Category Archives: Living with Guns

Serious Mistake Again

I harp on Serious Mistakes because I get sick of reading about this kind of incident. Needless and completely preventable tragedy. In this case, an ounce of prevention would have been better than a lifetime of no cure.

The Serious Mistakes research I’ve done over the past two years has completely changed me in terms of how I prioritize things. Bad things happen too often, frequently because carelessness and incompetence.

If you own guns, you need a plan to secure them when children are around. Even if you don’t have kids, people bring theirs over to your home, especially your grandchildren.

Like many aspects of firearms, this needs to be thought of ahead of time. If you’re not willing to spend a little bit of time, money, and effort to keep firearms out of unauthorized hands, then get rid of your guns.

Practicing for your real world

This morning, I had an opportunity to do some work on putting my money where my mouth is. I’ve been haranguing about Negative Outcomes and wanted to come up with some actionable practice. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, as the saying goes.

Around 5 a.m., someone was loading a pickup in the parking lot outside my apartment. There was quite a bit of ‘bumping,’ which woke me up. Everything was still dark and otherwise quiet. I was satisfied that it was indeed a truck being loaded and what was being loaded wasn’t mine. While lying  in bed, I realized I had been awakened by a ‘bump in the night.’ So, I decided to clear my apartment as a dry run.

First, I cleared my pistol and put an orange dummy round in the chamber. I then dryfired it once. If I hadn’t done that sequence correctly, I would have had a Negligent Discharge in my apartment. At 5 a.m., that would have been a Serious Mistake. No doubt an ND would have led to the Negative Outcome of Police Involvement when police officers showed up shortly thereafter. Putting an actual possible consequence into the equation makes it a little more realistic as a practice exercise. Being exposed to real consequences is something most gunowners don’t allow themselves to experience very often.

From this clearing task came my first observation; if one isn’t awake enough to competently perform a simple unload, load, and verify manipulation, is it wise to go through the house in the dark making life and death decisions? Probably not. One of things John Farnam taught in his classes I’ve attended is that it’s a good idea to be awake before you start handling firearms. His counsel is that having a pistol right next to your bed may not be the best idea if you are the type of person who requires a minute to wake up. Having your gun a few steps away might be a better idea. One incident in my Negative Outcomes database is of a man who shot himself in the foot when he picked up his bedside pistol before he was completely awake.

Having cleared the pistol and sterilized it, I then picked up my flashlight. Just to get out of my bedroom, I have to unlock and open the door while holding a pistol and flashlight. As I do this, it’s important that I scrupulously observe Rules 3 and 2, Finger off trigger and Don’t point the gun at [myself] while my support hand is extended in front of my body and holding a flashlight. Using the gun’s laser to check, it was clear that avoiding sweeping my hand is not as easy as might be thought. If there actually was an intruder, the worst possible case would be that he was on the other side of the door when I opened it. How to handle that is something many people don’t think about.

As I worked my way through the apartment, the night lights I have in every room were sufficient for me to see if someone was there. However, I would have needed the flashlight to make an identification. I do have some entertainment signs in my home, so I used them as substitutes for making a suspect identification.
stop talkingThe first thing I did upon encountering a sign was to practice the Challenge, “Who’s there?” It doesn’t have to be loud when practicing, but it’s important to get into the habit of verbalizing. If the ambient light wasn’t sufficient for me to read the sign, then it’s probably not going to be enough for me to make an identification. By lighting it up with the flashlight, I could read the sign, so I can probably make a good ID.

6 LL Dryfire cheek ready

Maybe this seems like a somewhat involved exercise but let’s keep in mind, there are competing sets of probabilities in a home defense situation. The most likely probability is that the 3 a.m. bump you hear or shadow you see is, in fact, a member of your household.
Competing probabilities
It’s advisable to practice under conditions that resemble the ones you will encounter in YOUR real world, which is different than everyone else’s. Those who have been through shoothouse training will probably notice that the above exercise doesn’t even begin to look like making entry into the shoothouse with your carbine and shooting everything you see. There’s a reason for that, I’ll let you figure it out.

Serious mistakes gunowners make

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

CD label

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:

  1. Introduction
  2. Brandishing/threatening
  3. Chasing after the end of a confrontation
  4. Downrange failures (shot an innocent while shooting at a threat)
  5. Intervention
  6. Lost/stolen guns
  7. Mistaken identity shootings
  8. Negligent discharges, including self-inflicted gunshot wounds and Unintentional shootings
  9. Police Involvement
  10. Poor judgement
  11. Unauthorized access (generally by small children)
  12. 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.

