Standards (Part I – Introduction)
While I’ve been on hiatus, I’ve been thinking a great deal about Standards. The Free Dictionary lists the first noun definition of Standard as: An acknowledged measure of comparison for quantitative or qualitative value; a criterion.
In the area of personal protection, standards can apply to many different facets of our skills and body of knowledge. Standards imply measurement, something that many people are deathly afraid of. While ‘public speaking’ is often mentioned as being the most prominent fear, that is merely a subset of a larger body, individual performance measurement.
The most obvious and contentious type of standard regarding Private Citizens who own firearms is the concept of marksmanship standards. The discussion comes up regularly among the training and gun communities without any general consensus about what is appropriate. Generally, the topic revolves around Citizens who have some form of of License to carry a weapon. We should keep in mind that it can also apply to those who keep firearms for home defense.
Opinions vary widely about what standards are appropriate for those who carry weapons. On one end of the spectrum, some people feel there should be no standards at all. Rob Pincus of I.C.E. Training holds this view as do advocates of Constitutional Carry. On the other end of the spectrum, there are very difficult standards such as the FAST Drill developed by the late Todd Green, the Humbler popularized by Larry Vickers, or the Handgun Testing Program developed by Bill Rogers of the elite Rogers Shooting School.
In the middle are the Qualification tests used by many States as one of the prerequisites for obtaining a Weapons Carry License or whatever name the State puts on the card. For those who wish to carry a weapon in those States, the discussion of what standard is appropriate starts with what their State’s requirement is and how to meet it. No two States having a Qualification requirement are alike
The difficulty of these State Qualifications varies quite widely. Anywhere from 10 rounds to 50 rounds have been mandated. The distances shot at fluctuate from six feet to 15 yards. Some are timed but most are not. The targets may be large or much smaller. Interestingly, very few States have a test requirement that includes drawing from a holster. In fact, some States specifically prohibit the Qualification test from including drawing from a holster. While this might seem paradoxical, it is not because of liability and fairness issues.
What this series will explore is the various types of standards that exist, what skills are required to meet them, and how to choose what is appropriate for you, if anything.
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.
Driven by hunger, a fox tried to reach some grapes hanging high on the vine but was unable to, although he leaped with all his strength. As he went away, the fox remarked ‘Oh, you aren’t even ripe yet! I don’t need any sour grapes.’ People who speak disparagingly of things that they cannot attain would do well to apply this story to themselves.
–Aesop’s Fables, The Fox and the Grapes,
Periodically, I see comments in the tactical/concealed carry community downplaying the value of competition for someone interested in personal protection. The commentary usually revolves around “the stress isn’t the same as a two way range” or “competition isn’t realistic; the targets don’t move, you don’t move” or some other blah, blah, blah. Oftentimes, the person making the statement is from the ‘tactical training’ side of the house.
In my role as the Georgia/Alabama Area coordinator for IDPA, I was recently reviewing some tweaked stages for the upcoming 2014 GADPA Georgia State Match Championship. As I was doing so, I was struck by the complexity and marksmanship challenges presented in the match. Some of the aspects of the Championship include:
- Moving targets
- Shooting on the move
- Shooting Strong Hand Only with holding something with the Support Hand
- Shooting from inside and around vehicles
- Head shots at distance
- Steel targets with a concealed hit zone that have to be knocked down to count
- Engaging targets while moving through a structure
Those tasks have to be accomplished with a limited supply of ammunition, requiring a minimum hit rate of about 60%, just to finish. To be competitive at all, the hit rate on a torso sized target (-0/-1) better be 100% or you’re out of luck. Rapid reloading is an integral part of each stage, requiring a high degree of weapons manipulation skills.
In short, it’s a very demanding test of one’s ability to effectively manipulate a handgun. Hitting the target with a high degree of regularity, while being confronted by awkward shooting positions and scenarios is an integral part of it.
I think of Preparation for Personal Protection as having three components; Training, Practice, and Testing. Training is something you get from someone else. The other person or group structures your experience, almost always outside your comfort zone. Practice is something you do on your own, hopefully with some kind of structure, based on training or re-creation of actual incidents. Then there’s the nasty little question: “Where is my skill level at?” Testing is the only way that question can be answered. In his book POLICE PISTOLCRAFT, Mike Conti mentions Police Officers who are so intimidated by firearms qualification that they become physically ill, simply from the thought of having to do it. That’s a good example of how daunting the testing process can be. Those of us active in the competition world often look at police qualification courses in a bemused way because they are so simple compared to the tests we are used to.
