Muzzle direction is the primary safety. Always has been and always will be.
What’s so sad is how many different recent incidents the search string ‘son accidentally shoots father‘ brings up. Both fathers and sons are on the receiving end.
Firearms are relentlessly unforgiving of the slightest lapse in attention or knowledge of their manuals of arms. The details of this incident aren’t stated but they’re almost irrelevant. Does anyone think that poor boy will ever have a well adjusted life? I doubt it. Who’s fault is that? Certainly not the boy’s.
Just because a person “has been around guns all my life” doesn’t mean they know anything about them. All that frequently parrotted phrase means is that the person has beaten the odds so far. Don’t be ‘that guy.’ It’s not a hair dryer; learn about your firearm(s) and any of the sets of basic safety rules. The number of people who can’t recite, from memory, at least one set of firearms safety rules is astonishing.
There are several sets of safety rules. The NRA Rules are a good start.
ALWAYS Keep The Gun Pointed In A Safe Direction
This is the primary rule of gun safety. Common sense dictates the safest direction, depending on different circumstances.
ALWAYS Keep Your Finger Off The Trigger Until Ready To Shoot
When holding a gun, rest your finger alongside the frame and outside the trigger guard. Until you are actually ready to fire, do not touch the trigger.
ALWAYS Keep The Gun Unloaded Until Ready To Use
If you do not know how to open the action or inspect the chamber(s), leave the gun alone and get help from someone who does.
Let’s be careful out there.
One of the students involved in this went up and took the blank gun … from the instructor’s [emphasis mine] waistband and placed that against the instructor’s back and fired
What is ball and dummy?
Sometimes, we instructors take our subject matter knowledge for granted. A friend posted that she was pulling a few of her shots low and left. She’s right handed. My reply was ‘ball and dummy.’ She then asked me what that meant.
Ball and dummy means interspersing dummy (inert) ammunition among your live ammunition during a practice session. It’s a key training tool at the elite Rogers Shooting School. The dummies can be random, e.g., three or four dummies in a 15-17 round magazine. They can also be alternating; i.e., live, dummy, live, dummy, live, dummy, etc. for the entire magazine.
The purpose of ball and dummy is to watch the sights when the dummy round is clicked on to learn how smoothly, or not, you are pressing the trigger. Ball and dummy for marksmanship training is NOT the same as an Immediate Action Drill. For an IAD, you want to clear the malfunction as quickly as possible. With ball and dummy, you want to observe the sights for at least 300 milliseconds (about 1/3 of a second) after the hammer or striker falls to see what your trigger press was like and THEN clear the malfunction. A useful benchmark is to count ‘One thousand’ after the hammer/striker fall and then clear the malfunction. That’s called ‘followthrough.’
Alternating ball and dummy is both the most soul crushing and, at the same time, the most productive marksmanship drill you can do. You’ll see just exactly how smoothly you’re pressing the trigger when you do this drill. For most people, the answer is about as smoothly as Stephen Hawking, the genius theoretical physicist who has had ALS for decades.
With a revolver, for instance the iconic J frame, this exercise is extremely easy. Load a cylinder of ammo. After each shot, followthrough for one second. After you have completed your followthrough, open the cylinder, spin it, and then close it. Press the trigger smoothly until another round fires. Then open, spin, close, and repeat. Do this until you have fired all the rounds in the cylinder. Continue doing this for about four cylinders.
Whether using a revolver or autoloader, you gain useful visual feedback about what a good trigger press feels like. There’s a reason we refer to ‘hand-eye coordination.’ The visual process teaches the tactile process as to what works and what doesn’t. After a while, you will become annoyed with seeing the sights nosedive and begin to press the trigger smoothly. That’s the point where you start to become a marksman.
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.
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.
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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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.
Similarly, 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.
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.
Last weekend, I traveled to Florida to take the NRA Instructor Basics of Personal Protection Outside The Home Course (PPOTH). I was asked by several people why I would want this particular “Basic” Certification in light of my background and training experience. It’s simple,
I like training new shooters.
My colleague Grant Cunningham made a pertinent blog post about this shortly after I took the PPOTH Student Basic and Advanced Student Course. Experienced instructors often shy away from training the newest students. There has been a massive increase in people licensed to carry firearms over the past few years. In addition, several States have adopted Constitutional or Permitless Carry. That market base probably needs experienced trainers and coaches.
And I don’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel. It’s unfortunate that the NRA Training Department’s best marketing statement for its Personal Protection training is contained in the PPOTH Instructor manual. “The NRA Basic Personal Protection Series is based on the building-block approach, moving from the simple to the complex.” The most effective training courses I have taken over the past two decades have used a step by step approach to skill building.
The Training Department sees the progression of the courses for new gun owners interested in learning how to defend themselves and their loved ones as follows.
- NRA Basics of Pistol Shooting Course, the first course, develops the basic skills of handling, shooting, and cleaning the firearm, as well as a thorough grounding in firearm safety.
