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.
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 Rangemaster 2015 Tactical Conference is over and I am processing the things I observed and learned from it. The Conference has a long history, dating back to the early days of IDPA in 1998, when it was a sanctioned IDPA indoor Championship. Over the years, it has evolved into the foremost tactical training conference for private citizens in the United States. It is held annually, early in the year, in the Memphis area. The venue for the 2015 Conference was the Memphis Police Training Academy, a truly fine and modern facility.
This year, three dozen of the top personal protection trainers in the country, many of whom are referred to as “T-Rexes,” came together to present or conduct training blocks of two to six hours over a period of three days. The agenda has grown so large that it’s not possible to take in all the training that is available, since sometimes five blocks are going on simultaneously. Some of the training is classroom lecture, some is hands-on with sterile weapons, and some is livefire. There is also a shooting match, for those who choose to participate.
There were a wide variety of topics, ranging from psychology and communications to contact based skills to firearms manipulation. I was able to attend nine sessions.
- Yes, I Shoot Like a Girl, Would You Like a Lesson?
- Surviving Lethal Encounters
- The Law of Self-Defense
- Practical Small Knife Principles
- Performance Under Fire
- Rehabilitating the Experienced Shooter
- The Training/Reality Mismatch
- Kneeling Positions and Combining Them with the Use of Cover
- Women’s Holsters and Accessories
In addition, I was able to make two classroom presentations.
- Tactical Communications for Couples, with my co-presenter Linda Hoopes, President of the Resilience Alliance.
- Negative Outcomes of Firearms Ownership
Upon my return, several people have asked me what my most significant takeaways were. As usual, I learned a great deal, so it’s difficult to say what were the most significant, but here are a few that stand out in my mind, in no particular order.
- A conversation with a mentor of mine, John Farnam, elicited from both of us the experience that when approached for help in a parking lot, it’s almost always a scam or criminal ambush. Fellow trainer Melody Lauer pointed out that there are a few legitimate exceptions, but John and I both feel they are the exception rather than the rule. This indicates that a default response should be formed to immediately and firmly decline the invitation to be a victim and then rapidly vacate the area. Exceptions to that rule should be based on specific articulable reasons and conscious decision-making, rather than by default.
- The T-Rexes are constantly working along the path to excellence. That path includes attitude, skills development, tactics, and a host of other areas. Recognizing that there is an element of chance in every encounter, we work hard on stacking the deck in our favor. ‘Doing the work’ means training regularly and practicing on a daily basis. ‘Good enough’ is never good enough for us. That’s probably why we’re regarded as T-Rexes.
- There is an enormous amount of erroneous, misapplied, or misinterpreted information floating around in the broad firearms and personal protection community. This is especially true in relation to prioritization, legal issues, and skills development.
- The community has a lot to learn about integrating women into it. There was a record turnout of female attendees and women trainers at the Conference this year, my co-presenter being one. Conversations with them, as well as the presentations, were highly enlightening. Many male paradigms either don’t apply at all or don’t work particularly well when used by women. My own presentation was an eye-opener to me in that regard. The Women’s Holsters and Accessories presentation, which was presented by a woman, gave several good examples. A pet peeve expressed by several T-Rexes is men who have women shoot excessively powerful firearms and then laugh when they fail. Our universal attitude is along the lines of the desire to give such jerks a knee lift in the crotch followed by a crack in the jaw and then laugh when they fall down writhing in pain.
I have several pages of notes but those jump out at me. Undoubtedly, more will occur to me as I reflect on the event. I will have more thoughts on specific topics in the near future. There is a photo gallery of the Conference training blocks available on the Rangemaster website.
I withhold comment on the viability of the wings, but the Jose Canseco “shoot your finger off’ hold used in the photos is unforgivable for someone who is supposed to be a firearms semi-professional. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
Oh, but that’s OK because “it’s not loaded.”
No, it’s not OK. That’s how we get into sloppy habits that bite us in the ass.
Maybe I’m becoming obsessed with ‘negative outcomes,’ but I see a lot of bad gunhandling by people who should know better. Don’t get into habits that can come back to haunt you under a different set of circumstances.
The house alarm sounded and the wife shot her husband through a closed bedroom door thinking he was an intruder, according to Fayetteville police.
Obviously, that was a ‘negative outcome.’ Therein lays the problem with simply having a gun without doing any scenario training with it. My research has brought me to the point where I am less concerned with the marksmanship aspects of personal protection than I am with 1) proper gunhandling and 2) appropriate decision-making. Those two items are almost completely absent from most gunowners’ repertoire.
There are a competing set of probabilities we have to consider in a home defense situation. If you have anyone else living in your home, 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. For sake of argument, let’s put that probability at nearly 100%. There is, however, a competing probability that it is an intruder. That probability is much lower, somewhat above 0%, depending on where you live. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that the burglary rate in the US was 27.6 victimizations per 1,000 households in 2011, or 2.76%, so let’s round it up to 3%. Assuming it’s an either/or situation, which it’s not, that would make the likelihood of encountering a family member, rounded, at 97%. Graphically, this is what those competing probabilities look like.
