Anatomy of an accident

Firearms are relatively simple machines to understand. You load them, you point them at something you want to put a hole in, and then you pull the trigger. Easy, right?

So why in the name of Zeus is it so bloody hard to get people to avoid pointing guns at things they don’t want to blow a hole in?

“Excuse me, sir, but would you like to put a bullet through your hand? No? THEN DON’T POINT THE GUN AT YOUR HAND!”

I see this kind of stuff far too often when I’m at the range. On more than one occasion I have actually laid hands on another person to redirect the muzzle of their weapon away from either an innocent person who did not deserve to get shot, or in a couple of cases their own anatomy.

On a trip to the NRA range when I was shooting a drill, out of the corner of my eye I saw Todd Green dive into the next lane. I immediately ceased fire, brought my gun to a ready position and moved. I looked over to see Todd shoving an 8mm Mauser rifle away from my direction. The woman handling the rifle had it pointed directly at me.

Todd got a few inches away from the woman’s face and very sternly said “Do not point guns at my friends.”

Was he being rude? Hell no. He was doing exactly what everybody should do when someone POINTS A LETHAL WEAPON AT ANOTHER HUMAN BEING. Endangering the life of another person REQUIRES an immediate and stern rebuke.


In this video we have a clear example of where an immediate and unmistakable correction could have prevented gunshot wound. The victim here appears to be the person who is less familiar with firearms of the pair in the video. I’m all for taking people to the range, but when we do it is incumbent upon us to emphasize safe handling and correct any mistakes instantly and unmistakably.

When the shooter here put his hand in front of the muzzle the proper response would have been to IMMEDIATELY direct the gun away from his anatomy and very simply say “Don’t point guns at anything you don’t want to kill!”

If someone is unable to take that sort of correction, they don’t need to be handling a gun. 

Of course, the shooter here did not mean to do any harm to himself or anyone else. He was simply being careless with a very dangerous object.

But tell me…did his lack of malice matter? Did he get any less shot because he didn’t mean to do it? 

Bullets are stupid. They do the same amount of damage whether you intended to launch one or not. So it is not a trivial matter when someone puts the muzzle on human anatomy…be it yours or theirs.

Rule 1 is rule 1 for a reason. You can screw up every other rule of handling a firearm, but if you observe rule 1 then there is some embarrassment and perhaps some drywall to repair but that’s it. If you screw up Rule 1 then somebody bleeds. Someone is permanently injured. Someone dies.


Lessons from real life: The Potato Chip Assault

A friend recently posted a story on social media:

“Breland, who appeared to be in “a highly agitated state,” entered the store and made a purchase before berating the store clerk, using racial slurs, Ruple said. The clerk, who is of Middle Eastern descent, ordered Breland, who is white, to leave, and threatened to call police, authorities said.

He left but re-entered the store several times, becoming more aggressive each time, Ruple said. The clerk then called police.

The armed customer, who was inside the store trying to make a purchase, tried to calm the situation by telling Breland to leave, according to the police account. Breland left again but returned and threw what appeared to be potato chips at the clerk.

The customer followed Breland outside to get his license plate number for police, but Breland got out of the vehicle and attacked him, Ruple said. The man drew his weapon, ordered Breland back and tried to retreat into the store. Breland followed and continued the attack, grabbing for the gun, Ruple said.

The man warned he would shoot if Breland did not stop, and he retreated into a corner of the store while still under attack. He then fired one round, striking Breland, and fired twice more when Breland kept coming at him, Ruple said.

Police Chief Rick Richard said the customer was lawfully carrying the firearm on his side in plain view. “Louisiana is an open-carry state. The guy was straight-up legal,” the chief said.” 

The wise man learns from the experience of others, and I believe there are some things we can learn from this story.

The power of anger: 

Many people have never dealt with a truly angry person before, and have never themselves had experience with genuine anger. When I say “genuine anger” I mean something like this:

Note how flushed the individual’s face is. Note his body language…the almost primate like displays. Note that he’s screaming himself hoarse.

Do you think this guy was amenable to a reasonable discussion? That it was possible to talk sense to him? Even when other people he apparently recognized showed up to the scene telling him to chill out, he continued to be aggressive. It took someone with more stripes on his uniform showing up and exerting some authority to begin to get a handle on the guy.

If you are watching somebody commit a serious breach of social order, odds are pretty good that they are doing so either because they believe they will face no serious consequences for their actions or because they are so enraged that they don’t give a damn about consequences anymore.

In that kind of state the rational part of the human brain is essentially irrelevant. When someone is at this level of anger, their brain function has essentially shrunk down to the amygdala. This is often colloquially referred to as our “reptile brain” or “monkey brain” which plays a critical role in our fight-or-flight response to a threat. We’re used to discussing it in terms of the fear or stress of a lethal threat in both mental and physical terms, but it can be every bit as powerful when inflamed by anger.

You literally cannot talk sense to someone who has crossed that threshold. It seems, though, that the would-be Good Samaritan in the news story attempted just that after the deceased chucked a bag of chips at the clerk behind the counter. This did not have the desired effect of calming the man down. It just shifted his focus from the convenience store clerk to the would-be Good Samaritan instead.

When you witness someone in such an agitated state that they are throwing things, odds are pretty good that you will not succeed in calming them down by appealing to reason…because there is no Dana, there is only Zuul. What you are likely to do is refocus their rage on you. This is, to put it mildly, inconvenient.

You probably aren’t intimidating: 

Let’s return to what I said earlier about displays of aggressive behavior when there is no expectation of serious consequences. Often displays of anger are happening at least partially because of estimations of vulnerability. I’m willing to bet that the guy throwing the fit didn’t see the convenience store clerk as a potentially fearsome opponent. If the clerk had been 6’6″ and built like a professional NFL lineman, I doubt the deceased would have spun up on him.

When the would-be Good Samaritan intervened, I’m guessing he wasn’t very intimidating either. And he had a gun.

