What do you teach the students in your classes, Claude?
That question was posed to me recently by an older gentleman at my gun club.
I teach them how to handle guns safely and how to hit the target, Ray.
He looked at me quizzically when I said that. He’s a competent shooter who can hit a six inch plate at 50 yards with a handgun. I could tell he didn’t understand so I told him a story.
I received a call a while ago from a range I used to teach at, which has subsequently burned down. The call was from the guy working the counter where they sign people into the range. “Can you come down right now and give a lady with a snub nose revolver a lesson right now? She will pay you and she’s willing to wait for you to get here.” It was 20 minutes away so I grabbed my gear and went.
The lady had a very nice 2 inch Model 15 Combat Masterpiece. She had purchased it at a gun shop when her husband died. This was her second visit to the range to ‘practice.’
I’ve been encouraged to restart the Friday Fundamentals series and I think that’s a good idea. My upcoming series of articles about the J Frame revolver and how to get the most of it will be a good platform since the J frame can be unforgiving of poor fundamentals. People who learn to shoot a J Frame adequately can usually learn to shoot other handguns well. But first, let’s have a philosophical discussion about learning the fundamentals.
Bottom line up front, as is often said in the business world.
Most training classes are a condensation of much more training, practice, and skill development on the instructor’s part than their students will ever experience or be able to make use of. Only a few instructors use the term “feeding them with a firehose” but that’s what most training usually turns into, whether the instructor understands it or not. That philosophy doesn’t reflect the way adults learn.
Distilling many hours, years, or decades of experience into a single half day, full day, or weekend class isn’t setting the students up for success. That’s especially true when at the end of the class, the instructor gives a certificate to the students and tells them they’re now ‘trained.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. ‘Indoctrinated’ would be a much better term. The lack of follow-on practice curricula is a major weakness in the training industry. It’s one of my major pet peeves about the way training is conducted.
The NRA Training Department progression of Basics Of Pistol Shooting, Personal Protection In The Home, Basic Personal Protection Outside The Home, and Advanced Personal Protection Outside The Home are really the only exception to this situation in the industry. Some instructors will contest this and say they offer a series of classes. My rebuttal is that if the first class requires a holster, the students have already been led to the hydrant and positioned in front of the firehose.
More on this next week.
I had an interesting philosophical discussion during the Contextual Handgun, The Armed Parent/Guardian class this past weekend. The instructor, John Johnston, is very good about attributing his sources. One of his points was a comment by the late Paul Gomez.
The hardest part of the drawstroke is establishing grip.
I told John that I disagree with that. In my opinion, the hardest part of the drawstroke is gaining an adequate sight picture. Establishing grip is the most time-consuming part of the drawstroke.
A good instructor can usually get students to consistently establish grip in a relatively short period of training time. However, getting them to consistently get an adequate sight picture usually takes quite a while longer.
Something to keep in mind during your live and dry practice.
I’m taking the NRA Personal Protection Outside The Home Course this week. Taking the Course is a prerequisite to becoming a PPOTH Instructor but I also like to get back to Basics periodically.
Yesterday, I did the Range Exercises for the Basic level of the Course. PPOTH has Basic Level range exercises of 100 rounds. The Advanced Level range exercises total 112 rounds. The exercises are detailed in a Condensed Reference Guide available from the NRA.
The exercises are nothing fancy or ‘high speed’ but they emphasize fundamental skills that everyone who carries a weapon should be able to execute flawlessly. Most are shot at seven yards.
- Presenting the pistol and firing one shot (that hits) while not wearing a concealment garment
- Presenting the pistol and firing one shot (that hits) while wearing a concealment garment
- Presenting the pistol and firing two shots (that hit) while not wearing a concealment garment
- Presenting the pistol, moving to a position of cover and firing two shots (that hit)
- Presenting the pistol and firing one shot (that hits) using the Shooting (Dominant) Hand Only
- Presenting the pistol and firing two shots (that hit) at close range (2 yards)
The exercises are done dryfire first and then live fire. Generally, 10 to 20 repetitions of each exercise are done. Accountability for the rounds is stressed. I like that. I’ve used the NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program in a number of classes. What my students found was that getting 100% hits on a 12 inch circle at seven yards wasn’t as easy as they thought it would be.
