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.

Tactical lingerie

No, I’m not talking about camouflage undergarments for ladies, although that is also (sadly) a thing. No, I’m talking about tactical CCW gear, generally marketing towards women, that looks cool/hot but is pretty much useless.

bass pro camo lingerie

For example, thigh holsters. Not tactical drop leg holsters, which while frequently used incorrectly do have their purpose, but rather those inner thigh holsters you see at crappy gun shows and from shady “custom” holster makers. These holsters usually consist of an elastic band with a holster body crudely stitched on to the band to accommodate the little lady’s chrome plated .25 or whatever silly bullshit gun they’re carrying. You know, like this appalling piece of crap.

Image from Femme Fatale Holster
Image from Femme Fatale Holster

The reason I’m writing about this today comes from the discussion around Shelley’s post about Women’s Concealed Carry, which addressed some of the issues the firearms industry has around products for women; in Shelley’s usual speed-of-thought style. An offsite discussion brought up the topic of what we consider to be gimmick/sub-par carry methods, like bra holsters or thigh holsters as acceptable options to quality products. This of course drove me off the rails, and lead to me coining the term “tactical lingerie” that you see in the headline of this post. A piece of gear is tactical lingerie if it’s designed to look cool/sexy but has little to no practical application whatsoever.

Stuff like this goes back to the idea of the gun as a talisman instead of a tool. Self-defense isn’t about what you’re carrying, it’s about your mind. A gun in a thigh holster, or a corset holster (that’s also a thing, apparently) is functionally inaccessible if you actually need it in a hurry, and I’d be willing to bet my sizable collection of M&Ps that no one who’s ever carried in one of these garbage holsters has ever spent any kind of time practicing getting their gun out in a hurry to actually shoot a fool. That’s genuinely important, because while we gloss over it all the time in the name of political correctness, the entire point of carrying a gun is so that you can use it to defend your life. It’s not a cute little fashion accessory, it’s a gun.

Maybe this is just me getting old and crotchety, which I’m fine with too. But stuff like this, gimmick holsters, gimmick guns, it all drives me up the wall. It cheapens the idea of self-defense and reduces the serious responsibility involved in taking up that burden to the same trivial level you’d assign to a pair of cute panties. Worse, it creates a false sense of security in the fundamentally unskilled and unserious person that because they have a gun, they’re safe. That person can then abrogate any sense of self-awareness that should come with going about their life armed, because “they’ve got a gun.”

Mindset is always the first tool of self defense. It doesn’t matter if you’re carrying an M&P under a polo shirt in 5.11 pants or a Spyderdo in a sundress. Everything you add on top of mindset is just tools. Stop pretending that shitty tools are as good as the real thing.

Training for the changing threat

A couple of posts popped up on my radar today that both hit on the same subject – how we’re training and what kind of threat we’re training to fight. First up is Todd at Pistol-Training, talking about the emerging active shooter/terrorist threat:

While there are still muggers and rapists and thieves aplenty in our society, this year has seen a rise in organized, trained, well armed, and fearless teams of ne’er do wells who are all too happy to kill their victims. Murder for them is a goal, not an inconvenience.

Caleb Area 3 with Colt 1911

Next is a post from American Handgunner, where Ralph Mroz talks about how he’s changing his training focus from extreme CQB (inside 3 yards) to more short/intermediate range training; reasoning that the data from recent civilian and LE shootings shows most fights occur outside the “phonebooth” envelope.

We now have the only good data set on civilian defensive uses of guns (Tom Givens’ data published in Handgunner (Sept./Oct. 2014 edition) which indicates most civilian deadly force encounters happen at about 5 yards, at least in his data set. This means we definitely need to train at that distance — plus or minus a couple yards, so say 3 to 8 yards. Further, the astonishing success rate of Tom’s students suggests we need to pay attention to Tom’s fairly traditional training too — sighted shooting with two hands on the gun.