Looking at it this way makes a very strong case for why we have to positively identify before we shoot. It is 32 times more likely that the sound or shadow is a member of the household than it is an intruder. Las Vegas would really like those odds. If we’re going to be the slightest bit responsible, we have to look at ALL the possibilities, not just the ones that scare us the most. Shooting through the door without doing any kind of identification is just plain wrong.
Verbalization is so important in personal protection scenarios. And it’s something very few people practice on the range, or any other time, for that matter. I’ve had female clients tell me “I can’t say that.” Well, you better learn to say something. At home, the verbalization doesn’t have to be complicated. “Who’s there?” will probably suffice. You do have to be able to talk with a gun in your hand, though. Once again, hearing “Honey, it’s me” should immediately trigger a stand-down response on our part.
Stand-down is another thing that’s uncommon for people to practice but really important when you look at the probabilities. In a home defense encounter, ‘Stand-down’ should most likely mean immediately physically placing the gun down and moving away from it to avoid unpleasant after-effects of a startle response. Having to do so brings up those proper gunhandling and muzzle direction issues again.
This also bears on the issue of ‘training for the worst possible case.’ A serious definitional issue has now arisen in my mind regarding that concept. Is ‘the worst possible case’ having a dangerous armed intruder in your house or shooting and killing a family member by mistake? I don’t have an answer for that question but it has now become a relevant issue for me, as it should be for you, too.
I’m not so sure about the empirical reality of the Farnham [sic] idea: “The person most likely to shoot you is YOU. Why? Because you’re always there.” It just seems incorrect to say, so I am wondering what the broader idea he is conveying is supposed to be.
Since John’s statement generated some incredulity, I will elaborate on it. His comment referred to the often atrocious gunhandling he sees, not people committing suicide. Improper and dangerous gunhandling regularly results in gunowners turning themselves into casualties, although not necessarily fatalities.
The reason I included John’s quote began with a statement he made in the first DTI class I took. The statement was “Eighty percent of police officers who are shot shoot themselves.” Once again, he was not referring to suicide but rather negligent shootings where the officer injured himself or herself. Whether that is still true, I don’t know. I do know that holster manufacturers are sued numerous times each year, unsuccessfully, by police officers who shoot themselves in the process of drawing or holstering. However, given the multiplicity of reports I have about private citizens who accidentally shoot themselves, I wouldn’t be surprised. It happens a lot more often than we like to think. The two casualties I have had on ranges I have been running were self-inflicted non-fatal wounds. One was a highly trained and experienced police officer who had a momentary lapse of concentration and technique.
Here are a few recent examples:
This is an excerpt from a detailed incident report by the LAPD Board of Police Commissioners.
Officer A was off-duty and inside his residence. Officer A was seated alone in the living room of the residence cleaning and putting tactical lights on his personally owned handguns. Officer A indicated that he had completed cleaning his .40 caliber Springfield Arms semi-automatic pistol and during this process he had inadvertently seated a partially loaded magazine and released the pistol slide that chambered a round. Officer A mistakenly believed the weapon was not loaded, so he pulled the trigger and caused the weapon to discharge.
Officer A received a through and through bullet wound to his left hand just below the little finger. The bullet traveled through Officer A’s hand, then through the back of a couch [the interior decorator in me thinks it was a sofa and not a couch], and the living room wall adjacent to the couch, entering the garage and striking the metal back of a clothes dryer before falling to the garage floor.
Officer A was treated and released from the hospital the day of the shooting.
The BOPC found that Officer A’s use of force was negligent, requiring Administrative Disapproval.
Unfortunately, some incidents prove fatal. Gunshot wounds to the upper leg can sever the femoral artery, resulting in rapid death. RIP Sgt. Davis, who was an experienced officer with 8 years of service, including on SWAT.
This video of Tex Grebner shooting himself contains explicit language. I give him credit for taking responsibility and showing how easily this can happen.
There is an image I see used on Internet websites that makes me cringe whenever I look at it.
That’s a good way to shoot yourself in the support hand. The number of beginners I see doing this at IDPA matches is legion. I warn them immediately to stop doing that. If your holster doesn’t allow you to draw from it with one hand, then you need to stop using it immediately and get a new holster.
If IDPA and USPSA Production Class do nothing else other than to train people to draw their gun without putting their support hand on the holster, that’s a great contribution to the shooting community. For those who say IDPA isn’t training, I would counter that it’s excellent training in safe gunhandling. There’s nothing like getting disqualified for a safety violation to make the point that someone’s gunhandling needs work.
So the point of John’s Master Lesson is twofold:
- Proper gunhandling has to be at the forefront of our minds anytime we handle a firearm. Firearms are mechanical devices; they do no more and no less than we make them do. Consequently, they are relentlessly unforgiving of carelessness and/or stupidity.
- Pointing your weapon at yourself can have serious consequences. Some holsters force us to point our weapons at ourselves. But placing your hand in front of the muzzle when the pistol is out of the holster is a prescription for an unhappy outcome. One of my personal peeves is the devices that shotguns shooters put on their shoes to rest the muzzle on. I have some really nasty pictures of feet with holes from shotguns in them. Those people are unlikely to ever walk right again. Similarly, taking a high performance anti-personnel bullet in the hand at point blank range is unlikely to enhance your ability to play the piano.