In every encounter, there is an element of chance.
–John Hall, former head of the FBI Firearms Training Unit
In previous parts of this series (I-IV), the concept discussed was physical awareness and positioning in relation to an adversary or situation. A recent incident captured on video relates to a different but similar concept: emotional awareness and positioning.
In the incident, a veteran observed a bum aka ‘homeless person’ wearing a mixed service uniform while panhandling. He was justifiably incensed, as would be most veterans. “I was angry. I was frustrated. I was sad” he said. I don’t blame him. However, what resulted from his feelings was neither smart nor legally justifiable.
The veteran aggressively challenged the bum from a distance, then closed with him, pursued him across several lanes of traffic, and continued to pursue him on the other side of the boulevard. As the incident unfolds, the bum tries to disengage, is verbally apologetic, and changes direction several times attempting to escape. The entire time the veteran is loudly shouting, verbally forces the bum to remove part of his clothing, and then blocks the bum’s escape path. The incident went on for several minutes.
While I sympathize with the veteran’s frustration, the simple fact of the matter is that he let his emotions get away from him. A couple of relevant declarations made at this year’s Rangemaster Tactical Conference come to mind.
- John Hearne, in his presentation Performance Under Fire, made the statement “You’ve got to keep your emotions under control.”
- My colleague Nick Hughes mentioned to me in conversation a question he poses in his book, How To Be Your Own Bodyguard. “Are you doing this because you have to or because you want to?” He then related a personal anecdote where a person had to remind him of his own question.
When the veteran/bum video was posted on Facebook, I had two responses.
- Good way to get stabbed.
- Regardless of what I was doing, if someone acted toward me the way the veteran did toward the bum, I would have painted him orange in a New York second. And the police would have then told me to have a nice day. It was aggressive challenging behavior that anyone would be justified in feeling threatened by (although not sufficiently to employ lethal force, which is why I advocate always carrying pepper spray).
If we go looking for trouble, we had better be prepared to find it. Make no mistake: verbally challenging someone, shouting at them, chasing them, forcing them to remove their clothing, and then blocking their escape route is looking for trouble. Such a situation always has branching possibilities (if, then, else) that people don’t generally consider before jumping over the edge of the cliff.
- If the bum had pulled out a knife, then what would have been an appropriate, or even possible, response at that point? I make the assumption that all itinerants I encounter are armed with some kind of weapon.
- What if the bum had run out in front of a car and been struck and killed?
- What if a car had hit the vet while he was chasing the bum across the street?
- What if they had gotten into a physical conflict and ended up rolling around in traffic?
There are other possibilities also, but those are good examples of possible Negative Outcomes well within the realm of possibility. In any of those cases, the situation would have gone downhill for the vet like an avalanche.
So, let’s go back to Nick’s question: was the vet doing this because he had to or because he wanted to? That answer is quite clear, he wanted to. He felt the need to defend the honor of his service and the service of his fellow veterans.
Unfortunately, it’s very hard to provide a legal, or even moral, justification for using force to defend honor. Even if no legal repercussions arise, moral ones can. If the bum had run into traffic and been struck and killed, how do you think the veteran would have felt for the rest of his life, even if no charges were filed against him?
John Farnam’s saying “Avoid stupid people, stupid places, and stupid things” is definitely apropos in this situation. All three of those elements were broken. Jeff Cooper alluded many years ago to the fact that the more ‘rules’ we break simultaneously, the more possibility we will incur a problem. When we lose control of our emotions, that’s when we start unconsciously breaking rules, whether they are legal rules or just rules of good judgment and conduct.
With every decision we make, we are setting ourselves up either for success or failure. Keeping a check on our emotions helps set ourselves up for success. Letting our emotions get out of control is good way to set ourselves up for failure.
Firearms instructors are periodically asked the question “Why should I take training?” The answer often comes in the form of a list of skills that are taught or the reasoning behind using a certain technique. However, these do not address the underlying fundamental reasons for taking firearms training at all.
- You don’t know what you don’t know.
- Much of what you know is wrong.
- It’s good to have some of the answers to the test before taking it.
These issues relate to both technical competency with using a firearm (gun safety and marksmanship) and the ability to use the firearm correctly in a personal protection situation (legal and tactical).
You don’t know what you don’t know.
Shooters who only take their gun to an indoor range once a year “to sight it in” generally have a highly ‘cocooned’ knowledge of firearms. They know how to operate a firearm in a very restricted set of conditions. As soon as they leave that set of conditions, the stage is set for bad things to happen. Although ‘bad things’ can include unintentional and negligent gunshot wounds, it doesn’t have to be anything that newsworthy. A fellow NRA Instructor was once asked by a long time shooter why the shooter should take the NRA Basic Pistol course. The Instructor responded “Do you wear safety glasses when you’re cleaning your firearms? You do know, of course, that most cleaning fluids can irritate or even damage your eyes, don’t you?” The longtime shooter decided to take the class, after all.