I have always advocated that self-defense training should be focused on making difficult shots under tight time limits, with the simple reasoning that if you’re capable of making a pair of head shots on a 3×5 card under 2 seconds from concealment at 7 yards, a wide open torso at 3-5 yards is an easy shot. Or to put it another way: “No one rises to the occasion, you default to the level of your training.”

It’s sort of like the zombie apocalypse joke: if you’re prepared to survive a plague of the undead sweeping across the land, a tornado is just an inconvenience. I’m not saying that everyone should immediately run out and take a carbine operator course, rather that people should take an honest look at the self-defense skills you have, identify weak areas, and then train to make those weaknesses go away. The mere act of carrying a gun for self-defense means that you acknowledge the possibility, however unlikely, that you may need to actually use that gun for self-defense. If you’re mentally capable of realizing that, it then follows that it’s in your best interests, and the interests of those around you, to be prepared for the most extreme situation in which you could use that gun. Because if you’re training to make 25 yard head shots on moving partials, you’re going to be able to make the easy shots.

But what does that look like? How can we go from “not ready” and find the road that leads to being ready for an unthinkable day?

  1. Evaluate your gear. Step one is simple. Look at the gear you’re carrying right now. I understand some people can’t carry in the workplace, so look at what you can carry. If you can and do carry at all times, what are you carrying? A j-frame? A Glock 19? Is your equipment, be it holster, belt, or gun itself a limiting factor in your ability to make hard shots at intermediate ranges? I would casually suggest that if you can’t make an untimed headshot on an IDPA target at 15 yards with your current gear, you might want to look into changing it up.
  2. Evaluate your skills. Can you make an untimed headshot on demand at a 15 yard target? What about hitting a 2 inch circle at 5 yards, or a 3×5 card at 7? There are a ton of drills available online that you can use to benchmark your skills, whether it’s a good old fashioned Bill Drill, the FAST test, the iHack, whatever. Find some drills, test yourself, and see where your weaknesses are. If you’re good at bill drills shoot a drill you’re not good at.
  3. TAKE A FRIGGIN CLASS. Once you’ve found out where your weaknesses lie, take a class from a reputable instructor to have professional adjustment made on those skills.
  4. Pressure test your skills and training. Once you’ve received that professional instruction, you need to pressure test what you’ve learned in the white hot fire of the furnace of the crucible of motorsport competition. Weird things happen to people’s skills when you put them in front of other people and on a timer.
  5. Practice. Once you’ve done all these things, you need to set up a repeated schedule to practice and continue to build speed and efficiency. It doesn’t do you any good to learn new stuff and pressure test if after that you just sit around for 2 months waiting for your next match. Dry fire. Even if it’s just for a little bit. Go the range and train.

The bottom line is that once you’ve accepted that the world is a dangerous enough place to warrant carrying a gun every day, the only logical extension of that thought is that the danger is significant enough that you should be training to kick its ass.

Interview with a burglar

There is an idea out there that criminals are, by in large, idiots. Criminals can be extremely impulsive and regularly make news for doing incredibly stupid things…often when ingesting drugs are involved…but, to paraphrase Robert DeNiro’s character in Heat they aren’t all doing thrill-seeker liquor store holdups with a “Born to Lose” tattoo on their chest. A good many of them live closer to the edge of survival than the vast majority of law abiding people ever will. You can’t do that for long while being incredibly stupid.

The police department in Allen, Texas recently put out an interview they did with a career criminal specializing in residential burglary. It’s a gold mine in terms of understanding criminal motivations, resourcefulness, and the way they look at the world. This guy was one of the smart criminals, who had gotten away with plying his trade for at least twenty years.


Some things to make note of in this interview:

This individual worked as a personal trainer. In other words, he used a legitimate looking job as a means of getting access to neighborhoods and houses so he could case them for a heist. Criminals are predators, and predators are always on the hunt. He was mindful of how he presented himself and tried to blend in and look plausible enough not to raise anyone’s notice. Think carefully about who you allow to have a look inside your house and how much they get to see. I’ve seen bad guys case neighborhoods using Trick-or-Treating as cover. Anything is fair game to these guys.

