Defense against the dark arts dirtbags

It is an accepted article of faith among people who carry guns for personal defense that there are bad people in this world, and sometimes the paths of those people intersect with ours. We also accept violence as a solution, and while we hope that we’re never placed in a position where violence is our only recourse, we all know it could happen. But one of the things that’s been on my mind lately is “shoot/no-shoot” situations, and how a lot of times we focus only on the gun as a tool of self-defense, often at the avoidance of other more useful skills.

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Are police use of force statistics good baselines for civilian CCW training?

I was recently involved in a thread with an “instructor” who maintained that students should primarily train for shootings that occur at ranges of 10 feet and less. He based this assertion on the fact that most police shootings occur at extremely close ranges, and so that was the distance we should train for. I don’t agree with that assessment, and believe that the pure civilian CCW shooter should train for longer ranges and complex shots.

Continue reading “Are police use of force statistics good baselines for civilian CCW training?”

Goal setting for CCW focused shooters

Yesterday I talked about the importance of goal setting when measuring performance, and I approached the subject entirely from a competition shooting standpoint. Now while we’re big advocates of competition shooting here at Gun Nuts, I also accept that there are some shooters who simply aren’t interested in matches, but still want to get better. For the ccw-focused shooter, what are good ways to set goals and measure performance?

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A long time ago, a friend asked me why I carried a gun every day. Being young and intemperate, I offered up a glib answer about how I wanted to be ready or die in a pile of brass; something typical of what you’d expect a self-identified “sheepdog” to say. I’m older now, and hopefully a little wiser, but it’s still a question worth visiting. Why do I carry a gun every day?

Continue reading “Why”

The best drill for concealed carry

None of carry a gun because we’re optimists, that much is a fact. However, it’s taken me years to accept the fact that most people who carry guns aren’t going to invest the time and energy into becoming a proficient shooter. I don’t like that, but there’s nothing I can do about it. Most people would rather dink around with chrome plated Mausers or carry six different guns a week than buy one gun and learn to shoot it really friggin’ well.

So what should those people practice? I’ve longed believed (and still do) that the Bill Drill from concealment is the best choice for the average joe. For the newbs, a Bill Drill is a time 6 shots from the holster at either an 8 inch circle or a USPSA A-zone. The most common distance used is 7 yards, but you can practice them at any distance. I like to shoot 25 yard Bill Drills when I’m training up for Bianchi.

Let’s break this thought process down a bit. Assuming (I know, I know) that the “average” self-defense scenario involves a single assailant surprising their target, a drill that focuses on belting a relatively large number of rounds into their thoracic cavity as fast as possible seems to make sense. 6 rounds of 9mm in the chest is going to change your plans for the rest of your life, and definitely make you rethink whatever it was that made you decide to do crimes. There’s also the shock factor in case bad guy one has friends; which we shouldn’t rely on, but still. If you and Pookie were out doing crimes together and all of a sudden some dude ninja’d a gun into his hands and dumped half a mag into your best friend in 2 seconds, maybe you’d decide you had somewhere else you needed to be, like yesterday.

The real talk though comes down to the fact that Bill Drills focus on one thing: getting a lot of lead on target as fast as possible. There’s no guarantee a badguy is going to stop after the first, second, third, or even fourth shot. That’s the other reason I like the Bill Drill so much, because it trains you out of shooting controlled pairs or double taps or whatever you want to call them all day long. You need to work the trigger to shoot a fast Bill Drill; and to shoot one under 2.00 you need to get everything right, from the draw to your sight tracking and your trigger speed.

What do you think? Is the Bill Drill the best choice for the novice CCWbro to practice?

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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.

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.



Should you carry OC spray?

I’m often asked by folks new to concealed carry or self defense in general about OC or “pepper” spray and whether or not they should consider carrying it.

I’m by no means anything close to being the leading expert on the utility and use of OC spray. (Chuck Haggard of Agile Training and Consulting puts on some splendid classes about OC spray) That being said, I see OC spray as a valuable defensive tool for the average citizen and I encourage people to carry it.

