Probably the most common question I encounter from folks interested in getting a pistol for self defense is “What gun should I buy?” It’s not a bad question, certainly, but there’s really no single answer to that question. It’s complicated…but the “what gun should I buy?” question is child’s play compared to the next most common question: What do I need to know?
There is so much to learn that the most appropriate question is not “What do I need to know”, but rather “Where do I start?” The truth is that there are a lot of things that a beginner needs to know ranging from safe handling practices on the range and off the range up through important indicators of imminent criminal assault. Most have little or no knowledge or experience in these areas, and often the knowledge and experience some folks do have is just hopelessly wrong. The beginner is best served, in my opinion, by getting themselves into a quality training course that teaches a solid foundation and enough of the important things to give the student a better chance of success in self defense. Notice the highlight of the word enough. The goal here is not producing a world champion competitive shooter, a SOF assaulter, a published expert in self defense case law, or a criminologist. The goal is to produce someone who has enough knowledge and skill to solve a problem they are likely to be involved in. Enough knowledge about how criminals work to spot an intended attack and avoid it if possible, enough skill and aggression to defeat the attack if necessary, and enough knowledge about the legal principles of self defense to act within the boundaries of the law and adequately manage the aftermath of a use of force.
When I need to get someone from zero to enough quickly and efficiently, I often point them in the direction of John Murphy of FPF Training. Murphy has assembled a solid self defense based program that I believe will serve as a good foundation for those thoughtful enough to realize they need training. In my training adventures I’ve encountered the good and the goofy in the training industry. I can recognize a good program when I see one and Murphy’s is one of the good ones. Having been through these classes I would not hesitate to put my own family in them because the course content is sound and reasonable in all respects.
The students in classes I attended a couple of weeks ago ran the gamut. There was a pharmacist (pharmacies are popular targets for drug seeking bad guys) who had already had a couple of uncomfortable run-ins with bad characters, dentists and orthodontists with minimal (if any) experience with firearms, husband and wife teams, construction workers, computer programmers, engineers, plumbers…you name it. These were all very nice people and most of them had little experience with firearms and almost no experience dealing with bad guys…and Murphy had two days (one day for many of them) to build enough knowledge and skill to produce basic competence in defensive application of a firearm.
The two days of training were broken down into two different classes, each with a different focus. The Concealed Carry Foundation Skills class was aimed at the basics of safe handling, basic marksmanship, and drawing from concealment. Class began with a lecture and presentation introducing the course content, the principles of safe handling, and the “transitional moment”…the moment when your daily life is interrupted by a criminal assault. Murphy puts video to good use in his presentations to illustrate teaching points. It was interesting to watch the impact the video footage had on the other students in class…gasping, jumping in chairs, hands over mouths in the universal sign language for “Oh my god!”…the videos clearly had significant impact on the students and helped ingrain the important concepts. After the presentation/lecture, the class moved into the basics of marksmanship and manipulations using empty weapons and dummy rounds for dryfire.
I know some people look down on dryfire work on the range but it plays a crucial role in getting folks with minimal skill and experience up to speed in the basics of marksmanship and, most importantly, safe handling. Human beings are not born knowing how to safely handle a firearm around other people. If you watch an untrained person handle a firearm I guarantee you will see poor muzzle discipline and finger-on-the-trigger at inappropriate times. The Four Rules sound simple enough in theory, but when people start touching real weapons they might as well be particle physics done while riding a unicycle and juggling chainsaws. It takes some time and repetition for most folks to learn proper handling habits. I watched as Murphy changed the pace of class to match the pace of the students. He and his assistant instructors worked one-on-one with students to ensure everyone was performing manipulations with proper safety and good technique. Only after every student had been given a closely-watched thumbs up from the instructors did we move on to live fire.
Live fire was done with the same crawl-walk-run approach. Basic marksmanship led to multiple shot strings, and then working from the draw…including from different starting positions as demonstrated above. Note the use of photo-realistic targets that highlight human anatomy in much of the shooting. Students were presented with this constant visual reminder of the importance of accuracy in stopping a threat. After some work on the range we moved back into the classroom where John covered basics of criminal assault, again punctuated with the use of video. The day finished by shooting a qualification course of fire, which all of the students passed easily. Having seen the targets earlier in the day when we began with live fire, the qualification targets showed impressive improvement.
The next day’s Street Encounter Skills went into greater depth on criminal assaults, how they work, and how to avoid them…and, frankly, how to just avoid trouble in general. Murphy, like most quality instructors, is a big believer in avoiding problems whenever possible to do so. Here again prolific use of video footage including presentation of followup research on incidents shown in some of the videos drove home the wisdom of avoiding problems as a default policy. Fighting is risky and messy and it’s always preferable to avoid a problem in the first place if you can rather than trying to shoot your way out of the middle of a problem you didn’t see coming due to lack of attention or stupidity. Murphy does, I believe, an excellent job of showcasing how quickly stupid things can turn into lethal things and giving his students useful strategies to avoid being involved in what he refers to as “the monkey dance”.
The focus of Street Encounter Skills was entirely practical. There was no magic ninja level stuff presented, just useful information about how bad guys try to attack their prey (that would be you, folks) and useful strategies to keep them at distance while determining their intentions, and if necessary how to violently counter-attack someone who is threatening you with criminal violence and/or lethal force.
As mentioned in the beginning, the goal here is what will hopefully be enough. At the very least a good foundation that students can build on as they continue to learn and improve their skills…and if they are the victim of a criminal assault hopefully enough knowledge and skill to see them through a horrible situation. When you stop to really think carefully about it, enough is a pretty lofty goal…and this program at FPF Training does a good job of meeting that goal, in my view.
If you’re wondering where to start, wonder no more.