So let’s deal with some unpleasant truth: Guns don’t scare everybody. The fact that you have one is not going to impress a certain percentage of the bad-guy population. When I see open carry discussed on the web and even in real life, the default assumption of the pro-open carry camp is that bad men will see the gun and be scared or intimidated by the mere presence of it.This is a foolhardy mindset to slip into.

The ability to intimidate a potential assailant is exceptionally useful and can often prevent the need to use violence altogether…but everyone isn’t capable of being intimidating. You do not magically become more intimidating to bad men when you put a gun on your hip.

In talking with a number of people who regularly openly carry, I get the feeling that a lot of them are hoping that showing the gun makes them sufficiently intimidating that they don’t have to fight…and this comes through loud and clear in the way they carry themselves.

Having the gun does not make up for not knowing how to fight, and if you pin your hopes on display of the gun intimidating the other guy into not wanting to test you on that it’s setting yourself up for disaster. Nobody who does this admits to themselves that they are doing it, of course…but lying to yourself doesn’t change the reality. You can’t Stuart Smalley yourself into being the sort of person who scares off bad guys.

Intimidation is a complex strategy that relies on a number of factors, some of them unique to the circumstances of the confrontation, to be effective. Having a gun doesn’t automatically check all those boxes for you.

Do not behave as if the other guy is going to be too intimidated to hurt you just because you have a gun. The would-be Good Samaritan’s decision to follow the agitated assailant out of the store to record his license plate was likely due to being overly confident in the intimidation power of the pistol on his hip. Had he realized that the agitated assailant wasn’t terribly scared of his gun, he might have played it smarter and stayed inside the store and maybe wouldn’t have had to shoot this guy.

Keep your options open:

The open display of the firearm in this situation removed options from the table. As soon as the agitated assailant started getting physical it became a lethal force situation because everybody knows there’s a gun involved…but that’s not the only way it can go wrong.

Say this agitated assailant had left the scene and called 911 reporting that he had been threatened with a gun…including giving an accurate description of the firearm in question to the police. I know of two occasions where something very similar has happened, one resulting in a normal nice guy looking down the barrel of multiple police-issue firearms.

I would much rather have the presence of my firearm become public knowledge at the moment of my choosing rather than leaving it out there for the other guy to factor into his actions. That gives me more options in a worsening situation.

I also make a habit of carrying OC spray with me because that’s another option. Would this fight have gone lethal if the would-be Good Samaritan had given the agitated assailant a snooter full of Sabre Red? It’s impossible to say for sure, but there have been many fights ended or prevented altogether by the judicious application of some liquid pain.

If the gun is the only plan you’ve got for hostile behavior from another human being, you are painting yourself into a pretty unpleasant corner. If this individual had more options he might have avoided the life altering  decision of to killing another human being.

There’s a lot we can learn from this story if we are inclined to do so. I think this is a perfect example of where abiding by the proverb “Not my circus, not my monkeys” would have been a much better idea. The urge to help is laudable, but we have to be sophisticated enough to recognize exactly when a problem can be genuinely helped by our relatively modest capabilities and resources.

It’s one thing to fight when a violent criminal assault leaves you no other choice. It’s another to end up in a spiraling dance of stupidity that ends in gunfire.

Trade-in Temptation

If you look at gun stuff online, you’ve probably seen them…advertisements for police trade-in guns from various online distributors like CDNN Investments, Summit Gunbroker, or Bud’s Gun Shop. The temptation is strong: Here’s the possibility of buying a good useable firearm with maybe some cosmetic blemishes for a considerable discount.

At the moment a number of police departments across the country are trading in .40 S&W sidearms as they transition to 9mm pistols and as a result those former police guns are turning up at wholesalers, local dealers, and gunshows. Selling for between $150-400 off the price of a brand new specimen it’s very attractive. So should you buy one?

Maybe. To explain I need to tell you the tale of two friends who work for two different police departments.

The first is Greg Ellifritz. Greg is an incredibly intelligent, and incredibly dedicated guy. He’s also had the benefit of working for a department with good quality leadership and a generally adequate budget. They trusted Greg enough to invest in his personal development and benefit tremendously from his input and hard work…including his service as the department’s armorer. When he was the full-time training officer for his department, Greg took the time to carefully inspect each weapon his department issued, cleaned it thoroughly, and performed essential preventative maintenance like changing springs, and checking the fit and function of small parts like extractors, ejectors, disconnectors, safeties, etc. He did this with the utmost attention to detail because he knew that weapon’s function could mean the difference between life and death for one of his officers.

The second is a friend a bit more local to me who signed on with his department in the mid 1990’s. He was issued a Glock 22 as a sidearm along with 3 magazines. He retired in late 2013. Unfortunately there was no Greg in his department. His issued sidearm received absolutely no armorer’s attention in his entire career there. Not a single spring was changed. He was still using the magazines he was issued when he joined, which were still equipped with the original springs and followers. The department had absolutely no weapons inspections. At each qualification session they experienced multiple stoppages and malfunctions, which isn’t surprising as a number of officers never really cleaned or lubricated their weapons. He convinced his department to buy an ultrasonic cleaner which he used and managed to convince a few others to use. Some wouldn’t even unload their weapon and drop it in the ultrasonic cleaner. On top of all of that, many of his department’s weapons had severe manufacturing problems. His personal sidearm was so woefully inaccurate even from a prone I could barely keep shots on an 8.5×11″ piece of paper at 25 yards.

Remington 870 Wingmaster riot gun, 3" S&W model 10, S&W 5906
Remington 870 Wingmaster riot gun, 3″ S&W model 10, S&W 5906

When you are looking at a generic “police trade-in” gun, you don’t have a good way of knowing if the gun came from a department like Greg’s where it was carefully maintained or another department where it suffered almost total neglect. You don’t know if it was traded in because the department wanted to switch calibers for cost reasons, or if it’s because they experienced severe problems with a batch of guns and had to get rid of them for something else.

…and yes, that really does happen.

The key to trade-in purchase happiness, then, is to do some homework and manage expectations. For the happiest outcome you have to know a bit about how the firearm you’re thinking about was made, how it was most likely used while it was issued, and you have to be prepared to do some work on the gun to get it working.

