Jefferson implied as much to his nephew, when he recommended shooting rather than “games played with the ball” as a pastime. In any physical endeavor, it’s useful to establish a benchmark. This concept applies in:

  • Medicine – what’s your blood pressure? Your doctor probably doesn’t just look at your face and decide if you have high blood pressure or not. A measurement is required. And that measurement is then evaluated in relation to established benchmarks for normal, pre‑hypertensive, or hypertensive conditions.
  • Sports – universally, sports rely on numerical performance indicators. A team would certainly not field a player without having looked at the player’s performance stats. While good stats are no guarantee of success on the playing field, poor stats are unlikely to lead to success.
  • Education – making acceptable grades is generally required to graduate from any educational institution. If your child went to a school that never evaluated performance, you probably would be unhappy about that. The general problem of that in our schools today is beyond the scope of this discussion. Suffice to say that any parent whose child can’t read but still is allowed to graduate from school should be very, very unhappy.

Avoiding Negative Outcomes is another key reason for why people might choose to have standards. This is where Dirty Harry’s statement comes into play. Two particular incidents come to mind as examples.

  • A woman in Mississippi shot and killed her husband with a handgun while trying to protect him from an attacking dog. One bullet missed the dog and struck the husband in the chest, killing him.
  • In Texas, a woman and her roommates were victims of a home invasion. When she fired her shotgun at the invaders, she missed them both but shot and seriously injured one of her roommates. This incident highlights a downside of owning a shotgun for home defense. There are few places those who live in urban or suburban areas can do any meaningful home defense practice with a shotgun.

“Weapons System” is a military buzzphrase that should be considered in the context of having standards. When a person picks up a firearm for personal protection, the combination of person and firearm become a ‘weapon system.’ Compatibility of the firearm with the person operating it is an important aspect of an appropriate choice.

  • What works for you? Although the Glock pistol is enormously popular, it’s not the right choice for everyone. The other side of the coin is that the snub nose .38 revolver often recommended for women isn’t necessarily the right choice either.
  • One of my colleagues somewhat rhetorically posed the question “What I shoot the best is a .22; is that what I should carry [or keep for home defense]?” That’s actually a really good question. If a person could only successfully shoot a very simple testing protocol with a .22, what’s the answer? Especially where senior citizens are concerned, how should they make a decision?

Psychology is yet another aspect of the standards decision. People like to think they know what they’re doing. Conversely, they don’t like not knowing what they’re doing. My friend and colleague Ken Hackathorn states a concept he calls Hackathorn’s Law.

You won’t do something under conditions of stress that you’re not subconsciously sure you can do reasonably well.

His Law has a distinct relationship to the concept of ‘Critical Distance’ in proxemics. Critical Distance is the distance at which pursued prey will turn and initiate a counter-attack against the predator. My analysis is that the North American subconscious Critical Distance is in the zone of 4-7 feet (the near phase of social space).


Diagram by WebHamster

Those familiar with the Tueller Principle will recognize that primal Critical Distance is only one-third of ‘too close.’ As the late Paul Gomez said, “We’re not teaching people to start shooting soon enough.” If a person never has an inkling of the standard they are capable of shooting to, most likely they will default to the primal Critical Distance.

Liability mitigation is sometimes cited as a reason for having standards. Other than as an unstated barrier to entry, standards have been mentioned as a way for issuing authorities to reduce their liability. To what extent this is actually true remains to be seen but it is stated as a reason.

A significant downside to standards is that encountering or testing them may force a conflict with a person’s ego. The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a well-recognized aspect of human nature. It’s the opposite side of the Hackathorn’s Law coin. As one shooter wryly observed,

Getting better is not for everyone.

If a person never tests what their skill level actually is, then this ego conflict is avoided. Many people are okay with that. Unless meeting a standard is mandated, it’s a personal decision.