© 2014 Grant Cunningham Click to email me!

Want to learn your revolver inside and out? I'll be teaching in Ohio next month!

If you have a revolver, whether it’s for self defense “on the street” or home defense for your family, you need to sign up for this class!

Where do you go for the best self defense and training information?


If I may be so bold, may I suggest my other site - the Personal Security Institute?

The PSI site is where you'll find my
current writings on self defense, personal security, defensive shooting, and training classes. I set up the PSI site at the first of the year specifically to consolidate all of my training and teaching activities in one site, leaving this blog free to get back to its roots: guns, some Second Amendment politics, reloading, and all of the "hardware" stuff we like to talk about!

The Personal Security Institute is my place to talk in-depth about all of the "software" dealing with self defense and self reliance. That doesn't mean I ignore hardware completely, only that it's dealt with more from a standpoint of how it applies to defensive shooting: choices and uses.

Of course you'll also find my
training schedule, a list of the courses I offer, my current biography, and more! If you want to invite me to teach a course in your area, you'll even find information about how to do that on the site.

Please make a visit, have a look around, and while you're there would you mind sharing the PSI website with your friends and family, and especially in your social media world? I'd sure appreciate it!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Don't forget to follow PSI on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or our incredible Flipboard Magazine!

Sorry to be missing in action, but I have a good excuse!


Where have I been? Teaching people how to use their revolvers more efficiently, that's where!

Louis Awerbuck, RIP.

One of the top teachers in the defensive training world died yesterday.

Come train with me in Cleveland!

DRF book cover_small
If you liked the book, you'll love the course I'll be teaching in the Cleveland, Ohio area next month — and there's still time to grab a spot in class!

Please help me spread the word about the Personal Security Institute!


My other site, dealing specifically with self defense and training topics, needs more readers — and you can help make that happen!

My upcoming Defensive Revolver Fundamentals class just got a whole lot more awesome! Why? How about the chance to get a new gun?!?

I’ll be in Delaware, OH, at the terrific Black Wing Shooting Center on March 22 & 23, teaching my Defensive Revolver Fundamentals course. There are still a few slots left, and there’s a very good reason for you to sign up: you might go home with a free gun!

Defensive Revolver Fundamentals in Delaware, OH is coming up!

DRF book cover_small
You’ve read the book; now you can take the course. If you’re anywhere near western Ohio or eastern Indiana mark your calendars for this month!

A new training company and a new website!



Should a CCW holder get involved in someone else's fight?

A week or so ago, Greg Ellifritz (who’s a police officer by trade) posted a story about a call in which he was involved. Seems that a male store security officer (who is also a cop, albeit part-time) had a running fight with a female shoplifter that ended up on the side of a thoroughfare. The suspect got the bright idea of yelling “rape!” in an attempt to elicit some help on the part of passers-by.

She got it in the form of a citizen with a valid concealed carry permit. (I won’t go into the details of the encounter, but I encourage you to
read Greg’s account for the whole story.)

The person with the CCW intervened on behalf of someone he didn’t know, against someone he didn’t know, in a situation where he was not cognizant of all of the relevant facts. It’s natural, I think, to believe that the person yelling “rape” would be the innocent. The suspect certainly did, which was her plan!

This incident could have turned out very differently. The CCW holder could have shot the cop/security officer, the security guy could have shot him, or the responding officers could have mistaken the CCW for an accomplice of either of the others and shot him.

It’s easy to think of ourselves, possessors of valid concealed carry licenses, as upright citizens being on the side of truth and virtue and a line of defense against the evil in this world. The language of much of the training industry tends to reinforce these notions: note how many people use the word ‘sheepdog’ with regard to concealed carry.

The problem is that some people, such as our CCW holder in this story, take that stuff seriously. There is a bit of daydreamer in each of us, one who sees himself as being the hero in a dire circumstance: riding in to save the damsel from harm. Some segments of the training industry are happy to reinforce, or at least not discourage, such beliefs. This incident should serve as a counterpoint to that, as things are not always what they seem!

I caution my students that they should look at their concealed firearm as being intended for the protection of themselves and their loved ones against an identified lethal threat, and not necessarily for the protection of the public at large. I can imagine how this guy felt when he heard what he truly believed to be someone in need of assistance, but at the same time he could have gotten himself, or someone else, unjustifiably killed.

We start with the concept that the threat of lethal force (your drawn gun) is only applicable when you or someone else is facing a lethal threat. In this case, assuming the situation is as Greg reports it, I don’t see where there was a lethal threat which warranted the CCW holder to have his own gun in play. Generally, in the absence of an immediate and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm, the lethal tool (the gun) is not the proper choice whether you’re protecting yourself or protecting others.

That brings us back to pretending to be something you’re not: this fellow was using a lethal threat (his gun) simply to get someone else to follow his orders. That’s what police officers do, and are allowed to do, but that’s not what private citizens carrying a concealed handgun are allowed to do. We are not cops, but someone apparently forgot to explain that distinction to him.

Intervention with a concealed pistol is fraught with risk. You first need to ask yourself if there is a true danger of death (or grave harm) to another human being. If someone is attacking you that’s an easy thing to answer, but when dealing with two other parties it’s a question that requires a little conscious effort.

Are you absolutely certain that the players in the situation are what they appear to be? If someone walks into the mall and starts shooting it’s a lot easier to make that analysis than in the case Greg relates. Getting involved with lethal force in a scenario where you end up shooting the wrong person is a grave error (and being shot because you were seen by someone else as the bad guy would be a grave consequence.)

It’s important, I believe, to think about this kind of incident ahead of time and decide the parameters under which you would act. In what cases would you even consider intervention to protect another? How will you be sure that you should? What can you do to ascertain the players before you bring your gun to bear? Finally, how might you deal with the aftermath of having shot what turned out to be an innocent person?

These are not easy questions, nor should they be.

-=[ Grant ]=-

How should you protect yourself from the knockout game attack?

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving holiday! (Be honest, now: how many of you are taking advantage of Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals to get yourself something at a gun or outdoor store? Thought so!)

Over the last week or so quite a number of people have written to ask me about the “knockout game” which the media is making such a fuss over. The common query is about how to defend against this kind of attack, and could I give some advice?

There’s not a lot of advice I can give that’s different from the advice I usually give!

First, you have to remember that these attacks aren’t as common as the news would have you believe. Because they devote a large amount of time and airspace to talking about them you’d think that they’re an epidemic in the making, but step back and think about how the media overplays school attacks: they’re quite rare, but listening to any of the networks you’d think they happen every week.

This isn’t to downplay the knockout attacks which do happen, but it’s important to have clarity about the risks you face. Only by putting things in proper perspective can you prepare intelligently.

Second, there’s not a whole lot that’s unique or special about these attacks. (The only really unusual thing about the knockout is the motivation: the attacker doesn’t want anything from you except the prestige he or she gets from having laid you on the pavement. In this kind of attack robbery or sexual assault isn’t the motivator, which is often our concern when considering the possibilities of how to reduce our victim profile as part of an overall safety plan. In other words, those things that we do to reduce our appeal as a target for a robbery may not have any impact on being targeted for a knockout.)

While the motivation might be different, the mechanics aren’t. The actual defense against the knockout is pretty much the same as for any unanticipated close quarters attack.

The knockout attack is a classic ambush (one that you don’t have significant foreknowledge of until it happens) within two arm’s reach. Because of this, your training in dealing with the close-in surprise attack is applicable to the knockout. Looked at in this light, what you need to do is what you’ve always needed to do!

In these kinds of attacks, the gun is not necessarily the first thing you should be worrying about; what you need is specific training in close quarters defense. Learning what to do when your threat is within two arm’s reach is very different from what you do when your attacker is beyond that distance, and those skills should be part of your complete defensive preparation.

Let this be your motivation to sign up for a class! Where should you go to get these skills? I recommend three sources:

- Take I.C.E. Training’s
Counter Ambush home study course (or at least read the book “Counter Ambush”.) This isn’t a course that tries to teach physical skills, but rather teaches you how ambush attacks occur and how you should structure your training to address them. It’s a groundbreaking course, the only one of it’s kind that I’m aware of, and it’s worth your time no matter where you are in the training world.

From that you’ll need a hands-on course in close quarters combat. I can recommend two:

- The acknowledged expert in this area is Craig Douglas at Shivworks; he’s one of the few teachers who is respected in all quarters of the defensive training world. His
ECQC (Extreme Close Quarter Concepts) is the class to take.

- Another good choice is the
Extreme Close Quarters Tactics course from Rob Pincus.

Both of these courses are superb and you can’t go wrong with either one. You’ll find both being offered at various places around the country in 2014.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Another reason for not taking responsibility for one's own safety?

Allow me to be a bit philosophical on this day before Thanksgiving.

Monday on Facebook I shared this link to
a story of an intervention by unarmed bystanders in a knife attack on a young woman. I found this heartening, inasmuch as I’d been following an unrelated story a few days earlier that elicited some surprising reactions.

The earlier story dealt with
a training session that’s becoming more and more common across the United States: teaching kids how to deal with a spree killer in their school. The contentious part was the section which taught them what to do if, despite evasion and barricading, the bad guy managed to get to them. The training revolved around the idea that it was better to do something that might give them a chance than to do nothing and accept their fate.

The story was great; it was the reader reactions that were depressing. There were parents commenting that they didn’t want their children to fight back and risk being hurt; they wanted their kids to cower in fear and wait for the bad guy to get around to killing them unimpeded. It was somehow better, in their mind, to trade a high probability of death for a lesser one, albeit one that required the children to do something that might be scary.

Over the years I’ve encountered the same sort of attitude among a wide variety of people when the subject of self defense has come up, though lately those attitudes are becoming a bit less common. Still, they do exist and crop up in the oddest of circumstances when you expect a completely different reaction.

I used to attribute this bias against action to a fear of the unknown, or to a generalized fear of independence, or to the much-discussed “victim mentality”. All of those may be true and even contribute simultaneously, but perhaps there’s something else at work: the rise of the specialist and the elevation of every job to professional status.

Today it’s likely that most of what you have, most of what you consume, and most of what you experience has all been produced by professionals: people whose jobs it is to do those things; specialists. This is especially true for things that just a couple of generations ago were primarily the province of amateurs: cooking; the raising and preservation of food; common and minor medical care; clothing production; haircuts; and so on. We’re used to letting professionals do all this, and more, rather than learn to do it ourselves.

This delegation goes further than you might realize. Take, for instance, music: fewer people than ever make their own music for the entertainment of their family and friends. This was not always the case, for when I was a kid (which, I must insist, was not all that long ago) people would gather together on Saturday or Sunday evenings, bring their instruments, and spend time singing tunes both classic and new. Art was similarly made at home, and even the majority of sporting events were largely amateur: high school athletics once drew more than just helicopter parents.

Today we listen, watch, and are entertained not by ourselves or our peers but by people who get paid to do those things: the professionals. I’m sure you can think of other examples from your own experience. Is it any surprise, then, that people delegate their safety to professionals rather than learn why they need to do it themselves?

Don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying that this is the only, or even major, contributor to the inability to take responsibility for one’s own life. I do think, though, that society’s continuing admonition to “leave things to the professionals” has an effect on how people view everything in their lives, not the least of which is their own safety.

Have a happy (and safe) Thanksgiving!

-=[ Grant ]=-


A little teaching trick: memory, feelings, and getting the two to work together.

One of the tasks of anyone who teaches physical techniques is helping the student physically coordinate the various inputs and actions that are necessary to shoot a handgun. For some this comes easily, but for others it can be a challenge (and I’m speaking of both the student and the teacher!)

The brain takes in a huge amount of information from the various sensors in our bodies to be able to performa and replicate a physical action. This is, by and large, kinesthetic information that is stored and associated with a desired outcome. If you’ve ever played a ball game, be it baseball, basketball, tennis, handball, or any other you’re familiar with this process.

In my experience, people who have an athletic background tend to have an easier time making the transition from thinking about what they’re doing to allowing the body to do so without cognitive input. They’re used to the learning procedure even if they aren’t accustomed to the specific actions.

While the specific tasks in shooting are different than those of a ball game, the principles are the same: the brain takes in information on how the body places itself; which muscles contract and how much; weight distribution; the sensation of the finger has as it touches and presses the trigger; and a whole lot more.

Helping those who are having trouble with the complexities of this process of controlling the gun is the subject of a
recent blog article from Marcus Wynne. Wynne has been around the training business for a while, and this particular article talks about one his techniques for helping the student remember how to perform the task of shooting.

I’ve experimented independently with this technique for a few years and find it has merit with a certain percentage of students when dealing with the more complex parts of shooting. My implementation is slightly different than his, however, because I’ve found that paying attention to the feelings of a missed (unsuccessful) shot are of no value; the feelings the student memorizes need to be those of the successes.

Let’s say a student is having trouble in drills where he needs to use his sights to place a precise hit. What I’ll do is coach him through a successful shot or two: “line up your sights, let them move only inside the target area and at the same time apply steady pressure to the trigger until the gun fires.” Once that’s been done successfully (a proper hit) I’ll tell him to close his eyes and think about how that shot physically felt — from his knees to his elbows to his fingers. Then I have him open his eyes and fire one shot, without coaching, while replicating those feelings. Most of the time this non-coached shot is successful, as are successive iterations as long as he focuses on what it felt like (kinesthetically, not emotionally.)

It’s easy to forget a process detail, but those physical sensations seem to be easier to remember and to apply at will. After a number of repetitions the recall happens without the student’s need to think about it, which is the goal.

Have you had experience with this technique, either as a student or an instructor? How did it work for you?

-=[ Grant ]=-

My 2014 teaching schedule is coming! Will you be on it?

I'm filling out my teaching schedule for next year and planning on a number of classes in Oregon, as well as teaching in other parts of the country. This year I taught at both ends of the United States - multiple states on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts - and would love to visit more of the in-between states next year!

If you'd like to take one of my classes but can't make it to Oregon (or you’re in Oregon but don’t want to travel all the way to the mid-Willamette valley), how about hosting me in your hometown? It's easy to do. All we need is a suitable range and some people who want good training!

How do you get started? Just
take a look at my course offerings, find a local range that we can use, and drop me an email. That’s enough to get the ball rolling.

I'm looking forward to meeting you on the range next year!

-=[ Grant ]=-

P.S.: Just a hint for those folks in the southern states - I’m particularly fond of the idea of teaching in a place where it’s warm and dry in March. Not that I’m complaining about the Northwest weather, you understand!




I know that I don't usually make blog posts on Saturday, but this one is time sensitive: the Personal Defense Network is running a Veteran's Day special, three days only, this weekend:
pay for one year of PDN Premium access, and get the second year free!

Now I'll admit that I can't recall off the top of my head what I had for dinner last night, but I don't remember PDN ever making this kind of offer. It's an unusual opportunity to get access to great training and education at a price that can't be beat.

Have a good Veteran's Day weekend!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Warning shots: they can land you in jail, and you'll probably deserve it.

One of the sure ways to get a certain number of gun owners up in arms is to post a story about someone being arrested for firing a warning shot. The attitude seems to be that if the person didn’t shoot at someone else, and didn’t hit anyone accidentally, where’s the harm?

Warning shots seem to be grossly misunderstood by a large percentage of gun owners, who are confused about their legality and practicality. It’s really quite simple: they’re virtually never justified. (I’d go so far as to say that they’re never justified under any circumstances, but that’s just me.)

Take this story about
a woman in Virginia whose daughter was in an altercation with a neighborhood boy. Accounts vary, but apparently the boy in question either punched her daughter in the face, or just insulted her, but the result was some degree of (mutual?) assault.

The mother, one Lakisha Gaither, said that she walked away, into the middle of the parking lot, looked around to make sure that no one was around, then drew her gun and fired a shot into the air. For that, she was arrested.

She should have been.

The principle is this: the gun is always a tool of deadly force. If you’re not justified in shooting a person because of an immediate threat to your life (or the life of another innocent person), you’re not justified in shooting at all. A warning shot is in effect an admission that you didn’t need to use deadly force, otherwise you would have actually aimed at the person who was the threat.

You can’t use the threat of deadly force (the warning shot) to convince or coerce someone else’s behavior outside of an immediate threat to your life.

The problem is Ms. Gaither apparently didn’t have a justifiable reason for pulling the trigger. She simply wanted a boy to stop arguing with her daughter, so she used her deadly weapon to put some fear into him. By her own account, the incident wasn’t one in which her daughter was in immediate (and otherwise unavoidable, particularly since this altercation appears to have been mutual) danger of death or grave bodily harm.

Therefore she didn’t have the right to fire her gun, and she was arrested for discharging a firearm illegally.

If the situation warrants the use of deadly force, then it warrants using that force directly against the attacker. If the situation is such that you don’t need to shoot the other person and you’re not legally justified in doing so, then you’re not justified in discharging your gun, period.

Warning shots are for television shows and the fools who get their training from them. I trust that you don’t fall into that category, but let’s help educate those who do! One way you can do so is to join (and get others to join) the
Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network (ACLDN). The ACLDN not only helps you survive the legal aftermath of a lethal encounter, they give you a thorough education in the legalities of lethal force so that you understand - clearly - when it is and isn’t appropriate. Highly recommended!

-=[ Grant ]=-

(As always: I am not a lawyer. This is a layman’s understanding of the laws surrounding the use of lethal force, and you should always seek competent legal guidance for any questions you have about the legal issues regarding guns and self defense.)

It's Wednesday, and tonight is The Gun Nation LIVE podcast!

As usual, I'm scheduled to be on The Gun Nation LIVE with Doc Wesson and Average Joe tonight! Join us for lively and entertaining discussions about guns, the shooting industry, self defense, training, and all sorts of other great firearms-related topics. We start around 6:pm Pacific/9:pm Eastern.

You can listen LIVE at this link. If you can't tune in tonight, you can catch the recording of the podcast (usually posted the next day) on the front page of The Gun Nation.

-=[ Grant ]=-

What is an efficient handgun, and why is it important in self defense?

Last Wednesday we talked about inefficient handguns, namely the Beretta 92 (and variants.) It wasn’t that I was picking on the Beretta, you understand, only that (as I explained) I’d gotten an email about that specific gun. Also, as I pointed out in the article, the Beretta was hardly alone; the older S&W autos were very similar in operation and deficiencies, yet for some reason they don’t have nearly the vocal following!

Let’s start today by talking about efficiency as applied to the handgun. An efficient handgun, as I pointed out, is one which requires the least amount of handling to employ, the least amount of training time to become proficient, and imposes as little on the shooter as possible. In other words, it’s a gun which consumes the least amount of resources in both training and use (resources might be things such as time, energy, money, ammunition, attention, and so on.)

There are two facets to this notion of efficiency: use of resources in training, and complication during an actual shooting incident. Let’s start in training: an inefficient gun uses more of a student’s time, effort, ammunition, and money to get to (and maintain) any given level of proficiency. I’ve had more than one person (here on the blog, on my Facebook pages, and in the comments on other blogs) say that difficulties with DA/SA guns are “just” “training issues”. YES! That’s my point!

None of us have unlimited resources for training. Even if a person is incredibly, obscenely wealthy he or she still has limits on available training resources, like time and energy. (Most of the rest of us have to factor in money, which is no small concern these days.) If you’ve read my latest book (
Defensive Revolver Fundamentals), I go into this idea in a chapter titled “Managing Scarcity” - because that’s what we’re doing whenever we train or practice: managing our scarce resources to get the best return possible. Combat Focus Shooting students will recognize this as the “Plausibility Principle”.

A gun which uses more of those resources in training leaves us fewer of those resources for other things. Now you may think that the resources used for, say, learning to consistently decock the gun or to manage that transition between heavy double action and lighter single action don’t seem to be all that burdensome, but that’s time, effort, money and attention which you can’t spend on the important parts of defensive shooting: recognizing and responding to the attack. Using resources mastering a more-difficult-to-handle gun means those resources can’t be used to learn your balance of speed and precision under a wider range of circumstances, which is perhaps the most basic and vital aspect of all defensive shooting.

When actually shooting in self defense, those inefficiencies cause some very specific and concerning issues. Forgetting to off-safe the gun when the need to shoot arises, for instance, is a common error among both new and seasoned shooters. I’ve have many responses to last week’s article testifying that they had practiced with their gun so often that its operation had become “automatic”; yet, I’ve seen USPSA Master-class ranked shooters, put into a training environment where they were mentally off-balance, forget to take their safeties off and spend precious time trying to figure out why their gun wouldn’t shoot! (This is far more common than shooters of such guns can ever admit; I had one very experienced shooter deny that it happened even after being shown the video of his error!)

Even the most experienced shooters of DA/SA guns such as the Beretta often drop shots in those same kind of training drills. I’ve watched more than one extremely skilled shooter using a DA/SA auto pull their first shot low, or their second shot high, during a drill designed to put the shooter into an unpredictable environment. That transition between DA and SA is more difficult than most people believe it is, especially when taken out of the calm and predictable training environment and put into one a little more like an actual incident.

Yes, it’s all about training: a DA/SA gun, such as the Beretta, takes more of it than guns which are simpler - and still hold out the possibility of operational error because of their more complicated nature.

An efficient gun would be a one which has a consistent trigger action from shot to shot; a gun which is in the same firing condition after a shot as it is when it’s in the holster; a gun which has a minimum of extraneous controls; a gun which requires no action other than manipulating the trigger to fire.

What guns are simpler and therefore more efficient?

If we were to make a list of the most efficient defensive handguns, the modern striker-fired autopistol would be at the top of that list. Guns like the Glock, Smith & Wesson M&P, Springfield XD series, Steyr, and some of the Walther models have a consistent shot-to-shot trigger, no extra levers or buttons to manipulate in the course of operation, and no extraneous safeties. They’re also extremely reliable (reliability is an often overlooked contributor to efficiency) and have a low bore axis, which aids recoil control and makes them easier to shoot.

Right under those would be the very few double-action-only autoloaders still being made. Some of the SIG-Sauer guns fall into this category, as do some of the HK pistols. They have external hammers which may make some people feel a little better about their safety, particularly with reholstering, but those hammers also raise the bore axis. As a result the guns tend to be a little larger and, in my experience, a little harder to shoot.