Take the 870 Wingmaster pictured above as an example. The exterior of the gun shows wear from likely at least 2 decades of handling and storage, but I know that lots of police issue shotguns out there have not been fired very much in their service. I know the old Wingmasters are some of the best quality weapons Remington has ever made, and because it’s an 870 you can do just about anything you can conceive of to it. Knowing all of this I was reasonably certain I could buy one and get a gun that looked pretty cool (I love the old school look of the gun) and that would work. Sure enough, it looks better than Summit Gun Broker advertised and it worked splendidly when I had the chance to take her out to the range.

The Walther PP at the top of the page is a former West German police sidearm. In the era when that PP was the primary sidearm for the German police, they spent most of their lives carried in a holster (a flap holster, I believe) without being fired very much. Of course, Germans being Germans, they did actually pay attention to keeping the guns clean and in good working order…including being careful with the finish. My PP shows a bit of obvious holster wear by the muzzle, but that’s it. The rest of the gun looks as good as new. It runs beautifully with ball ammunition.

The S&W model 10 pictured is one of my absolute favorites. It is a former Australian issue police revolver that attracted my attention because of the low price (around $200 at the time…a steal) and the relatively rare 3″ barrel. K frames with a 3″ barrel might just be the best carry revolvers ever made. I looked around the web to see what some of the first buyers received and they described guns that had a bit of a rough finish, but were in excellent mechanical working order. Mine is no different. It clearly spent a lot of time in a holster being banged around and it suffered obvious neglect, but revolvers tend to be very tolerant of neglect. The bore is in excellent shape and the lockup is tight. It’s also extremely accurate with 158 grain ammunition.

I tend to have a weakness for guns that fall into the “they don’t make them like that anymore!” category, and often police trade-ins are splendid ways to collect those types of firearms inexpensively. If you have the same preferences and you’re willing to do some tinkering to get a gun that needs a little love up to snuff for the occasional range visit, trade-ins are fantastic.

If, on the other hand, you are looking for a primary defensive option I would urge more caution. If you don’t know how the gun was maintained, don’t have any insight into the service life it experienced, and don’t know if it came from a batch of guns with manufacturing problems it’s dicey to bet your life on that gun. The same would apply if you are financially strapped. If you are buying a trade-in as a more economical defensive option be sure you have the scratch necessary to fix anything that needs fixing. If you ever intend to carry a trade-in for serious social purposes make sure you test it thoroughly before depending on it.

Another sweet spot for trade-ins would be for people who already have, say, an M&P and maybe want another one they can use for range duty or experimenting with customization. A cheaper “beater” gun similar to your primary blaster that you can go Dr. Frankenstein on without worry is often very useful. Especially if you tend to learn about working on guns primarily by making mistakes. Ask me how I know…

If you understand what you are buying and you have a clear view of your intended use and what it may take to get a neglected or abused specimen back up to par, police trade-in firearms can be a tremendous value. If you don’t have a clear understanding of all of that and you’re looking for a defensive implement with a lower price tag, you should definitely try to educate yourself so you know what you are getting into.

Goodbye, Todd

My various training travels over the years have brought me into contact with a number of outstanding and interesting people that have changed my thinking or my outlook on important matters. In some cases it was a brief intersection with someone else on the range that taught me something I wasn’t really expecting to learn. In others, I’ve made friends for life.

If I had to name the person who has had the biggest influence on my thinking and development over the years it would be easy: Todd Green.

Todd is the mind behind, which is likely best known for the downright brutal extended torture tests he performed on a number of pistols. Before striking out on his own as an instructor, Todd worked for Sig and Beretta where he acted as a military/law enforcement rep and often as a trainer for their weapon systems. In that capacity he had incredible levels of access and insight into the training of elite law enforcement and military units on the front lines of the War On Terror that shaped his outlook on training and standards.

Before and during his tenure with Beretta and Sig, Todd sought out training with some of the best instructors in the world. Instructors like Ken Hackathorn, Tom Givens, and Ernest Langdon had a profound influence on Todd’s development. (As I understand it, Ernest Langdon actually recommended Todd for his position at Beretta) Todd was also involved with competitive shooting personally and helped run at least Beretta’s sponsored competitive team. This, too, shaped his philosophy. When you swirl all of that together with his law degree (Todd actually worked for the Washington DC US Attorney’s office Violent Crimes Unit) the end result was a very unique voice in the firearms industry.

When Todd worked at Sig and Beretta as a rep, he was often an advocate for the end users of the products. He told me that on more than one occasion he was chastised for acting more like a rep for an end user than for the company…but that’s just how he did things. Todd identified with the end users of the products betting their life and the lives of others on the function of the guns he was selling them moreso than the guys in the back office doing the accounting. He had high standards for himself and he wasn’t inclined to let others get away with mediocrity, especially when he knew lives were on the line.

Once on his own as an instructor, his experiences in the industry and in training led him to write some pretty interesting pieces. Exemplar would be his superb article, Trust No One.

Todd and I began corresponding on a firearms related web forum just shy of ten years ago. I wrote some things that apparently he thought made sense and he reached out to me and struck up a couple of conversations. That eventually led to taking his signature Aim Fast, Hit Fast program on the recommendation of Jay Cunningham of Protective Shooting Concepts. AFHF made it abundantly clear to me that I needed to completely overhaul everything I thought I knew about shooting a handgun. It was downright demoralizing. I don’t even remember what my score was the first time I shot the FASTest, but it was ugly. Really ugly.

So I forgot everything I thought I knew and started over…and Todd, often known for poking fun, was incredibly supportive and helpful. I mean, he still made fun of me, but he was incredibly helpful too. My skill with a handgun increased by leaps and bounds. I had the distinct privilege of joining with Todd and a relatively small group of other guys nearby who had been to his classes for a number of range days and with each one of them I improved dramatically. I always thought of myself as the worst guy there and I quite often had my butt kicked, but the benefits of surrounding myself with people who were smarter and more skilled than I was paid incredible dividends. Life hack time: Surround yourself with people who are better and smarter than you. It pays off.