Bill Rogers once said to me “You and I are from the last generation that is comfortable being tested.” I’m not sure if that’s true, but it is quite obvious to me that there is a great deal of cognitive dissonance and ego defense that goes on when discussions about competition v. ‘training’ start. The next time you hear someone disparaging competition, keep The Fox and The Grapes fable in mind. And for those who make negative statements about competition, I invite you to come out and test yourself and see what it’s like. Firearms competition has evolved a great deal since the original Columbia Conference. One of the most ridiculous statements I have ever heard is “I never saw a timer in a gunfight.” It was there every time; it’s called your lifeclock and it’s running all the time, at least until someone stops it.
I was given the opportunity to shoot a SCCY CPX-2 pistol today. The pistol has been of some interest to me because of its small size, double action only mechanism, and relatively low price point. Many people are price constrained about what they can buy, so inexpensive but serviceable pistols are always of interest to me.
In the past I owned a Kel Tec P11, to which the CPX-2 bears a strong resemblance. I thought the P11 had promise as a pocket pistol for me. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The trigger was so bad that I could never get a split under .50. And it had the annoying tendency to not ignite +p ammo, which made no sense to me but was a well known problem at that time. Finally, I gave up and sold it to someone who really wanted it.
So the SCCY had to have a lot better trigger than the P11 to fill the bill for me. The only real way to test that is to shoot it. Through an unexpected coincidence, a meeting was arranged with the local representative, who met us at Sandy Springs Gun Club and Range with several pistols. He had a number of guns in a large laptop bag, just like I am prone to use as a range bag. He explained some of the features of the CPX-2.
- Very important to me was that it can be dryfired, which some KelTec pistols cannot.
- It also has a second strike capability, which I like. Although the standard doctrine upon receiving a click is to tap-rack, gunowners who are not well regulated don’t know what that phrase means, much less how or when to execute it. Having a second strike capability will allow an untrained user the opportunity to simply press the trigger again and maybe get a bang.
- It’s very easy to disassemble, which cannot be said for the Kahr, another popular DAO compact gun.
- The CPX-2 has a polymer front sight and a steel rear sight, unlike the P11. The rear sight has two huge white dots on it, which are much larger than the dot on the front sight. I dislike this ‘feature.’ If I bought one, a black Sharpie would be the first thing I would put to it.
As an initial benchmark, I shot a variant of the LAPD Retired Officer Qualification Course. The course consists of 10 rounds shot at seven yards on a silhouette target. My variation is to use two magazines of five rounds each, one of which has a randomly inserted dummy round in it. Shoot five, reload five, and clear the dummy wherever it happens to show up is how I do the drill. I was easily able to shoot the course at speed with only two hits outside the 10 ring.
Although most personal protection incidents occur within seven yards or less, the need to shoot at longer distances is not unknown. My colleague Tom Givens, has documented several armed citizen shootings at distances from 15 to 22 yards, which represent about 5% of his students’ encounters.
To test the SCCY at distances like this, we set a target at 15 yards and fired a five shot group on the torso. I was able to shoot a five inch group, despite the distracting dots on the rear sight and the indoor lighting. Then I moved the target out to 20 yards and fired a five shot group at the head. Although it was only about four inches, it was centered slightly to the right of the head. I fired another group while really concentrating on the rear notch. This group was more satisfactory, with all the rounds hitting the head in a five inch circle. This exercise confirmed for me why I dislike three dot sights so much.
I finished by shooting five rounds at seven yards Strong Hand Only, followed by five rounds Weak Hand Only. The group was slightly larger but still acceptable.
The pistol’s handling qualities were good and we experienced no malfunctions. The only issue we encountered was with the slide failing to lock back when a friend shot the pistol also. This occurred because my friend doesn’t have the proper grip habit of keeping his thumb away from the side of the pistol.
The CPX-2 has a full size ‘Slide Hold Lever’ and if the thumb is not kept away from it, the pistol is not going to lock open on the last shot. It would also be easy to bump it up if the thumb were positioned under the lever. The rep said a flat lever was available from the factory.
There is also a laser available from ArmaLaser. The laser comes on when the pistol is gripped and requires no manual pressing of activation buttons.
Overall, after 100 rounds, my impression was quite favorable for an Every Day Carry piece. I may get one and try it out in IDPA to see what I can do with it.
No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot. —Theodore Roosevelt, (26th President of the United States) The Wilderness Hunter, 1893
Last night I taught my ‘Introduction to the J Frame Revolver’ class. It’s probably the last time I’m going to teach it; the market just isn’t there anymore and it’s hard to get much enrollment.