What’s next? Believe it or not, the double action revolver. Think about this: consistent triggers, no external safeties, no decockers (and if they’re double action only, no provision to even be cocked to single action - my preference.) They are, in use, extremely efficient. It can be argued that the Glock has more in common, conceptually, with the revolver than with other autoloaders. The only place where the revolver is less efficient is in reloading; however, it’s more efficient at the primary task (shooting) than any of the autoloaders listed below which makes it overall a more efficient tool.

Next would be the single action autoloaders, such as the 1911, Hi-Power, and the CZ-75 series when carried “cocked and locked”. Their need for constant manipulation of the manual safety makes them less efficient in both use and training, and their older designs are in the aggregate less reliable than the newer striker-fired guns. (That isn’t to say you can’t find individual examples which are perfectly reliable, only that they occur less frequently.)

At the bottom of the list are the DA/SA autoloaders, about which we’ve been talking. They require more resources in training and practice, and have more to deal with in actual shooting, than even the single action autoloaders. This group is, collectively, the most complicated type of handgun and requires the most training and practice to maintain proficiency.

Finally, remember this: the foregoing is not to say that an inefficient gun is bad or can’t be used to defend yourself, because that clearly isn’t true. People have used, and continue to use, DA/SA guns to protect themselves and their families with success. What this is saying is that learning to use one, and maintaining your ability to use one, will take more of your limited training resources and carries a slightly higher risk of operator error during a critical situation than a more efficient choice.

I believe that your choice of defensive handgun is yours, but that choice should always be as informed as possible!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Reviews of Defensive Revolver Fundamentals, I interview Gila Hayes, and more!

This is a "Monday catch-up" post, wherein I realize that I've put this stuff on Facebook but not the blog!

First up: renowned trainer
Tiger McKee recently wrote a very nice review of my revolver books (Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver and my new Defensive Revolver Fundamentals) for The Tactical Wire. This is pretty exciting to me, as he is one of the most direct descendants of Jeff Cooper and is a proponent of both the 1911 pistol and of the "Modern Technique" -- all of which, as you're probably aware, are very different than my personal viewpoints! To have him find value in what I've wrote is an incredible (and humbling) honor.

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Speaking of books, a few weeks back I interviewed
Gila Hayes, author of the new book "Concealed Carry For Women", on The Gun Nation Starring Doc Wesson. (Doc's been giving me grief that I've not mentioned him sufficiently in my articles and interviews, so I'm trying to make amends.) Gila and I talk about the book and the thoughts and motivations behind what she's written. It's a superb work and any woman who is considering carrying a concealed handgun needs to have it in her library. (Frankly, any male firearms instructor should have it too, so he understands some of the things that women need to take into consideration when figuring out how to keep a gun with them.) You can listen to the recording of that show; my interview with Gila starts about a third of the way in.


Speaking of The Gun Nation: in case you missed it last week, here's a recording of
the latest episode of The Gun Nation Featuring Doc Wesson. Doc and I talk about the Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Conference I just attended, I review the new book "Lessons From UN-Armed America" by Mark Walters and Rob Pincus, and we talk about hunting season, favorite shotguns, and a whole lot more.


Finally, don't forget that
I'm a regular cohost on The Gun Nation Presented By Doc Wesson. It happens every other Wednesday evening at 6:pm Pacific/9:pm Eastern, and you can listen LIVE!

-=[ Grant ]=-

CCW: Some more thoughts on the appendix position for concealed carry.

The appendix carry position (so named because the gun is on the front of your body, between your navel and the point of your hip; roughly on top of your appendix if you're a right-hander) has gotten quite popular in recent years. That popularity has made it the subject of both scorn and praise, with some believing it's the work of Beelzebub himself and others opining that it's the best thing since a bunch of duck hunters in Louisiana decided to go into full ZZ Top mode.

As I mentioned a couple of months ago, I've generally been agnostic where the appendix position was concerned. I've tried it, with several holsters, and found that it simply wasn't comfortable for me. I've also noticed that the people who like appendix carry tend to be taller than I am, with longer torsos, and are usually fairly athletic. Since I'm short, with a correspondingly small distance between my beltline and hip joint, sitting down with a gun in the appendix position is quite uncomfortable regardless of the size of the firearm. I do have a lot of students, however, who use and like that style of carry.

It wasn't until doing instructor development for the Advanced Pistol Handling course from I.C.E. Training about a week ago that I really grew to appreciate some of the less-obvious advantages of the appendix position. Its proponents tend to emphasize the speed with which the gun can be accessed when standing (which is undeniable), but I noticed that it had some distinct advantages when shooting from more unorthodox positions.

When in the driver's seat of a car, for instance, it's easier to access the gun from that position than when the gun is worn behind the hip. The seatbelt is not nearly as much of an obstacle, and presenting the gun to a threat on the passenger side is simpler. When knocked on your back, a common occurrence in a fight, getting the gun into play from the common 4-o'clock position requires more movement and body shifting than accessing the gun that's carried in front.

From a grounded position where you've been knocked down on top of your gun, making space to access the gun in the appendix position (on your stomach) is much easier than with strongside carry (on your side.) This also applies to situations where you might be standing but otherwise confined, such as being up against a wall or in close contact with another (innocent) person.

In general, getting the gun oriented on most targets from the appendix position requires less movement than a corresponding 3- or 4-o'clock carry position. It's also easier to access by the weak hand should your strong hand be injured at the initiation of an attack.

While it's still not for me because of the comfort issues, appendix carry has a lot to recommend itself when you consider the whole range of plausible situations in which you might need to access the gun.

There is always the issue of safety, of course, and if you decide to CCW in that position you need to be extra vigilant on both the draw and the re-holster. Making sure of exactly where the muzzle is pointed and where your trigger finger is placed are crucial, and learning to arch your back and drive your hips forward to clear a path for the muzzle is imperative. If you're conscientious and train properly, I see very little increase in risk but a very big increase in achievable efficiency. It’s also a little harder to conceal the gun if one eschews the untucked shirt aesthetic that tends to accompany the method!

Appendix carry isn't for everyone, but for those who take the time to train properly it has some undeniable (and compelling) benefits. Now, if I were just a few inches taller...!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Don't do stupid things, and don't talk to the media. And never do both at the same time!

From Toledo, OH comes the story of a homeowner who did something stupid: she took her .357 and confronted a petty thief who her boyfriend reportedly caught stealing a bicycle from her front porch. Why is this stupid? Because the thief's actions did not rise to the level that justifies the threat of lethal force.

In general, lethal force can only be used when the defender is in immediate and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm through the actions of another. In this case there was no apparent lethal threat; the suspect was simply stealing a bicycle. Yes, I know that's a crime but it's not one which justifies the use of a firearm!

The woman held the suspect at gunpoint and threatened to shoot him if he didn't submit. What if he had decided not to comply? Would she have pulled the trigger? Had she done so she most certainly would have faced criminal charges, and quite likely have been convicted. She used the threat of lethal force (the gun) when it wasn't warranted and when she was not herself in grave danger from the petty thief.

Had she not fired at the non-compliant subject, the threat of force would have been proven hollow and might have resulted in her gun being taken from her by a suspect who suddenly understood she wasn't actually prepared to shoot him. A criminal with a stolen handgun standing in front of a disarmed female is never a good scenario.

I know the indignation she must have felt being a burglary victim, and I understand the elation we all experience when one of these guys is caught by a courageous homeowner. At the same time, responsible gun ownership demands that we behave within the law and more importantly think through the consequences of our actions. Her misplaced bravado could have quickly turned tragic had she either shot the suspect or had he gotten control of her gun. I can’t think of a reputable trainer who would recommend this course of action.

What makes her situation worse is that she
went on camera for the local news show and re-enacted the incident. Now, should she ever actually shoot someone, the prosecution has evidence of prior lapses in judgement. I've said before that a shooting isn't "clean" until a judge or jury says it is; this video might likely convince someone on a jury that she doesn't understand the proper and legitimate use of lethal force, and resorts to it too quickly when it isn't justified.

I believe it was John Farnam who famously counseled "don't go to stupid places and do stupid things with stupid people." To that I will add: don’t re-enact those stupid things for the media.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Defensive Shooting Instructor Development - the way it should be done

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Taty2007

Take a good look at the fellow above and try to guess what he does for a living. (No fair using image search to find out; I will, however, tell you that it isn't what you might imagine.) We'll come back to him in a bit.

What have I been doing lately? Well, I spent the last few days at a conference for shooting instructors -- to which I took neither guns nor ammo. Almost none of the other twenty-some participants did, either. Sound odd to you? I'm not at all surprised.

Most "instructor development" courses (and conferences) are focused on developing the shooting skills if the participant instructors, as opposed to developing their teaching skills. The defensive shooting community still holds to the outdated notion that the best shooter will naturally make the best instructor, and so it focuses on shooting rather than teaching others how, when and why to shoot.

That's why I put up this gentleman's photo. His name is Bela Karolyi, and he is probably best known as Nadia Comaneci's gymnastics coach during her astonishing Olympic career. He's also coached a number of other Olympians and world medalists, including Mary Lou Retton and Kerri Strug. His list of students is impressive: 15 World Champions, 9 Olympic medalists, 16 European medalists, and a half-dozen U.S. National Gymnastics champions. In short, he's one of the best gymnastics coaches in the world (if not the best.)

Now you might think that he would be a terrific gymnast himself, but you'd be wrong. He's a former boxer who decided to focus his life on becoming a gymnastics coach. Rather than trying to become a great coach by first becoming a great gymnast, he wisely focused on becoming a great teacher. His accomplishments speak for his wise choice.

This is actually pretty typical in many fields. Tiger Woods' coach Hank Haney might be a passable golfer, but he's certainly not anywhere near championship level; I know many top level musicians who still study with teachers who aren't as accomplished as some high school players; and you can find quite a few NCAA coaches who either never played the game, or played only in high school.

Why are these people sought out by others whose actual performance ability might be greater than theirs? Because they focused their energies on becoming better at teaching others skills that they might not be able to do themselves. People look to them for their ability to coach to high performance, not to perform.

Great coaches and teachers understand that that they need to be great at
their jobs, not at their student's jobs. The only way to do that is to invest time and effort in the art and science of teaching.

That's what the sixth annual Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Conference, from which I recently returned, was all about: learning how better to transfer information to, and build the skills of, our students. If we'd spent most of the day on the range improving our own shooting skills it would have been a lot more fun, but would have been time and effort we couldn't have spent developing our teaching abilities. The former only makes
us better; it's the latter which makes our students better. That’s the whole point of teaching, isn’t it?

Too many people in the defensive shooting world are openly hostile to this approach, fixated as they are on the nonsensical notion that you can't teach others to do something if you haven't "perfected" it yourself. Of course you can, and teachers and coaches in many other fields prove it every single day.

(I wonder how many would dare tell Mr. Karolyi to his face that he can't possibly be taken seriously in the gymnastics world because he's never been a great uneven bar competitor...they might find out just how good his boxing skills were!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

How fundamentals help you adapt to the unfamiliar, or: An adventure in rifle shooting.

This last weekend I dropped in on a rifle class being taught by my longtime friend Georges Rahbani. It was the afternoon of the second day of the class -- and a wet, windy day it was! It poured most of the time and the wind gusts hit nearly 30 mph. Welcome to fall in Oregon!

Georges runs a qualification course at the end of his classes and asked if I'd like to shoot it with him. I didn't bring a rifle with me, but one of the students loaned me his AR-15. As things would turn out, it became an adventure in adapting to an unfamiliar gun (especially since it had been at least a year since I'd shot an AR-15!)

To start, this rifle had an ambidextrous safety and one of those 'ergonomic' grips. That grip places the hand further from the trigger (and safety), and with my short fingers made it more difficult to reach the safety when the command to fire came. What's more, the right-side safety paddle hit the base of my trigger finger which necessitated placing my trigger finger above the safety on that side, similar to the way a left-hander manipulates the safety on a non-modified AR-15. My first shot from the gun was a bit late as fumbled to get the safety off.

The sight was a Trijicon Reflex with a chevron reticle and polarizing lens. I've never used that particular optic, and every time I slung the rifle the polarizer's adjustment ring would rotate out of position and the scope would go dark. Whenever I brought the gun up to fire I had to quickly rotate the polarizer just to be able to see through the scope!

Despite the equipment issues I was doing pretty well. This is a course I've shot before and can often shoot it 'clean' with my rifle, but this time I was a couple of points down. That is, until we moved back to the 50 yard mark.

There are 15 rounds for score shot at that distance from 3 different shooting positions: squat, sitting, and prone. The target was a standard IDPA silhouette, and at that distance experience has proven that I can quickly put every one of those 15 rounds into the 'A' circle. I was confident that I'd at least tie Georges.

Imagine my shock when we went up to the targets and those 15 rounds were just above the circle in the 'B' (or 'minus one') zone! At 50 yards I don't miss my target by 5 inches, even with iron sights. I turned to the gun's owner and said (or maybe I screamed) "where is this thing sighted??"

As it turns out, he'd sighted the Trijicon to be dead-on at very close range. According to the ballistics calculator, that makes it about 4.5 inches high at 50 yards. Combine that with a difference in sight offset, and it explained why my shots went out of the 'A' zone.

Sighting his rifle for the range which at which he is most likely to need to use it (he lives in a suburban neighborhood) is a prudent choice; I, however, zero my guns at a longer distance, because in the rural area where I live longer shots are the norm. I have to deal with predators of both the 2- and 4-legged variety, and so I may have to shoot anywhere from my living room to across a field. I've shot so much that at the shorter ranges I automatically compensate for the sight offset, while at the longer ranges it's "point of aim, point of impact". Our context of use is different, and so our guns are different. My mistake was not taking that into account when I grabbed his gun!

Shooting an unfamiliar gun with unknown ammunition and not asking the owner about important things like how he sighted it in is a sure recipe for a disaster. Still, despite the handicap every single one of my rounds landed on the torso of the target. That's because I have a good grounding in the fundamentals of shooting a rifle, and I've shot enough that I understand my own balance of speed and precision at any likely distance. Had I not developed those skills ahead of time, it's likely my performance would have been substantially worse.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Do you still do press-checks? Here's another reason not to!

If you've taken any of my classes you know I'm not a big fan of the press-check (drawing the slide of an autoloader partially back to ascertain if there's a round in the chamber.) I hold that it's an unnecessary movement which does little more than raise the risk of the gun not being fully in battery when the slide is eased forward.

As it turns out, press-checking also has an effect on bullet setback (the pressing of the bullet backwards into the case on chambering.) I wouldn't have thought that the press check would have much of an effect, but
Aaron Cowan over at Sage Dynamics tested and found that it did.

One might quibble with the notion of press-checking a couple hundred times to get the results he did, but I've seen habitual press-checkers: people who do it every time they pick their gun up or handle it for any reason. In a few weeks I could imagine one of those people easily hitting a couple hundred press checks on a single round.

The article goes on to say that while he doesn't recommend press-checks for the most part (good on him!), he does under "limited" circumstances -- then shares his technique for doing so. It's there that I have a difference of opinion with him.

Here's my counter-argument: why would you need to press-check in the dark because you think you might need the gun? If it were light, would you tell your attacker to "hang on while I press-check my gun?" If it's silly to press-check in the light when there's a bad guy present, then it's just as silly in the dark (especially considering the rather complex motor skills his technique requires.)

If you're not sure about the load condition of your gun, light or dark, rack the slide to chamber a round. It's just that simple.

I can hear it now: "But I'll give my position away!" Seriously, folks, unless you're doing clandestine approaches to a drug house or a suspected terrorist hideout, the bad guy already knows you're there. That's why he's there too. In the rare case where he doesn't know for sure that you're there because he broke into what he thought was an unoccupied dwelling, most competent trainers are going to teach you to communicate with the suspect in an effort to get hime to leave without the necessity of a shooting: "get out now! The police are on their way!" At that point, the fact that you made a little noise chambering a round isn't really an issue.

Since Cowan is a former soldier and a cop and I’m neither, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt in regard to press-checks (and his technique) for those environments. For the rest of us, however, they just aren’t a good idea from any angle. I realize they’re a staple of tactical-ninja-warrior-operator classes and videos, but when you think about it objectively there's no real reason to be doing them in private sector self defense. Cowan's article gives you yet another reason why they're to be avoided, and I applaud him for that.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Book Review: Concealed Carry For Women by Gila Hayes

I recently received (courtesy of the author) a copy of the new book
“Concealed Carry For Women” by Gila Hayes. (In the interest of full disclosure, I assisted Gila with some pictures for this book and there is at least one picture of me inside. I've also known her for many years and consider her a friend, which is not a word I use frivolously. Even if I didn't know her, however, I believe my review would be the same because this is a unique and valuable book!)


This is Gila’s third book. Her last effort, “Personal Defense For Women”, was so good that it made my unreserved recommendation list of self defense books. I particularly appreciated her emphasis on the personal responsibility part of the defensive equation, which too few in the field ever discuss. Man or woman, if you’ve never read it you should.

Personal Defense For Women was a generalized book that discussed defensive firearms as one option in the universe of response tools. Concealed Carry For Women, on the other hand, is focused on the particular needs of women who choose to carry a defensive firearm, or who are thinking about doing so.

It’s that “thinking about doing so” group for which this book is especially valuable. Gila goes into some detail about why a woman might want to consider carrying a concealed handgun, what the laws are, and the legalities of when lethal force is warranted. From there she segues into a discussion of gun types, holster types, belts, ammunition, gun purses, some basic information on training and practice, how to dress around the gun, and a whole lot more. It is truly “one stop shopping” for the woman just getting into the world of concealed carry.

There are two chapters which really stood out for me. The first was titled “Interactions With Society: Etiquette For The Armed Woman”. In it, she tackles such things as whether women should tell their (female) friends that they carry, and what to do if that information leaks out despite their careful discretion. She points out that women tend to share intimate details with their friends, but why sharing this particular detail may not be a good idea. As she puts it, “do not confuse telling all your secrets with bonding.” Sage advice for anyone, male or female!

The other is called “Embarrassing Moments For Armed Women”, where she deals with situations where guns were discovered — either through physical contact, or because one fell out of a holster. Frankly, this is something men never talk about; you’ll note that none of my books have ever broached the subject, and when I saw this chapter I slapped my forehead and thought “why didn’t I cover that?” In it, she shares some important lessons for everyone about what to do when your cover is blown.

As I said, there’s a lot more — all written in Gila’s signature style of strong advice delivered kindly and thoughtfully. No one does that better than Gila, and
Concealed Carry For Women gets my recommendation for any woman who is considering adopting the armed lifestyle.

Click here to order your own copy of Concealed Carry For Women.

-=[ Grant ]=-

This weekend I helped more people become better defensive shooters!

Returned very late last night from teaching a Combat Focus Shooting course in sunny Medford, OR. The class was sponsored by the good folks at Medford Rifle & Pistol Club and held on their superb indoor range. That was a good thing, as the temperature (according to the car's thermometer) hit 98 degrees!

Had a great group of students, all of whom showed outstanding defensive shooting skill development. Many thanks to Greg Mead for putting the class together, and to Julie, Seth, George, Byron, Glen, Phillip, and Charlie for having open minds and a willingness to learn. Teaching is a joy when you have great students!


Thanks also to my colleague Vincent Perrizo, who came down from Washington to teach with me. (I’m especially grateful that he compensates for my notorious inability to place names with faces!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Defensive Revolver Fundamentals is now on Kindle and iPad!

DRF book cover_small

Good news for electronic readers: the Kindle and iPad versions of my new book, Defensive Revolver Fundamentals, are now available!

Kindle Edition at Amazon

iPad version at the iTunes Bookstore

-=[ Grant ]=-

Is your defensive shooting stance really something you can choose?

RECOIL Magazine, as you may have heard, is back in big way with all new management and a revised attitude. Though they tout themselves as a "gun lifestyle" magazine, that doesn't seem to limit them to mere fluff;
a recent article from Aaron Cowan, titled "History and the Fighting Stance III: what Burroughs found", is a good example.

Cowan makes the case that a shooting stance when faced with a surprise lethal threat is a matter of instinct; the body assumes a physical position which squares off to the target and extends the protective tool (the handgun) straight out from the body. He cites several empirical studies which conclude that, regardless of prior training, most people adopt this Isoceles-like stance when faced with a sudden threat in a high-level simulation. This, he believes, is a parallel to what actually happens.


Even with the impressive numbers gleaned from those experiments, they're still simulations; at a base level the participants still know that they're not going to get killed, that there is no actual lethal threat. I believe that the percentages for real threats would be even higher, and the available objective evidence seems to support this belief.

If we look at videos of actual defensive shootings, those where the defender was surprised by his or her attacker, the percentages appear much higher. Though we don't know the training backgrounds of the defenders, it is almost universal that regardless of any (or no) prior training, those using both hands on the gun end up in a shooting position which has them squared to the target, with a lowered center of gravity and a distinct forward lean, and their arms extended straight in front of their centerline. In fact, I have yet to see a surveillance or dashcam video with a truly surprise attack in which a classic Weaver or Chapman stance (with some degree of bent arms and bladed torso) is used; I'm sure they're out there, somewhere, but I have yet to see one.

These observations and experiments shouldn't be surprising to anyone, yet the notion of contrived stances continues to be a source of contention in the defensive shooting world. The realities are really not all that complicated: our bodies have evolved to deal with threats in specific ways which maximize our innate abilities or compensate for our relative inabilities. This doesn't even begin to account for the non-observable reactions that we have, reactions that affect our vision and even our perceptions of our environment -- all of which affect how and what we train. Rather than trying to train ourselves away from what our bodies do naturally, I believe that it's a much better use of our limited training resources to start in the position in which we are likely to find ourselves.

I suspect Mr. Cowan would second that opinion.

-=[ Grant ]=-

It's official: Defensive Revolver Fundamentals has been released!

