Category Archives: decision making

Practicing Awareness: An Interview

I’m very pleased to have been interviewed about Practicing Awareness in this month’s Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network Journal.

It was an interesting interview that touched on a number of subjects, some old and some new. The interview builds on the series of posts I’ve written about the topic of awareness and positioning.

Bringing worthwhile content like this to its members is yet another reason I’m a member and fan of the Network.

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.

Continue reading →

Can’t help you

This email arrived from a friend today. Things like this are why I do what I do.

Yesterday I was filling my vehicle with gas at my neighborhood Shell station and out of the corner of my eye I saw an unkempt person lurking around the building and heading to the gas pumps. I lost sight of him for a moment due to vehicles entering and exiting the station. Suddenly, he was on the other side of my pump, headed in my direction.

My first visual image was Claude Werner, hand up, saying I can’t help you, followed by me doing the same thing, as I moved around the corner of my car to get an object and distance between the fellow and me. He did not even finish his opening line, he turned and looked for someone else to approach.

Claude, you taught me well! Thank you very much!

Note that this was a decision made in advance (to be aggressively uncooperative) and then chosen as a response in the moment. That’s the best way.

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.

Continue reading →

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 →

Review: The Complete Combatant (and Sundry Others)

This was a great course. I got a lot out of it just by auditing to aid Brian and Shelley with a little curriculum guidance. I’ll be posting my own lessons learned from observation but Chief Weems gives a good overview of the class.

That Weems Guy

I first became aware of The Complete Combatant due to their hosting Caleb Causey of Lone Star Medics for one of his medical courses.  Caleb is a a regular presenter at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference, and that is how I met him.  I attended the course, that is how I met Brian and Shelley Hill, the owners of The Complete Combatant.  This introduction resulted in Brian and Shelley hosting two of my Police-Citizen Contacts courses.  They have another class with Caleb coming in September; so, be sure to check their schedule IF you aren’t planning to spend that weekend with me at Social Levergun.  Quality medical training should be a part of your personal safety plan, and Caleb has a solid program.

Another example of the classes that they are bringing in to augment their own offerings, they hosted Andrew Branca’s Law of Self Defense course.  Andrew’s material…

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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.

The Telephone Game and the Training Industry

Telephone [in the United States]  –is an internationally popular game, in which one person whispers a message to the ear of the next person through a line of people until the last player announces the message to the entire group. Although the objective is to pass around the message without it becoming misheard and altered along the way, part of the enjoyment is that, regardless, this usually ends up happening.

Often, a message that starts out like “My uncle shook hands with the Mayor once” eventually turns into “President Reagan’s grandmother slept with Batman for years” or something equally mistransmitted.

Telephone game issues plague the firearms training industry and are a problem. Several occurrences of it have been brought to my attention just this week. One of the most important things I’ve learned in the training industry is to assume everything that anyone tells me secondhand is wrong. Whenever possible, I go back to the source or vet the information through several other sources, if necessary.

Items that are most vulnerable to mistransmission are intellectual, statistical, or theoretical concepts. These include items such as:

  • Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper’s Color Codes
  • Statistics from ‘the FBI’
  • Legal issues
  • Hick’s Law without the power law of practice refutation
  • My personal favorite, Col. John Boyd’s work, aka ‘the OODA Loop’

What first brought this to my attention this week was reviewing an article a friend wrote about Situational Awareness. In my review, I pointed out that Cooper himself said that even while he was actively teaching, the Color Codes were being grossly misinterpreted. He explicitly stated that they are NOT a system of Situational Awareness but rather stages of Mental Preparation and triggers for Personal Defense. Upon mentioning this to my friend, he said:

And I think it says quite a bit about how misunderstood the concept is that you’re literally the only person to point out that Cooper never intended the colors as situational awareness levels, but rather mental preparedness. Out of a dozen people giving me feedback.