However, I’ve been teaching the snub heavily since before 9/11 and think I’ve evolved a very workable program. There are still many people who have snubs and some of them may be interested in knowing what they’re doing with it. To that end, I’m going to post my entire Program Of Instruction for anyone who wants to use it. The live fire portion is exactly 50 rounds. What I found was that casual shooters of the snub tend to experience a noticeable dropoff in performance after 50 rounds, so I cut it down to that.
Course Overview – A skill builder short course particular to 5 shot revolvers.
The intent is to show basic techniques and give a methodology for subsequent practice. “I cannot make you an expert in three hours but I can show you what to do and how to practice to increase your skill.”
• Explanation of strength and weaknesses of the snub
• Demonstration of proper grip for revolvers. Some modification may be necessary based on an individual’s hands.
• Show different kinds of grips that can be installed on a snub to better fit a person’s hands.
• Explanation of sighting techniques and how range affects them
• Disciplined learning exercises, including ball and dummy and dryfire
• Ball and dummy is achieved by opening the cylinder after a few shots, spinning it, and then closing it without looking where the fired case(s) end up. Do this once or twice per cylinder.
• Concludes with a Qualification Course because everyone should have a benchmark of where they are. Shooters should also be able to demonstrate in court that they have a measureable degree of competency.
Snub Revolver Intro Class Practical Exercise (single relay)
Six Circle w/dot target (5 yards)
1) Demonstrate how to load with loose ammo and explain why that’s important.
2) Explanation of Spot shooting and how to pick a spot on your target
3) On top left row, fire a 5 shot group.
b. Livefire (5/5) (Spin cylinder 2X)
4) On center left row, from high ready, fire 1 shot 5 times
b. Livefire (5/10) (Spin cylinder 2X)
5) Explanation of proper drawstroke
6) On bottom left row, draw and fire 1 shot 5 times
b. Livefire (5/15) (Spin cylinder 2X)
7) On top right row, from high ready, fire 2 shots 2 times
b. Livefire (4/19) (Load with four plus fired case, spin cylinder)
8) On middle right row, draw and fire 2 shots 2 times
b. Livefire (4/23) (Load with four plus fired case, spin cylinder)
9) On bottom right row, from high ready, fire 5 shots 1 time
b. Livefire (5/28)
Tape hits outside of circle (this wasn’t necessary because the class was hitting pretty well)
10) On top right row, fire a 5 shot group, strong hand only.
b. Livefire (5/33) (Spin cylinder 2X)
11) On middle right row, from high ready, fire 1 shot 5 times, strong hand only.
b. Livefire (5/38) (Spin cylinder 2X)
12) On bottom right row, fire a 2 shot group, weak hand only.
b. Livefire (2/40)
Change targets [B-27]
13) Shoot the LAPD Retired Officer Qualification Course
a. “The starting position for this qualifying course of fire will begin at the 7 Yard Line. When the target faces, the shooter will draw and fire 10 rounds at a single silhouette target. A score of 70 percent is required to pass the qualification. All rounds impacting anywhere on the body and head will receive full value and rounds impacting upon the arms are half value.” (10/50)
b. I chose the LAPD Retired Officer Course because the LAPD is a respected law enforcement organization, known for its emphasis on firearms proficiency. Since the LAPD considers this Course sufficient for its Retired Officers to demonstrate their ability to defend themselves, I think it’s a good choice for Armed Citizens, as well.
14) Record Student Performance on Qual Course.
15) Show various types of speedloaders and speed strip, where to get them, and how to use them. Explain strengths and weaknesses of each type.
c. Jet Loader
d. SL Variant
f. Speed-Strips and Tuff-Strips
16) Explain idiosyncrasies of pocket holsters and how to use them correctly.
Adjourn to classroom to award certificates.
Pass out Armed Citizen Legal Defense Network booklet What Every Gun Owner Needs to Know About Self-Defense Law
Conclude with the message that we are more likely to be injured or killed in a car wreck than by a criminal. Mention that a Defensive Driving Course costs only $35 in Georgia and auto insurance companies are required to lower your insurance premium by 10% for taking it.
Some of the coursework is shown on the Personal Defense Network DVD Fundamental of Snub Nosed Revolvers for Defense
Marksmanship, gunhandling, mindset. –The Combat Triad originated by Jeff Cooper.
I had two interesting experiences relating to gunhandling last week. Gunhandling is an often overlooked component of the Combat Triad.
The first was the result of shooting the Swiss concealed weapons qualification test. A friend of mine lives there and recently obtained his license. The Swiss don’t have a training requirement, per se; rather they have a testing process consisting of a written test on legal aspects and a practical test (what we would call a qualification course). They are both administered by the Swiss Polizei. The written test must be passed before the practical test can be taken.