DRF book cover_small

My latest book,
Defensive Revolver Fundamentals, officially launched yesterday! The Outdoor Wire carried the press release, saying "In his new book, Defensive Revolver Fundamentals, Cunningham makes an informed and convincing case for the revolver as a personal defense firearm."

This is the book I’ve wanted to write for some time. It distills everything I’ve learned about defensive shooting up to this point, focusing specifically on the unique attributes and demands of the revolver.

The first section of my new book teaches you how to most efficiently operate your revolver -- snubby or full-sized -- in a worst-case scenario. I focus on techniques and skills that are most likely to work when you’ve been surprised and your body alarm reactions are in full force.

In the second part, I explore how violent criminal ambushes occur, how the body reacts to a life-threatening event, and then look at the skills which both work with the body’s reactions and are likely to stop the threat using the least of your defensive resources.

I’m also very proud that
Rob Pincus wrote a great forward for the book!

Whether you have a snubnose in your pocket or a service revolver on your nightstand, I think you’ll find that this is the most in-depth, comprehensive look at the revolver as a modern defensive tool that currently exists.

It should be shipping from the warehouse soon; you can
get your order in at Amazon today!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Defensive training, religious fervor - and you

I'll admit to not fully understanding religious zealotry, despite having studied it fairly extensively. In most major religions you can find sects who seek to fix their beliefs and observances at some arbitrary point in time, and from then on never change (or, at least, try their hardest to not change.) This leaves me to wonder: what makes their arbitrary point in time better than someone else's arbitrary point? On that very question is built sectarian warfare, as even a casual perusal of modern day conflict will show. At the very least it causes strife as each side tries to convince the other that their world view, anchored as it is to some date on a calendar page long past, really is better than the other.

The same thing happens in the defensive shooting world, perhaps even more starkly. There are sects in our field which fix their training beliefs at some point in the past and resist - sometimes vehemently - change, growth, and evolution. Statements of belief abound: "It worked then, it still works"; "if it was good enough for [blank], it should be good enough for you"; "who are you to question [famous gunfighter/branch of military/police agency]"; and so on. Rather than looking at the field of study as an ongoing and progressing work, it's viewed as an unchanging truth that only heathens would deny.

What brought this up?
Check out this video at YouTube.

Why don’t our defensive shooting courses today look like this film? I see a lot of people in the defensive training world who look reverently backward, teaching the techniques and knowledge of the past as holy writ. I wonder: if the past contains, as some contend, all the lessons about defensive shooting that we could ever need or want, and therefore have no need to seek improvement or evolve, why not go back further and further? If what was being taught in 1981 was somehow superior to what we know today, doesn't that make what people were teaching in 1961 even better? What makes one arbitrary point in shooting history more valuable, more valid, than an earlier one?

There is no answer to such questions other than a charismatic one: people adopt an unchanging world view because someone else did and was able to convince them to as well. If someone tells you that what they teach is "time tested" (meaning that it is old and therefore should be revered), ask them why they're not teaching you something even more time tested (i.e., older.) If being old is the mark of value, why stop with the FBI Crouch of 1961? Why not go back to the bullseye, hand-in-pocket stance common to police training in the 1930s?

The measure of virtually any field of human endeavor has always been progression, of learning newer and better ways to do the same old job. That's true in the defensive shooting world too, no matter how much people want to believe otherwise.

-=[ Grant ]=-

"I can't afford to get good training." True?

Serendipity, that's what it's called. A recent poll on Facebook asked about the biggest hurdle people face in getting defensive shooting training. I expected the number one reason to be ammunition supplies, but that barely rated for most people. Time? That was a bigger one, but it paled in comparison to the number one obstacle: money.

Not surprising, given the cost of training these days. Ammo is expensive, equipment is expensive, travel and lodging is expensive, and that's before factoring in the cost of the class itself. I don't blame people for having to make tough financial choices in their lives, but there are ways to get the things you need.

This is where that serendipity thing comes into play. Shortly after that poll started there was a post over at the
Limatunes Range Diary titled "Can You Afford More Training?" In it, the author makes the case for both the need to train and the methods by which it can be made affordable. With one caveat, she's got some really good ideas. If money stands between you and some good training, you should read her article.

The caveat? She suggests that you "Ask if it's possible for you to take only one or two days of a multiple day class." I'd counter that, if an instructor tells you "yes”, you should proceed with caution. If the class is such that a person can excise up to 50% of the time and still get solid (and safe) value from the training, that's a clue the class might be padded - filled with stuff that takes up time but isn't really important.

In a well structured class every element is vital to the learning experience; they should mesh together into a seamless whole, each portion building on and supporting the others. If you can take out large portions of the curriculum and still have the course stand on its own, I'd consider that to be a sign that the class is less a cohesive whole than a collection of unrelated skills.

This is in contrast to a class which is designed from the ground to be a shorter version of another course. For instance, I teach both a one-day and a two-day version of Combat Focus Shooting. The material taught in the one day class is a subset of the full curriculum, but that subset is carefully chosen and structured so that the end product is still complete, safe, and immediately useful. If someone were to take just the first day of the full class it wouldn't be the same as the one day version - the student would miss some important information that occurs on the missed Day Two but is presented in the single day class (albeit with far less detail and fewer repetitions than in the two day iteration.)

At the risk of contradicting Lima, I'd suggest that you instead ask if the instructor has a shorter version of the class in question; many do, and that class is almost always going to be a smarter choice than simply skipping out on one or more days of a longer course.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Can you - or should you?

One of the chapters in my upcoming book deals with the legalities of shooting someone in self defense, and in it I make the point that there are perhaps situations where you could, legally, shoot someone - but might not need to do so. I think it's an important distinction.

Many of my students ask when they're allowed to use deadly force, and while knowing the legalities of what you can and can't do is vital** I believe it's also important to focus on the idea of
need. Our self defense laws are set up to allow us to use lethal force when the circumstances are so dire (the likelihood of our own death or crippling injury) that it's necessary. In other words, when we really need to use lethal force is usually when the law allow us to do so. There may be situations, however, when we're legally allowed to shoot but we really don't need to.

Focusing solely on the criteria under which you're allowed to shoot someone, I think, is misguided; from a training standpoint I believe that it's important to focus on recognizing those situations where you need to, when there is no other course of action that you can take in complete safety which will ensure your survival in that instant. Those are the situations where the law is most likely going to be on your side.

Here's a short video from the Personal Defense Network which talks about this concept, and the difference between "can" and "need".

-=[ Grant ]=-

** - the best place to get that kind of legal training is still
MAG-20 from Massad Ayoob. Joining the Armed Citizen's Legal Defense Network is also a great way to learn about the legalities of self defense, through their video series on the topic. It's sent free to all registered members and is updated regularly.

Some people should stick to Glocks.

In the September issue of SWAT Magazine is a review of the Wiley Clapp special edition Ruger GP100. I've mentioned this gun previously; it's a mix of some good things, some mediocre things, and a surprising omission or two. Overall it's a nice treatment of the old warhorse, and I'm glad to see attention being paid to something other than hunting revolvers at Ruger.

It's this article that I find a little odd. Written by Todd Burgreen, it's your typical gun review: fawning and laden with both hyperbole and misinformation. It's the latter which is most concerning, because Mr. Burgreen (who, from statements in the review, doesn’t seem to be all that familiar with revolvers and even appears to hold them in some contempt) perpetuates a circa-1960 dictum: don't shoot a revolver in double action, because you can't shoot accurately that way!

According to Mr. Burgreen, double action should be reserved for "CQB encounters and ranges measured in feet." He doesn't stop there; according to him, "single action fire should be the primary mode used with double action revolvers." No, really, he said that. In print. In 2013.

Let's make this perfectly clear: he's wrong. Cocking a revolver to single action in the midst of a defensive encounter is foolish. You're asking trembling hands to perform a very complex set of movements and then presenting them with a very light and easily manipulated trigger, neither being conducive to proper control under those conditions.

Cocking the hammer requires one hand, either shooting or support, to break full and firm contact with the gun; you're given the choice to either take the time to regain a proper grasp, or shoot with a compromised position to save time. It's simply more efficient to stroke the trigger properly in double action, and you don't have to give up any practical accuracy to do so.

It takes very little practice for anyone to hit small targets at extended distances with a double action revolver, and I've proven it with students again and again. It's simply a matter of trigger control, which I covered in my book "
Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver". What's more, as just about any trainer worth his or her salt will tell you (even if they don't really know why), learning how to shoot a double action revolver will improve your shooting with the lighter, shorter triggers in your autoloaders.

Take, for instance, this group: fired specifically for the Book Of The Revolver, it shows six (yes, all six are there) rounds of 158gn +P ammo that I fired from double action from a Ruger GP100, standing at 25 feet. Not bad for an old guy who can't see his sights!


The notion that a double action revolver can't be fired accurately in double action is easily dispelled by going to just about any shooting match where speed and precision are co-components. It's not like this information is a state secret, either!

Want to know how to shoot a double action revolver well? Seek out a good instructor with extensive revolver knowledge -- someone like the incomparable Claude Werner (or, if I may be so bold, yours truly.) Learn how to manipulate the double action trigger properly and you'll probably find, as I did some time ago, that you rarely (if ever) need to use the single action capability of your gun.

Mr. Burgreen may be incapable of shooting a double action revolver past a few feet, but that doesn't mean everyone is. Don’t limit yourself to cold-war-era notions of what a revolver can and can’t do.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Where was I last Friday?

You may well wonder what became of last week's Friday Surprise. (Humor me and pretend that you were wondering.) Well, I was working - just not on the blog!

I was up at Firearms Academy of Seattle teaching an Advanced Pistol Handling course with Rob Pincus. This was the last stop on the Personal Defense Network Spring Training Tour, which saw Rob and me (and several others) teaching classes all across these great United States.

Advanced Pistol Handling (or 'APH' for short) is just that: how to handle the handgun in situations other than standing on two feet and squared off to the target. Its goal is to expand the range of contexts under which you can apply your existing shooting skills, and is comprised of both gunhandling and shooting from unorthodox positions.

For instance, what if you're attacked when sitting in a restaurant - or in your car? Both very plausible situations which require specific training. How about being knocked to the ground? Again, it happens. What if you're holding your child in one arm and find that you need to reload the gun; can you do it efficiently one-handed? How about clearing various kinds of malfunctions rapidly when you can't see the gun - like in your living room in the middle of the night? These are all things that are covered in the APH class (along with a lot more.)

We had a pretty good-sized class of receptive students, and despite the oppressive (for the Pacific Northwest, you understand) heat it went very well. We now have ten more people who are better able to apply their skills.

After class a few of the students joined the instructors for a quick FitShot workout. FitShot is simply exercise with shooting added in; it's not practical in any way, and isn't meant to be, but rather is to get people to exercise by combining something they need to do (the exercise part) with something that's fun to do (the shooting part.)

Here's a shot (courtesy of Rob Pincus) of three of us - fellow instructors Jotham Lentz in the foreground and Vincent Perrizo in the middle, yours truly in the background, all in various stages of doing squats and shooting.


No, that's not a revolver in my hand; it's a Steyr S40-A1 I borrowed from Jotham. (There is a bit of a competition in this particular FitShot, and I decided that my 'J' frame wouldn't allow me to be competitive. Besides, I got to shoot someone else's ammo!) I'm also currently trying to decide on a new autoloading pistol for myself, our Glock 19s not fitting my hands terribly well, and I wanted the chance to shoot the A1 version of the Steyr. Other than those crazy trapezoidal sights, of which I'm still not enamored, the gun handles tremendously. Unless I find something I like a whole lot better, I think there's a Steyr in my near future!

-=[ Grant ]=-

On the Zimmerman trial.

I’ve avoided discussing this until the trial was finished, as I knew that we’d not gotten all the facts in the matter. Today we at least know that the jury saw no reason to convict him of a crime, and at this point he is a free man. That may change, as the federal government is making noises about a civil rights indictment, but so far it’s just saber rattling.

There are three aspects of the case which interest me, because they have a direct impact on the legally armed citizen. The first concerns the myth of the “clean shoot”; second, the realities of political-motivated prosecutions; and finally, how our legitimate and legal activities might contribute to such an incident.

I’ve written many times about the idea of the “clean shoot”, and each time I’ve said that there is no such thing. This case is yet another example. Many internet forums promote the idea that if the shoot is “clean”, nothing else matters. According to this myth the gun you use, the ammunition in it, your demeanor, your previous actions and comments don’t matter. All that matters is if the shoot is a “good” one.

As I’ve also said, it’s not up to you, me or the keyboard commando hiding behind a pseudonym in the forum who gets to decide that. Ultimately someone else will, and that person is likely to be a judge or, collectively, a jury. How they decide whether it is justifiable may hinge on their perceptions of your personality - and they may be antagonistic to you or your exercise of your right of self defense.

Everything related to a shooting is fair game in the courtroom, whether you think it should be or not. Again, there is no such thing as a clean shoot until it’s judged that way by someone else, and everything related to it will impact that judgement. The prosecution did everything they could to implicate all of Zimmerman’s pre-incident activity, to try to prove that he was an inherently evil individual who was simply frothing at the mouth to kill someone. If you watched any of the trial, you saw those prosecutorial antics — and they should give you serious pause.

Carry extra-hot handloads with competition-light triggers and put Punisher emblems on your gun’s grips if you want, but I certainly wouldn’t want to try to explain those in the kind of courtroom Zimmerman faced! At best they’re unnecessary distractions, and at worst they might just push a juror over the edge to vote ‘guilty’.

I can hear the refrain already: “they can use anything against you, so why worry about it?” My position is the opposite: why give them additional ammunition that you don’t need to, especially when it might be the one little thing which cements your presumed guilt? A trial is never just about objective, unemotional facts; you’re dealing with the perceptions, preconceptions, prejudices, and personalities of other people. How they view things is likely to be very different than how you do.

This will be especially true if, like Zimmerman, you face a politically motivated prosecution. It doesn’t happen only with nationally reported cases, either! If your local DA is wrangling for a higher office, he or she might bring cases to trial in an effort to curry favor with the voters. (They may also bring certain cases in an attempt to silence certain segments of the public. It happens.)

This case should be a sobering lesson to all of us. Even if you do everything right, even if your response was as clean as the driven snow, you can still become a victim of political pressure. We’ve learned from the former police chief in Zimmerman’s town that when he refused to arrest Zimmerman (due to lack of evidence), he came under intense pressure from the powers-that-be. He was ultimately fired for refusing to subordinate justice to public opinion. The case was taken from the local DA and given to the state’s “special prosecutor” because of the political pressure to get a conviction. Lots of people in high places wanted a conviction at any cost, regardless of Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence, and they nearly got their wish.

When you have a prosecutor who wants to climb the political ladder combined with national political pressure and a frenzied public, an unmeritorious prosecution is bound to occur. Anyone can become a scapegoat if the sociopolitical stars are aligned in just the right way, and small imperfections in the case can become the fissures under which justice crumbles.

Should this keep you from carrying or owning a firearm for protection? Certainly not, but it should cause you to pause and consider your habits and training. Aside from knowing how to defend yourself (using tools or hands), you also need to know how to navigate the legal system should you find yourself having to use lethal force.

I strongly urge everyone to do two things: first,
take MAG-20 from Massad Ayoob. That class is truly the gold standard for judicious use of lethal force, and had Zimmerman taken that class I’m confident he would have handled the incident very differently. It wouldn’t have forestalled the political prosecution, mind you, but it would have left them with even less evidence than they actually had. MAG-20 is one of the very few classes that I think you should consider as being mandatory.

The second thing is to back that education up with a membership in the
Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network. This organization serves to both educate and protect the rights of the person who is forced to use a gun in self defense. Check out their benefits, and then hit the “join” button.

Finally, there has been a lot of discussion about Zimmerman’s culpability in the incident. This discussion invariably revolves around how he could have prevented the shooting, and usually concludes that had Zimmerman not gotten out of his car to keep tabs on Martin he wouldn’t have been attacked and forced to shoot.

I acknowledge that the statement is likely true, but it would also be true to say he could have avoided the entire incident — and all plausible variations — by not getting out of bed that morning. Silly? Yes, but I hope it makes something clear: sometimes even the most innocuous things lead to horrendous results.

Was it reasonable for Zimmerman to have gotten out of his car to get an address and continue his surveillance of a suspicious person? Given participation in his neighborhood watch program, his course of action was likely completely reasonable: watch and report, which is apparently what he was doing.

Did he expose himself to danger? In retrospect, yes. Was that foreseeable? I’m not as sure.

Let’s say I live in a two-story house (I don’t, but I did grow up in one.) If I hear a noise downstairs, I have two choices: investigate, or barricade, arm and call the police. If I chose the latter course of action it wouldn’t be long before the police refused to answer my calls. Why? Because suspicious things happen constantly, and the vast, overwhelming amount of the time they turn out to be nothing. It’s a very small numbers of incidents where something dangerous occurs.

Fact is, if I were in that position I’d more than likely do downstairs and find out what the noise is. The majority of time it’s going to be one of the kids in the refrigerator, or the cat knocking something over, or the wind blowing an open screen door shut, or something else just as common and just as harmless. In fact, I might go my whole life doing that and never finding anything sinister.

In the case of someone on a neighborhood watch committee, I suspect the same thing is true: the majority of the times they observe someone, it turns out to be nothing sinister. (I realize that this varies from place to place, and perhaps in that neighborhood violence was more common.) Getting out of a car, in an effort to keep an eye on someone, is likely (according to what I know about such watch programs) a completely reasonable course of action.

I acknowledge that staying in his car would have prevented the incident, but I’m not so presumptuous as to say that’s always the best course of action. It’s not just because of the waste of scarce police resources, either. In the macro sense, we see what happens when people hide behind their locked doors and wait for someone else to do something: dilapidated, crime infested neighborhoods (sometimes entire towns.) The people who live in such places need to be invested in their own security, need to take ownership of it, if they are to keep their neighborhoods fit places to live. Relying exclusively on a police presence that may never appear (ask anyone who lives in an unincorporated area, or in Detroit) means that the criminal element ultimately has free reign to commit its crimes.

If one lives in a community with good police response, it’s very easy to say that he should have simply waited in his car for the good guys to arrive. I don’t know what his community is like in that regard, and so I’m unwilling to make a blanket statement about what he should have done without knowing a lot more about what he and his fellow citizens were facing.

I have, admittedly, a slightly different perspective on this than many others in the training business. A county in my own state recently made news (on which I’ve commented) because their Sheriffs Office no longer has the money to do regular patrols. Those people don’t have the luxury of waiting in their cars until the boys (and girls) in blue arrive to take charge of the scene. If there’s a suspicious person, those residents are forced to deal with the situation themselves. The alternative is to let their county be overrun with crime. They need the tools (training and knowledge) to know how to deal with the situations they face and any potential aftermath.

That, I think, is really where Zimmerman failed. He didn’t have the skills or the knowledge to competently handle what he was doing, the incident itself, or what followed. To me, this is the most important lesson: if you’re going to carry a gun, get educated. Now would be a very good time!

-=[ Grant ]=-

A rave review from one of my students!

I mentioned a couple of weeks back that I had the pleasure of teaching a Combat Focus Shooting class in which my editor at Gun Digest, Corrina Peterson, participated. I was honored that she flew across the country just to take this class, particularly when she has access to most of the “name” instructors in the business!

She's written up a terrific review of the class, and
you can read it on the Gun Digest website.

One thing she mentioned that I'm particularly proud of: my classes are devoid of the testosterone-fueled nonsense which pervades so much of the training community. That's intentional; my goal is to help people learn to protect themselves in their day-to-day activities. To that end I focus on real skills, for real people, living real lives. I want to bring this important information to the widest possible audience, and that won't happen if a large percentage of them are turned off by the experience.

As I point out at the beginning of my classes, every student will have his/her own level of competency. It's my job to help each of them reach that point (or as close to it as is possible in a couple of days), and that's difficult to do if the rest of the class is involved in a ritualistic alpha male dance. That's also why my classes don't have shoot-offs or competitions disguised as drills, and I keep the posturing to a minimum. We’re all there to learn, not tell war stories or measure our…well, you know.

If this fresh approach appeals to you or someone you know, contact me about scheduling a class in your area!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Not many people in this business will tell you the truth. This guy does.

Over the weekend Rory Miller (if you don't know who he is,
check out his author page on Amazon) put an interesting post on his blog. You should go read it before continuing here.

Back already? Did you read all of the article? (Promise?)

Miller makes a number of good points in his article, but there are two that I think are incredibly important in terms of defensive shooting training. First, that no one has had enough experience in the kind of defensive shooting most commonly found in the private sector (Miller correctly refers to it as the "counter-ambush side" of the equation) to really be able to extrapolate anything useful when training others. Without a large data set, singularities rule - and making training decisions based on singularities simply isn't wise.

"Seeing the elephant" is only valid in defensive shooting if we're talking about large herds of the beasts. In the absence of that, we're left with studying the science which tells us how we react, and the objective evidence (video surveillance) which shows how these things actually happen. That’s the best way to increase the sample size and make reliable, fact-based choices.

The second point relates to a term I've been using for some time: the importance of context. As he correctly observes, military, law enforcement and private sector self defense are not the same. Yet, a whole lot of people in the training business insist that they are! I can go to any number of training websites and find a large proportion of them touting military and/or law enforcement experience as appropriate and desirable for defensive training in the private sector.

Miller comes from law enforcement, but is one of the very few who understands that what he does is not universally applicable outside of his field. This makes his observations particularly important.

Teaching techniques out-of-context, in other words outside of their sphere of origin or application, doesn't address the actual needs of the students. This doesn't mean, of course, that a Special Forces guy can't adjust what he teaches to fit a civilian context. The conundrum is that if he were to do so, he’d lose much of the value of whatever experience he's had and his SF position would become relatively irrelevant to his students. (That wouldn’t affect the marketing appeal, however.)

I've told many people the story about being nine years (more or less) old and traveling down a winding gravel road in the car of a family friend. The driver was fresh from New York City, and found herself going too fast when she over-corrected and slid sideways down the road. Her response to the screaming children in the back seat was that she'd been driving in New York for her entire adult life and therefore knew how to handle a car safely. Even as a third-grader I recognized the foolishness of that statement, as I understood that driving stop-and-go traffic in Manhattan wasn’t the same as what she was (badly) attempting to do. This was my first recognition of context mismatch, and I’ve seen plenty since that time - especially in this field.

