Yesterday, I was re-reading The Complete Book of Modern Handgunning published in 1961. It’s interesting to see how much has changed in the world of handgun shooting and how much has not.
The following gem is found in Chapter 11. How to Shoot
It brought to mind an unintentional laboratory experiment that happened while I was teaching a snub revolver class. In 2012, I taught a short block of instruction on snub nose revolvers at the Northeast Shooters Summit, just as I did in 2011. The same block of instruction was given both Saturday and Sunday to two different groups of shooters totaling about 40. Many of these shooters had almost no experience using any revolver, much less a snub. They fired approximately 40 rounds in two hours of training, followed by a 10 round qualification course at 5 and 10 yards. The way the training was structured was shooting on dot targets until the qualification course. I emphasized the concept of spot shooting that I discussed in my previous blog post.
The target used for the qual was the TQ-21TC(C) target photo target. The value of this particular target is that it has a visible aiming point at the base of the V formed by the open throat of the jacket collar.
In both years the success rate on the qualification, using that target, was 100 percent. This mirrored my results when teaching other snub revolver classes. On Sunday of 2012, there was a target mixup and my targets were used for a class before mine. The target available for my class was the DST-1A, which has no visible aiming point on it. It is an almost solid black silhouette with a head.
The difference in the students’ success rate from previous classes was stark. Approximately 50 percent of the students failed the qualification course when it was fired on the DST-1A. Their shots were all over the targets with many complete misses. The change from defined point of aim to ‘center of mass’ aiming altered the outcome of the test radically. This occurred despite them being told to try to visualize a spot to shoot at.
As I mentioned in my previous post about Spot Shooting, using blank targets is a poor way to teach people how to shoot. Sadly, the blank target concept has become the norm. Conversely, it is interesting to note that since the Bianchi Cup (NRA Action Pistol) switched to the AP-1 target, which has a defined aiming point, from the D-1, which doesn’t, records have been broken every year.
The ubiquitous original B-27 target at least has an X to aim at, even if it is anatomically misplaced. Something to think about in training, practice, and actual incidents is to pick an aiming point or “Mark your targets before you fire.” as Colour Sergeant Bourne put it.
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.
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.