Todd (right) on his first outing with his new bionic elbow. He couldn't shoot yet, but that didn't stop him from coaching.
Todd (right) on his first outing with his new bionic elbow. He couldn’t shoot yet, but that didn’t stop him from coaching.

The classes with Todd and the range days were so beneficial because Todd is one of the best coaches I’ve ever encountered. He was a skilled instructor who put together a superb program…and I heard no less an authority than Ken Hackathorn praise the value and benefits of Todd’s classes in person, with my own two ears…but of even more value than that was his ability to watch what you were doing and give very specific feedback that made a huge difference in performance.

It is an unfortunate truth that there is a lot of shade and shenanigans in the firearms industry…but Todd always acted with honesty and integrity. Todd was honest and up front with me when a number of others weren’t, and I’m convinced that the reason why he was on such good terms with so many people in the community is precisely because of his character.

I think the best way to show you what kind of man he was is to direct you to this post he made about what we affectionately called his bionic elbow. Todd took a lot of pride in being skilled with a handgun and because of cancer he had to re-learn everything. To go to zero from a place where your peers recognized you for your skill can be tough…but if he struggled with that he never really let on.

After a visit with him shortly after the elbow replacement I told some of the other guys that I thought he looked a tad frail, but seemed to be in good spirits and excited about getting back to it. He emailed me that day:

“Elbow or not, I can still out-shoot you any day of the week!”

To which I replied “Of course. Because I just donated all my practice ammo money to your cancer charity. So when I suck I’m going to blame it entirely on you.”

“How is that any different than your normal excuse?” he asked

“It’s not. That’s the beauty of it!”

Todd was constantly doing things for people behind the scenes. I couldn’t possibly list all the acts of kindness and favors he did for people, all the encouragement and help he gave to others because it’s too massive. I’m as good an example as any…I wouldn’t be writing if it wasn’t for Todd. When Caleb announced a writers contest a couple of years ago Todd told me that I should throw my hat in the ring. I thought he was nuts, but as was often the case he turned out to be right. He was always gently nudging people in the right direction, making connections behind the scenes, and providing input and assistance for others.

On March 15 at around 2 AM, Todd passed away. I was fortunate because I had a chance to spend some time with him in the week before, and I had the chance to say a proper goodbye.

His wife Kimberly was by his side through all of it and was so incredibly gracious…I wish I could really convey to you how wonderful she has been to those of us who cared about him. It took a lot of logistical wrangling and effort to make those final visits happen and those of us fortunate enough to be able to visit with him cannot possibly thank her enough for all she did to accommodate us and to care for our friend. Often when guys hang out together they tend to gripe about the other half. Todd never did. He always insisted that poor Kim got the worse end of the deal in their marriage.

I’m profoundly sad that I’ll never get to share the range with Todd again. That I’ll never get to go to dinner and spend 3 hours talking about training and obsessive firearms details with him again. That I’ll never get another sarcastic email from him again. That I’ll never get to listen to him try and psych me out before running me through the FAST again. That I’ll never completely freak out the waitstaff at a restaurant as we pass around knives and talk about classes and real life experiences with him again.

My skill as a shooter is better because of his instruction and coaching…but my life is better for having had him as a friend. Todd was a friend for life. I just wish so very much that his life could have been longer.

I love you, brother. And I can’t tell you how much I miss you.

If you would like to donate to Todd’s cancer charity, Rampage for the Cure (Archer reference, of course!) click here.




Photo of the day: A Dirty 1911

There are a lot of misconceptions about the 1911 floating around on the web. One of them is the idea that the 1911 is a delicate little princess that can’t function if she’s dirty. In truth, a properly built 1911 will run dirty if it has been properly lubricated. On Saturday I stopped by the excellent Elite Shooting Sports facility and in the space of an hour working on recoil control and sight tracking blew through over 450 rounds through my 9mm Wilson CQB. The picture tells the tale…this is no princess. She’s a very dirty girl.

It’s at the point now where handling the pistol leaves crud on my hands, so I’m actually going to break down and clean her up. Saturday’s outing pushed the round count through my CQB to over 4,000. That’s more than 4,000 rounds without cleaning. All I’ve ever done is properly lubricate the pistol with Wilson’s Ultima Lube and occasionally wipe down the outside of the pistol to keep the black crud off my clothes.

A properly made 1911 will still run if it’s dirty. A spotlessly clean 1911 will shut down in short order if it isn’t properly lubricated. I’ve been on the line with a lot of 1911 pistols over the years, including attending courses dedicated to the 1911 pattern pistol. Most made the mistake of lubricating their 1911 like it was a Glock…meaning they use minimal or no lubrication at all. Invariably those people ran into problems inside the first 150 rounds. An all metal pistol, even one with a neat high-tech finish that provides some lubricity (like Wilson’s Armor-Tuff finish on this pistol) needs proper lubrication to function. Especially if you do crazy things like burn 450 rounds through the gun in an hour’s time because you happen to be near the range and have a case of ammo in your trunk.

Wait…you don’t drive around with 1,000 rounds of ammo in your trunk? What kind of heathen are you? (Note: this is a joke. If you write me claiming you were microaggressed by this statement I’m going to laugh at you with all of my friends)

To be clear, I’m not arguing that what I’ve done here is a best practice because it most certainly isn’t. Only cleaning your gun every 5th case of ammo is not really a good idea. I didn’t set out to do this because it’s a good idea or because I was trying to prove a point. I’ve just been too damn lazy to clean the gun. So now it’s time to be a responsible adult and properly clean the beast.

…although I kinda like the stripe pattern that’s formed on the muzzle.


Buy a Trauma Kit

Saturday night three officers from the Prince William County police department responded to a domestic disturbance call. Crystal Hamilton had called the police on her husband. He murdered her…in front of her child…before the police arrived on scene. As the three officers approached the door the murderer opened fire on them. All three officers were hit.

Unfortunately Officer Ashley Guindon was killed. It was her first day on patrol.

The story made national news…but what didn’t make national news was the content of the radio traffic from the incident. If you listen to the radio traffic you will hear the dispatchers and officers calling for trauma kits on the scene.