If you're getting the impression that there's more to this defensive shooting stuff than simply drawing the gun faster, you're right.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Why are we so resistant to learning from our mistakes?

Last week I became aware of a
YouTube video of a fellow shooting himself in the leg after making ready during a match. He starts the video off by proclaiming that it wasn't his fault - it was his gun which malfunctioned and was in the hands of the maker's service department for analysis of the "failure".

I knew, ten seconds into the video, that it wasn't the gun. I knew, just due to the fellow's demeanor, that he'd had his finger on the trigger as he holstered the gun. No, I couldn't see the gun or his trigger finger; I came to the conclusion just from his emphatic denial of culpability.

It wasn't long before
someone dug up other videos of this guy at other matches, videos which clearly show his finger on or near the trigger when reloading, moving, and even picking the gun up. The simplest explanation - that his finger was on the trigger when he put the gun in the holster - is, as it almost always is, the most likely explanation, particularly when the fellow in question has a habit of doing so.

Unfortunately the fellow in question apparently doesn't want to believe that, hence his insistence that it wasn't his fault. In a sense, it isn't. Not the accident itself, you understand, but his unwillingness to own up to it. We, as a community, have created a culture which doesn't use accidents as learning opportunities, but rather as chances for shaming.

Todd Greene over at has an excellent article on the incident and this subject. He points out that the way we handle safety in the shooting world is so irrational that it leads to an atmosphere in which we never question what or why we do certain things. He uses the contrasting example of airplane accidents, where investigations are done so that other pilots can learn from the misfortunes of others. This leads to better pilots (and, in some cases, better aircraft.)

We don't have that in the shooting world. In fact, it's just the opposite.

Many years ago I started considering the need to reconsider our safety rules, particularly because the set of four most commonly used contains both logical and linguistic errors - particularly in the first rule, “treat all guns as if they were loaded” (and all variations of that.) My best friend (and ace instructor) Georges Rahbani and I wrestled with the subject for quite a while before we decided that there needed to be three truly useful, internally consistent and understandable rules instead of four disjointed ones. I’ve been writing about those rules, and the changes in them, ever since.

We weren’t the only ones who saw the problem and the opportunity; I was surprised and delighted to find, for instance, that our criticisms and practices were paralleled by people like Rob Pincus. Other progressive folks came up with their own ideas and approaches, all aimed at the same end: get people to be safer with firearms. The three rules I use today have evolved and incorporate elements from many others, but the goal remains: safety rules should be clear, unambiguous, universal, and self-reinforcing - and always open to change and modification as the need arises.

The reaction of large segments of the shooting industry to this view has been less than enthusiastic. You'd think, from some of the knee-jerk reactions, that we'd collectively blasphemed Holy Writ! I've personally been demeaned by other writers and bloggers because I've dared to question the orthodoxy. In fact, one blogger has gone to great lengths to concoct a convoluted and complicated restatement of what I call Traditional Rule One simply because I pointed out its flaws. This, rather than simply admitting it is useless at best (and counter-productive at worst) and getting rid of it altogether.

As Todd correctly points out, it's this complete unwillingness inside the industry to examine our beliefs and practices - and our simultaneous propensity for deification of certain members of the shooting fraternity - that results in our never being able to learn from the mistakes of others. I've said this before, and Todd's article compels me to repeat: if all we do is bleat "Rule One! Rule One!" every time an accident occurs, or argue incessantly about whether it should be called an accidental or a negligent discharge, we'll never make any progress.

Everything we do, including how we approach gun safety, should be subject to evolution. Actively resisting that process does nothing to help the rest of the fraternity and should not be accepted as the norm.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Are all gunwriters idiots?

That's a loaded question. (Sorry, but I just couldn't resist the pun.)

That's a question I ask every time I read yet another ridiculous article. Convoluted (or completely absent) logic, factual errors, reliance on outdated or inappropriately applied data are all issues with far too many writers. The "old days" weren't much better, either; I can find articles from some of the past luminaries in the gunwriting game which aren't exactly paragons of research or fact. They were, however, far more entertaining and generally better written.

Greg Ellifritz, however, answered the question better than I ever could (or perhaps would.) That's mainly because he's less reticent about calling a spade a spade than I am.
Go read his article about an article he read - and what he thought of it (and its author.)

My reaction to the article was much like his. Now don't get me wrong; this is not to say that I'm always right (nor that Ellifritz is either.) What I hope, with every article or book, is that I've done my research properly, that I've analyzed my own experiences from as neutral a perspective as possible, and that I'm open to the possibility that I may not know everything. The author of the article Ellifritz dissects appears to have done none of that, and thus perpetuates hoary myths that should have been put down years ago.

Go read his article; it's worth your time.

-=[ Grant ]=-

How did you spend your weekend?

I spent mine on the range at Firearms Academy of Seattle, teaching a Combat Focus Shooting class! Had a great time, too.

Father’s Day weekend is usually a bad time to schedule a class, but we did it anyway. Back in the old days when I ran shooting matches at our club, Father’s Day weekend always had the lowest participation. Mother’s Day weekend, however, usually had a very good turnout. This was consistent over a period of six years; I'd have expected the opposite, and to this day have no rational explanation for the phenomenon.

The students who did show up provided me with one of the most inspiring times I've had as a teacher. Everyone experienced not just physical skill development, but came away with a solid conceptual understanding of defensive shooting. One student came into class with essentially no handgun shooting experience, a brand-new gun, and an admission of being intimidated by the prospect of attending this class. By mid-morning on the second day was running the gun like she'd owned it for years and was making difficult shots at surprising speed. I'll admit to grinning like a madman behind her back as she nailed one drill after another.

Don’t labor under the misconception that it was all me, though, because I couldn't have done it without the help of my colleagues Joe Lentz and Vincent Perrizo, both certified Combat Focus instructors and great guys.

I wish I could say everything went perfectly, but I can’t. One of the guns, a brand-new Springfield XD-S in 9mm, experienced repeated jams using Federal American Eagle 147gn Truncated Cone (I think they call it "Flat Point") ammo. I'll post pics later, but the case mouths were getting pushed back in one spot, resulting in a slight accordion effect; when those rounds entered the chamber, they would jam solidly - enough that the shooter couldn't clear them, and even I couldn't clear them without going back to bench to have a solid surface against which to press the slide back and eject the round. Luckily Mr. Perrizo, who is much larger and stronger than I am, was able to clear it on the line - but even he struggled.

At first we thought that it had to be defective ammo, but after the first occurrence the shooter was thoroughly checking every round that went into the magazines. Still the problem repeated itself, for a total of eight or nine times over the two days. An inspection of the feedramp (which has a curious two-angle design) revealed some brass shards, which suggests that it might be the culprit. I'm unwilling to condemn it just over this, though, as it may in fact turn out to be an ammunition issue. I will wait judgement on the reliability issue until I hear of significantly more test data from other instructors.

There's more about the XD-S, however. The shooter experienced a couple of grip-safety related issues where, even with a solid grasp, the safety wouldn't disengage without a bit of "wiggling". This may have been exacerbated by the shooter wearing gloves, a situation which was necessitated by the rough edges of the aggressive grip texturing causing both blisters and bleeding. It wasn't just the gun's owner, either - after handling it myself I looked at my hand to see my own blood dripping on the ground. I was not amused.

The reliability problems, the grip safety failures, and the handling issues all conspire to cause me to label the XD-S as "not recommended" at this point. As we collectively get more experience with the gun I might change my opinion, but right now I think I'll pass on this model.

Want to hear the worst part of all this? Multiple problems with the latest polymer pistol, while the 1911 in class -- a well-worn full-sized gun used by a fellow who thoroughly understands the platform -- ran flawlessly. You can imagine my disappointment!

-=[ Grant ]=-

"A hit with a .22 is better than a miss from a .45" - how true is that?

An interesting confluence occurred last week: I got an email from a fellow asking about the .380ACP as a defensive cartridge, and
this rather myopic article on the .22 Magnum rimfire came out in American Rifleman.

As a teacher of defensive shooting it's my job to make my students as efficient as I possibly can. Part of that job is helping them to pick a gun/cartridge which allows them to make the bad guy go away using the least amount of their resources (time, energy, ammunition, space.) However, there are sometimes external factors to consider: the student's physical limitations, if any, and perhaps even their lifestyle.

The article referenced is typical of those in the gun world: the .22WMR isn't as powerful as something bigger (we already know that) and it won't be as effective as a larger caliber (we already know that too). Sometimes, though, it's the right choice for certain people. Not frequently, and alternatives should always be explored before settling on it, but it's always a better choice than a rape whistle and hoping the cops show up in time. Think about the student, not the damn ballistics chart!

There are those people out there who simply cannot handle the recoil of 'service-grade' cartridges and guns. They're few and far between, such limitations often proving to be more psychological than physiological, but there are those few who do need much reduced recoil. A .22WMR, in the hands of a resolute defender who has proven to him/herself that they can wield it effectively, is far preferable to the .45ACP or .357 Magnum that they're afraid of and can't handle well (and won't practice with because it's too painful.)

Many people carry a .380ACP because it's available in small and easily concealable guns. Yes, I know (and I preach) that if someone can conceal a .380 then he or she can, with only minor adjustments in their wardrobe, conceal a slightly larger 9mm. The problem with that point of view? Not everyone is an enthusiast, as you and I are. I'd venture to say that just about everyone reading this blog is willing to make, and has made, changes in their lifestyle in order to be able to carry an efficient firearm. We're the exception!

There are a lot of people out there who simply want to make it possible to survive a deadly attack, recognize the rather rare nature of such incidents, and have concluded that a very small gun which they'll actually carry is better than a larger gun - even though it's not a whole lot larger - that will be left at home. While one can argue about their hardware pick, at least they've made the correct lifestyle choice: to actually carry!

The usual rejoinder is that there are now 9mm guns the size of .380ACP pistols, and they would "obviously" be the better choice and still fit into their wardrobe and activities. There's a huge issue with that assumption, however: the micro 9mm guns are brutally difficult to shoot! At least one of them I tested is simply uncontrollable in anything resembling a realistic string of defensive fire, and that's with a shooter (me) who's used to heavy recoiling handguns. For someone who's a novice and is unlikely to practice regularly no matter how much we preach to them? A dangerous, silly choice. For them, the .380 is a better compromise.

"Friends don't let friends shoot mouseguns" is a phrase I've heard bandied about for many years, and while it makes for a macho sound bite it simply doesn't fit everyone's reality. Would I prefer that people carry a gun in a caliber that is more likely to result in rapid incapacitation?
Yes. Am I so blinded/deluded as to believe that everyone can? No. Will I teach them about their choice, and why they might want to put in the time and effort to be able to choose something more effective? Yes. Will I refuse to teach them because I disagree with their choice? Hell no!

I'd rather focus on what I can do to make them more efficient in the context of defending their lives than bitch and moan because they picked a caliber which I disdain. Along the way I hope that I can convince them to at least consider more effective and efficient options, but I certainly wouldn't deprive them of the vital information and skill building they can use right now.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Want to take a class with me? Now's your chance!

Sorry I've been scarce the last couple of days, but it wasn't my fault. I decided to upgrade this site's software, and while it was no problem from a user standpoint - you saw what you should have seen - it wouldn't let me update the blog! That's fixed now, and we're back on track. I think.

Now, what's all this about training? With ammunition starting to show up in the stores (I'm told Cabelas has 9mm ball at almost pre-panic pricing) it's time to get your defensive shooting training program back on track!

As it happens, I'll be teaching a
Combat Focus Shooting class at Firearms Academy of Seattle next weekend - the 15th and 16th. This is THE class for developing intuitive self-defense shooting skills (whether revolver or autoloader) and there are still some openings available.

Click here to register, and I hope to see you on the range next weekend!

-=[ Grant ]=-

How's your situational awareness right now?

I have a quick homework assignment for you. Watch the first minute-and-a-half or so of this video (you can watch the rest later, but now we have work to do!)

You see what your knowledge tells you you're seeing. You apply whatever base comprehension you have to explain or make sense of whatever it is you're observing. That's what the truth is, really; an explanation or a point of view that fits what you observe. Whether or not that point of view is factual is ignored, for as long as it satisfactorily gives you the certainty you need you'll accept it.

The problem is when that truth is based on a very narrow or very exceptional set of observations, as was the old explanation of the sunrise looking the way it does being due to the sun revolving around the earth. At some point such a truth will encounter an observation it cannot explain; then you either cling to your version of the truth at all costs, or you change the model.

In the world of defensive shooting, we do far too much of the former. For an illustration, read
this account of a home invasion taken from The Truth About Guns. It's a short article, but it's important that you read it.

Done? Good - let's get back to our discussion of truth.

Note this line in the story: "This sad tale reminds us to maintain situational awareness […]" Sounds innocuous, doesn't it? It's not - it's indicative of a view that's dangerous. (Some of the comments are even worse; read them at your peril.)

Read the story again, focusing on the state of the victim: he was awake, bedridden, and made a conscious decision to open the door via remote control because he believed his neighbor was there. This wasn't a matter of maintaining situational awareness; he was as situationally aware as he was likely to get. It was a case of believing that the person knocking on the door was his neighbor, either because the person pretended to be or because it always had been in the past.

Both possibilities are discussed in an article I wrote some time back for the Personal Defense Network, called "
The Myth Of Situational Awareness". This incident illustrates the points I made: the criminal can pierce your seemingly invincible veil of situational awareness either via cunning (pretending to be someone he's not), or by simply waiting until you're distracted (when the pattern matching functions of your brain are in charge.) In either case, situational awareness can (and usually will) fail.

That quote from the article is a view that is all too common: that situational awareness will keep people safe, that it is the most important thing one can possibly do for one's own safety, and when someone becomes a victim it MUST be because his situational awareness wasn't good enough.

I doubt the fellow in the bed could have been any more situationally aware than he already was. He made a decision to open the door because the evidence with which he was presented told him it was safe to do so. He could have been in condition puce with mauve stripes and still have made the same bad decision.

The comment about situational awareness is one that's made far too often, and (as in this case) far too casually. The author sees what his knowledge - what he's been told - tells him he's seeing, even when that knowledge doesn't explain what happened. In this case, the knowledge is what he's been told about situational awareness. The problem, in this case, is that it doesn’t explain what happened. If that’s the case, isn’t it dangerous to simply conclude that more of it will prevent such things from happening in the future?

This is why it's critical that you think about what you're told, or at least insist that the people teaching you think about what they've been told. If their version of the truth is based on a small set of observations, particularly when filtered through tradition and fallible recollection, without rational analysis you may end up with the self defense version of the sun going around the earth.

-=[ Grant ]=-

If it's not relevant, why are you doing it?

I've written before of the need to match the training you get and the equipment you use to the life you actually lead, not the life you fantasize about leading.

What does this mean? It means that if you're training with a full-sized tricked-out autoloader on the weekends, but the majority of your waking hours are spent with a 5-shot revolver in a pocket holster, your training isn't going to be congruent with your expected use. Training done under such false pretenses is of significantly lesser value than if you’re honest with yourself up front.

It’s a better use of your limited time, money and energy to train with the tools that you are most likely to be using, rather than picking training gear because it looks cool or because it's what your instructor/guru uses or because it gives you an edge in the all-too-common class shoot-off.

Similarly, if your training event focuses on things like running through a shoot house taking out 'tangos' in various 'hostage rescue' scenarios, you're not training realistically either. You wasted training resources that could better have been used to simulate the kinds of attacks that are likely to happen to you at work, at the gas station, or in your home.

Even if you've covered all those plausible scenarios, it’s still not a good use of your resources to train in ways that aren’t similar to your life. If you take a class in advanced hostage rescue team tactics, that class will use up resources that could have been used doing things like taking a course in how to deal with massive trauma (a skill far more likely to be needed even than drawing your gun) or in de-escalation techniques or even in defensive driving. Those are skills which are far more likely to be needed for events which are far more likely to happen to you (by at least an order of magnitude) than being faced with a jihadi-infested three-story building.

"All trigger time is good" is a fallacy. Poorly planned or selected trigger time keeps you from focusing on more plausible, and thus more important, skills.

Sherman House, a dental surgeon with whom I have a passing acquaintance, has made a similar pilgrimage from tactical silliness to reality.
He recently penned an essay for the I.C.E. Training Journal where he discusses his evolution and what his training looks like today versus what it used to look like.

Great reading and very much recommended.

-=[ Grant ]=-


The toolbox metaphor, continued.

Occasionally I'll run into an instructor who is teaching appropriate, plausible skills but who insists on using the "another tool for your toolbox" metaphor. Why would he or she intentionally handicap the material in that way?

Sometimes it's because what's being taught lacks internal consistency. The skills and concepts don't relate to each other well, or perhaps the plausible skill contradicts another less plausible one. This happens when the instructor has no overall philosophy for the course as a whole, and has simply gathered what seems 'cool' from disparate sources and stuffed them all into a toolbox of a course.

Very often the toolbox metaphor is used to mask the fact that the instructor is not capable of explaining the technique in terms that the students can grasp and apply. This inability to articulate why a skill is valuable or useful can be simply due to a lack of teaching skill, but often it's a cover for an incomplete understanding of what’s being taught.

If the instructor doesn't understand the material at its core, both in terms of how to perform the skill but also the reason for learning/practicing/evaluating that skill, it's easy to fall back on telling the students that it's another tool for their toolbox. The students, having heard that saying from other instructors or seen it used in books or articles, are goaded into accepting the lack of explanation.

This is also the case when the instructor isn't capable of answering the questions that the students are capable of generating. While this is often due to a lack of deep understanding, it can also be a defense against those rare students who are wedded to a particular point of view and will not accept logic and reason when the material contradicts what they've trained previously. I speak from experience: it can be tempting to fall back on the toolbox metaphor when faced with such a vocally intransigent student, but I believe professionalism demands that I resist the urge. (It also demands that I resist the urge to hit them upside the head with a two-by-four, which I’ve so far been able to do. I will admit to being sorely tempted, however!)

It’s admittedly difficult to explain to any student that a technique or concept has a very narrow range of application, but that it still falls within that plausible range of expectation. When I teach a full (two day) Combat Focus Shooting course, for instance, at the end of the second day there is a drill that teaches a specific technique to address a specific kind of threat that isn’t adequately handled by any other method. I certainly could tell the students “it’s another tool for the toolbox”, but that wouldn’t give them the understanding they need to put the technique into context.

Instead, I take the time and expend the effort to explain the very narrow but plausible circumstances under which the technique is justified, the logical reasons why it’s the most intuitive response to that type of a threat, and why they shouldn’t waste an inordinate amount of their limited training resources practicing the technique extensively.

From the standpoint of instructional integrity I think it’s important to not allow oneself to slip into the habit of using a trite explanation like “another tool for the toolbox.” It’s far better to explain the reason for the material, its expected use, and the frequency with which it needs to be practiced to maintain a certain level of proficiency. If the instructor can do that, there is no need for the toolbox nonsense; if he or she can’t, it should give the students pause.

Whether to cover up for a lack of plausibility or to disguise an issue with the ability to teach the material, the "tools for the toolbox" metaphor is at best a smokescreen. If you're taking a class from someone who uses it in place of rational and complete explanation, it's a sign that you need to be asking questions and getting clarification before accepting the material as being valid.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Tools for the toolbox.

In many of the classes I teach one phrase (or a variation) comes up with disturbing frequency: "another tool for the toolbox." Not because I say it, but because sooner or later a student will say it.

Then comes The Lecture.

As many of my students will attest, I hate that term. When it's uttered in class I take the time out to explain why I hate it, why it's nonsensical, but most importantly why it's dangerous from the standpoint of learning defensive shooting skills.

The toolbox metaphor seems useful; you buy tools (learn skills), and then when you need the tool to do a job you can go to your toolbox, pull out the tool, and use it for the task at hand. In reality it's more like you have an overflowing toolbox full of low-quality implements, none of which you've actually used because you've not run across the need for them yet - and then you suddenly have a woodworking problem only to realize hat all of your tools are for a machinist!

The toolbox analogy is usually used to justify, as opposed to explain, a technique or concept. If a technique has a plausible use there is no need to justify it; the use itself will be sufficient justification. It's only when the technique doesn't have a plausible use that it becomes necessary to explain why it's being taught by using the self-referential toolbox analogy: "we're learning this technique to put in our toolbox because we have a toolbox to fill."

In any given class there are things which I could teach which don't really have much (if any) application to defensive shooting, particularly defensive shooting as applied to the sudden criminal attack (ambush.) They're neat, they look cool and will impress your friends, but they have no application to defending yourself against the attack you didn't know was coming. I could concoct some ridiculous hypothetical instance in which that technique might be useful, but the less relevant the technique the more outlandish the scenarios become.

Why, you might ask, would I be teaching such a thing if it really doesn't have any application to the life my students lead? That's when the toolbox comes out: you don't need to worry that it doesn't seem useful, it's just another tool for your toolbox in case you need it! The students are mollified and I can continue filling the time with things other than what the students really need to know.

The toolbox metaphor, however coyly phrased or authoritatively uttered, is a red flag that what you're learning really doesn't have a plausible (let alone probable) use, which means you're probably spending time learning stuff other than what is likely to keep you safe. The toolbox is a waste of your limited training resources, resources that might be better spent learning things that will actually save your life.

Sometimes, though, the instructor will use the toolbox to cover something that actually is useful and plausible. If something is obviously useful, why use the metaphor? I'll cover that next time.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Determining how and what we train.

A question from a student in the class I taught last weekend brought up an interesting dichotomy in the defensive shooting world: what we prepare for often doesn't match what we actually face. Many people prepare for social violence, but actually face asocial violence. The difference between the two affects how and what we train.