People who don’t belong in your neighborhood ought to be treated with healthy suspicion. You don’t necessarily have to be best friends with your neighbors to know what they look like and what kind of cars they drive. If you’ve lived somewhere more than a couple of months you should be able to get a feel for what people belong there and what vehicles belong there. When an unfamiliar element shows up, it should raise your suspicion.

Many alarm systems can be easily defeated. They work on telephone signals and defeating them can be as simple as cutting the main phone line into the house. This is often much more exposed and vulnerable than it should be in most homes. A wireless system or wireless backup that works on cell phone signal, however, is a much tougher nut to crack because he has no effective way of cutting off the signal. If you don’t know how your alarm system functions, find out and make sure yours isn’t easily beaten. Note also that the systems he is most afraid of are those that connect directly to the police and guarantee a police response. The majority of alarm systems sold are managed by third party companies (ADT, for example) and do not guarantee a police response. The smart bad guys know the difference. Also note the mentioned utility of an alarm horn loud enough to alert the neighborhood to the break in.

He also discusses glass doors at length. Here again we are getting an insight into the differences between the criminal mind and the law abiding citizen’s mind. Glass doors and entry ways can be very pretty and used to create beautiful lighting in your home. They’re also a positive boon to a dude like this looking to take your stuff or at least get the advantage on you. Those pretty glass features stream information into the world and he’s looking to download the data. A house that’s streaming that information is more attractive than one where he has no easy means of seeing into the home. Your neighbor’s pretty glass door versus having a solid entry way with any ground level windows curtained, blinded, or otherwise blocked from view can be the difference between this guy trying their house over yours. Deselection in practice.

Take the time to watch this video and digest the information in it. The more you understand about how criminals think and operate the less likely you are to be a victim.




Lethal force is a last resort

In the last couple of weeks a few instances of…well, idiocy is the best description I can proffer at the moment…made semi-national news. They are excellent examples of what The Tactical Professor would call “Negative Outcomes” that result from people who made the decision to keep a firearm handy but apparently did not bother to make the same effort to educate themselves about the law. Or, one could argue, apply any common sense.

Firearms are lethal force. The law in every state and territory in our Union regards the firearm as a deadly instrument. Because when used properly or improperly, it can kill people.

As a society we generally regard the act of justifiably killing another human being to be a last resort. An extreme action warrantable in answer to only the most serious of criminal threats.

Multiple armed men forcibly entering your home is one of those serious criminal threats. Had the residents of that house opened fire on the armed men busting through the front door and killed every one, it would have been a justifiable homicide in every jurisdiction in the United States. The threat to life is clear, as the unfortunate outcome of this criminal assault makes plain.

One cannot say the same for shoplifting. In Michigan a woman in a Home Depot parking lot saw a man running with a cart full of stolen power tools. As he got into a getaway car, she opened fire on the car.

According to officials, Duva-Rodriguez wasn’t trying to hit or kill the shoplifters, but rather to disable their car. But that didn’t stop prosecutors from filing the misdemeanor charge against her. The Auburn Hills Police Department suggested Duva-Rodriguez could face 90 days in jail or a fine.

If you do not intend to kill someone, a firearm is the wrong tool to have in your hand.

Guns are lethal force. Period. Police do sometimes shoot at vehicles but only in the most extreme of circumstances where there is a continuing threat to the community…not when the car has unarmed shoplifters in it. Even when the police shoot to disable the car of a fleeing armed felon it is a use of lethal force.

To justifiably use your firearm you have to be faced with a circumstance where a criminal assault is placing someone (You, for instance) at significant risk of death or grievous injury. (Broken bones, paralysis, maimed for life, etc) Two dudes stealing a grand worth of Home Depot’s power tools does not place anyone in immediate danger of death or grievous injury…therefore your handgun is absolutely the wrong tool for that job. The smart phone in your pocket or purse is a much better tool for that situation.