- NRA Basics of Personal Protection In The Home Course, the second course, teaches:
- the defensive or flash sight picture,
- firing single shots and/or aimed pairs from various shooting positions
- shooting using a center-of-mass hold,
- effectively using cover and concealment,
- employing point-shooting and multiple target engagement techniques.
- techniques for improving awareness and promoting mental preparation,
- methods of enhancing home safety without a firearm, and
- legal aspects of the use of deadly force in self-defense.
- NRA Basics of Personal Protection Outside The Home, the third course in the series, covers:
- Introduction to Concealed Carry Safety and The Defensive Mindset,
- Introduction to Self Defense and Concealed Carry,
- Legal Aspects of Concealed Cary and Self-Defense,
- Carry Modes and Handgun Concealment,
- Presenting the Handgun from Concealment, and
- Presentation, Position and Movement.
- Another offering in the series is the NRA Defensive Pistol Course. This is a shorter course than PPOTH. It teaches:
- How to apply the NRA Rules for Safe Gun Handling when carrying a concealed firearm,
- basic principles of concealment,
- drawing from a hip holster
- levels of mental awareness,
- developing the proper mindset when using a pistol for personal protection,
- flash sight picture
- clearing common stoppages,
- shooting a qualification course,
- use of pocket pistols,
In addition to the Courses themselves, the Training Department provides additional Skill Development Exercises for NRA Instructors to use with students after PPITH and PPOTH.
And the NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program has even more exercises that interested shooters can use to increase their skills and earn awards from the NRA.
Looking at all the topics covered, that’s a really comprehensive training program. Those who are interested in a defensive firearm as more than a talisman to ward off evil can really get a lot out of such a “Basic” program.
There are a number of aspects of the NRA’s series that I really like. First of all, the classes are between 4 to 9 hours long. Because they’re constructed in modules, even the 9 hour classes don’t have to be conducted in a single day. Most people’s lives are quite busy and asking new shooters to take an entire weekend or even week of training is both difficult and sometimes counter-productive.
The NRA’s program is really the only one in the industry that is built around the student’s capabilities and time constraints rather than a trainer’s weekend convenience. Mea culpa; I’ve done both the traveling trainer and hosting trainer routines, so I’m as guilty of it as any of my colleagues. It’s something I want to try a different approach to.
There’s a place for both newer trainers and experienced trainers in the NRA’s Personal Protection Series. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how I can implement that.
There’s currently a lot of Internet stink about some limitations imposed in the NRA Carry Guard training. I’m not going to comment about Carry Guard in general because as an Instructor certified in numerous disciplines through the NRA Training Department, there’s a possible conflict of interest.
What I will comment about the equipment limitation is:
They’re staying in their lane of competency.
Looking at the background and resumes of the instructors, running a striker fired autoloader or Sig 226 is mostly likely all they’ve ever been trained with, practiced with, or used. Revolvers and 1911s have a different manual of arms and idiosyncrasies that these instructors, with the exception of Jarrett who was briefly with the LAPD decades ago, are probably not familiar with.
They are probably expert with the weapons they have used and the possibility is they are either inexperienced or ignorant of how to operate other weapons at any professional level. I see that a lot now. The number of young police officers who literally cannot open the cylinder of a revolver is stunning. There are numerous firearms trainers who can operate one or two weapons and provide good training, as long as it’s confined to those weapons
Why would we then encourage these Carry Guard instructors to teach students how to use weapons they are not experts in the use of? How often has the meme ‘Stay in your lane’ surfaced lately? To his credit, when Rob Pincus wanted to make a DVD about Snub Revolvers, he brought me in to do it, just as he did with Dryfire. I’m an expert on those topics and he is not.
We can’t have it both ways. If we want instructors to ‘Stay in their lane,’ then we’re going to have to accept that just like lanes on the highway, the lanes have limits. In this case, the limitation is that NRA Carry Guard probably needs to say “Training for a limited subset of weapons but not all.” Describing itself as ‘the Gold Standard’ is probably a bit of a stretch. That is not to say I accept what Carry Guard provides is, in fact, the ‘Gold Standard.’ I mean that if Carry Guard is unwilling to provide training for two extremely common weapons, revolvers and Browning pattern pistols, then, by definition, it can’t be ‘the Gold Standard.’
Perhaps it could be ‘the Silver Standard.’ Without seeing first hand what actually takes place at the training, there’s no way for me, or anyone else, including NRA Carry Guard, to say. What they are going to provide remains a prototype, unlike the training provided by NRA Certified Instructors, which are proven training processes. How well Carry Guard’s training prototype will translate to the Instructor candidates being recruited also remains to be seen. At least as long as you’re not using a revolver or 1911. Then you don’t have to be concerned with it.
In the firearms training industry, butthurt is a common condition. There’s quite a bit of it going around right now. The current crop of butthurt, as usual, revolves around equipment, technique, class organization, and philosophy.