Repetition and performance measurement are the midwives of skill development.
The standard I established for myself yesterday to get all my hits in the 10 ring of the NRA AP-1 target. This is an eight inch circle, which is a relatively well established standard for defensive accuracy among those who can shoot.
I’m looking forward to taking PPOTH and doing the exercises with someone else watching. That’s another of my standards; being able to perform on demand while others observe what my results are.
There are several sets of rules regarding safe gunhandling. All the sets of rules emphasize the concerns of their originators. However, many similar things are said but stated in different ways.
Which set of rules you choose to use is less important than picking a set and following it scrupulously. Firearms are instruments of ultimate personal responsibility and can be very unforgiving of even a moment of carelessness. Gunhandling is just as important as marksmanship, but many people are careless about the way they handle firearms, which can result in death or serious injury.
The National Rifle Association’s set. Link
The National Shooting Sports Foundation’s set. Link
Glock has its own set. Link
Like most competitors in the Action Shooting Sports, I use The Four Rules originally developed by Jeff Cooper. Lists of more than three or four items are difficult to memorize, so I still prefer them. There are minor variations but they all follow the same pattern.
- All guns are always loaded.
- Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target.
- Identify your target, and what is behind it.
When talking about gun safety, we need to be careful about taking our subject matter knowledge for granted, especially nuance. Each of the Four Rules has a given amount of unstated subject matter knowledge inherent in them. I have had this discussion before and I continue to maintain the following: telling people with little experience four sentences and expecting 100 percent positive results is ridiculous.
The Four Rules are a memory aid like OCOKA, not a teaching paradigm. Glibly reciting them and expecting people to understand the depth involved in them is like showing someone a flashcard about algebraic formulas and then expecting the person to understand Mass-energy equivalency. The written explanation I provide my students about the Four Rules is three pages long with multiple (2-7) subsections explaining the nuances of each Rule. In the case of Rule #2, there are seven subsections.
“Never point your gun at something you’re not prepared to destroy,” to someone who doesn’t know much about firearms, can be easily interpreted as “Don’t horseplay around with your gun and act like a toothless buffoon by pointing it at your wife or dog.” There are multiple nuances that are not immediately apparent in a one sentence reading. For instance, here is one subsection of my handout:
“c. In many cases, you will have to choose between pointing the gun at an inanimate object, such as the floor or gun cabinet, or pointing the gun at a person; always choose the inanimate object, never point the gun at a person.”
I speak for no one else but there’s nothing in a gun shop I am prepared to destroy when I handle a gun. However, the choice between shooting a gun cabinet and shooting the person behind the counter is fairly easy to make.
Granted a few people are exceptionally stupid. For instance, the guy who disabled his hand by negligently shooting it and then did it a second time because he insisted the only way he could manipulate the slide was by pushing it against his disabled palm. He posted pictures of the second incident on GlockTalk years ago and almost seemed proud of them. People like that are untrainable.
I think most people would be much more competent if we in the industry didn’t take so much for granted. People who have never operated a handheld device more complicated or dangerous than a coffee maker need an explanation first and the memory aid second to reinforce the explanation.
When explaining the Four Rules, I always include the statement:
In addition to the Four Rules, always store firearms so that they are not accessible to unauthorized persons.
The attached explanation is NOT all inclusive of the implications of the Four Rules. However, it is a starting point to allow shooters to think about the proper way to handle guns safely. Feel free to distribute the PDF to anyone.
In response to queries and comments about the Pistol Practice Program, I have created a downloadable eBook called Indoor Range Practice Sessions. It is structured as a PDF eBook that you can download to your smartphone or tablet and take with you to the range. That way you always have your practice session with you. Most (99%) gunowners only have access to an indoor range, so the Sessions are designed with this limitation in mind.
The book contains 12 Practice Sessions and 12 Courses of Fire from various States for their weapons carry licensing process. The Sessions are designed to progressively increase in difficulty so when done in sequence they challenge shooters without overwhelming them. The Courses of Fire were chosen to be complementary to a respective Practice Session. Each Session or Course of Fire is 50 rounds or less. They are all structured to maximize the effectiveness of your range time. It also contains sections on:
- Four Rules of Safe Gunhandling
- Gripping the Autoloading Pistol Properly
- Trigger Manipulation
- Using the Sights
- Use of Force philosophy
- and more!