Social violence is that which occurs between people engaged in a ritualized struggle for status or prestige; it can also be applied to groups vying for territory. Social violence occurs between two people who see each other as people, as antagonists, and there is often an aspect of mutuality to the encounter. The term 'fight' is most appropriate when referring to social violence, and the victim usually has some forewarning of the attack in the form of the posturing which precedes it. He (or she) may not recognize those cues, but they exist. Social violence is very often illustrative of escalation.

This is in stark contrast to asocial, or criminal, violence in which the victim is seen as a resource by the perpetrator. The resource is to be exploited with as little danger to the exploiter as possible, and that usually means both surprise and overwhelming force (or threat of force.) The term 'attack' is more appropriate when referring to criminal violence, and it usually shocks the victim by being both surprising and rapid.

A rather large, and in my mind unwarranted, amount of time in defensive shooting classes is spent training to deal with social violence gone bad. Why unwarranted? If the defensive shooting data that Tom Givens has collected is any indication, the overwhelming majority of lethal force incidents are in response to criminal violence and not social violence. His victims were usually doing normal, everyday things when they were surprised by a violent attacker. They weren't engaging in the one-upsmanship dances that typify social violence; they were attacked and needed to respond immediately. Their encounters lasted mere seconds.

(It could be argued that Tom's data set, gathered from his students who were engaged in shooting incidents, is heavily biased toward those who have either learned to avoid social violence or are socioeconomically predisposed to conduct which does not place them in the kinds of situations where social violence is common. After all, people with hot tempers and/or a psychological need to dominate others are usually not the responsible types who tend to sign up for shooting classes.)

In defensive shooting training, focusing on social violence as a precursor to the use of lethal force leads to training which doesn't reflect the reality of how attacks happen. The escalating nature of social violence lends itself to formulaic responses: verbal challenges, maneuvering for position, getting into the perfect (and preferred and usually non-intuitive) stance, getting a solid focus on the front sight, and shooting rapidly by "catching the link" to reset the trigger perfectly between shots and reduce split times.

The problem is that the techniques for the social violence scenario don't match the circumstances under which criminal violence occurs. If you don't know the attack is coming beforehand (because you've not spent the last minute or two sparring with someone who is trying to save face) you won't get the opportunity to use your well-practiced verbal de-escalation techniques; there won't be time to look around and get in just the right location to take advantage of cover; the sudden attack will activate your body alarm reaction and you'll automatically square yourself to the threat, which negates any sort of special stance; the loss of accommodation in the eyes and the resulting lock of focus at infinity makes it unlikely that you'll be able to focus on your front sight; and the reduction in blood flow to your hands, resulting in lowered tactile sensation, dexterity and strength means you're probably not going to be able to feel the little 'click' which tells you the trigger has reset.

So, the known and documented physiological reactions (which can't be trained away) to the kind of attack which most commonly results in the use of lethal force doesn't match the stuff that's learned in preparation for the least common kinds of incidents. In my mind, that's not a good use of scarce training resources! It's better to train in techniques which acknowledge the nature of the attack and our hardwired responses to them; they are more likely to result in an efficient response.

As it happens, the things that you learn to respond to criminal violence will work just as well if you need to shoot as a result of social violence, but the reverse is not true. This is because a learned response will always work when the body's alarm reaction hasn't been activated, otherwise you wouldn't have been able to learn it in the first place. They may not work under the body's natural alarm reactions, however, unless they match the way in which the body responds - because those natural reactions can't be trained away.

Does this mean that understanding social violence and how to deal with it is useless? No, not at all. In fact, Wim Demeere's blog recently had
an article on how to deal with social violence that I think is worth your time to read. (It's aimed at men and their particular kind of interactions.) Everyone should know how to handle these kinds of incidents to prevent them from escalating to the point that lethal force is both warranted and needed.

It's when we add in the tool (a gun) and body functions that aren't normally encountered (because we've been surprised by a criminal attack) that we need to thoughtfully modify how and what we train.

-=[ Grant ]=-

I spent my weekend teaching, and what I learned from doing so.

I'm tired. I always am after teaching a class, but it's a good tired. Knowing that my students emerged from two days of training with relevant, evidence-based defensive shooting skills is a wonderful feeling.

The class in question was a Combat Focus Shooting course held at Firearms Academy of Seattle. Though the current ammo shortages reduced the size of the class - two people dropped out only because they couldn't scrape up even 1/4 of the ammo they needed - we had a good group of very enthusiastic students.

One of the interesting things that came out of this class was a confirmation of the need to consider the student when we teach sighted fire, and by that I mean how we use our sights when we need to use them. In this class I had two students who, like me, wear bifocals. For quite some time I've said that using a traditional front sight focus is neither practical nor even possible for someone who needs supplementary close-up vision correction. In fact I even wrote an article for the Personal Defense Network on this very topic, titled
"I Can't See My SIghts!"

Both of the students had problems using their sights when they needed to simply because they couldn't focus closely enough to get the front sight sharp. I coached them on the points in the article: focus on the target, allow the sights to blur, and then align and superimpose the sights on the target. Look THROUGH the sights, not AT them. Suddenly they were hitting even small targets at plausible distances, which neither had been able to do before then. We even had time to try a few shots at small targets from barely plausible distances, and both of them were easily able to land their rounds on target.

In our debrief one of them mentioned that his deteriorating eyesight had actually caused him to consider selling all of his handguns and using a shotgun for home defense. He decided to take this class because he'd heard of my target-focus emphasis and wanted to get some experience and coaching in this approach. By the end of the course his shooting, his balance of speed and precision, was very close to that of the younger and sharper-eyed students. He told me that he was astonished at how quickly his shooting turned around and was delighted that he not only wouldn't need to sell his pistols, but that he now felt much more comfortable carrying one for self defense.

The other bifocal wearer had been to other schools - very well known schools, in fact - that had taught an inflexible front sight focus technique for all defensive shooting. Using a target focus was new to him, but he rapidly grew to appreciate the fact that it allowed him to deliver whatever level of precision he needed, as fast as he could, at whatever plausible distance he found himself - which he'd not been able to do for some time. His debrief comments could easily be summarized by an old quote from Robin Williams: "Reality - what a concept!"

I've found that these reactions are pretty typical for people who have formerly trained with instructors who don't understand how the human visual systems work nor understand the need to modify techniques if the student's particular issues require it. (I've never had student tell me that he was considering selling his handguns because of this, however.) It was a pleasure to be able to give these two people the information they needed and help them learn the defensive shooting techniques that might someday keep them alive.

Now THAT'S a good weekend!

(If you’re interested in learning the same things the students in this class did,
check my schedule for upcoming classes!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

On not being armed: the discussion continues.

Monday's post precipitated a number of comments; here, on Facebook, and in my email box. Some of them were complimentary, some weren't, while others were in the middle somewhere.

Many, I think, missed the point of the discussion. Allow me to illustrate with a question.

If there is a place where you cannot have your gun (because the law says you can't), do you avoid that place altogether? I'm not talking out of principle - that's another discussion entirely - but simply because you feel you can't protect yourself if not allowed to carry your gun.

If your answer is yes, does that mean that you're never going to Hawaii? Does it mean you'll never travel out of the country? In neither of those cases (with less than a handful of exceptions, none of them common or popular) can you be armed at your destination. Do you forego the pleasure of visiting new places just because you can’t carry your sidearm?

I hope the answer to that question would be "no". It shouldn’t be a matter of whether you'll go, but simply how you're going to protect yourself while there. Remember I said it's not so much about efficacy, it's about efficiency; you can be safe without the gun, but only if you understand that the gun is not the only tool you have - it’s simply the most efficient one for a very small percentage of cases.

The point is that there is more than one way to stay safe and they all start with an assessment of the dangers you face, the risks to you from those dangers, and alternative ways to reduce those risks. That statement would require a whole book to explore, but I hope you get the idea that it starts with thought.

Until now we've considered two rather discrete situations: those where you can have your gun and those where you can't. What about the stuff in the middle - the situations where you could carry a gun, but doing so entails a great deal of effort or risk on your part?

For instance, let's say you're taking a flight to a place where your concealed carry license is recognized through reciprocity. Do you go through the trouble of packing your gun up, going through the security theater, dealing with the poorly trained airline and TSA agents, take the very real risk of having your gun stolen from your luggage (it happens, probably more frequently than your needing it to defend yourself), and then take the risk that the police officer on the other end doesn't understand that his state recognizes your funny-looking carry license? (I haven't even touched on the possibility of being re-routed through a city where your gun is illegal and getting arrested for having it there. It's happened.)

At what point do the problems/risks outweigh the perceived benefits? If you take the absolutist view, you'll put up with any and all problems and risks to have your gun with you even if the chance of needing it is extremely small. That's a valid choice, in the sense that you're well within your rights to make it.

But now factor responsibility into your answer: what if your gun is stolen out of your luggage and ends up on the street, where it's used against another innocent person? Letting a gun out of your hands is always risky, especially in an environment where possessions (including guns) are known to regularly come up missing. Does your desire to be armed outweigh that very real risk?

Now zoom out to a wider view. Let's say that where you're going is a four-hour flight or a sixteen-hour drive. You've decided that you'll drive because you can take your gun with you and be armed the entire way. That's fair, but if your overall goal is to keep yourself safe, have you made the right decision?

The reality is that you are far more likely to be killed on the highway than in the air. By choosing to be armed over every other consideration, and therefore driving, you've actually dramatically increased your net risk of death. The belief in the necessity of being armed to be safe caused you to pick a transport mode that increased your risk well beyond that of the murderous mugger. How is increasing your chances of dying a good safety choice?

There are no easy answers to these questions, and anyone who tells you otherwise is simply not very insightful. For my part, I make such decisions based on a realistic consideration of the need and all of the compensating risks. Most of the time that means I'm armed with a gun, but occasionally it's going to mean that I'm not. I'm comfortable in either case because I understand that the gun is just a tool; I comprehend its place in the panoply of self defense and don't allow it to unduly dictate my decisions.

As Greg Ellifritz said in response to Monday's article: "Preparedness is important, but so is avoiding paranoia." I think he hit the nail on the head.

-=[ Grant ]=-


Do you carry a gun all of the time? I don't.

Every so often I'll get together with other people who are in the business of defensive shooting training. Invariably they are shocked - sometimes to incredulity - when I tell them that no, I'm not carrying a gun right now and no, I don't carry 24/7.

From their reactions you'd think I'd violated some sacred oath, or was insanely irresponsible, for being an instructor and NOT having a heater (and a backup gat) strapped to my person. I'm quite sure that in some circles I'm no longer considered part of the imaginary brotherhood of armed citizens, excommunicated from the religion of omnipresent preparedness.

I'm okay with that.

If I believed that only my handgun would keep me safe, to the point that I absolutely insisted on carrying it everywhere and all the time, I'd be turning it into a talisman: a thing invested with the power to protect by its mere presence. If I allowed myself to feel unarmed or unsafe because I didn't have it, that would simply confirm a belief in the talisman.

To be sure, the handgun is the most efficient method of protection when lethal force is warranted; of that there can be no doubt. But being the most efficient is not the same as being the only choice! The handgun is an invaluable piece of rescue equipment, but it's not the only tool I have.

After many years I've come to be at ease with those times when I'm not carrying a gun. When I'm on an airplane, for instance, I can't have one. I also don't worry about it, because I'm capable of using things in my environment and those things I bring with me to protect myself. If I can get to the point that I'm comfortable on a flight with 200 other people, none of whom I know, why would I feel any less safe in the restaurant at my destination?

Enabling that comfort is a realistic assessment of the risks I face. Recently, for instance, I taught a class in another state, one which required that I fly. When the plane touched down I was met by a driver who had been vetted by my hosts; I went from the car directly into the lobby of the hotel, where I checked in and secured my room against entry. The next morning I was greeted in the lobby by my host, who I knew to be armed, and was transported in his vehicle to a range where I was surrounded by good people with guns. We went to dinner with some of them that evening, and then back to the hotel where I barricaded myself for the night. The next morning I was greeted by my driver, who took me to the front door of the airport.

My risk was very low the entire trip. Was I likely to need a gun at any time during that sojourn? No. Was there a plausible lethal threat at any time? Probably not. If there had been, the vast majority of the time I was around other people who had guns. During the times I wasn't, I was mostly prohibited from having one anyhow.

Don't get me wrong: I carry whenever I can, and in my state that means the vast majority of the time. What I'm saying is that I don't allow my life to be defined or controlled by carrying, nor do I allow myself to feel unsafe when I can't. I understand that what I'm giving up by not having the gun is defensive efficiency, not absolute efficacy.

I know too many people who won't go to neat places and do neat things because they can't have their gun with them. (I'm talking about legally prohibited, as opposed to being lawfully unwelcome.) Frankly, I'd rather live my life - to go to the neat places and do the neat things! By carefully assessing my risk and the plausibilities involved, and taking appropriate precautions, I know I can be reasonably safe even without a firearm.

And I don't lose any sleep over it.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Announcing the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors.

I have some exciting news!

For a year now I've been working with some of the luminaries in the defensive shooting world on an exciting project. The idea was admittedly audacious: start a professional membership organization to bring together people who teach defensive firearms use. The goal would be to give defensive shooting instructors a place to congregate, share, network, increase their teaching skills, and ultimately advance professionalism in what can often be a contentious business.

It started very simply with a document called The Seven Tenets. That document was a non-doctrinal statement about the traits a professional shooting instructor should have, as opposed to what they teach. This was written up in many venues, including this blog, as the
Code Of The Professional Shooting Instructor. It was signed by a large number of famous and not-so-famous people, all of whom can legitimately be considered movers and shakers in the field.

At some point someone said "hey, we need an organization that can help both the aspiring and seasoned instructors live up to those high standards.” From that was borne the
Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors, and we're officially unveiling it this week!

Rob Pincus, Omari Broussard, Paul Carlson and I have spent huge amounts of our precious free time getting this new organization up and running. (Turns out that starting a professional association from scratch is a lot of work!) We've been honored to be joined by John Farnam, Massad Ayoob, Tom GIvens, Ken Murray, Marty Hayes, Dr. Robert Smith, and Robbie Barrkman, all of whom support our goals and have agreed to serve on our Advisory Council.

They're not just window dressing, either! We've put them to work to get the ADSI on the map and to guide our future programs, which will be geared toward providing continuing education for defensive shooting instructors who want to become the best that they can be.

If you teach defensive shooting skills, or if you want to, you should be a member of the ADSI. If you know someone who is a defensive shooting instructor, please make sure that they know about the Association! If you run into an instructor at your range, or perhaps from whom you're taking or have taken a class, ask them if they've joined the only professional organization representing them and what they do.

Please spread the word!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Spring Training season is starting!

It's springtime, or at least it will be on Wednesday when the Vernal Equinox occurs. Like baseball, that means it's the start of the training season for defensive shooters!

I'd like to believe that everyone is training all year 'round, but living in the northern latitudes as I do I realize that's not going to happen. Winter weather in much of the country is anything from somewhat unpleasant to downright life threatening, and I understand why people wait until springtime to get their training accomplished. (In fact, I've got an article on training in weather extremes coming up on the Personal Defense Network. I'll let you know when it goes live.)

Now if you think this is a set-up for a plug, you're right! Please go to the
Training tab in the menu, and have a look at my scheduled courses for Spring and early Summer. If you've ever thought about taking one of my classes, now's the time to sign up! (Of course - I do take charge cards!)

I'd also appreciate your sharing this information with your friends and family who are interested in training. If you don't see a class on the schedule that meshes with your calendar, or if you'd like to see me teach a little closer to your stomping grounds, drop me a note and let's talk about putting a class together for you!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Protecting yourself after an injury.

In most areas of the country, it's generally held that you may use lethal force to protect yourself if you are in immediate and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily injury. One of the factors which can contribute to that perceived danger is known as "disparity of force"; that is, a marked difference in the ability of the parties involved to inflict injury.

If your attacker is much larger than you, or if he's much stronger, or if he brought friends with him to help, are all examples of disparity of force. This disparity can also be due to an infirmity on your part, making the attack one of the able-bodied against someone who is disabled (if only temporarily.) Unfortunately, it's a disability which might attract a predator in the first place!

How do you defend yourself when you're recovering from an accident (or perhaps elective surgery?) What adjustments might you need to make to your routine and your practiced responses? My colleague
Andy Loeffler has written a good article for the Personal Defense Network about how and what to do!

His wife Julie was recently knocked off her feet by an injury, and what she and Andy discovered may be of use should you find yourself in similar circumstances. Recommended reading, and especially check out the comments where others weigh in on their experiences.

(Speaking of injuries, it's probably not a bad idea to have a left-hand holster around for your primary gun. Hand and arm injuries and surgeries are not unheard of, and just try to find a lefty holster when you really need one! This is one of the few times I recommend preparing for a relatively low-probability event, simply because of the availability of the necessary equipment.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

New DVD: Using the knife as a defensive weapon.

As I pointed out a few weeks back, I'm not a believer in the idea of a knife as an adjunct to a handgun. By that I mean I don't see it as a less-lethal defensive tool in the way that many do; the knife is a lethal object, and use of one will be prosecuted as such in just about any court in the country. It's lethal force, just a less efficient form of lethal force than the handgun.

That being said, I think the defensive knife has uses and one of them is in what I call the "Less Permissive Environment", or LPE. Those are the places (and there are a lot of them) where you cannot legally have or carry a firearm, but you can carry a knife. I've been in two states so far this year where I could not carry my handgun, and in those LPEs made do with a knife.

The problem with the knife is that it requires far more strength and skill to employ than the handgun, and very few trainers in the field have approached knife use with the kind of systems approach that we’re now familiar with in the empty-hands and firearms worlds. Luckily, a colleague of mine has stepped in to fill that void!

Alessandro Padovani is a multi-talented instructor who is certified to teach both SPEAR/PDR and Combat Focus Shooting. This gives him a phenomenal range of knowledge, from unarmed close-quarters defense to use of the handgun in those beyond-two-arms-reach situations that are extremely common. He saw a need to bring the same kind of emphasis on intuitive, efficient techniques to the use of the defensive knife, and thus was born his Safer Faster Knife Defense course.

For those who can't make it to one of his classes (I've been trying for over two years and haven't gotten there yet!), Alessandro has just released the first part of his course as a DVD through the Personal Defense Network's DVD collection. The Safer, Faster Knife Defense DVD is a superb introduction to his philosophy and his systems approach to the knife, always focusing on being efficient and intuitive.

The DVD goes through the fundamentals of using the knife, starting with a good section on practicing to deploy it under realistic conditions. That's something which is glossed over in a lot of other knife videos I've seen, and it's a welcome inclusion here.

He goes on to show how to train to recognize the targets of opportunity you are likely to have, how to best engage them, transfer of power to the target, angles and trajectories, and even the necessity of controlling your attacker's weapon before trying to employ your own. From the fallacy of contrived, choreographed footwork to understanding the effect your knife will have on the anatomy of your attacker - and more - he's managed to stuff a lot of information into this DVD.

For someone like me, who has taken a couple of classes and is conversant with the knife but is not an enthusiast or expert, this DVD was an eye-opener. As I said, I've seen DVDs from a few other instructors - some very famous - but Alessandro's approach to the topic made more sense, and was more plausible, than just about anything else I've encountered.

Suffice it to say that I consider Safer Faster Knife Defense a gold mine of information on using the knife to best advantage.
You can get your own copy for only $29.95 at his website, and I recommend you do so!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Defensive training in context: even dinosaurs evolve!

A story in USA Today a few weeks ago is potentially good news for defensive shooting training in the private sector: the Federal Bureau of Investigation recently overhauled their own training protocols. (Please go read the article - it’s surprisingly good.)

The FBI went back through 17 years of data and analyzed the kinds of gunfights their agents faced. They concluded their training, which historically emphasized long distance marksmanship, wasn't applicable to the threats their agents were actually encountering in the field. That data convinced them they needed to instead emphasize fast, close-quarters reactive shooting. Starting in January, handgun training and qualification at the FBI changed to reflect the realities of the field.

This is a major shift for the FBI, an admission that what they've been teaching for decades didn't match the circumstances under which they were actually shooting. They figured out that they needed to train in context: under the plausible conditions their agents would need to shoot. According the linked article, that means a greater emphasis on getting good hits in realistic strings of fire (3 or 4 rounds) at realistic distances (around 3 to 7 yards.)

What they found is surprisingly consistent with what researchers in the private sector have long known: that most defensive shootings come as a surprise and happen within roughly 15 feet, or about a car length (which makes sense when you think about it.)


Why is this good news for the private sector? Because many schools and trainers base their courses, to some degree, on what the FBI does. You'll find lots of classes that use a variation of the (now 'old') FBI qualification course, shooting out to 25 yards and emphasizing tight groups irrespective of the precision required by the target. If these same instructors change to reflect the new FBI protocols they'll have their students training and shooting at more realistic distances and under more realistic conditions, which will make them safer.

There will, of course, be those who won’t acknowledge what the FBI now knows (and the rest of us have known for years.) Just recently I saw a blog post (with accompanying videos) from a shooting school in California which insisted the only way for a student to be assured of performance in a defensive shooting was to practice precision marksmanship at long distances. If they did that, the article insisted, they would 'automatically' be able to shoot closer and faster.

That's what the FBI used to think, too, but they've figured out it just isn't true. They've learned that training under false expectations doesn't lead to excellent performance when the conditions change; only training under those conditions of use will give the desired results.

The FBI has finally realized what many of the more progressive trainers in the private sector have been saying for years: training needs to be based on the realities of use, and being a "good shooter" at long distances does not magically translate to being able to efficiently defend yourself in a much closer, more rapid encounter. I hope that many instructors follow their lead and evolve their own programs in similar fashion!

-=[ Grant ]=-

SARC: a proactive way to deal with school attackers.

In the midst of the debate about whether teachers should be armed, a pragmatic approach has been quietly gaining attention. It's focused on giving students and teachers ways to fight back against attackers on school grounds, ways that don't rely on politicians and contentious fights over "guns in our schools." It's called the
School Attacker Response Course (SARC).

It was borne in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school murders. Rob Pincus knew that there had to be a better way for schools to handle these kinds of events, so he took his police and SWAT experience, along with his martial arts training, and came up with some novel yet plausible and effective ways to counter the school attacker.