Then, of course, we have the incident in Waco where a woman fired a shot at a fleeing purse snatcher. Here again we see no immediate danger to life or limb, but she’s got her gun out and when the bad guy takes off running with no evidence of armed aggression toward anyone she pops a shot at the guy.

You need not be a Harvard Law alumni to understand this. Common sense (which may not actually be all that common, when you think about it…) would dictate that since guns kill, it is only justifiable to use them when we are prepared to actually end another human being on the spot.

Guns are not magic. They are a relatively simple machine that launches a projectile. Pulling one out in inappropriate circumstances will not make the situation better for you. Quite the opposite, I’m afraid.

Feeling the sensation of fear is not enough to justify pulling your gun or actually firing it. You cannot be unsure about the threat when you pull the trigger. It cannot be a situation of “I’m afraid of what this guy might do!” The time to pull the trigger is when you know that you or some other innocent person is likely to die or be seriously injured if you don’t. It’s a last resort, when other reasonable options are no longer available to you.

Reckless Discharge in Waco

Waco, Texas. A town that most people have only seen from I-35 traveling between Austin and D/FW.  It is a town my wife and I recently begin to visit on day trips because we discovered fun activities for the kids and lots of good food to eat.  But a recent incident in Waco, that was captured on video, was not fun and games and it sets a prime example of what NOT to do.

Here is a brief synopsis of the events.  The suspect, 27-year-old male, stole a purse from an 84-year-old woman’s shopping cart at Walmart.  Several men pursued, and as you can see in the video, they tried to restrain him.  He was able to twist, contort and fight back enough he was ultimately able to get loose.  That is when a woman named Emma Cotten, who had decided to offer assistance with pistol in hand, fired her weapon into the air and herein lies the problem.

Let’s get this out-of-the-way first.  Ms. Cotten did not possess a legal means to conceal carry a handgun in any State.  In fact, she was not carrying it on her person, but had taken it from her truck when she felt the overwhelming desire to play sheep dog and intervene in the situation.  It is worth noting that in Texas, the carrying of a concealed pistol in your vehicle is generally legal without a Concealed Handgun License. As the men tried to apprehend the suspect, she foolishly trained the weapon on both the suspect and the men wrestling with him. When the suspect broke free, Ms. Cotten fired a warning shot into the air, without regard to where it would land.

So what we have is a woman of unknown training and background aiming her firearm into the air and firing a round over both a bank building and Interstate 35!  The best we can presume is that she wanted to scare the suspect into submission.  It is blatantly obvious she was unaware of Texas law regarding firearm discharge, self-defense and deadly conduct.  Those of us with CCW’s can learn a lot from this.

Gun in Hand

Note the attitude of the gun when Ms. Cotten broke the shot.

Remember, this suspect was not a child molester. He was not a rapist. He was apparently unarmed.  He was but a petty thief – a pathetic excuse for a human being – when they tried to apprehend him.  That begs the question we should all ask ourselves.  What if she had actually shot him?  Do you really want to face a grand jury because you shot a purse snatcher in the back, while he was fleeing?  Where is the imminent threat to her life.  Might this be different if the suspect had just committed a mass shooting?  I believe so; for starters that scenario would involve a criminal actor that is known to be armed and violent.  This suspect was neither.  He was a worthless piece of crap that robbed an old lady of her purse from a shopping cart and ran.

The final baffling part is that after popping a cap into the air (oblivious to Newtons Third Law of Motion), Ms. Cotten left the scene!  You read and that correct.  When law enforcement arrived she walked back to her vehicle and drove off!  When I first saw the video I thought she was securing the firearm.  Nope, she was driving away.  Luckily the police where able to identify and locate her.  She has since been in indicted by a grand jury for Deadly Conduct.

To paraphrase the meaning of Deadly Conduct in the State of Texas – “a person commits deadly conduct if he or she recklessly engages in conduct that places another in imminent danger of serious bodily injury… or if he or she discharges a firearm at or in the direction of one or more individuals, or a habitation, building or vehicle.”