There are considerably more restrictions placed on shooters at indoor ranges than at outdoor ranges. These Sessions were designed with those restrictions in mind. For example, most indoor ranges do not allow drawing from the holster, so the Sessions work on the general idea that no drawing is possible. Similarly, multiple target arrangements are not possible when shooting in a booth at an indoor range, so the Sessions do not include multiple targets.
These Sessions are intended for people who have purchased a firearm for personal protection. They are directed toward newer gunowners; however, ‘newer’ is a relative term. Many people who have owned, and perhaps shot, firearms for years aren’t as proficient as they think they are. Being a hunter, military veteran, security guard, or even police officer is no guarantee of being competent with a pistol. The difference in contexts is huge and often misunderstood.
Learning to shoot is an ongoing process. A misunderstanding that people have is thinking they can take a short training course, attend a seminar, or read a book and then feel they are ‘trained’ or ‘knowledgeable.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. We can only absorb so much information at one time. If we don’t practice what we’ve learned, that skill or knowledge slips away quickly. Repetitive reinforcement of our learning is key to developing and maintaining skill.
The eBook is available for download HERE.
Over the course of the holidays, I had several short notice taskings, one of which was to provide initial firearms training to a woman who has a stalker problem. Although it was a short session, she and I were both pleased with the outcome, so I shared my notes and outline with a few of my colleagues.
A colleague made the following comment:
One, it’s your usual excellence, and most likely as good as it gets for focused firearms training for the civilian … I do notice that the vast majority of what you present is focused on manipulation, handling, live fire, and some lecture/interactive discussion about legal aspects.
He is a very high level thinker and we exchange thoughts regularly with no reservations about defining and challenging each other’s views. My response to his query was that I have been immensely changed by my Negative Outcomes research over the past two years. I have come to question much of what I thought was important before. One thing that I have become sure of is that at the raw beginner level, which is where this lady was, teaching students how to avoid Serious Mistakes is of primary concern. My list of firearms incidents with Negative Outcomes, gathered over the past two years without even a serious research effort, is seventeen pages long single spaced. That’s a lot of Serious Mistakes.
In addition, I have become even more aware of how dangerous complacency is. The more often the gun is manipulated, the more it is likely to discharge. This has its basis not only in statistical reasons but also in the natural human process of ‘familiarity breeds complacency.’ When complacency is combined with incompetence and/or ignorance, the seeds of disaster have been sown.
The story mentioned “His injuries are not life-threating but he is receiving treatment from a hand surgeon.” Shooting oneself in the hand at close range with modern service ammunition carries a high probability of being permanently crippled. One of the things that I notice in the Self Inflicted Gunshot Wound section of my database is how often the person involved is a high level Law Enforcement Officer, either Sheriff or Police Chief.
There are two possibilities for this strong correlation: 1) it’s just more newsworthy when a higher up experiences a Negligent Discharge, or 2) higher ups, who are administrators, tend to be not that interested in firearms and perhaps a little more complacent than line officers whose gun is a tool of their work. It could be either, there’s no way for me to say.
Firearms ownership is somewhat like a minefield. You might take one step and get blown up, you might negotiate it quite a while before getting blown up, or you might get lucky and make it through. Putting your fingers in your ears will not protect you one bit from the consequences, that’s for sure.
When using a firearm, regardless of the circumstances, always follow the Four Rules of Safe Gunhandling
- Treat all guns as if they are ALWAYS loaded.
- Never let yourself point a gun at something or someone you don’t want to be shot.
If the situation forces a choice, point the gun at something not someone.
- Keep your finger out of and above the trigger guard until the gun is pointed at your target and you are ready for the gun to fire.
- Be sure of what you are shooting at and what is behind it.
- Store weapons where they are not accessible to unauthorized persons
- Know the law
- Immediately check the readiness status any weapon you handle
Whether in a morning Private Lesson or in my six month Total Immersion Program, I find that both new and experienced gunowners frequently don’t have an appreciation for the nuances of the mechanical complexities of firearms manipulation. A firearm is a mechanical device that has more moving parts in it than almost anything else you can hold in your hand. There are definite sequences and multiple conditional values that have to be observed with them. Some people dread hand tools as much as Kryptonite. Folks like that need to be shown, and then practiced, on how to operate complex mechanical devices, such as firearms.