People assume that every police cruiser is equipped with medical supplies and the officer in it has relevant training to deal with traumatic injury. The truth is that only a very small percentage of police officers have been trained in anything beyond basic Red Cross First Aid…if they’ve even been trained on that. A number of former military personnel working as police officers have been through the excellent Combat Lifesaver Course and have the knowledge, but aren’t individually issued a decent trauma kit to go along with it. Police departments are beginning to see the light and are starting to equip and train their officers to the point where they can do something about combat style injuries like traumatic amputation and massive bleeding caused by weapons or shrapnel…but the knowledge and the equipment isn’t universally available.

To put it bluntly, you cannot expect that the first responders on the scene of a terrible act of violence are equipped to provide life saving care to a victim. You can listen to the radio traffic from this incident yourself and hear that even the police had to call for trauma kits to the scene when their own officers were fighting to survive.

Please buy a trauma kit.

You cannot expect that if you are hurt or injured that somebody else will have one. Not even the police. Not even the EMTs. I’ve discussed this with a number of volunteer EMT’s in my area and none of them have tourniquets or hemostatic-agents like Combat Gauze or Celox Rapid-Gauze on hand…nor have they been trained in the use of these items.

Even if you haven’t been trained on how to properly use these items, there’s nothing to say that somebody on the scene couldn’t make use of your kit. I’ve been at the scene of a number of injuries where there was somebody with the training to help, but they didn’t have any equipment handy. Being able to throw a doctor or EMT or police officer a trauma kit when people are on the ground bleeding could mean the difference between life and death for the injured person. Or for you. Or perhaps for someone you care about.

There are a number of companies who make a good ready-to-go kit containing most of the essentials.

I keep a TacMedSolutions Operator’s IFAK (Individual First Aid Kit) handy in the bag I use to transport my laptop at work. I’ve augmented the kit with some compressed gauze, better shears, another pair of gloves, another SOF-TTW tourniquet, and two flat packages of Combat Gauze. The picture for this article is actually my kit after I had to break it out to deal with a severe cut I happened to be on scene for. The little bag is full to bursting with the extras but the tough nylon case holds everything securely.

Another good kit is the one made by Dark Angel Tactical. Their Direct Action Response Kit is also very well equipped and their website allows you to customize the kit and even upgrade to a SOF-TTW tourniquet at no extra charge. (I much prefer the SOFTT tourniquets to the CAT tourniquets as I find them easier to use on myself and someone else.)

I would certainly encourage you to get into appropriate training to learn how to use these kits (Greg Ellifritz of Active Response Training, for instance, puts on an excellent and affordable class) but even if you don’t have the faintest idea how to use the gear being the guy that has it handy can make all the difference for someone in a very bad situation.





The right approach to concealed carry

Last year I attended the excellent Rangemaster Tactical Conference held in the Memphis Police Department’s academy and range facility. As I wandered around the facility looking for the men’s room, I encountered the poster pictured above.

While aimed at guiding police officers in how they should approach their behavior off-duty, I think it has just as much application to the average citizen carrying a firearm for personal defense. The Washington Times published a story in July of last year reporting the results of a study that has tracked the incredible increase in concealed carry permits across the nation.

Since 2007, the number of concealed handgun permits has soared from 4.6 million to over 12.8 million, and murder rates have fallen from 5.6 killings per 100,000 people to just 4.2, about a 25 percent drop, according to the report from the Crime Prevention Research Center…And the number of permits issued is increasing faster every year. Over 1.7 million new permits were issued last year — a 15.4 percent increase over 2013, the largest such single-year jump ever

I see this trend in my own personal experience. I’ve written multiple times in this space about people who have come out of the woodwork asking me about buying a firearm and getting a permit. In the last couple of weeks in totally non gun related conversations in a professional settings three people have volunteered to me that they’ve recently obtained a permit…people I would never have expected to have one or to be remotely interested in guns. In truth they aren’t really interested in guns as much as they are self defense and there’s no better implement of personal defense than a firearm.

As concealed carry becomes more common the challenge we face is ensuring that those who want to use a firearm for personal protection have reasonable guidance and access to solid information that will hopefully keep them from having to use the weapon they are carrying, or at the very least keep them from becoming a cautionary tale if they are forced to use it. Bad acts by people with permits create bad optics for the rest of us.

Greg Ellifritz penned a very thoughtful article that I think everyone should read and digest covering a relatively new NYPD officer who accidentally killed a man and was convicted of manslaughter. Greg makes the point that one of the largest police agencies in the world certified the convicted officer as being good-to-go with a firearm and issued him one to carry every day, but clearly did not train him adequately for that responsibility. (Most police training, as Greg and countless others will readily tell you, is woefully inadequate) The fact that the state gave him the stamp of approval to carry a gun didn’t matter worth a hill of beans when he screwed up and put a bullet into the wrong person. In other words, the fact that the government says you can carry a gun doesn’t mean that the government won’t go after you with gusto if you make a mistake with that gun. If you have the gun in your hand, you have the responsibility that goes along with it whether you’ve been adequately prepared for that responsibility or not. You are well and truly on your own.

You will find that your chances of a bad outcome diminish greatly with proper training and a sensible approach to the whole problem. The MPD’s off-duty credo provides excellent guidance to that effect.

I will not seek a fight, and if at all possible I will avoid one…

Having a permit doesn’t make everything your problem. Two dudes get into a shoving match in a Burger King? Not your problem. A couple of people cursing each other out in Wal-Mart? Not your problem. A couple in a screaming match in the parking lot of the Macaroni Grill? Not your problem. Minding one’s own business and not participating in other people’s drama significantly lowers your exposure to potential violence. If for some reason you are targeted by some idiot who indicates some willingness to do you harm, finding a way to leave the situation altogether is much less risky than any form of fighting.

…but if one is forced upon me, I will do whatever it takes to survive.