He sent me the qualification course that is required to get the license. The material he sent me is in French, so I may have mistranslated it, but I believe all the strings start with empty chamber. Since whether to carry with a round in the chamber or not is frequently a topic of discussion among new weapons carriers, I decided to shoot it that way even if my translation was incorrect.
The course is shot at 7 meters, 5 meters, and 3 meters. At each distance, three strings of two shots each are fired. The time limits are 4.0 seconds, 3.5 seconds, and 3.0 seconds for each string, respectively. Each string starts with the pistol holstered and concealed. The target is a silhouette with a bottle shape on it, which appears to be roughly the size of an FBI ‘Q’ or the IDPA -0/-1 zone. The Swiss score this with a points system. Shots in the bottle count as one point, shots on the silhouette outside the bottle receive zero points, and shots that miss the silhouette result in a one point penalty. Shots over the allotted time also received one penalty point. Fourteen points are required to pass the test.
To get an initial feel for the difference between chamber empty and loaded chamber start, I did five one shot unconcealed draws using each technique. Overall, chamber empty was slower to the tune of .48 seconds average. I was shooting my Beretta 92G Centurion from a Safariland 567 open top holster.
Having established a baseline difference, I proceeded to shoot the Swiss qual course twice, once with the chamber empty and once with a loaded chamber. I used the same gear but also my favorite concealment vest, a construction worker’s fluorescent vest. What I found was that chamber empty was not only slower (0.48-0.67 seconds) but somewhat less accurate than having a round in the chamber. I had to work really hard to get the front sight on target after loading the chamber. Unlike a smooth loaded chamber drawstroke, there’s a lot of rotational movement of the pistol going during the period of driving the gun to the target. I didn’t have any trouble making the times, but it’s not exactly a cakewalk, either. Not long into the course, the safety ears were beginning to hurt my fingers, which may have had some effect on the results, too.
Distance 1 2 3 Average
7m 2.84 2.67 2.77 2.76
5m 2.50 2.60 2.47 2.52
3m 2.17 2.46 2.07 2.23
Years ago, I took a pistol course from Kelly McCann. He said that the Israelis just accept that they are going to throw away the first shot when using the chamber empty technique. After doing this exercise, I can see why. With all the gun movement, and if using the strict Israeli technique, 90 degrees of rotating of the gun, it’s hard to get even the muzzle indexed on target, much less get the front sight on it. Notice also the inclined to the low left classic group, indicating the trigger jerking that was going on. I expect this is because of the amount of complex (gross simultaneous with fine) motor skills that are involved.
Note that I drew the IDPA -0 zone on the target after the shooting for analytical purposes.
The second observation occurred at an indoor IDPA match. There was a blind stage in which the shooter’s gun had a dummy round randomly inserted in the magazine, without being told it was there. While this isn’t strictly legal for IDPA, it did provide an interesting laboratory when watching the shooters’ reactions. I watched about 20 iterations of the stages, so it gave me a decent view across the range of shooter abilities, Novice through Master.
There was a wide range of reactions. Unfortunately, many people were positively flummoxed upon encountering the click. They would just look at their gun and not do anything. The Safety Officer had to tell several to 1) clear the malfunction and 2) how to do it. What I found disturbing was how many people immediately ejected that magazine and reloaded with a fresh one. The follow-on action to the reload was about evenly divided. Half would then work the slide to eject the dummy and resume shooting. The other half would attempt to fire the pistol again without clearing the dummy, which resulted in nothing happening. Then they would work the slide and resume shooting.
After the initial malfunction, which was set up to occur within the first few rounds, many shooters experienced a series of subsequent malfunctions. I wondered about this, so I asked the Safety Officer who was placing the dummy if he was doing anything else to their guns to mess them up. His answer was: “The first one is on me, the rest are all them.”
So, having a malfunction early in the string then produced a cascade of malfunctions for some shooters. Perhaps, this was due to grip issues or incorrect shooting posture, I’m not really sure. Observing this phenomenon gave me some serious food for thought. It’s well known that I don’t think spare ammunition is as necessary for Armed Citizens as is often made out to be the case. But if someone’s first reaction to a malfunction is to jettison their only magazine, that could be a big problem.
These two sets of observations reinforce to me that those who carry or keep pistols for personal protection need to do more practice than simply go to an indoor range and shoot a box of ammo periodically. Pistols are complex mechanical devices that require proper manipulation skills as well as acceptable marksmanship ability. I will talk about practice possibilities in the future.