In addition, smart people tend to assume there is logic involved in the making of laws. Nothing could be further from the truth. Consequently, the vagaries of the legal system are an alien concept to many well educated and intelligent people. I have personally known of several very smart people who got into a fair amount of legal problems in the course of trying to apply logic to both the Code of Federal Regulations and the Official Code of Georgia Annotated. Some things we can figure out ourselves; the law is not one of them. It requires research and/or specific education.
That’s why I am currently prioritizing my training efforts the way I do. It’s also why I created the Serious Mistakes Gunowners Make audio presentation. Many of the events in Serious Mistakes did not happen to novices but rather to gunowners of long standing who became complacent or finally ran into a situation they had never encountered before. The link for Serious Mistakes is at the top of my page. It’s now available on a Flash Drive, for those who prefer that format.
UPDATE: The recording is now available as a download for $9.95. Link
In the wake of the San Bernardino massacre, there have been increasing calls, even by the police, for legally authorized people to carry their guns wherever and whenever they can. In addition, the FBI recently reported a record number of gun sales on Black Friday.
While I firmly believe that Armed Citizens and off-duty police officers can make a difference in preventing and stopping such massacres, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Gunowners, whether carrying a gun or keeping a gun at home, can and do make mistakes, sometimes very serious ones. I have some concern about brand new gunowners carrying their guns with them everywhere without some education about how to do it safely. That may not be a popular view but that’s the way I see it.
I have often chastised the training community for failing to create non-traditional educational materials that can reach a broader array of gunowners. As a step toward alleviating that, I have created a new audio CD called:
Serious Mistakes Gunowners Make – Real life examples of how they get into trouble and how to prevent it
This audio CD is a refined version of my Negative Outcomes with Firearms presentation at the 2015 Rangemaster Tactical Conference. My Rangemaster presentation was very well received as groundbreaking about issues that are rarely discussed openly in the gun community.
The ‘Concealed Carry Mistakes’ lists I frequently see usually revolve around simplistic issues, such as:
- Equipment issues; gun, holster, clothing, etc.
- Not getting enough training
- Not ‘knowing’ the law
But the really serious Mistakes that gunowners make are things like:
- Shooting yourself
- Shooting someone you shouldn’t have, either intentionally or unintentionally
- Getting needlessly arrested
- Getting shot by the police
- Leaving guns where unauthorized persons can access them, resulting in tragedies
- Frightening innocent people around you
- Endangering innocent people needlessly
The 12 tracks, over 1 hour, on the CD are:
- Chasing after the end of a confrontation
- Downrange failures (shot an innocent while shooting at a threat)
- Lost/stolen guns
- Mistaken identity shootings
- Negligent discharges, including self-inflicted gunshot wounds and Unintentional shootings
- Police Involvement
- Poor judgement
- Unauthorized access (generally by small children)
- Unjustifiable shootings, including warning shots
Each track explains the topic and the issue, provides a real life example of an occurrence and the consequence, and gives some thoughts about how to prevent it. My object is to provoke thinking about the fact that firearms are deadly weapons and can be terribly unforgiving of carelessness, incompetence, and stupidity.
Note that I can’t possibly explain nor control every way to avoid the Mistakes so I don’t assume any liability for those who listen to the recording and still end up having an issue. Life is not fair; if you want guarantees, buy a toaster.
This could be your most important purchase of the year. Making any one of the Mistakes almost inevitably leads to tragedy or significant legal expense. The price of the CD is miniscule in comparison.
The CD is available on my mobile friendly webstore.
Final note: Because I want this information to be widely distributed, I am granting a limited re-distribution license to anyone who purchases the CD. People do it anyway but I will make it formal and encourage it.
Purchase of the CD includes a license to reproduce five (5) copies of the CD for distribution to fellow gunowners. This is a limited license. It does NOT include posting copies of the CD or any of its tracks on the Internet in a downloadable format. Nor does the license include widely broadcasting the CD nor its tracks via email.
Please be safe and encourage fellow gunowners to do the same. I hope I can make a contribution to that with this CD.