I’m the world’s biggest fan of de-escalation and avoidance strategies. I’ve employed them many times and plan to use them whenever possible in the future because I would really like to go through the rest of my life without having to do any level of harm to anybody. But the other guy gets a voteThe Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” because ultimately we have control over only half of the equation in a conflict. I can control my reactions and behavior, but I have little say in what the other guy(s) chooses to do. They could be eminently reasonable, or they could decide that they will attack me until one of us is dead. If somebody insists on playing for keeps, if they are determined to make it him or me…well…he’s gotta go. You don’t have to be seeking a fight to have one forced upon you.  If someone does force one upon you, odds are it’s one you cannot afford to lose.

My sidearm is neither a status symbol nor an emotional crutch. I will not reach for it unless out of dire necessity…

I’m not reaching for my gun because I want to put the other guy in his place. I’m not reaching for my gun because I feel a sensation of fear, unease, or intimidation about a situation. If I’m reaching for my gun it is to prevent or stop a serious act of criminal violence against me or an innocent third party. That’s it.

…but if I must use deadly force to preserve my life or that of an innocent person, I will use it skillfully and without hesitation.

Skillfully, and without hesitation. Do you know how that happens? Training. Investing the time and effort to bring your skill set and the judgement you operate on up to the level of the responsibility you adopt when you decide to carry the gun. When you have taken the time and effort to prepare yourself, it infuses your bearing and demeanor. You can make good decisions at speed even when looking down the barrel of a gun. You’ve worked against a timer and other shooters to develop the ability to deliver accuracy at life-or-death speed. You’ve taken the time to seriously visualize multiple bad scenarios and how you can potentially handle them. You’ve done enough homework to recognize a lethal assault in its early stages and can react immediately instead of standing there wondering what is going on.

If the other guy insists on a fight, insists on playing for keeps…he’s made the worst mistake of his life.  You have spent a great deal of time preparing for the day when this joker insists on ruining your life. He, on the other hand, expects a victim. Not a trained opponent intent on doing whatever it takes to win. You have prepared to meet him, but he has never in his worst nightmares foreseen anything like you.

It’s your responsibility to ensure that you use your firearm responsibly. If you take that responsibility seriously and through training and discipline seek to bring your skill up to the level of that responsibility it has the lovely added benefit of making you much harder to injure or kill.

I’m all for the increase in concealed carry permits, and I hope that the number of people who make the choice to protect themselves continues to break records. It is on us who have been at this a while, though, to encourage a high standard of personal conduct and development of relevant skill sets to those who are making the choice…for their sake and for our own.

UPDATE – I have since learned that the credo pictured above was generated by Tom Givens. Apparently firearms instructors from Memphis PD went to Rangemaster for some training, saw posters Tom had in the place with this credo on it and liked it so much that they decided to put it up at their academy.

Basic Knife Skills for Concealed Carry with Greg Ellifritz

Odds are that a significant percentage of the readership of this site carries a knife of some sort on a regular or semi-regular basis. The odds are also pretty good that most who do regard the knife they carry as a potential defensive weapon for dire circumstances.

I suppose this dates me, but I remember the days when the “tactical folder” was becoming a big thing. The new “tactical folder” knives were optimized for sheath-less carry and quick one-handed opening. The ubiquitous Buck 110 style folder (which, back in the day, was a darn good general utility knife) or more traditional Case-style pocket knife was supplanted by a Spyderco, Benchmade, Emerson, or even a Cold Steel clipped to a pocket. It seemed like a pretty good idea to me too, so I bought one and carried it around in a pocket for years. Some time later it dawned on me that I really hadn’t the foggiest idea how to effectively use a knife as a defensive implement.

I’d dare say that most people are like me in that regard. They may have purchased a “tactical” knife designed as a defensive implement but they don’t have any relevant training or experience in actually using the knife as a last-ditch tool of self defense. What to do?

I found out a bit earlier in the year that FPF Training was bringing Greg Ellifritz down to teach a knife class oriented towards concealed carry. I’ve mentioned Greg several times in this space  so he shouldn’t be a stranger, but it’s worth mentioning here that Greg has been teaching knife classes to police officers and to motivated citizens for quite some time both in his capacity as a policeman and as a trainer working for TDI in Ohio. I’ve done a few classes with Greg and I’ve been reading his blog for some time and I generally like his take on things, so I was eager to see what he would present in a knife class.

The day started with a discussion of philosophy: Greg’s instruction focused on things that are easy to learn and I’ll refer to as “high percentage” in application. By that I mean techniques that are highly likely to be successful against most criminal assailants.

Knife use on the street rarely looks like what you see in the movies:

Two people do not square off and duel with knives any more than they square off and duel with firearms. The knife usually comes out in the initial stages of a criminal assault:

…or, in lawful use it comes out when the good guy is losing a physical fight to a superior opponent (either in size, strength, or skill) with the expectation of severe and potentially lethal consequences. Think of a police officer who is fighting with someone who is trying to take their sidearm, or the intended victim of a rape who uses a knife to cut her physically superior attacker off of her so she can escape.

After discussing his overall philosophical basis for the course and the realities of knife use in criminal assaults, Greg discussed hardware selection. He had a big bag full of knives representative of the options available on the market. I took a lot of notes on this section but instead of reproducing all of that here I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version:

  • Fixed blades are superior in every respect, most importantly in ease of access and speed of deployment.
  • Small fixed blades are extremely effective, especially when used intelligently. You don’t need huge blades…2.5 to 3″ is usually sufficient for most defensive purposes.
  • Fixed blades are also more legally restricted.
  • If you have to carry a folder because of the law, you want one with a strong lock. Frame locks, back locks, and pin style locks are typically the strongest. Liner locks the weakest.
  • Automatics have a bad habit of opening when you don’t want them to.
  • Assisted openers tend not to lock if they are even minimally obstructed.
  • You want an easily used ambidextrous opening mechanism and a decent choil to keep your hand from running up on the blade.

After the hardware discussion was over, we disarmed ourselves of any live weapons, buddy checked, and then started to work with training knives. Greg brought a bunch of fixed-blade trainers and folding trainers so everyone could get hands-on time with both types of knife. Those who had their own trainers were free to use those as well.