The School Attacker Response Course teaches students that there is an alternative to "duck and cover" - the Cold-War-era method of cowering in fear under desks. This tactic has been regurgitated for the 21st century in an attempt to keep kids safe not from Russian bombs, but from spree killers. It was silly then, it's silly now, and the School Attacker Response Course aims to change it.

The course, available free to any school administrator who requests it, doesn't talk about arming teachers at all; instead, it shows how teachers and students can fight back and escape should the unthinkable happen in their classroom. It emphasizes that these kinds of events are very rare, so it doesn't stoke children's irrational fears, and then talks matter-of-factly about what they can do if by chance it does happen.

The SARC just graduated its first class of volunteer instructors, and more are on the way. If you're an administrator who wants to really keep kids safe, or if you're interested in teaching this course in your local schools, go to the SARC website to learn more.

-=[ Grant ]=-

How do you budget for training?

My colleague
Omari Broussard recently wrote an interesting article for the Personal Defense Network about budgeting for your self defense needs. Too many people only think in terms of the cost of a gun, but you really need to think about the whole package: the gun, magazines, ammunition, holster, and - perhaps most importantly - the training to use it all safely and appropriately.

It’s a good read. Please share it with your friends!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Competition and training: a different perspective.

Ken Murray is the author of "Training At The Speed Of Life" and an acknowledged expert on reality-based training.
In this video he talks about the disconnects, as he sees them, between the competition arena and defensive shooting.

Food for thought.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Considering the knife as a defensive tool?

It's rather fashionable in the self defense world to carry a knife as a backup to a firearm. At any 'tactical' event you'll find people carrying a 'fighting' blade along with a 'backup' blade, and some practitioners advocate the knife as a primary tool for self defense.

There was a time when I espoused such points of view, but over the years I've changed my mind a bit. The knife is almost always considered deadly force, and brings with it some surprising legal risks and social connotations.
This month's edition of the Armed Citizen's Legal Defense Network Journal is all about knives, and explores not just their tactical use but what they look like from the legal side of the table.

There is some eye-opening information in this issue, and if you carry a knife on your person (particularly of the one-hand-opening variety) I
strongly encourage you to read the whole Journal. (Download the PDF version and keep it with your self defense reference materials.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Woohoo! Go Me!

I'm going to to a bit of horn-tooting today, as the
Personal Defense Network released their Top 5 list of the most popular articles (and videos) from 2012. Yours truly is the only person to have two articles in the Top 5!

Please, go look at the list and check out the other winners - there are some really good articles and videos. If you're not spending time at the PDN site, you're missing out on some of the best self defense information on the 'net.

Even if I do say so myself!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Practical responses to school attacks.

Since the horrific school murders last week it's become clear that our collective responses to these attacks is insufficient. The reports I've read indicated that it took police 20 minutes from the initial call to arrive; that's a lot of time for a madman to be loose in a victim-rich environment - no matter what he's armed with.

While the national debate rages about gun bans and mental health records, there are some logical, plausible, no-nonsense things that we can do right now to help keep our kids safe.

I'm going to ask you to watch these two videos by Rob Pincus about unarmed responses to a spree killer, and then to share them with everyone you know.

The first is from a
Personal Defense Network video on the subject:

The second is from a seminar that he taught just yesterday to a group of kids. (You can't get more timely than that!):

This second video features excerpts from a 30 minute course presented to a group of children ages 7-17. The topic was practical responses to an attacker in their school. Rob, through his company
I.C.E. Training, is offering this seminar program, free of charge, to schools wanting to present their faculty and staff with options to be used in the face of a worst case scenario school attack. If you represent a public or private elementary, middle or high school and are interested in hosting a course, please check the link to his site and then email him for details:

Finally, Rob has offered to any elementary or high school teacher who legally carries, or will commit to legally carrying, the chance to attend a
Combat Focus Shooting course for free - that's right, free. Rob says “more teachers need to fight for the right to carry at work. I am willing to provide the training, but they have to take the first steps. I am interested in changing/causing the conversations and policy changes at the administration level in as many schools as possible.”

As a Combat Focus Shooting certified instructor, I’ll match that offer!
Contact me for more information.

There isn't any single thing that's going to make our schools safe. Instead, it's going to take a number of things working in concert to do that job. We need to consider an interlocking approach, including student's response and ultimately the presence of countervailing force, to do that. Let the politicians do the finger-pointing and hand-wringing while we - both gun owners and non-owners - get together and actually tackle the problem.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The myth of situational awareness, illustrated.

This story has been making the rounds over the last few days, and some people in the training business have been using it as an example of why situational awareness is So Very, Very Important: "if this guy hadn't been texting and been aware of his surroundings, he'd be alive today!"

Bull twaddle.

Frankly, I think it's a perfect illustration of a
controversial piece I wrote for the Personal Defense Network nearly two years ago. In it I explained why situational awareness simply isn't the magic wand that everyone wants it to be. Not that it's bad or completely useless, mind you, just that it doesn't do what you think it does.

In that article I point out that if the attacker is sufficiently motivated (i.e., there is enough reward in the crime relative to the risk he’s taking) he'll simply wait you out until you eventually succumb to a distraction. Since then I've expounded on that concept, but it boils down to the fact that sooner or later you're going to stop being 'aware' and start living your life. Whether it's reading the menu or watching your kids swing or admiring the form of the Hot Thing walking past, you will become distracted many times every day no matter who you are. The savvy criminal knows that innately and will simply wait for his opportunity unless something better comes along.

In this case we have a professional gang hit. The shooter, as we found out, got to that parking space several minutes before the victim and waited for him to pass. This suggests that there was active surveillance and that they were in contact with the killer. Short of a round-the-clock five man protective detail, there was very little chance this guy was going to survive that level of dedication to his demise.

He could have had his "head on a swivel" and been in "condition orange" all he wanted, but at some point he would have looked down at his watch or stopped at a store window or done something that would have allowed his attacker to pierce his invincible cloak of situational awareness. He was very obviously a high value target, his attacker was skilled and motivated, and it was just a matter of time before he got nailed.

This isn't an example of why situational awareness is a great thing; it's an illustration of why it's not the panacea so many make it out to be. Just so we're clear: this doesn't mean it's completely unimportant or that it has zero value, only that it needs to be understood in context and subject to critical analysis instead of defended with clichéd one-liners. (Or color codes.)

-=[ Grant ]=-


When will the silly defensive shooting techniques stop?

After my article on
not falling for a technique simply because someone of authority promotes it, a reader sent me an alert about an article in the Shooting Times Personal Defense 2012 magazine. The article is titled "Fight With A .380" by one J. Guthrie. (Had I written this article, I'd probably be embarrassed to use my full name too. You'll see why.)

Mr. Guthrie bases much of his article on conversations with Ed Head, the industry veteran who most recently was chief of Gunsite. The article was pretty lackluster until Guthrie got to the part where he described Ed's practice and recommended use of the .380 pistol: he carries two of them, draws them simultaneously, and shoots them alternately at the target. Yes, you read that correctly: one in each hand, blazing away Hollywood style.

Guthrie calls this "unorthodox". I call it something else which I’m ashamed to repeat in a family blog.

If you've not fired one of the uber-small .380 pistols, they're a bit of a handful. Shooting them one-handed guarantees that your balance of speed and precision will suffer greatly compared to getting both hands on one of them. It does not matter how much you practice, you will always be less able to shoot one-handed than two-handed. Also no matter how much you practice, one of those hands will always be worse than the other. *

Shooting them alternately means that not only do you have much diminished control, it means you need to switch your attention between them constantly. You're using precious time and energy re-aligning each gun on target for one shot, which is much more difficult than aligning one gun after successive shots. What's more, even when you’ve spent that time and energy half of your shots will be slower and less precise than the other half, and all of them will be slower and/or less precise than shooting with two hands!

Wouldn't it be better to draw one gun, get both hands on it and achieve a superior balance of speed and precision, then if needed drop it and draw the next (a 'New York reload')? Yes, I believe it would. The .380 is not the complete weakling some make it out to be, and I think you'll find Greg Ellifritz's data show that where it's used six or seven rounds of .380 often end the fight. The faster you can get those rounds onto the target, the faster the fight is going to end. Alternating the shots from two guns simply makes that process longer.

While the article doesn't specifically say so, the genesis of the technique centers around Head's assertion that the small .380 pistols cannot be reloaded easily. He seems to believe that having two guns eliminates the need for a time-consuming reload. There might be some merit to that belief, IF the guns were used successively and the New York reload done when one ran dry.**

Doing this sequentially would at least mean that if you ended up running one dry and needed to access the second gun, you'd already have been able to put a full ammunition load into your attacker far faster and with greater precision than shooting one-handed alternately. You're more immediately disrupting his activity and lessening the amount of time you're exposed to danger.

Shooting the guns alternately simply gives the bad guy more time to hurt you - and, I submit, it's a whole lot MORE time. I can deduce absolutely no upside to this method.

Well, according to Guthrie there IS one: it makes you look like Antonio Banderas. No, I'm not kidding - he really said that. He calls the effect "impressive", without ever explaining exactly why or how shooting less precisely and more slowly is impressive.

That, then, is really the crux of his presentation - it makes you look cool!

I'll say this as plainly as I can: if you choose your defensive shooting technique because it makes you look cool you are simply foolish. That's also the best word to attach to this technique. I'm surprised that anyone would write a glowing article about such nonsense, and I'm surprised that Shooting Times would publish it.

But the bad judgement doesn't stop there! I'll talk about that on Wednesday.

-=[ Grant ]=-

( * - There are people who insist that they shoot "just as good" one handed as two, or that they shoot weak hand "just as good" as strong hand. Remember that shooting is always a balance of speed and precision; shooting as precisely but slower is not as good, and shooting at the same speed but with less precision isn't as good, either. Only if you can shoot with the same balance of speed and precision one-handed as two-handed, or weak-handed as strong-handed, can you claim to be "as good". I've yet to meet the person who can.)

( **
- Personally, I'd need to test that assertion for myself before I accepted it, and that's before factoring in the complication of realistically practicing the technique. I have done such a test with two revolvers, and found that the New York reload has very little advantage. I believe the results would be less persuasive with two auto pistols, given their reloading efficiencies.)

Task fixation in critical incidents.

One of the concepts that we talk about in
Combat Focus Shooting classes is that of task fixation: the diversion of attention to a particular sub-activity during an attack. We discuss this specifically relating to looking at the gun while reloading.

The concept is clearly illustrated in this video of a very dynamic simulation during a Craig Douglas ECQC class (one of the few on my "short list" of classes to attend.) Note that the gun fails to fire and suddenly the defender's entire attention is diverted to getting it running again, rather than dealing with his attackers. Craig even mentions that to the student at the end of the exercise, and the student admits to a fatal task fixation.

Many trainers maintain that the best place for the gun is in front of the face so that you can see both it and the threat while you reload. I don't believe that's a rational expectation when the body's threat responses have been activated, and believe instead what will happen is the task of reloading will divert attention completely from the threat in the way that a malfunction did for this fellow.

In the couple of seconds that any normal person is going to take to reload their pistol the threat can shoot or stab quite a few times, or cover a lot of distance to bring himself into contact with the victim. During that time it's more important that you avoid being shot/stabbed/beaten than it is to get a small (and theoretical) advantage in reloading speed. The first order of business is not getting hurt or killed in the process of defending yourself! That sounds silly, but the popularity of techniques that increase your exposure to danger rather than decrease it make it necessary to point such things out.

Instead of looking at the gun, we teach making the reload process a strictly mechanical activity that can be done with the gun out of the direct line of sight to the threat. (The specific ways to accomplish that are beyond the scope of this post, but it's not difficult to do for either autoloading pistol or revolver.) While the gun is being reloaded in that repeatable, mechanical fashion the defender is able to keep an eye on the threat and move, seek cover, or do whatever else is necessary to avoid becoming a casualty.

This is also why we approach the act of malfunction clearing similarly to that of reloading the gun, teaching a non-diagnostic approach to the problem which doesn’t result in the kind of attention diversion that happened in the video.

With the gun in front of the face, as some recommend, I believe (and this video supports my contention) that what will happen is fixation on the reload rather than on the threat. There are other downsides as well, some relating to the perceptual distortions that accompany the threat reaction and how they affect the “look at me” type of reload, but that’s another topic for another time.

-=[ Grant ]=-

My new PDN article: sight-seeing!

I've got another new article up at the Personal Defense Network, and those of you who are pushing 40 (or pulling 50) will be particularly interested. It's called
"I Can't See My Sights!"

It's the distillation of all the things I've learned over the past few years about how to adapt to vision changes, particularly those related to the march of time. If you have contrast or color blindness issues, or if you wear bifocals, this article will likely have something of special value for you.

Please go read it, and be sure to share it with your friends and family!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Don't fall for it!

(Note: I am omitting names in this article, not because the information is secret but because I want to focus on a concept. The incidents I talk about are public knowledge and can be found with about 15 seconds of Googling; if you really want the nitty-gritty details, feel free to do the searching - but please don't bring that information in to any comments here, as I want the discussion to center on the ideas not the players. Thank you.)

This last week two seemingly unrelated events came to the attention of the shooting public. First, a trainer whose background is supposedly Russian special forces (Spetsnaz) violated some cardinal safety rules and shot an assistant instructor three times; second, a well-known shooting retailer published an article on their blog that promoted what is universally considered to be an unsafe act when holstering a gun.

In the first incident, the trainer in question has produced some videos (one of which I've seen) that show techniques I find rather dubious from a safety aspect. They're presented under the guise of being "real world" special forces training and aggressively sold to people in the private sector.

In the second incident, the writer (whose pictures and videos show a certain laxity with regard to trigger finger discipline) presented a technique for "safely" reholstering guns like the Glock. This technique required the the shooter to put the trigger finger into the trigger guard behind the trigger to ostensibly keep if from moving backward if caught on something. It was supposedly developed by a Marine-turned-police officer, whose "secret" work necessitated anonymity.

Fans of the instructor who shot his assistant tried to downplay the negligent shooting by invoking nonsensical terms such as "big boy rules" and "real world" safety. Because the instructor was formerly a special forces soldier his methodology, we were told, would be different and we needed to apply different standards of safety to him and his methods.

At the same time, the author of the article in question defended the technique by invoking the inventor's status as both a Marine and an undercover cop. Because of his undercover work, we were told, his technique was "real-world" and needed to be judged under a different standard of safety.

The linkage between the two is obviously safety, but it goes well beyond that. Both incidents are infused with a liberal amount of the logical fallacy of 'appeal to authority' - that is, the material being presented is valuable (or not unsafe) because of the position of teacher/inventor. What concerns me is that so many people will actually fall for that.

Just because someone was a special forces soldier, Marine, or police officer doesn't automatically make a technique or an opinion correct in all cases. First, because of context: just because it's valuable in a war zone doesn't mean it's applicable to you in your home; second, because the authority (real or perceived) that someone receives from his job doesn't mean that his opinions are infallible. If you assume either (or worse, both) of those you can end up adopting wholly unsafe and inappropriate techniques, not to mention the loss of valuable time training and practicing them.

It's up to you to look at everything you read, see, or experience in a class with a critical eye. Just because someone is famous or holds a certain position doesn't mean he's right! You need to ask yourself whether what you're seeing is safe, applicable to your own life, and addresses a plausible need.

More importantly, the person who is promoting that technique or idea must be able to give you more justification and explanation than simply "I'm special forces/SWAT, and unless you are too you’re not in a position to question!"

Whenever you encounter a technique justified only (or at least primarily) by the status of the person who invented or is promoting it, you should immediately question its validity. Anything you learn with regard to defensive shooting has to make sense, it has to address a real need, and above all it needs to be safe. If there isn't a rational explanation forthcoming, if all you're given is appeal to authority, then you should be extremely wary of both the material and the person feeding it to you.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Ramifications are everywhere. Especially in being prepared.

The storm that hit the NE part of our country was more devastating than I expected - and I expected it to be severe. The original projected pressure of 939mb turned out to be very close to the actual 940mb recorded - the lowest ever for the eastern seaboard. When I saw that forecast pressure a week ago I knew it was going to be very bad, but even I was shocked at what eventually transpired. My thoughts are with our countrymen at this hour.

Watching the news from the area I was struck by a reporter's comment: she saw hordes of people wandering the streets looking for food. They didn't show any video, but I can imagine in an area where seven million homes and businesses are without power (and not expected to get power restored for many days yet) there would be a lot of scavengers. It becomes a survival tool. I can't, however, think of anything I'd want to do less than roam the streets looking for scraps and warmth.

That's why we prepare. Everyone reading this faces dangers simply by virtue of living, and while the ways in which we each prepare might be different the goal is the same: survive the event so that we can bring ourselves and our communities back to something resembling normal. Sometimes, though, in our preparations we forget the little things that turn out to be bigger than we expected.

After my Monday post about prepping I got an email from a reader who related the story of a friend of his. Seems this lady turned her hall closet into a canned goods pantry, which was probably a good idea given that she lives in hurricane country. The next hurricane wiped out her electrical service for a few days, but this time she was ready! Well, except for a little problem: seems she didn't have anything other than an electric can opener, which of course was inoperative. All her food was locked in those pesky metal cylinders!

Now you or I may have used a knife to gouge open the cans, but that didn't occur to her. Yes, adaptation and flexibility are important aspects of being prepared but there is a more important point in this tale: if you make decisions about your preparations, you need to think through all of the ramifications of those decisions. Simply investing a buck or two in a couple of hand-operated can openers was all she really needed, but didn't think of doing.

I was struck by this same problem watching the news footage from the East Coast prior to landfall. In one scene a gas station was being mobbed by people filling up their gas cans in advance of the power outages. Most of them had a couple of tiny 1-gallon plastic cans; how long would that stash run their generators? A couple of hours, if they're lucky. Then they're right back where they started simply because they didn't think their plans through. Generators need fuel, and you have to think in terms of hours of power. How many hours might you expect to be without power and how many gallons will the generator use per hour (or vice-versa) will tell you how many gallons of fuel you need. It's more than you might think.

So you've got a generator and plenty of fuel? Great! How do you plan to get that power where you need it? Most people have extension cords, but they're typically too short and almost always of too small a gauge to be safe. The generator by necessity sits outdoors, and the run of extension cord into the house is also by necessity long. The longer the run of wire, the greater the diameter of that wire must be. If you're going to use extension cords with a generator you need the heaviest gauge your can get for both safety and usability. (I'm
partial to these, which are both tough and easy to handle, because they stay flexible in the cold.)

Better yet is to have your electrician wire in a cutover panel and a special outlet into which you plug your generator. He can also wire up the super-heavy-duty cable you'll need to feed the output from your generator into the panel.

You do know that your generator, unless it's quite large, is unable to power your electric oven and range, right? In fact, depending on the size of the generator it may not even be able to run your refrigerator, lights, and microwave at the same time. How are you going to cook your cache of canned food?

How about a good, old-fashioned suitcase-type Coleman stove! Cheap, easy to use, safe, and if you get the propane type the fuel is readily available and stores for years. (Do you have a way to light the Coleman stove? How about one of the long spark-type igniters that you can find for a few dollars in the camping department of any outdoor store? Get several.)

Think through all your preparations; look for the weak points. Remember that just because you have a piece of equipment that works under a specific set of circumstances doesn't mean that you can ignore the support equipment necessary to utilize it properly. Sometimes, like our lady with the can opener, it means analyzing every single step of the problem and actively questioning your assumptions. Looked at in the proper frame of mind it might even be entertaining!

OK, maybe not entertaining…but you get the point!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Managing scarcity - it's an important part of safety.

As I write this the storm formerly known as Hurricane Sandy is bearing down on the East Coast. The remnants of Sandy are merging with a winter storm, sucking frigid air from Canada, and coalescing to form what's being called a "superstorm". The forecast is for extremely high winds, double-digit inches of rain, feet of wet and heavy snow in the mountains, and water level rises as much as 11 feet in some of the bays in the region. Current predictions say that many millions may be without power for an extended period of time - days, certainly, perhaps weeks in some areas.

This storm isn't just powerful, it's huge. Looking at the maps of predicted impact reveals possible tropical-storm force winds as far west as the Mississippi River, and from South Carolina up through Maine. A blocking high pressure region to the northeast means that the storm will stick around for at least a couple of days, perhaps through Wednesday. If you live east of the Big Muddy and north of Florida your weather for the next week is likely to be dominated by this event.

Given the incredible, almost unprecedented scope of the storm some people are very likely to die. It’s a sad thing to contemplate. For my friends, family, clients and readers in the impact zone I hope that you ride out this event as safely (and calmly) as possible. Please don't take risks, and make sure your families are as safe as you can make them.

I realize this is an emerging story but I think it's important to use it as a springboard to talk about the larger context of personal safety. I run into a lot of people who spend large sums of money on guns and ammo, but very little on other things that will keep them safe. I know folks who have very impressive gun collections but no generator and only a day or two of food. Yes, you might need those guns to keep yourself safe from the looters who scurry in after any major natural disaster - but you have to survive the disaster to even begin to be worried about the looters!

Personal safety isn't just about handling bad guys; it also means keeping yourself safe from auto accidents, burns, disease, diabetes, strokes, electrocution, and all the other things that can maim or kill you. I know it's hard to keep perspective because guns are shiny and shooting them is a whole lot of fun, but if you're serious about your safety and survival you need more.

The trouble is that no one has unlimited time, money, or energy to do everything. Even if you're in the top 1% of wage earners in this country your resources are finite. Preparing for an emergency, be it criminal or meteorological, requires managing those scarce resources to provide the best return for the most likely circumstances.

Instead of signing up for yet another Ultra-Advanced Warrior Operator Level 3 Ninja Team Houseclearing course (Walter Mitty, Instructor), how about using that money to buy a generator or take a class in trauma care or outfit a pantry with shelves and stock them with food? Needing one (or more) of those is probably just a tad more likely than having to clear an office tower of 'tangos'.