A discussion developed on Facebook about carrying a gun for another person. I have done this in the past for a girlfriend who was a proficient shooter but didn’t carry because her tight and skimpy clothing didn’t permit it. The gun I carried for her was a small auto or J frame in an ankle holster.
However, an implied task of this situation is developing and practicing a protocol to make sure there isn’t a negligent discharge while the weapon is being passed to them or they are accessing it from the carrier. This implied task is not as cut and dried as it might seem.
My colleague Greg Ellifritz thought this was a good enough topic to put on his blog. Since I respect Greg’s opinion, I will reproduce my thoughts here.
My protocol when carrying a gun for another person and then passing it off to them is as follows:
- Draw weapon with right hand (I’m right handed).
- Place weapon into palm of left hand with fingers of left hand around fingers of right hand, fingers running perpendicular to each other.
- Release weapon with right hand into left hand. Barrel/slide is now in palm of left hand with fingers wrapped around trigger guard from top to bottom. This protects the trigger guard from having the other person’s finger getting into it, assuming they are right handed.
- Pass it toward the person with the muzzle pointed forward, i.e., away from both of us.
- The other person takes hold of the butt of the weapon with trigger finger on top of my fingers, approximating the register position.
6. Time permitting, I will ask “Got it?”
7. If she feels she has a good grip, she will respond “Got it.”
8. I then release my hold on the weapon and then pull my hand straight up from it so I do not sweep my hand over the muzzle.
This is also how I hand guns to other people in general and how I teach gun passing in my classes. The muzzle may be oriented in a different direction for safety.
I believe Scott Reitz teaches something similar to this with regard to gun passing. That may have been the origin of the idea, I don’t recall.
Some folks objected to the idea of carrying a gun for someone else who “isn’t serious enough to carry on their own.” The decision is based on a personal assessment of METT-TC (Mission, Enemy, Terrain, Troops, Time, Civil Considerations). In this case, I was satisfied that her attitude toward the enemy and proficiency with a handgun justified the tradeoffs involved. Would I rather she carried her own gun? Certainly. Would I prefer she was unarmed in a precarious situation? Certainly not.
My colleague Grant Cunningham posed two interesting questions on his blog, which led to a lengthy Facebook discussion.
Question #1: “what are your biases or preconceptions?”
Question #2: “what have you changed your mind about in the last year?”
I gave a brief answer to #2 but I think they both deserve some elaboration.
Question #1: “what are your biases or preconceptions?”
I am very reluctant to design training for myself or others that is rooted purely in hypothesis or conjecture. I.e., I am very biased toward following the scientific method, as much as possible, when developing training paradigms.
The overall process of the scientific method involves making conjectures (hypotheses), deriving predictions from them as logical consequences, and then carrying out experiments based on those predictions. — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method
It’s important to note that testing is an inherent part of the scientific method. Testing implies some form of measurement. As a result, I believe that having performance standards is an important part of training. I think of training as ‘outcomes based’ rather than ‘input based.’
We have at our fingertips, via the Internet, an enormous amount of data available to us. At the top of this blog are links to a number of sources that I regularly read to gather information about armed encounters, shootings, gunfights, and gunbattles. I use each of those terms in a very defined way because I consider many terms used in the training community to be fuzzy and ill-defined. Fuzzy and ill-defined terminology does not fit particularly well in the scientific method.
One of the often parroted phrases I hear about gathering information from the Internet is “The plural of anecdote is not data.” I rebut this with the words of one of my accounting professors, “Accounting information is expensive to gather and is sometimes not worth it.” What he meant was that, at some point, you have to accept whatever information you have been able to collect and work with it to form an opinion.
Something I try to avoid is ‘cherry picking’ data that supports my hypotheses. Cherry picking is not always an intentional process, either; it can require a significant amount of intellectual rigor to avoid. I learned this years ago when I was Research Director of a large commercial real estate brokerage company. The brokers all worked specific geographical areas and the Vice President asked me to analyze the Zip Codes of their contact lists. As it turned out, only about 20 percent of the brokers actually had the majority of their contacts in their assigned areas, even though they thought they did. That was when I became a believer in writing things down and checking them periodically to eliminate unconscious errors. A while later, I created a database of five years of data from the Armed Citizen and found some patterns and trends I hadn’t anticipated.