We spent quite a bit of time on what Greg said was the most important part of using the knife defensively: Access. It’s one thing to be able to draw the knife when you are standing and relaxed, but that is usually not when people reach for the knife. Usually it’s when there’s some bigger, stronger dude on top of them trying to beat them to death and in those circumstances accessing and drawing the knife can be incredibly difficult.

For access purposes, a small fixed blade carried on the centerline of the body is king, as five minutes of drilling against an opponent will teach you. It is possible to get the knife and use it effectively even if you are flat on your back locked in a bear hug. If you cannot carry a knife that way and are forced to carry a folder in a pocket, make sure you can reach it with either hand and that you can open it with one hand, preferably without having to rely on an inertia opening. (Flipping the knife open) As we practiced the techniques in class we got quite used to to seeing folders fly through the air after a failed inertial opening attempt.

Under Greg’s instruction, we worked with partners to give experience deploying and using the knife effectively under pressure. It was remarkable for me to see people who were showing visible trepidation early on transformed into people who were effectively accessing a knife and then using it to very quickly work over their opponent by the end of the day. One of the highlight exercises started with a group of students standing, hands at sides, with eyes closed. The other group would then randomly “attack” them. I “attacked” an inexperienced middle-aged woman with a double handed choke from the front, and without missing a beat she whipped out a fixed blade trainer and simulated a filleting of my forearm. As I moved to stop that, she transitioned to a stab attack under my arm aimed at my brachial artery. When I moved to stop that, she slashed at my jugular and then “stabbed” me in the groin…all improvised as she reacted to what I was doing.

I don’t think most bad guys are any better prepared to stop that kind of counter-assault than I was.

Greg concluded the day by discussing a few tricks he’s used to carry and use a knife in high threat areas where it wasn’t possible to have a gun, useful information for a number of students in the class who have to live or work in areas/countries where they cannot carry firearms but still face a very realistic threat of assault.

The class was fantastic. Greg has effectively distilled years of training and teaching this topic into an easily digestible program that just about anyone can pick up in short order…and it’s stuff that has a very high likelihood of success if the need to apply it ever manifests. Greg is good at what I call filling in the “cracks”: providing useful instruction aimed at the gaps most citizens and police officers have in their defensive game. This class won’t make you the world’s leading knife fighter, but it does a damn good job of filling that “crack” and giving you an effective plan B for those occasions where you don’t have or can’t get to your firearm to defend your life.

I took this class with a buddy of mine who recently retired after 25 years as a police officer. He told me afterwards that in the whole of his career he had never encountered any defensive tactics training that was even close to the quality or effectiveness of Greg’s instruction. He further offered that he couldn’t think of a single criminal he ever arrested who would have been prepared for just how dangerous the students in this class would be with a knife.

Thinking Critically About Safety: AK Edition

This week a video of Travis Haley (probably best known from the Mag-Pul DVD series that were all the rage a while back) having an unintentional discharge with an AK pattern rifle made the rounds on forums and social media. The video generated some intelligent discussion, but largely it devolved into another Safety Sin goat rodeo. Here’s the claimed uncut footage from the producer of the video:

Let’s review the four primary rules of firearms safety:

  1. Never point a firearm at anyone or anything you are unwilling to destroy
  2. Keep your finger off the trigger until you have consciously made the decision to fire the weapon
  3. Treat all firearms as if they are loaded until you have personally verified that the weapon has been properly cleared…and even then, see rules 1 and 2.
  4. Be sure of the target you intend to shoot, and beyond it

Travis was demonstrating some sub-optimal trigger finger habits taught and used around the world in this video, probably intending to demonstrate why they aren’t a good idea. Mission accomplished on that front.

Doing this kind of demonstration with a loaded weapon is not really a good idea. It’s relatively easy to lose track of your weapon’s status if you are alternating between shooting and handling the gun, as one might be if they were setting up for various video shots. It is also a fairly common thing to see in classes when people are cycling from a break period back to class, and that’s one of the reasons why most sane instructors will have a rule forbidding handling a weapon if there is anyone between you and a decent berm.

It’s not uncommon for me to check the status of a gun I’m handling multiple times, even if I’m the only person around. Sure, I think that pistol I just put down a minute ago so I could go find my sight pusher is unloaded and I’m reasonably certain that nobody snuck in and loaded the gun while I had my back turned…but it costs me nothing to check the gun again before I resume the process of trying to swap the sights.

Note that even though Travis broke a couple of rules, he was observing rule 1. The over-the-shoulder angle of the camera shows that his rifle was pointed at a berm. The rules layer on top of one another so that even if one or, as in this case, two are broken tragedy is avoided.

Rule 1 violations really annoy me. It is an act of supreme douche-atude to point a firearm at another human being, and yet whenever I’m on a range or often even in a store I see it happen over and over and over again. This past week I took a brand new gun owner on her first trip to the range and before I could even get inside two separate idiots pointed rifles at me. Two. In a mostly empty parking lot somehow these **CENSORED** idiots managed to find a way to point loaded rifles directly at my face. I know they were pointed directly at my face because I was looking down the barrel of both of them before taking evasive action.

I’ve decided that Tom Givens has probably the best possible solution to rule 1 violations and I think I’m going to adopt it for myself. At the beginning of the Intensive Pistol Skills class Tom told us in a very matter of fact way that his rule was simple: If you point a gun at him, he’s going to point his gun at you right back. It wasn’t a joke. Pointing a firearm at another human being threatens them with death or grievous injury. Putting somebody in a casket, in a coma, or in a wheelchair is not a trivial faux pas.

Take a minute and read this, the account of a friend of mine who was injured when someone was negligently handling a gun. That injury has cost him a boat load of money, pain, and on a couple of occasions it almost cost him his life…because some dumbass couldn’t follow rule 1.