It's really easy to get caught up in the fun of Barbie-dressing yet another AR-15 while ignoring the fact that you have no trauma kit (and no training in how to use it.) In the final analysis a lever action rifle and a month’s worth of stored food beats the crap out of the latest red-dot equipped flattop AR and an empty refrigerator.

This week is going to be very bad for a very large number of people. If you're one of them, my thoughts are with you. For the rest of us this should serve as an object lesson in preparedness. Remember: preparing is all about managing scarcity. Do so wisely.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Excelsior. Look it up.

Richard Rohlin writes a neat blog called The Gentleman Adventurer. (Great name; I feel all tweedy just reading his masthead!)

A week or so ago he put up a post titled "
Excelsior: A training manifesto". Aside from the fact that I'm mentioned in the post (thanks Richard!), it's a good article about his personal evolution in defensive shooting.

(For those of you who have not yet Googled "excelsior", he explains the word and why he's chosen it for his manifesto.)

It's a superb article, and I highly encourage you to go read it right now.

-=[ Grant ]=-


Texting for safety.

Kelly Muir, developer of the
Wrong Woman integrated self defense course, has some great ideas for using text messages to bolster your personal safety.

When I was doing search and rescue some years back, one of the mantras we repeated was "always tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back." Texting makes this easy, and with group texting (which I understand not every phone supports), you can easily let a number of people know where you are and who you're with.

Watch the video. Heck, make sure your kids watch it too!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Misogynists - ya gotta love ‘em. Or not.

Several months ago I read a discussion about teaching women to shoot. In it was this gem (written, obviously, by a male of the species) about what a “woman’s class” should entail:
"I would put a greater emphasis on field stripping, taking the gun down and putting it back together. Our society doesn't encourage women to mess with machines, demystifying the gun as a machine instills confidence." This comes from the same mindset that says a really important part of a shooting class is a drawn-out explanation of how the primer ignites the gunpowder and the difference between rimfire and centerfire.

As I've said before, it's silly to think that a woman who has mastered the complexities of driving can't figure out what a slide stop lever does. To take my automobile analogy a bit further, it's silly to think that a woman needs to know how to take an engine apart to "instill confidence" in her driving ability.

Don't get me wrong - if she doesn't have someone who will do the job of cleaning and oiling her gun, she needs to learn to do it herself. The gun has to be maintained, and someone has to do it; it's simply part of shooting. However, to label that maintenance as "demystifying" the gun and "instilling confidence” is nonsense. If she doesn't have confidence from proper training and regular practice, knowing how to field strip her Glock isn't going to give it to her any more than knowing how to replace a crank seal is going to make her a more confident driver.

I think it's more important for her to spend her limited training time and money learning how to defend herself efficiently, how to make the bad guy go away with the least expenditure of her defensive resources, than it is to repeatedly practice the disassembly of her pistol.

-=[ Grant ]=-

An independent review of a Combat Focus Shooting class.

Fellow Combat Focus Shooting instructors
Matt DeVito and Jeff Varner recently taught a CFS class in Nevada. One of their students was the guy who writes the Zombie Tactics blog, and he made an unsolicited after action video report of his experiences in that class.

Sounds like a great course, doesn't it? Maybe, even, one that you'd like to attend? Well, I still have a couple of spots open in the
Combat Focus Shooting course I'm teaching on Sept. 9th in Canby, Oregon (just outside of Portland.) Drop me a line for more information!

-=[ Grant ]=-

This one's worth watching.

I just realized that I'd not alerted you to this - how neglectful of me!

Mark Craighead, owner of Crossbreed holsters, has put his resources behind a new shooting show: Trigger Time. He's put together a great team of professionals to bring you the latest training, information, and shooting techniques. It's broadcast on the Pursuit Channel, which is available on some cable systems as well as DIsh and DirecTv.

If you don't have one of those services, however, don't fret! Craig is a child of the modern era, and has seen fit to post all of the show's segments on the
Trigger Time website immediately after they're aired! I wish more broadcasters would join us here in the 21st century - {COUGH}OutdoorChannel{COUGH}.

No, I’m not on the show; that would be too much awesomeness even for Craig to handle. But the other guys are pretty good, so be sure to check it out!

-=[ Grant ]=-

P.S.: Confidential to Sigspace - be careful what you wish for, as it may come to pass. Soon.

Do you really need to train?

My latest article is up at the Personal Defense Network:
"The Training Industry's Dirty Little Secret". Check it out!

-=[ Grant ]=-


Over-react much?

Over at the Schneier On Security blog, Bruce Schneier talks about the
concept of risk in relation to the Aurora movie theater attack. I found his analysis interesting, inasmuch as gunnies everywhere are talking about how they'd respond - and how they're changing their response preparation - to such an event.

Some of the blogs, Facebook posts, and some forum discussions I've seen in the wake of the Aurora shooting are almost comical. There are people who suggest that concealed handgun carriers change their ammunition, their carry gun, and their training regimen to reflect the possibility of facing a crazed gunman in a movie theater through thick smoke. Some are suggesting carrying extra backup guns to arm other movie-goers, some are recommending spending more time on long-range handgun shots, and some are considering trading in their "low capacity" guns for something that will carry 15 or more rounds - all based on an event which is extremely rare, even considering its conditional probability.

Remember that none of us has the unlimited time, energy, or money to train for everything that could
possibly happen; we have to make choices to most effectively apportion those resources, and not understanding the nature of risk can lead us to making inappropriate choices. The Aurora shootings may have slightly expanded the range of possible risks we might encounter, but it really hasn't changed the likely (probable) risks of everyday life.

Read Bruce's article, and remember that your chances of being mugged or car-jacked in the theater parking lot are still far greater than facing a lone shooter with smoke grenades bent on wholesale destruction. Prepare by spending your limited resources accordingly.

-=[ Grant ]=-

P.S.: I'm waiting for the first training facility to buy a smoke machine and include 75-yard shots in low light conditions as part of their "vital skills" curriculum. It will happen.

Style over substance.

I recently learned of a blogger and wanna-be instructor, a member of the disturbingly superficial "I'm cute and have a gun - read my blog!" trend, who wanted to have her picture taken with a well-known trainer who was visiting the area. Note that she didn't want to take the excellent class that he was teaching, she just wanted a picture to post on her blog to make people think that she had a connection with a Famous Gun Instructor!

At least she was honest about her intent; not everyone is.

Somewhere in the last week I was directed to an article titled "
Races, Journeys, and Certifications”, written by one Jacob Steinman. While intended for a martial arts audience, it's very applicable to those of us interested in defensive shooting: it talks about people who take classes for reasons other than learning.

I've seen this in action, instances where people attended a defensive shooting class (either as an end user or as an instructor candidate) only to get the paper, not to actually increase their knowledge or to develop new skills. It's diploma chasing: acquiring yet another geegaw to hang on the wall, another piece of external validation that serves to impress the impressionable, without actually absorbing the material. (As it happens, some of the worst teachers I’ve known have had the most impressive diploma walls!)

The ultimate manifestation of this would be the ditzy blogger referenced above: not even pretending to go through the motions but getting the benefit anyhow. Is she really any different than the person who acquires the certificate without having bothered to actually learn anything? Only in degree, I would argue. The result is the same.

The "money quote" from Jacob: "The certification process should not be an end point; it should not be something you do so that you can say it's done. It should be a marker--a waypost along the journey."

Read the whole thing. It's pretty good.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Combat Focus Shooting class coming up!

If you're in Oregon or Southwest Washington, I'll be teaching a one-day
Combat Focus Shooting class in Canby, OR (a few minutes south of Portland) on Sunday, September 9th. There are still a small handful of spaces left, so if you'd like to attend let me know ASAP!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Readers of my blog get a PDN discount!

Last week I announced the new Premium content over at the Personal Defense Network. I hope you've had a chance to check it out, but if you're still on the fence about signing up, maybe this will help tilt the scales for you!

When you sign up at this link, use the discount code "FBSAVE30" - it will chop a whopping 30% off the subscription price!

Remember that a subscription gives you exclusive and unlimited access to members-only content, including step-by-step lessons and full-DVD-length training videos. With 30% off, why not give it a try?

(If you haven’t ‘liked’ the PDN Facebook page yet,
how about heading over there and doing so?)

-=[ Grant ]=-

A surprise from the Personal Defense Network!

I'm pre-empting today's Friday Surprise for one from the Personal Defense Network (PDN) - because it's one I'm excited about and have been waiting for!

As (I hope) you're aware, PDN has become a premier site for personal defense information, articles and videos. I've contributed a number of articles (with more to come), and there are a ton of videos there as well. What's great about PDN is that the content isn't from any one point of view; there are a number of different perspectives from a wide variety of personal defense experts. Our managing editor, Rob Pincus, has gone to great lengths to make sure that there is a great variety of different opinions represented in the content. That's what makes PDN unique and uniquely valuable.

This week they've announced a big upgrade: Premium Memberships. For only $4.99 a month (or $34.95 a year) you can have access to defensive video tips and techniques, step-by-step training drills, feature length videos, complete personal defense courses, and full streaming DVD presentations. The videos are exclusive to PDN and all in HD video. The topics are timely, the information is authoritative, and the quality is superb.

I've watched a number of the Premium videos, and they're all good - in fact, they blow away a lot of the training DVDs you can buy. With DVDs running anywhere from $39 to $85 these days, I think that makes the $34.95 for unlimited access to all of PDNs Premium streaming content a great bargain. Of course, the Premium content is accessible from your computer or your iPad (guess I'm going to have to break down and get an iPad now), and you'll still have access to the huge and ever-expanding library of free PDN content - and there's much more to come!

Click here to check out the Premium Membership at PDN.

-=[ Grant ]=-

It's deja vu all over again.

Long-time readers may remember that I'm a big fan of the
Shorpy Historical Photo Archive site. In fact, it's one of the few that's in my "favorite" RSS feed tabs in Safari. I never get tired of seeing what they've come up with!

Last Friday they showed a picture taken in 1909 of a gentleman (I assume it was a man) dressed up in protective clothing and holding a pistol. Labeled "
dueling with wax bullets", it strongly resembles what today we refer to as "force-on-force" training. Everything, it seems, has been done before!

Photo courtesy of Shorpy

Check out the Shorpy site for a very LARGE version of the picture.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Training (and some self promotion.)

First off - check out the video announcing the start of the PDN Spring Training Tour!

Second - if you're not already subscribed, run out to your local magazine stand and check out the May issue of
SWAT Magazine. Turn to page 68 and read the article therein - you'll find someone you know (ahem) mentioned in that article!

Happy Monday!

-=[ Grant ]=-

The Professional Instructor: some personal thoughts.

This is the concluding entry in my multi-part exploration of the “Code Of The Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor”. If you missed the opening article of this series, which has some background and a link to the Rob Pincus article where the Code was originally published, click here to read it.

It’s easy to think of the Code we've been studying as a condition, a state of existence at some point in time, of the professional defensive shooting instructor. Others on the signatory list may disagree with me on this, but I don’t believe it is.

A code, like the Code Of The Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor, is by its nature aspirational. It's a description of an ideal, a list of traits that other Professionals agree are desirable and laudable. It's not necessarily always achievable.

I don't know any instructor who is 100% on all of these, all the time. I'm not sure such a person exists. The difference between the Professional and everyone else is that he can go down the list and admit where his weaknesses are: "I wish I followed that one all the time; I need more work on that one; this one I'm pretty good on, but could always be a little better;
D'OH! ", and so on. There is always room for improvement, for progress, for evolution, and the Professional understands that. He doesn't stand still.

The Professional will look at these Seven Tenets and agree with all (or at least the majority) of them, while at the same time admitting to himself that he doesn't always live up to them.

Being a Professional isn't a destination at which one arrives, it's a journey one makes. It never ends. A Code, like this one, is a guidebook for that journey.

If you're a student of defensive shooting, it is what you should expect of your instructor. If you're an instructor, it comprises the things that you should
want to do -- to better yourself, better serve your students, and move the industry as a whole forward.

As I said, it's a journey. Who's ready to go?

-=[ Grant ]=-

The Professional Instructor: Tenet #7.

This is an entry in my multi-part exploration of the “Code Of The Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor”. If you missed the opening article of this series, which has some background and a link to the Rob Pincus article where the Code was originally published,
click here to read it.

"I believe that the best instructor is an avid student, and I will strive to continually upgrade my own skills and knowledge. As part of this belief, I understand that my own teachings need to be subject to critique and open to evolution."

I think every instructor I've ever met espouses this belief. I can count on one hand that number that I know to really live it. How do I know this? Because they're the only ones who ever change!

If someone is really putting themselves out there to learn, sooner or later their opinions or beliefs are going to change - unless they’re just studying the same things over and over.

Being an avid student doesn't mean just signing up for another class from one's favorite guru, nor does it mean taking a class from someone whose methodology is largely consistent with one's current worldview. It means seeking out new information and different approaches; being open and receptive to new ideas and giving them full (and honest) consideration.

One reason this doesn't happen is ego, particularly when we're dealing with schools of thought that are of the, shall we say, more testosterone-laden variety. It's hard to admit that one doesn't have all the answers, or one's chosen school/guru might be demonstrably wrong about something. This is why Tenet #2 is so important, because clinging to something out of pride, emotion, or misplaced loyalty instead of logic and reason serves as an impediment to being a student. It keeps one stuck in the same place with the same people doing the same things for the same misplaced reasons.

If an instructor is truly interested in broadening his knowledge and skills, he needs to get beyond that rut. He needs to be able to compare what he knows now with what he'll be learning, and come to a decision that's based on fact, not emotion. Sometimes he'll find that what he's doing is in fact the best thing for his students. However, if he finds that not to be true he owes it to himself (and his students) to change.

There is a caution here: this doesn't mean that an instructor should put himself into this new environment if all he wants is to get validation for his already strongly held opinions - and not listen to anything which doesn't do that. I observed just that kind of person a couple of years ago in someone else's class, and the results were very ugly. This particular instructor was so determined to listen only to those things that he already agreed with that he actually failed to heed the common safety precautions he was given. Luckily no one was hurt (unless you count some ego bruising), but it illustrates the danger of applying this tenet inappropriately.

You have to be open to change. You have to be willing to evolve. You have to look at your curriculum honestly, and be willing to admit that maybe, just maybe, you don't have all the answers. Someone else may have one that you'll need for next week's class, and if you don't seek it out it's your students who suffer.

Being an avid student is intellectually risky. This tenet begs you to take those risks.

More than anything, I think, this tenet serves as a sort of litmus test for the professional instructor. Professionals in other fields, like medicine, engineering, law, architecture - heck, even electricians and plumbers - are required by their associations or professional licenses to have a certain number of continuing education hours every year. The idea is that they'll be exposed to the latest knowledge that their fields offer, so that they can put that new knowledge to work immediately. In the training world we don't have that - yet - and it's up to the individual to do it him or herself.


That's it for my exploration of the Code of the Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor. I hope you've found it interesting, but I also hope that you see the value in the tenets of which it's comprised. Tomorrow I'll have some closing comments, and on Wednesday we’ll be back to the normal schedule here on the blog.

(For your convenience, I’ve put direct links to all of these entries in the original
“What is a professional?” article.)

Thanks for reading!

-=[ Grant ]=-

The Professional Instructor: Tenet #6.

This is an entry in my multi-part exploration of the “Code Of The Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor”. If you missed the opening article of this series, which has some background and a link to the Rob Pincus article where the Code was originally published,
click here to read it.

"I believe that it is valuable to engage my peers in constructive conversation about differences in technique and concept, with the goal of mutual education and evolution."

This tenet is almost self-referential, as drafting and sharing this Code has been an act of constructive conversation!

The field of defensive shooting has for too long been dominated by warring factions. I've even heard stories from some of the senior people in this business about certain high profile trainers refusing to talk to other high profile trainers when in the same room! It seems to have calmed down a bit in the last decade, but we still have a few rock-throwers (and their attendant partisans) here and there.

As new blood has come into the field I'm seeing a lot more civil discourse happening, and this is all to the good. Being able to talk to another professional about what we do, and finding out why they might do something different, is the basis of professional interaction. People in other fields do it, and it’s about time we made that a normal part of our activities as well. Thats why this tenet is a vital part of the Code.

Of course (as I've mentioned more than once) understanding what we're teaching and why we're teaching it is a prerequisite; it's very difficult to tell someone why we teach something if we don't know ourselves!

Every professional interaction I've had with other instructors has been an opportunity to learn, even when our approaches were quite different. In each of these I've come away with something that made me a better instructor - if only because it gave me an opportunity to advance my ability to articulate what I do.

Professionals talk to each other - they don't throw rocks. This tenet is all about not throwing rocks!

-=[ Grant ]=-

The Professional Instructor: Tenet #5.

This is an entry in my multi-part exploration of the “Code Of The Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor”. If you missed the opening article of this series, which has some background and a link to the Rob Pincus article where the Code was originally published,
click here to read it.

"I understand that Integrity and Professionalism are subjective traits and I strive to maintain high levels of both. I am capable of, and willing to, articulate the reasons for the way I conduct my courses and how I interact with students & peers."

Growing up in a small town, it was pretty much assumed that your parents would make you answer for anything you did. If they did not happen to be present in the moment, any adult could fill in for them - and the kids all knew it. I think having to answer for oneself has a chastening effect, which makes one a little more cognizant about that "whats" and "whys" of daily life.

If you knew that you had to answer to someone, do you think you'd run your classes a bit differently? Yes, I know that ultimately we're all accountable to our students in a financial sense, but actually having to answer questions - from them or someone else - about how we behave and how we conduct ourselves definitely serves as a moderating influence.

Professionals in other fields have boards of inquiry or standards that ask those questions and censor those who come up short. We don't have that in the defensive shooting world, and I’m not sure we’d want it, but each of us should behave as though we do. We should commit to being above board with how we run our businesses, how we treat suppliers, students, and colleagues. We should do it voluntarily, not because someone is waiting in the wings to take away our license to practice if we don't.

This tenet asks us to be self-motivated rather than having someone in authority push us into doing the right thing. We need to be willing not just to be accountable to our students and our colleagues for everything we do, but to ourselves as well. Each of us should judge our own conduct against high standards and be open to constructive criticism when we come up short.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The Professional Instructor: Tenet #4.

This is an entry in my multi-part exploration of the “Code Of The Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor”. If you missed the opening article of this series, which has some background and a link to the Rob Pincus article where the Code was originally published,
click here to read it.

"I will encourage my students to ask questions about course material, and I will answer them with thorough and objective explanations."

This is my favorite of all the Tenets, mainly because it's one of my "hot button" issues. I’ve experienced first hand what happens when an instructor doesn’t follow this, and can tell stories about many more that I’ve observed. I'm sure you know folks like this, too.

It's actually very easy to discourage students from asking questions! Think back to when you were in college: how eager were you to ask, in front of people you barely knew, what might be seen as a 'stupid' question? Anything that the student perceives as being dismissive of their questions, or worse belittling of their state of knowledge, will put a damper not just on their desire for clarification - but the rest of the class as well.

In order to encourage students to ask questions, it's imperative to make sure that the environment is conducive to inquiry. Every student needs to feel comfortable asking any pertinent question, and moreover it's important to always prompt for those questions. The students need to know that they can ask even the most probing questions about the material without being made to feel that they're unworthy.

A contributor to that kind of atmosphere are the answers which are given. Answers need to be complete and based on fact, logic, and reason. Too often I've seen instructors give the flimsiest answers to even simple questions, using flawed logic (all too often
Appeal To Authority), unsupported conjecture, and incomplete or out of date evidence. An answer should never rest on what someone else says or what the instructor's personal preference might be. Neither of those is factual or objective. There should be a good reason - preferably several - for every answer that's given.

The very worst situation is when questions are answered with dogmatic sound bites: pithy statements that contain no fact at all, but designed to be memorable and boost the instructor's ego. In one of the first classes I took, many years ago, the instructor had a particular stance he wanted the students to use. When asked (not by me - I was too intimidated!) why he didn't use another specific stance, he barked "because it's not a FIGHTING stance." That was the end of the discussion as far as he was concerned! There was no reason behind the statement, no definition of just what "fighting" meant or how it was determined or who determined it, just a sneer delivered with the kind of body language that signaled no further inquiry would be allowed.

That is the polar opposite of what this tenet aims to promote.

Student questions, to be sure, are dangerous because they can quickly expose an instructor’s weaknesses. If he doesn’t really know the material, why he’s teaching it, and how it fits into his student’s lives, any but the most superficial questions will reveal his lack of knowledge to the class. Remember when I said Tenet #2 was critical to adopting the tenets which follow? This is a perfect example of why! Discouraging questions isn’t just a sign of poor communication skills; it may be an indication that the instructor really doesn’t know himself why his material is important.

The professional gives the students plenty of opportunity to ask questions. He maintains an atmosphere in which discourse about the topics is not only allowed, but encouraged on a continual basis (once at the beginning of class isn't enough!) The answers to all questions are respectful of both the material and the student, and are based on provable and supportable facts - never opinions or sound bites.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The Professional Instructor: Tenet #3.

This is an entry in my multi-part exploration of the “Code Of The Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor”. If you missed the opening article of this series, which has some background and a link to the Rob Pincus article where the Code was originally published,
click here to read it.

"I recognize that defensive shooting skills, along with the drills and gear used, are inherently specialized and usually distinct from those of target shooting, competition and hunting endeavors."

One Sunday when I was eight or nine years old my family went to visit relatives. My uncle's Army buddy and family had just moved to Oregon, and he wanted our family to meet them.

Sometime during the festivities I found myself, along with my mother and some other kids, in the Army buddy's station wagon; his wife was driving. She was headed up a narrow gravel road at a higher-than-advisable rate of speed, and on a turn managed to get the car sliding sideways. All the kids screamed, of course, as the car hit the shoulder and spun to a stop. I believe it was my mother who advised the woman to slow down, and I've never forgotten the answer that came back: "Don't worry - I've driven the streets of New York City for thirty years!" What traveling on a paved street at slow speed in heavy traffic had to do with navigating a winding gravel road I couldn't fathom then, and to this day still can't.