Common sense

Isn’t it just common sense to ensure you know what you’re shooting at?

That question was posted on my Claude Werner, Researcher and Analyst page.

It’s an important question that we need to put in perspective.

Not intending to be pejorative but there is no such thing as ‘common sense.’ What we refer to as ‘common sense’ is actually learned behavior based on our past experience.

For instance, as adults, we consider it ‘common sense’ to not stick our hand in a fire. When we were three years old, we didn’t know it would hurt and probably found it out the hard way.

Similarly, we as gun people would consider it ‘common sense’ to not look down the bore of a firearm. If you gave a pistol to an Australian Aborigine, one of the first things they would do is look down the bore because in their worldview, knowing what’s in a hole is really important. Even Al Gore did it when he was searching for the Internet in Viet Nam. That was before he realized he had to invent it.

Al Gore looks down bore.

Al Gore looks down bore.

Ninety-nine percent of what most people know about firearms usage they learned from TV and the movies. In those media, there is never any ambiguity about the shoot/no shoot decision. As a result, when people get placed in a real set of circumstances, they do indeed default to their ‘training,’ which is the media programming. So they tend to make mistakes and shoot, even if it’s not appropriate. I once bemoaned to a colleague that my Threat Management classes didn’t sell. His response was “Nobody buys a gun with the idea that they’re not going to use it.” His comment put it in perspective for me.

The Importance of Target Identification

Deputies found a 32-year-old man who said that he and his wife were sleeping when they heard a noise in the kitchen.

The husband took his handgun and walked in the kitchen area, where he shot the victim.

After the shooting the husband recognized the victim as his younger teenage brother.

Man shoots, kills brother thinking he was burglarizing home

Yet another tragic example of why I stress target identification so much. These situations are absolutely preventable. As I’ve said before, if you live with anyone else, my analysis is that there is a 97 percent probability that the ‘bump in the night’ is a member of your own household. With those kinds of numbers, gunowners cannot take the risk of shooting someone at home without establishing a positive ID.

This kind of situation is a further example of why I say we have to be very cautious of what we take of from our training, and even more so, what we read. Much of the good training available is conducted by former law enforcement or military personnel. Just as much as any of us, they are subject to unconscious biases resulting from their experiences and training. Since most reading now is done on the Internet, you have to assume everything you read is wrong because most of it IS wrong.

Responding with a firearm to a noise at night in the home absolutely requires that you visually verify your target before shooting. You probably will need a flashlight for that. And stealth is not your friend, it is your enemy. Therein lies a major divergence from the law enforcement officer or soldier, to whom stealth is an ally. The notions that ‘the light draws fire’ or that criminals will wait in ambush for you if they hear you coming are nonsensical. Those are bad paradigms for us to insert in our thinking. If your background is such that having assassins waiting in ambush for you in your own home is a concern, you need to work on some serious hardening of access points to your home.

If you keep a gun at home, put a flashlight next to your gun; no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

pistol and light

Next time you go to the range, take the flashlight with you. Instead of just blasting 50 holes in a silhouette, shoot two shots at the silhouette 25 times. Sequence is very important in how you do this.

  • Have your gun in your shooting hand and your flashlight in your support hand. The gun is not pointing at the target and the light is off.
  • Before each two shot string, say out loud “Who’s there?”
  • Wait to listen for an answer. If you go to the range with someone, have them stand behind you and sometimes respond with “it’s me, Daddy” or something similar.
  • If they say that, immediately put your gun down on the bench and abort that sequence.
  • Then illuminate the target without pointing the gun at it.
  • Finally, bring the gun up and fire the two shots.

One of the things you will find when using this sequence is that the worthwhile two handed shooting techniques don’t work well for it. Harries is both clumsy and dangerous to assume when you already have the light on the target and are keeping it illuminated while presenting the pistol. The Rogers/Surefire technique takes some time and manipulation skill to assume. What you will discover is that only the Cheek Technique or the FBI Technique work well in this context.

6 LL Dryfire cheek ready

That means you have to learn to:

  • Speak while holding your gun.
  • Abort the shooting sequence if there is not a threat.
  • Do a dissimilar task with the other hand, i.e., orient the flashlight and work the switch, while keeping your gun off target and your finger off the trigger.
  • Shoot with one hand only while continuing to perform the dissimilar task.
  • Manipulate the safety or decocker of your weapon with one hand while holding something in the other.