Yesterday, I was able to take Training Day 2 of the Rangemaster Advanced Combative Pistol course. Both Mindset and physical skills are part of the course. This is the third training class I’ve taken in the past two months, in addition to attending the Rangemaster 2017 Tactical Conference. The others were Law of Self Defense and NRA Personal Protection Outside The Home.
One of the things I get the most out of when I attend training classes is the side discussions I have with my colleagues teaching their classes. We’re all willful individuals with strong opinions based on our own experiences. More often than not now, I listen to the other trainer’s opinion without expressing much of my own. This allows me to think about not only how we might differ but also how we might agree.
Upon returning home last night, I reflected about common standards within the firearms training industry. Even those trainers who say they don’t espouse Standards actually do, without realizing it. Standards aren’t necessarily numbers on a piece of paper, they can also be messages that we send to our clients. Sometimes, those messages are even more important than the numbers. One of my Father’s maxims to me when I was a boy was:
Try to get along with everyone, Son, but don’t let anyone hurt you.
That’s a very concise Standard in the form of a message. I’ve followed it ever since.
So, what Standards, in the form of messages, do almost all firearms trainers have in common? The following list occurred to me. There are probably even more. It applies from the most newly Certified NRA Pistol Instructor to those of us who have been teaching for decades.
- Think ahead
- Acknowledge your own value
- Know what you’re doing
- Be a Success
- Avoid Negative Outcomes
- Criminal events start with the intended victim behind the power curve
- Stress inoculation
1) Implicit in the very concept of training is the goal to think ahead. Whether we’re talking about the physical skill of operating a firearm or tactics to avoid becoming a casualty, we want you to think ahead. Trying to learn a skill or tactic in the moment can be a very disconcerting experience. Having operable equipment is also part of thinking ahead. I have twice encountered situations where ladies owned a gun, in one case for years, without having any ammunition. That’s not what I would call thinking ahead.
2) “I could never shoot someone to protect myself.” Every trainer has heard that at some point in their career. The person saying it has not yet “Proclaimed their own Magnificence” as John Farnam puts it. Contrary to the current Politically Correct thinking, everyone does NOT have the same value to society. A Violent Criminal Actor who would callously murder a six year old child strapped in a car seat has no redeeming value to society and never will, period. Nor does someone who would rape two young girls and murder them by burning them alive, after having raped and murdered their mother and beaten their father to a pulp with a baseball bat.
The many many many good people of our society should have no compunction whatsoever about protecting themselves by shooting loathsome criminals of such ilk. We as trainers want our clients to understand that they have a lot of value as human beings and deserve to continue living their lives without being victims of such vicious attacks. Someone once told me I give my clients ‘permission to be rude.’ That’s true of the entire industry.
3) Although we may interpret it in different ways, we all want you to know what you’re doing. Firearms are complex mechanical devices. Some aspects of their operation are either not instinctively obvious or are even designed in a way that requires an explanation or procedure to operate safely. For instance, all firearms are designed so that you can instinctively place your finger on the trigger. Consequently, that’s what people do if they are not trained otherwise.
4) We want you to Succeed. Although our methods may differ radically, I cannot think of a single trainer in the industry who sets out to make sure their students fail. Success breeds confidence. Confidence leads to Proclaiming Your Magnificence. We’re all trying to move our students in that direction.
5) Avoiding Negative Outcomes is a goal of all training. Although I may have coined that particular phrase, it has been the goal of the training industry from the beginning. Trainers don’t want you to shoot yourself, your family members, people around you, and we don’t want you to have to interact with the legal system because you made a mistake. Knowing what you’re doing and knowing the rules goes a very long way to avoiding Negative Outcomes.
And Negative Outcomes don’t just occur in the moment either. Survivor’s guilt can be a terrible thing.
6) Unless you’re an Assassin, all criminal events start with the protagonist behind the power curve. Whether it’s beginning from ‘the Startle Response,’ being on the bottom of ‘Initiative Deficit,’ or simply using a timer or whistle, we want you to understand you’re not going to be the one who starts the action. The criminal is going to do that.
To paraphrase Tom Givens ‘You don’t get to choose when you’re going to have to defend yourself, the criminal does. And they are only going to notify you at the last possible moment.’ A fallacy that many firearms owners fall into is thinking that the sequence of a violent criminal attack is going to parallel the order of shooting at a range where the shooter decides when to pick up the gun and shoot. That’s the opposite of the way it really works.
7) Being victimized may well be the most stressful event of a person’s life. The first time we encounter a stressful situation is always the hardest. Trainers are all trying to provide you with a low level stress vaccine so that you can more easily cope with a real situation if it ever occurs. That’s not to say dealing with it is going to be easy, but it will probably be easier the second time. That’s the best we can do.
We trainers all have Standards, too. They may just look a little different from behind the firing line.
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.
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.