So, yeah…I’m down with Tom’s rule. I’ve tried being nice and being polite a whole bunch of times in the past and usually all I get is the person who pointed the friggin’ gun at me acting like somehow I have wronged them by asking them to please not point a lethal weapon at my face. I’ve had it with that. I’m sick to death of dudes running their suck about how super “sheep dog” they are who act like a spanked 6 year old when you tell them to stop pointing their gun at people who don’t deserve to die. Everybody wants “big boy rules” until it’s time for big boy accountability, and then they want to act like whiny little bitches.

Do not point a gun at me. You don’t get to threaten my life or the quality of it because you cannot be bothered to handle a gun properly. If you insist on being a colossal asshole and you point your gun at me, I’m going to point mine right back at you and then we can see how much you like staring down the barrel of a gun.

A lot of people online have been quick to make fun of Travis because of his mistakes in that video. Travis is a big boy and he’s making a good living as an instructor, so he doesn’t need anyone to white knight for him and I’m certainly not going to do it. He messed up, and he did it on video. People are going to make fun of it and meme it. C’est la vie.

It would be bloody wonderful if the same level of effort was applied to correct the douchebag in the next range bay when he waves a gun around like kid playing with a flashlight, or the drooling idiot at the gun store who insists on pointing guns at the employees or customers.


Vulnerability and hostile behavior

Last week auto journalist Jack Baruth wrote a piece for Road & Track that has made a bit of a splash in the online world. In it he describes a number of occasions where he has encountered hostile behavior from other motorists up to and including challenging him to a fight…only to see them back down when he takes off his flower-covered helmet and reveals the bearded face of a male.

I suppose it is inevitable these days for that kind of article to spawn a bunch of social-justice-warrioring nonsense, but I think that all of that politically correct conversation happening elsewhere misses what’s really going on…and I believe that the core reality of what Mr. Baruth wrote about has great implications for everyone interested in self defense. It’s not about misogyny, it’s about monkeys.

In the second article I wrote on the superb Unthinkable class put on by William Aprill and Greg Ellifritz, I mentioned William’s explanation of the data we stream into the world about ourselves and the way that criminal actors use that data to make a go/no-go assessment for attempting an attack. In this study researchers found that higher order criminals were able to use someone’s gait to effectively judge their vulnerability to attack. Here’s the catch, though: What we think of as hard core criminals are not unique in their ability to perceive vulnerability in other human beings. Nor are they unique in their willingness to attempt to exploit that perceived vulnerability. Have you ever seen a shady salesman in action? Or maybe you have a coworker who is a complete suckup to anyone he thinks can better his career but treats anyone not perceived as useful like dirt? In my experience, a sizable chunk of the human population will attempt anything they think they can get away with when they perceive vulnerability.

Mr. Baruth’s theory is that the road ragers he encountered saw his flowered helmet and long hair and assumed that he was a female, and therefore vulnerable. The typical male of the human species has a considerable strength and size advantage over the female of the human species. Even if a male and female are roughly the same size, the average female is not going to be as strong or as able to take hits without serious damage as a male of the same size. The female, ceteris paribus, is more vulnerable…so when they mistook Mr. Baruth for a female they exhibited much more aggressive behavior. Not, I would argue, primarily out of some sort of gender motivation, but out of an assessment of the relative weakness of the other person.

I would take it even further than that and posit that a significant chunk of the insult they took from Mr. Baruth’s behavior was a direct result of that perceived vulnerability. In other words, had the person splitting the lanes in traffic been a 6’6″ 350 pound, ‘roided up biker with a big knife on his hip and a swastika tattooed on his forehead, I doubt that the people who raged on Mr. Baruth would have been offended by the behavior. They may not have appreciated it, but the seething anger Mr. Baruth witnessed was unlikely to be present because the big biker I described does not look vulnerable. Quite the opposite: Anyone confronted with that sort of individual is likely feeling their own vulnerability exposed. This is basic level primate stuff you could expect to see in any zoo. The weakest member of the troupe has to walk on egg shells lest he/she be immediately savaged for challenging the established pecking order.

Greg Ellifritz wrote an extremely useful article about Insults and Challenges in the context of a criminal assault that I would encourage you to read very carefully. Of particular interest is this passage:

The researcher David Luckenbill studied all of the murderers in a California county over a 10-year period and asked them why they killed their victims. You would expect to see a variety of responses. You would be wrong. Every death row inmate interviewed listed one of only two reasons for killing….

34% said they killed because the victim challenged the killer’s authority

66% said they killed because the victim insulted them in some way.” 

The quote above is presented in an article covering a Dollar General clerk who was shot in the course of a robbery. In a bewildered state, she said “you’re not going to shoot me” to the robber, who promptly shot her. He took her statement as a challenge to his status in the situation. He, after all, had the gun. He had all the power. She was as vulnerable as any human being could be. I’m certain that the Dollar General clerk had no intention to insult the guy pointing a gun at her, but the power difference between them made just about anything she attempted to say an insult.

You can watch this dynamic in action:

The puncher felt insulted and challenged by the victim’s statement. The victim is older and weaker…vulnerable. There’s plenty of video of similar attacks out there being perpetrated against male victims that are also typically older and weaker. Similarly vulnerable.

What I’m getting at is that perceived vulnerability is at the core of what Mr. Baruth experienced…and what any of us could experience if the conditions are right. When you are perceived as vulnerable it invites attack. If someone perceives you as being vulnerable the perceived power difference between you can make even the most innocuous statement or behavior into a deliberate insult in the mind of the other party that actually justifies an act of criminal aggression against you. 

It’s not always possible to verbally deescalate a situation. In fact, the more vulnerable you are the more likely it is that anything you say or do is going to be interpreted as a challenge or an insult that justifies a violent response in the mind of your attacker. What could have started out as a simply dominance display (I believe what Mr. Baruth experienced were attempts at dominance display) could rapidly deteriorate into an act of violence if the perception of vulnerability is not immediately changed.

Since we can see that perceived vulnerability manufactures attack, it would be worth our while to do what we can to limit the possible perception of vulnerability about us. This is where deselection really comes into play. How we carry ourselves, how we pay attention to the world around us, and as Mr. Baruth demonstrates even seemingly insignificant fashion choices can be used to make us look less vulnerable…which, in turn, discourages attack.