For the final 5 repetitions (10 rounds), put up a clean silhouette target and shoot the LAPD Retired Officer Course (10 rounds at seven yards). Measure how well you do. You’re going to find it’s a lot harder than you think.

That sequence is obviously rather involved; practice it before you have to do it for real or you’ll forget to do it or get it wrong. Forgetting to do it is what leads to tragedies.

Securing pistols in cars

“The 3-year-old located a handgun that was in the vehicle and discharged a round which resulted in the striking of the 1-year-old,” said Sarasota Sheriff’s Office Lt. Vince Mayer.

This morning, yet another Negative Outcome was brought to my attention. In this incident, a young boy gained unauthorized access to his mother’s pistol, which was unsecured in her car, and accidentally shot his little sister.  I use the term ‘accidentally’ because from the little boy’s perspective, it was utterly accidental. In the broader context, it was a training and doctrine failure. Fortunately, her injuries are not life threatening, but I bet they will be life changing for all involved.

Informally, a number of people in our community are starting to include an addition to the cardinal Four Rules of Safe Gunhandling. ‘Rule 5’ tends to be worded something like “In addition to the Four Rules of Safe Gunhandling, always store weapons where they are not accessible to unauthorized persons.” It’s about time we break with tradition and make Rule 5 a formal part of our doctrine.

I don’t know if her pistol was in her purse, in the glove box, or somewhere else in the car. Whichever was the case is irrelevant. The little boy got hold of it and touched off a round. It’s inexcusable and irresponsible. More than getting stolen, I consider this kind of occurrence to be the major downside of off body carry. And when I say ‘off body carry,’ I’m not just talking about purses and briefcases.

The incident demonstrates yet another reason I am totally opposed to glove box carry, console carry, door pocket carry, etc. that are commonly used in vehicles These foolish methods people use to secure pistols almost always result from having a pistol that’s too big to carry on them or with them consistently. It’s a downside of the ‘carry enough gun’ doctrine espoused by the training community.

In that sense, I think the community needs to take some responsibility for recommending equipment that simply doesn’t fit into the totality of our students’ lifestyles. With regard to understanding the lifestyles of normal people, our ‘square range’ mentality is complete.

Many trainers tend to view their students in the military or law enforcement model where the students are molded into something new and different, as a result of the training. Sorry folks, that’s just not the case. What we’re doing is the equivalent of teaching people how to paint, not turning them into painters. Sometimes, it seems to me that the training community’s approach to ‘walk a mile in someone else’s moccasins’ turns into ‘put a load of buckshot into someone, then take their moccasins and walk off in them.’

When I first started writing this post, I had in mind talking about lockboxes for securing pistols in cars, which I still think is a necessary idea. But, as I began writing, I realized I was on the wrong track. In this case, trying to secure the pistol in a lockbox would most likely have entailed repeated instances during the trip of gunhandling in the car to secure the pistol. That’s dangerous and unrealistic. The less we handle guns in vehicles, the better. It’s a target rich environment with too much potential for a Negative Outcome.

SPIC cover

As the number of people who carry guns continues to increase, we trainers are going to have to focus more on ‘Living with Guns,’ as John Farnam put it years ago, rather than just ‘shooting guns.’ Shooting guns is fun and provides immediate gratification; we can see when our students get it. Teaching people about Living with Guns provides no gratification whatsoever because it happens after they leave our class. Are we performers or teachers?

Let’s consider a variant of my question “What’s the ‘worst possible case’?” Is it encountering a really determined criminal who soaks up whole magazines of bullets or having a family member accidentally shoot another family member? I’d really like to hear a definitive answer to that question.

Living with Guns is the tedious drudgery of the armed lifestyle that we, both trainers and gunowners, tend to ignore. It’s easy to focus on marksmanship, ballistics, legalistics, and equipment because those things are obvious and we’re reminded of them regularly. The hard part will be re-directing our attention toward the less obvious but just as important lifestyle aspects. That change in focus needs to happen quickly if we really want to consider ourselves responsible.

Perhaps a criterion we need to add to our selection list when talking about purchasing a pistol is something like “How convenient is it for this purchaser to carry, and secure, this particular pistol 18/7?” If it fails that criterion, that might be a deal breaker.