To sum up my bias, I might say:
I’m not interested in conjecture. Tell me where your hypothesis originated, what data supports it, and how you measure the outcome(s) you expect your students to achieve as a result of this training.
Question #2: “what have you changed your mind about in the last year?”
My short answer to this question on Facebook was “The importance of manipulation skills vis–à–vis decision-making.”
I’ve been thinking about this for many years. In 2011, my presentation at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference was entitled The Myth of the Lone Gunman: Working with Family, Friends, and Significant Others.
At the Conference in 2014, my colleague Craig Douglas made the suggestion that I do a presentation about ‘Bad Shootings’ for the 2015 Conference. The results of my research changed me forever.
As many people know, I was part of the Rogers Shooting School for ten years, culminating with being Chief Instructor for five years. Rogers is the most elite and difficult shooting school in the world. Many police and military special units go there to train every year and get to eat a piece of Humble Pie every day of the five day Course. “We’re the best shooters in our Department, by far. Then we come here and find out we suck!” The Handgun Testing Program has no peer for difficulty in the entire training community. It is training on a level that only a select few shooters will ever get to experience. I am enormously proud of my association with the School and maintain a relationship to Bill and Ronnie to this day.
That being said, once I started doing my research on ‘Bad Shootings,’ which eventually morphed into ‘Negative Outcomes,’ I saw a vastly different set of priorities were important. Although I still believe performance standards are important, the level of those standards has changed in my mind. The NRA Defensive Pistol standards, probably at the Sharpshooter level, will suffice to solve almost every confrontation I have been able to find between an Armed Private Citizen and a marauding criminal. Truth be told, those standards would work for most police shootings also. The kicker about the NRA standards is twofold; 1) competence must be demonstrated repetitively and 2) the standard is 100 percent hits.
Once a person can shoot a pistol to a reasonable standard, it’s time to move on to thinking about the circumstances of personal protection and becoming proficient at decision making in that context. Decision making can be a very difficult task, especially when we are armed. Lack of proficiency, not just at marksmanship, but at gunhandling under stress, complicates this. Persons who are not Unconsciously Competent can easily become focused on the firearm rather the situation. Focusing on the wrong thing can lead to Bad Decisions, which in turn can result in Negative Outcomes.
These are the Negative Outcome categories I identified in my research. There are probably more.
- Chasing and shooting
- Downrange failures (shot an innocent while shooting at a threat)
- Lost/stolen guns
- Mistaken identity shootings
- Negligent discharges
- Self-inflicted GSW
- Unintentional shootings
- Police Involvement (arrests for non-shooting related incidents)
- Poor judgement
- Unauthorized access (generally by small children)
- Unjustifiable shootings
- Warning shots
As an example of one category, Unintentional Shootings, here’s a screencap of some of the stories I have collected.
Bad decisions have serious consequences and end up being punished in a variety of ways, some legal and some social. The legal consequences are obvious; the shooter goes to court and sometimes thence to prison. The social consequences of Negative Outcomes are less obvious. If a person accidentally shoots a family member, whether the criminal justice system gets involved or not, I doubt that family relationship will ever be the same. The particular incident I am thinking of occurred when a police officer shot his daughter, thinking she was an intruder.
Decision making has many aspects to it that people don’t often consider. Where you point a gun anytime you handle it is a decision that has to be made. Consider that the next time you’re in a gun shop; where are you going to point the gun as you pick it up to ensure that you don’t muzzle anyone? This relates to another reason I am not fond of the overhand method of slide manipulation. During administrative gunhandling, which happens far more than shooting, the overhand method simply does not give the same level of muzzle control that the slingshot method does. I regularly have to correct students about muzzling themselves when using the overhand method. Using the slingshot technique, not at all.
Note that the Decision Making Process starts long before an incident. For instance, having a flashlight and then practicing with it is a decision. Not having one and/or not practicing with it is a Bad Decision. There are many other possibilities too. Failing to devise emergency plans and then discuss them with your family is a Bad Decision.
Look at the list of Negative Outcomes. The category ‘Downrange Failures’ is the only one that is marksmanship driven. All the rest relate to Decision Making and gunhandling. That’s why I changed my mind.