Cooper’s writings on the subject are readily available on the Internet with just a small amount of research. In Volume 13, No. 1 of his Commentaries, he says:

The Color Code refers not to a condition of peril, but rather to a condition of readiness to take life.

He elaborates on the meaning of the Color Codes in no less than six of his Commentaries over the years. All his Commentaries are available on the Internet. There is even a video of his entire lecture about the Color Codes available on YouTube.

He makes a point at 15:20 in the lecture about the distinction explicitly.

In the course of doing the review, I came across a blog post that purported to explain Cooper’s Codes. While the cursory overview given wasn’t awful, the post stated that the Codes were contained in the ‘Awareness’ chapter of Cooper’s book Principles of Personal Defense. Unfortunately, there is no such chapter. Principle One in the book is Alertness but no mention of the Color Codes is contained therein. False memory at work.

In that sense, the Color Codes are similar to Boyd’s work, which has been mostly butchered into unusability by the training community. Not an hour after making my comments to my friend, I came across yet another recently published article about ‘the OODA Loop’ that grossly oversimplified Boyd’s work. The ways I have seen Boyd’s work grotesquely misstated are legion. We can easily portray the oversimplification of John Boyd’s work in a graphic.

OODA loop NO

One article last year by a member of a well-known and regarded training company claimed that Boyd had developed ‘the OODA Loop’ during the Korean War to counter the ‘shocking losses’ of F-86s at the hands of Mig pilots. In fact, Boyd’s first mention of ODA [only one O] was in 1976 after he had transitioned to strategic acquisition planning and no longer even flew aircraft. Estimates of the kill ratio in Korea for the Sabre jet has dropped from 10 Migs for each Sabre to 5.6/1 but this isn’t a ‘shocking loss’ statistic in the slightest. Clearly, the author hadn’t done one bit of research on the topic but was just regurgitating a distorted and false memory.

Despite the readiness of information in the Internet age, there is often a tremendous amount of intellectual laziness within the training community. Doing research isn’t as much fun as shooting. Hearing someone regurgitate important concepts in a class or even a side conversation and then failing to go back to the source to vet and understand it is poor scholarship. It would get a college freshman an F on a simple term paper. If we in the community can’t even get a passing grade on a college term paper, should we be teaching people how to defend their lives and the lives of their loved ones?

Let’s turn to the research and vetting issue from the standpoint of the practitioner. Someone who wants to defend their own life and the lives of their loved ones ought to be able to get that passing term paper grade, too. When you hear something ‘important’ attributed to a third party, don’t accept it at face value. Research it on your own and find out what was actually said or published. It’s rarely hard and usually doesn’t take much time. You may be surprised at how different the two versions are.

Line in the sand

Begin to attrit the enemy at the maximum effective range of your weapons.

That was one of the most important things I learned as a young Infantry Lieutenant during the Cold War. We would have almost certainly been facing Soviet forces larger than our own. We had to wear them down as they closed with us in order to destroy them before they could reach us. This is every bit as true today in the context of personal protection.

“Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes”  is a famous saying from the Battle of Bunker Hill during the Revolutionary War. Very few people understand that ‘the whites of their eyes’ basically represented the maximum effective range of the smoothbore musket. That’s the underlying concept of the order.

No matter what our weapons are, we need to understand their maximum effective range. Maximum effective range is sometimes limited by the weapon, as in the case of the smoothbore musket or pepper spray. In other cases, it is limited by the capability of the user. The firearms instructors and SWAT team members of the Los Angeles Police Department are capable of using their weapons at a greater distance than the average patrol officer. That’s not a slam on the patrol officers, rather it is a result of training, practice, and experience.

In order to know the maximum effective range of your weapons, you have to understand them and test them. This testing and understanding is a key component of John Boyd’s Aerial Attack Study. An integral part of ‘Orient’ is knowledge of the capabilities (Previous Experience) of your weapons.


Keep in mind that ‘line in the sand’ is both a chronological concept as well as a geographic point. If a situation goes on for a while,  it’s time to put an end to it, one way or another.

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.