For this act of galactic stupidity Ms. Cotten faces either a Class A misdemeanor or a third-degree felony, depending on the evidence as presented to the grand jury.  At this point that information has not be release to the public.

This entire video is an example of why we, as CCW’s, need to know the laws in our State and those we visit with firearms.  We must be cognizant of our surroundings and obey the safety rules – ALWAYS.  We have to think before we act, and we must do so quickly, as such events are often fluid and turbulent as they unfold in front of us.  Training and competition both induce stress; they help you learn problem solving under stress with a loaded gun in your hand.  Training beyond the CCW license requirements are a necessity for someone with a CCW.  Don’t find yourself sitting in jail because the sheep dog mentality took your actions too far.

And always remember, people need not be from Waco to be Wacko!

Trunk Gun Considerations, Part 1.

Just like the first snow of the season sends unprepared drivers to the mechanic for new wiper blades and snow tires, two dramatic episodes of Jihad in the West have ignited a renewed interest in the “Trunk Gun”. This is usually a long gun and some other ancillary gear kept in readiness in a personal vehicle meant as a supplement to our daily carry pistol.

It’s a popular and comforting idea, but like our patron saint kept needling us, “What is it for? How is it to be used?” Answering these questions leads to better and more frugal gear decisions and provides some focus for future training.

Let’s start with what it is not for. The trunk gun is not there to go and get, and then re-enter a situation to deal with the threat ourselves. If you have made it to your car, you can safely exit the area and that is our smartest plan. If you encounter jihad on your way to making an escape, by all means burn them down, but most of these events are over in moments and by the time you get to your car, get your big gun and get back to the fight, it will be over and you will be a target for the responding officers. We, the armed, non-sworn, civilians of this country, do not carry guns to be Junior G-Men. We do not have belt pistols and trunk guns to seek out and engage terrorists. That is the job of the professionals, and doing so may well see us get shot by police instead of terrorists. Shot is shot, and it sucks.

Rather, the trunk gun is there to give the citizen more capability over a handgun to cope with an elevated threat situation in their area. While we’re trying to get out of Dodge in a situation where we have advance warning of heightened danger, a long gun up front gives us more options.

Hardware wise, this immediately suggests America’s Rifle. A reliable AR-15 type with a 16″ barrel and collapsible stock is lightweight and portable and can deal with just about anything man-sized at any distance at which we can identify a threat. An AR that lives in a trunk should absolutely have fixed iron sights. For this a permanently pinned front sight tower and if you’re using a flat top receiver, a fixed rear sight like the Daniel Defense 1.5 or the Troy unit are best. A red dot sight turns maintaining a sight picture into Easy Mode, but a trunk is a harsh environment for batteries and electronics. Hot and cold extremes, vibration, bumps and uncontrolled humidity all add up to a potentially dead dot when you need it the most. Sturdy iron sights that will keep a zero are a primary requirement, not a backup.

AR-15 SP1

And let’s be honest. How many of us are eager to drop $500 on a quality red dot that will live most of it’s life in our trunk? The temptation to cheap out on a Chinese Fakepoint for your trunk gun is high, and should be avoided. Get a good set of irons first and learn to use them well until you can afford a real red dot and can get into the habit of checking it regularly.

Similarly, how many of us will commit to checking the batteries in our sights on a regular basis? For this reason, I think a flashlight, while indispensable on a home defense AR, is a low priority on a trunk gun. Better to have a small stub of rail already in place on the gun so you can throw on a flashlight like a Streamlight TLR-1 or similar if required.

A sling is to the rifle as the holster is to the pistol, and will make life easier if you have to abandon your car and move out on foot. A lightweight and compact chest rig that allows you to draw your carry pistol without interference is also a good idea, but simply stuffing some spare magazines into your pockets is better than nothing.

If you can’t afford an AR-15 for your trunk, there’s still good options that won’t break the bank.