Much of what you know is wrong.
Training can mitigate the Dunning–Kruger effect, which is rampant among the shooting community.
The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.
Almost every firearms instructor has had numerous students who think they are “good” with a firearm but are not. Among these misinformed shooters are most police officers and, even many SWAT units. Typical longtime gunowners are too. When subjected to a standardized skills evaluation, most of these “good” shooters receive a rude awakening.
We’re the best shooters in our department, by far. That’s why we’re the firearms instructors. Then we come here and find out that we suck.
— A police officer attending the elite Rogers Shooting School
Many of these skills evaluations are not even particularly difficult. In one class I taught, the test was to shoot, starting from a ready position, five shots into a 12 inch circle at seven yards in 15 seconds four times in a row. Only one student out of ten was able to do it. And none of those shooters were beginners; most of them were longtime shooters. This test is the baseline level of the NRA Defensive Pistol I Marksmanship Qualification Program.
More advanced, yet still not terribly difficult, competency standards are beyond the ability of 99 percent of self trained shooters, in my experience., For example, the ability to shoot five shots into a five inch circle in five seconds at five yards five times in a row, a drill I call 5^5.
When a friendly competition was held on a local gun forum for the 5^5 drill, no one was able to do it. Several dozen people thought this test would be easy but even after multiple, in some cases, attempts they found out otherwise.
Every round that doesn’t hit is heading straight for a busload of nuns and orphans being followed by a limousine full of personal injury lawyers on a conference call with the District Attorney. At least, that’s the assumption I make and teach. It’s the reason I make my students account for every round they fire in my classes. And I point out the misses as seen in the cover photo of my blog.
It’s good to have some of the answers to the test before taking it.
Any decent class on the legalities of using deadly force will counsel students about things to do and not to do. An example of things not to do would include chasing a fleeing intruder down an alley and shooting at him while he is running away. In that particular incident, the shooter was lucky to only receive 60 days in jail.
The most significant value of training is that it places someone else, the instructor, in control of the flow of events, either physically or mentally. A criminal encounter will not be initiated in the time sequence desired by the would-be victim, which would be NONE. Nor will the skills required to solve the incident be dictated by the defender. However, by definition, self trained individuals control the flow of their actions when they practice, assuming they practice. This is exactly the opposite of criminal encounters. That’s not how it happens in real life. Good instruction will provoke thinking and questions beyond the student’s own expectations and experience. This helps prepare students to make decisions that can and will affect them for the rest of their lives, either positively or negatively.
The conscious mind does not function particularly well under stress. It tends to revert to subconscious background information and patterns, some of which are primeval. Many of these patterns are counterproductive in personal protection situations and require re-programming. Training helps replace them with background knowledge and patterns that are appropriate. Having appropriate knowledge helps avoid negative outcomes.
You don’t fire guns at people’s houses,” [Judge] Ludy said. “You kept saying you really didn’t know what was going on. If that’s the truth, why in the world would you fire a gun? … It really doesn’t matter if it was (at) Mr. Bailey or the mayor of Dunkirk. You just can’t do that.
Shockingly, some people thought this case should not have come to trial. I know I wouldn’t have been too happy had I been the homeowner down the alley who had bullets launched in my direction. “Judge Max Ludy said he found McLaughlin’s firing of a gunshot in the direction of a neighbor’s home especially reprehensible.”
Instructors, as a group, are constantly looking for examples of situations and incidents that went both right and wrong. And other students in the class ask questions about situations that concern them. Inevitably these discussions become class material, either formally or as side conversations. Because training is our vocation, we tend to analyze those incidents in greater detail than does the average gunowner. Our analysis may not necessarily be what the student wants to hear, or even correct, but relating the analysis provides food for thought that merely reading about an incident in the news will not.
The value of training is to make you think and perform outside of the cocoon that most gunowners are in, the same way real life frequently does. It’s not so much that we instructors have all the answers, because we don’t. However, most of us have a good idea of the questions to ask and that’s a strong start.
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.
“Son, always park the car so the rear end is facing the sun. Then you won’t have to sit on a hotseat when you get back in.”
That was one of my father’s dictums to me, while spending the summers in Phoenix with him. It was my earliest instruction about the value of positioning. The dictionary gives several relevant definitions for the noun form of the word position:
• a place occupied or to be occupied; site: a fortified position.
• the proper, appropriate, or usual place.