To explain why, let me tell you about a situation where it came in handy for me.

A few months ago I pulled out of a parking lot on to the main road. Shortly after I pulled out a woman in an older Ford pickup pulled out from a parking lot across the same road and began flashing her lights and swerving around behind me. She was visibly very agitated and pounding on the steering wheel of her old truck as she got right on my bumper. When stopped at the next stop light, she laid on her horn behind me and continued to flash her lights, apparently screaming the whole time. I’m not much of a lip reader, but the bits and pieces I could make out through my rear view mirror were not very lady-like.

I had absolutely no idea why on earth this woman was in a tirade behind me but I had no desire to figure it out. When I see storm clouds of stupidity forming I’m not going to stick around to see if the funnel cloud is heading for my trailer park, you know? When the light changed I used the traffic around us to get distance from her old truck. I used a couple of last minute turns and some quick lane changes to get her out of sight. Then I drove on to the store I was originally going to when this all started. I got out of the car and was heading into the store when I saw her truck pull into the parking lot.

The store had some of those concrete pylons in front of it designed to prevent thieves from smashing through the store front, so I placed those between myself and her truck because I had a very real worry at that moment that she was going to try and run me over. Her behavior to that point didn’t make me think that she had doggedly followed me for at least ten minutes so she could tell me about Jesus.

She pulled right up to the pylons, screeching her truck to a halt and got out of it screaming obscenities at me for, in her mind anyway, cutting her off. This woman was in her late forties or early fifties and from her dress and demeanor I got the impression that she was a couple of ants shy of a picnic. Other people going into and out of the store stop in their tracks wondering what in the world is happening. At this point the woman balls up a fist and approaches screaming her intention to physically assault me.

Let’s ponder the situation this presents me: I’m larger, stronger, younger, and clearly saner than this woman. Even though I’ve done absolutely nothing to provoke this behavior from her, who do you suppose society at large will place the burden of responsibility on? I’m not legally required to let this woman hit me, but laying hands on this crazy witch is highly likely to be a losing proposition for me. In the moment I got the impression that she wanted me to get physical and that she would immediately try to play the victim to bystanders and the inevitable law enforcement response. Like the computer once said:

At that point I aimed my little canister of Sabre Red at her. This movement surprised her and she stopped in her tracks. I very calmly told her that if she took another step in my direction I was going to blast her in the face with this OC spray and then press assault charges on her when the police got there.

She reacted to this by getting even louder…but crucially, she backed away from me, got in her old truck and took off. The bewildered bystanders were sympathetic. “If that had been me, I would have punched her right in the face!” I’m quite certain the bystander who told me that would not have been as sympathetic had I actually decked her.

There are situations where the only option available to you is to draw a lethal weapon and use it with as much violent intent as you can muster…but those situations will not be the only ones you face. Sooner or later in life you will likely encounter some form of belligerent idiot intent on doing you some level of harm, but not enough harm to justify pulling a gun on them. If confronted with that sort of belligerent idiot the ability to spray some liquid pain and then get yourself away from them has a pretty high chance of successfully stopping their attack with the absolute minimum risk of serious injury to you or said idiot.

Manufacturers of OC spray products are making potent products in any number of convenient carry-friendly configurations these days, and I’m sure at least one of them would work out for you. I’ve found the little Sabre Red “Spitfire” pictured and linked in this article is convenient to carry and requires the right sort of deliberate effort to trigger. It even survived an (accidental) trip through the washing machine and worked afterwards.

Our goal in self defense is to preserve our life and the quality of it from criminal assault. We rightly spend a lot of time thinking about the most violent and threatening sorts of criminal injury that can be visited upon us, but it is also worthwhile to have a plan for dealing with less severe problems that still require using some level of force in response. For those problems that don’t require using your gun but do require doing something more than calling the police, OC spray is, I believe, a worthwhile investment.