• situation or condition, especially with relation to favorable or unfavorable circumstances.
Now that emotions and internet commentary have quieted down about the recent Las Vegas murders of two police officers and a private citizen with a concealed weapon, it’s useful to discuss the relationship between ‘situational awareness’ and positioning. The two concepts are interrelated and complementary but not identical. Unfortunately, the concept of ‘situational awareness’ receives much more attention. This is probably due to the popularization of ‘The color codes’ by Jeff Cooper.
Unfortunately, situational awareness will not make up for poor positioning. If a person, group, or unit occupies an indefensible position, no amount of situational awareness will overcome that weakness, other than to become aware that the enemy is about to or has overwhelmed them. Military history is replete with examples of untenable positions, Ðiên Biên Phú being one of the most famous.
The relationship between positioning and situational awareness for the individual or small group involves time and distance. Proper positioning allows us to use situational awareness to react to a threat in time. Improper positioning makes situational awareness useless because there is no time to formulate and execute a defense or counter to the attack. Is it useful to be aware that my partner has just been shot in the head and a gun is pointed at my throat across the width of a table? Not really.
Our best option for avoiding or prevailing in any threat situation is to avoid becoming decisively engaged. Joint Publication 1-02, The DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, defines decisive engagement as follows:
In land and naval warfare, an engagement in which a unit is considered fully committed and cannot maneuver or extricate itself. In the absence of outside assistance, the action must be fought to a conclusion and either won or lost with the forces at hand.
Note that maneuver is an integral part of the definition. Maneuver takes time; if we don’t position ourselves adequately, there won’t be time. The problem the Metro police officers faced was that when the attack occurred, their position was such that they were decisively engaged.
In the next installment of this series, we’ll discuss some principles and examine their implications in the Las Vegas incident.
I’ve been interested in gunfight analysis since I was a teenager. My Dad had a Guns and Blammo magazine with an article about the shootout between the Hamer posse and Bonnie and Clyde. Once I read it, I was hooked.
Many people like to ‘wargame’ situations that could happen to them and I am no different. However, I rarely dream up scenarios for playing ‘what if’ mental games unless I’m asleep and actually dreaming. There are several forums where people think them up but I prefer to look at real incidents. In many cases, truth is stranger than fiction.
There are several websites that aggregate various news reports, such as GunsSaveLives. I read The Armed Citizen column in the NRA Journals every month. Some people have commented that the NRA ‘cherry picks’ the reports they include in The Armed Citizen but, through independent research, I have found it largely representative of the overall activities of Armed Citizens.
The problem with news reports is that they don’t usually go into much depth about the specifics of the incidents. Frequently, the information has gaping holes in it or is wrong. A much better source is the online records of police deadly force incidents. A number of larger departments put all their Officer Involved Shooting (OIS) on their website. The level of detail varies but almost all of them give more than a news article. When looking for information that’s pertinent to me, I focus on the off-duty OIS because off-duty officer incidents have many situational and equipment parallels to an armed citizen.
The oldest source of information is the annual FBI Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted report. The Bureau has been producing the report for many years. Back issues since 1996 of LEOKA are available online. As I pointed out in an article for Personal Defense Network, when using LEOKA, we have to be careful how we interpret the data. The part I find most useful is the Summaries of Officers Feloniously Killed. Instead of data tables, the Summaries provide a narrative about the circumstances of each officer’s death. It’s difficult reading, emotionally, but as I’ve told every Law Enforcement class I’ve taught, “If you haven’t read the Summaries, you haven’t read the report.”
One of my favorite sources is the Los Angeles Police Department Categorical Use Of Force reports. The LAPD Board Of Police Commissioners’ webpage has a detailed summary of every use of deadly force by LAPD officers since 2005. They are meticulously explained and analyzed with the Board’s findings at the end. There are many off duty incidents included in the database. Often, we hear the saying that “data is not the plural of anecdote.” However, when we have access to all the anecdotes, I think that becomes a source for evidence. The BOPC evaluates LAPD officers on three different areas; tactics, drawing/exhibiting, and use of force.
The Chicago Police Department Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) publishes an online summary of all OIS by Chicago Police Officers. The IPRA reports are also very detailed. It issues a finding only regarding the use of deadly force by the officer(s).
Another source of information is the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Office of Internal Oversight. The online reports provided by LVMPD are very detailed. They contain District Attorney Decisions, Force Investigation Team Reports, and Office of Internal Oversight Reviews.
A colleague of mine, John Hearne, coined the term “Ninjas coming from the ceiling.” When I read or hear of what some people are concerned about, that term usually comes to mind. I think it’s much more interesting and useful to think about what really does happen and then wargame that.