In her mind a gravel road in the sparsely populated mountains and the streets of a major city were the same because the vehicle was the same. It seems silly, but the same type of mistake is made by too many firearms instructors: the jobs must be the same, because they all involve guns.

It should be self-evident that the tools used in defensive shooting are different than, say, skeet shooting. It may be less obvious that there are equipment differences between self defense and IPSC or IDPA shooting. What many don't recognize at all, like our friend with the car, is that there are significant differences in the
skills required, differences which lead to variations in the drills required to develop them.

It’s not simply about being pro-competition or anti-competition. The professional instructor needs to understand what, where and
why the differences occur, and be able to articulate them clearly if he/she is to give the students what they need. This goes beyond the obvious stuff; it's necessary to understand the nuances, the seemingly little things that actually require big adjustments in curriculum. This only happens if the instructor isn't wedded to one point of view and if he/she really understands what defensive shooting is about.

The key with this tenet, I believe, is realizing that context drives what is used and taught. What makes sense in the context of a hunting trip or a shooting match or a self defense incident will at some level be different, and the instructor needs to be cognizant of that if the student is to be well served.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Speed vs. efficiency: what's the difference?

Check out my new article at PDN for an answer!

-=[ Grant ]=-

The Professional Instructor: Tenet #2.

This is an entry in my multi-part exploration of the “Code Of The Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor”. If you missed the opening article of this series, which has some background and a link to the Rob Pincus article where the Code was originally published,
click here to read it.

"I believe that it is my responsibility to understand not just what I’m teaching, but WHY I’m teaching any technique or concept, or offering specific advice."

We had quite a discussion about this particular tenet! It's deceptively simple, yet difficult to put into practice without some work and introspection on the part of the instructor. It's also important to the rest of the Tenets, because unless this one is dealt with properly those which follow cannot be adopted with integrity.

It's been my experience that few instructors really know why they're teaching or recommending something. What I mean by that is they haven't spent a lot of time asking (and answering) probing questions about their material: is this relevant to my student's actual needs; does it make sense; is it supported by objective evidence; is it consistent with everything else I teach; can it be understood; am I capable of explaining it in a way that can be understood?

For instance, if the answer to "why do I teach/recommend this" is "because that's the way I learned it in the Army/Navy/Marines/the NRA/my instructor development class", or "my guru/famous shooter does it that way", or "I read it in a book by a renowned author", then that person doesn't really understand why. The answers "because it works for me" or "because I prefer it myself" are no better.

Here's the tricky part: whether the technique or concept happens to be correct for any random student is not the point! That's teaching by chance, and the occasional success isn't relevant if the instructor doesn't understand why it is. The whole point of this tenet is a deep understanding of what's being taught before it's ever presented to the student, so that each one gets what they need and can apply directly to their own situation. It's always about the student.

The right answer to the "why" question is "because it's the best thing for the student, and here are the rational reasons which support it.” Every technique, every concept, every recommendation has to be considered by that measure. Is it any wonder why I think this is the most difficult - and, next to safety, the most important - of all the Tenets?

-=[ Grant ]=-

The Professional Instructor: Tenet #1.

This is an entry in my multi-part exploration of the “Code Of The Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor”. If you missed the opening article of this series, which has some background and a link to the Rob Pincus article where the Code was originally published,
click here to read it.

“I am committed to the safety of my students, and hold that the expected benefit of any training activity must significantly outweigh any known or perceived risk of that activity.”

Safety, for both our students and ourselves, is always our first priority. Why, then, isn't this tenet a recitation of safety rules? Because without the instructor having the proper frame of mind, even the best safety rules can and will fail.

We all know that shooting guns in a training environment involves some level of danger. We minimize our exposure to that danger - our risk level - by taking precautions. There is, for instance, always the danger of hearing damage whenever guns are fired. We reduce that risk by wearing hearing protection, allowing us to engage in shooting practice without having to worry about our ears.

If we didn't do that, the damage to our ears would outweigh the benefit of the training. By using ear protection, the benefit of the training is greater than the risk of hearing damage. We require our students to wear hearing protection so that the benefit of their training greatly outweighs that particular risk.

All of our safety rules should serve to reduce the risk of the activity, and we should require that our students follow them. Sometimes that's not enough; sometimes there is no rule or procedure that can make a particular activity safe in the way we've defined it. If that happens, then the activity needs to be modified or eliminated so that the risk/benefit ratio is maintained.

This isn't a cookie cutter or paint-by-numbers approach to safety because as instructors, it's our job to understand safety at a higher level than that; it's our job to understand it as a concept. We need to know how to apply the concept in ways that keep our students safe, and we do that by having rules and procedures that are relevant to the student’s needs and abilities. We need to look at all of our activities and drills and ask hard questions: what is the real benefit, is that benefit relevant to our student's lives, and does that benefit
really outweigh all of the risks we're taking?

The student only needs to focus on what to do, while the teacher needs to focus on why they're doing it. That understanding is the difference between the teacher - the professional teacher - and the student.

-=[ Grant ]=-

What is a "professional"?

Those of you who've been reading my work for any length of time might have noticed that I don't spend a lot of time talking about calibers, stopping power, or any of that nonsense - especially as it relates to self defense. That's because I believe that there are more important things with which to be concerned, things beyond those trite topics which are the staple of gun magazines and online forums.

I approach teaching with the same attitude; I tend not to get wrapped up in learning some trendy new technique to show off to my students, but instead I spend time learning how to be a better teacher, how to communicate more effectively, how to bring concepts and ideas to life for my students.

Stan Kenton once said of Lee Konitz that he was someone who was in constant study; perfection was not enough, and he was intent on achieving even greater heights. Konitz is an inspiration to me for that reason.

A chance encounter a few years back put me into contact with people in the defensive shooting world who share those same ideals. One you know, and one you should: Rob Pincus and
Omari Broussard. Their passion for teaching is infectious, and I'm lucky to be able to rub shoulders with them.

Several months ago an interesting email conversation started between us, and it’s a conversation that today is causing ripples in the defensive shooting community. Rob was intent on getting a handle on the slippery notion of what constitutes a professional in this field. He was interested in statements, in descriptions, in measurements of what a professional instructor believes and how he/she puts those beliefs into practice

He started the brainstorming session by offering up a few ideas. Omari and I gave our feedback and some ideas of our own, and before long we had seven statements that we believed described the essence of professional instruction. It wasn't just us, though - they were shared with some of the most respected and progressive people in the business, who each gave their own feedback (and sometimes justified criticism.) Soon those statements, through the oversight of many, had become principles - tenets - of defensive training.

I wrote in my SHOT Show recap that there had been an informal meeting of some of the training field's best and brightest teachers. It was at that meeting that these tenets were revealed for the first time to a large group of people, and I must say that their reaction was almost unbelievably positive. We had people who espoused many different positions on
what they were teaching, but who quickly found solid common ground on how they should teach and on what an instructor should be. We all signed the same document that said, in essence, "this is what I, too, believe."

Last week, in an article over at Downrange TV,
Rob formally unveiled the "Code of the Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor" to the world. If you haven't seen it yet, go read his article. Many people in the training community are now coming forward and saying that they agree with the rest of us, and that they too strive to be professionals.

This is just the beginning. More great things are coming, and soon.

I'm proud to have played some small part in what may be a seminal event in the defensive shooting world. We have agreement from a wide range of professionals not about guns or calibers or stances or reloading techniques, but rather the important stuff: how we teach, how we evolve, how we behave, and how we bring the best we can to our students.

As I said, go read Rob's article and the Seven Tenets. Then, for the next seven days, I'll be exploring each of those tenets here. I'll explain what I think about each one, why I thought it should be included in the Code, and how it affects what I teach and why I teach it. (That's right, seven back-to-back days of blogging - and you won't want to miss a single one!)

In case you got here from an outside link, here are the links to the individual entries (updated as each one is posted):

Tenet #1: “I am committed to the safety of my students, and hold that the expected benefit of any training activity must significantly outweigh any known or perceived risk of that activity.”

Tenet #2: "I believe that it is my responsibility to understand not just what I’m teaching, but WHY I’m teaching any technique or concept, or offering specific advice."

Tenet #3: "I recognize that defensive shooting skills, along with the drills and gear used, are inherently specialized and usually distinct from those of target shooting, competition and hunting endeavors."

Tenet #4: "I will encourage my students to ask questions about course material, and I will answer them with thorough and objective explanations."

Tenet #5: "I understand that Integrity and Professionalism are subjective traits and I strive to maintain high levels of both. I am capable of, and willing to, articulate the reasons for the way I conduct my courses and how I interact with students & peers."

Tenet #6: "I believe that it is valuable to engage my peers in constructive conversation about differences in technique and concept, with the goal of mutual education and evolution."

Tenet #7: "I believe that the best instructor is an avid student, and I will strive to continually upgrade my own skills and knowledge. As part of this belief, I understand that my own teachings need to be subject to critique and open to evolution."

-=[ Grant ]=-

What I did at SHOT Show: now it can be told.

In my SHOT Show recap, I mentioned that there was an informal meeting of movers and shakers in the defensive training field.
Rob Pincus has posted over a DRTV about that meeting, and what came out of it. I think you'll find it interesting!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Safety rules. Again. Until everyone gets them.

From a
new-to-me blogger comes the story that a woman in South Carolina was 'accidentally' shot by an off-duty sheriff's deputy during a class to get her concealed weapons permit. The deputy was the instructor.

What's interesting to me are the blogger's comments: Jeff Cooper's rules, he says, "are not flexible". Oh, really? I'll refer you back to
my original article on the detestable Rule #1 for clarification. I think they’re tremendously flexible, which is precisely the problem.

There are three issues with his conclusions: 1) Labeling rules with meaningless numbers (rules need to be in words for people to be able to understand and follow them); 2) deifying those rules by reverently invoking the name of the person who wrote them (‘appeal to authority’, a logical fallacy), thus preventing criticism; and 3) doggedly hanging onto the first rule which does nothing - repeat, NOTHING - to make anyone safer and in fact leads to exactly the accident covered in his story. That's because, as I keep saying, people feel free to do stupid things with guns that they THINK are unloaded.

Safety rules that actually work:

- Always keep the muzzle pointed in a generally safe direction ("generally safe" means that should the gun unintentionally fire, it will not hurt or kill you or any other human being.)
- Always keep your fingers outside the trigger guard until you are actually ready to fire.
- Always remember that you are in control of a weapon, and if used negligently it may injure or kill you or someone else.

No equivocation, no ambiguity, and if all anyone remembers is the first one they (and everyone around them) will still be safe. The same can never be said for Traditional Rule #1.

Respect the man, challenge the material.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Respect the man, challenge the material.

I received a couple of critical emails in regard to
last week's post about the double tap and its applicability to realistic defensive training. The gist of both, and sadly predictable, was that I wasn't fit to polish the boots of Jeff Cooper, who was an advocate of the practice.

My reply: one can question an opinion without being insolent to the person who holds it. As individuals we
should do so, but as teachers we must.

I then referred them to
an article called "Respectful Irreverence" by Rob Pincus, which I first read in 2008 and which marked a turning point in my outlook on the training world. It's a classic that deserves a few minutes of your time to read.

Just because I happen to disagree with someone doesn’t mean that I don’t admire them or appreciate their contributions to the field. At the same time, I don’t engage in hero worship - it is not conducive to independent, critical thought.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Critical thinking when reading.

Someone sent me this link to
a story on about the Center Axis Relock (C.A.R.) system of Paul Castle. At the outset it's important to note that I don't think much of this "system", largely because it asks the shooter to do a number of things that aren't congruent with how the body reacts to a threat stimulus. It may or may not have some use to military or police tactical teams when in a proactive mode, but since I'm neither of those I'm not qualified to judge its tactical usefulness in those areas.

I can, however, comment on the intellectual inadequacies of one specific part of the story. In the fifth paragraph of the article, the author defends the C.A.R. system's extreme bladed position with regard to body armor. One of the criticisms of this exaggerated stance is that it exposes the weakest part of an officer's (or soldier's) body armor to the threat. The author’s rejoinder is that the system places the bones and tissue of the upper arm in a position to protect that vulnerable spot.

Seriously, that's what it says.

There was a shooting instructor back in the 1950s or '60s (whose name I'm not recalling at the moment) who recommended that the pistol be shot one handed, with the weak hand reaching across the chest to the strong shoulder to put the bicep roughly over the heart to provide protection. Gosh, why aren't we still doing that? If the bones and muscles of the upper arm are sufficient for protection of vulnerable areas, why are we wearing body armor at all?

The whole idea of body armor came about because flesh and bone have proven to be quite inadequate at stopping bullets. In fact, that's exactly the kind of material that bullets are designed to defeat. While a muscled arm may slow the bullet down a bit, it's still going to go through and into more important organs. Body armor exists because bullets go through muscles, and we've expended many resources to give people ever-better armor with fewer and fewer vulnerable areas.

The sides and arm holes are a well known weakness of all armor, and the recommendation has always been to keep the front area of the armor pointed at the threat if at all possible. There are many stories of soldiers and cops killed because a bullet (or piece of shrapnel, in some cases) made its way into the body by way of the open space around the arm - the size of the bicep notwithstanding.

There are those who will read the article without questioning. Unless they think critically, examining both the author's assumptions and logic flow, they might be caught up by the recasting of a flaw as a feature.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The Double Tap.

At SHOT I made a passing comment to Pharmacist Tommy that, in the context of defensive shooting, practicing double taps was a tacit admission that a person wasn't able to control their gun. He looked at me quizzically, as I'm sure you're doing right now.

(Let's get some terminology out of the way. Most people shooting double taps are firing two rounds in quick succession with one sight picture. Adherents to the so-called "Modern" Technique would scream that the term is used incorrectly, and that they are actually shooting 'hammers'. I'll concede the point, in the same way I concede that the Battle of Bunker Hill was in fact fought on Breed's Hill - you'll note it's made no difference in elementary school history lessons, however. I'll continue to use Bunker Hill and double tap to describe what the majority hold that they describe, because arguing the point wastes my time and doesn't change the outcome anyhow.)

Let's start with a question: why practice the double tap as a defensive tactic? When I watch surveillance and dashcam videos, regardless of the training level of the shooter, I don't see the stylized double tap. What I see instead, very consistently, is a string of fire without artificial pauses. After all, bullets are what stops bad guys -- and the faster those bullets get to him, the better.

If you need to shoot your attacker six times, and choose to do so with three double taps, that means the half-second pause between those strings gives him a full second to hurt you more. How many bullets can come out of his gun in one second? How many critical stab wounds can he inflict? How far can he move? Giving the bad guy any extra time is counter to your own self interest.

How about double-tapping, then assessing (as is still the recommendation in some training backwaters)? The answer is that there is no way to know ahead of time how many shots it's going to take to make your bad guy go away. That being the case, why on earth would you stop shooting at an arbitrary point if a threat is present? The time to asses is after the threat is no longer in front of your gun, whether that takes one, two, or five rounds. Practicing to always do that at two rounds means that if your fight goes longer and you stop to make your well-rehearsed assessment, you're exposing yourself needlessly to danger.

I could go on, but my point is that the double tap makes no sense in the context of surviving a lethal attack. The logical practice routine would be to always fire a random-length string of shots: two, three, four, and perhaps even occasionally five or six. Mix 'em up; don't get locked into any one pattern.

The double tap really doesn't have a use in defensive shooting, yet people all over the country continue to practice it. I believe the answer is simple, and I've observed it in action: if you ask any random shooter, regardless of his or her proficiency or training level, to shoot a string of three or four or five rounds at the same cadence (with the same "split time", or elapsed time between shots) as the double taps they're flinging downrange, the chances are almost certain that they won't be able to do so.

What usually happens is that the first two shots land in acceptable proximity to each other, but the third will climb significantly and the fourth is usually off the target. In order to land all their shots inside whatever reasonable target area is chosen, they need to slow down - sometimes significantly. In other words, they can't control their gun at that inflated rate.

Now, just about everyone will be faster at the double tap than at an extended string of fire. The point is that the longer strings of fire are what are most likely in the context of a defensive shooting, because the natural reaction is likely to be shooting until the threat goes away. If the gun can't be controlled in such a realistic or plausible shooting scenario, then that shooter needs a different gun (or much better technique) instead of gaming his or her practice to artificially inflate competence.

Shooting double taps instead of more realistic strings serves as proof that one cannot control the gun for the use to which it is likely to be put. It's up to the shooter to recognize, admit, and change.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Finishing an experiment. Maybe.

Early last year I embarked on something of an experiment: carrying my gun not on my belt, as I've done for more years than I can remember, but in my front pocket. Exclusively.

I've carried in a pocket holster from time to time, usually when wearing a suit, so I'm not at all unfamiliar with the concept. I've never done so as my default method, and I wanted to see what it was like. What kinds of problems would I encounter?

My constant companion was one of a pair of pretty much identical, save for color, S&W Airweight Cenennials: a blued Model 042 and the dull silver-gray 642. Both of these are stock guns, meaning that I've done nothing to either one. (No, really!) I tried several holsters, and found that most of them really weren't terribly well thought out. I ended up using a cheap, cheesy, but serviceable Uncle Mike's pocket holster for the vast majority of the time. I carried my spare ammunition in Bianchi Speedstrips.

Why did I do this? For some time now I've been talking about the concept of congruency: that students should train with the guns that they'll actually be using to defend themselves, and further that instructors should be using the guns their students will be using. The problem, of course, is that people generally don't do that, and as a result instructors allow themselves to believe that their students really do conceal full-sized Government Models in their workaday world -- because that's what they bring to class. It's a delusional feedback loop.

In reality, most of the people I talk to who are carrying medium- to full-sized autoloaders in class sheepishly admit that during the week they tote a compact auto or a five-shot revolver in their front pocket, because that's what they can easily get away with in their place of employment. As a fraternity, instructors are not doing a very good job of getting past this deception; I don't think they really want to know. Classes are structured to artificially favor the larger autoloading pistols, because that's what usually shows up on the belts of students. The students, for their part, feel compelled to "up gun" for the class so that they can perform well and save face. The loop intensifies.

What the instructor carries every day is irrelevant; it's what the student carries that needs to be the primary consideration in curriculum design. I decided that I wasn't living up to my own criticisms, and resolved to spend the majority of 2011 carrying not what I like to carry, but what an awful lot of people who look to me for advice and guidance are going to be carrying. (No, I didn't make the "I carry a 'J' frame as a backup, so that counts" rationalization. This was to be my primary, and only, carry piece. Just like everyone else.)

Save for one instructor's conference, where I used a Glock because a) I hadn't had any serious autoloader trigger time in a couple of years and b) had no one to negatively influence, I carried and taught with those compact revolvers for the year.

I liked (actually loved) the ease with which I could dress around the gun. I liked that I could carry in sweatpants in the same place and manner of my street clothes. I liked that wether I wore a suit or work pants, my gun was in the same place all the time. I learned a lot about deploying the gun from that carry position, from the difficulty accessing it at speed to the occasional instances of the holster and gun coming out as a unit. I came away with some very specific ideas on how a pocket holster for a revolver should be made and marveled that almost none of the holster makers have figured this out yet. (Then again, it’s hard to find really well designed revolver belt holsters, a lament that I made in my book.)

Did I ever feel under gunned? No. I remain unconvinced that it’s necessary to carry a 51 rounds of ammunition just to survive a criminal attack, an idea that has great support amongst certain segments of the training industry. (I'm still looking for all those cases in which someone involved in a private sector defensive shooting incident was injured or killed because their gun didn't contain enough bullets. Haven't found any yet, though I keep asking people to forward them to me.)

At the end of the experiment, I'm finding it very difficult to return to my belt-mounted carry pieces. I'm actually happy about that, because I think I've now got a solid understanding of the limitations (and the freedoms) that my students experience. Suppositions have been replaced by evidence.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to decide between blue or plain aluminum for today.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings: Happy Holidays, looking forward, and the gun goes mainstream.

Welcome back!

I trust everyone had a good weekend, and I hope your Christmas was a joyous and meaningful time with family and friends.


From news stories it was apparent that firearms were a major item this year. Various explanations have been suggested for this, from concern about new purchase restrictions to fear of economically-inspired criminal violence, but I prefer to think of it as a sign that the pendulum has inevitably swung: guns are once again becoming socially acceptable.

Those who remember the 1950s and 1960s will recall that shooting was a big thing amongst the Hollywood crowd, and thus with the general public as well. Actor Robert Stack, for instance, was a champion shotgunner, and many recognizable names participated in 'quick draw' competitions as a hobby. This stands in stark contrast to recent decades when Hollywood has been the source of virulent (and hypocritical) anti-gunners.

I’m not yet convinced that the era of guns-as-common-recreational-objects will be resurrected, but they at least seem to have shed the worst of their manufactured reputation as evil objects to be avoided. The gun seems instead to be assuming the role of the speciality tool: something you own or use to do a specific task. The days of the anthropomorphized, self-propelled mayhem machine appear to be waning, and none too soon. Many people - yours truly included - have been equating the gun with the fire extinguisher or first aid kit, and I'm hopeful that those analogies are helping to fuel this resurgence in gun ownership.


This last week before New Year's Day is a good time for reflection and contemplation. From the standpoint of you and your family's safety and security, I hope you'll give some thought to getting good training in the coming year.

What is "good" training? Training which is congruent with the kinds of situations in which you anticipate using your gun. If you carry a handgun for personal protection, a course that teaches the best response to a surprise criminal attack would be advisable; if you keep a gun for home defense, a class on how to handle the scenarios you're likely to face in your own house might be in order.

There are any number of quality classes and instructors available today, more so than probably any time in history. (
Permit me to toot my own horn in this regard!) Resolve to make 2012 the year that you increase your knowledge and skill level with the guns you own.

(If you're an instructor yourself, there will be opportunities for you to advance your teaching skills and professional standing. Take advantage of them.)


And now, a little tease: the first Friday of the new year will feature a really neat Ed Harris article which I just received. All I'm going to say is wait until you see what he got for Christmas!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Keeping ourselves honest - with ourselves.

Kelly Muir at the
Instructor Revolution blog put up an interesting post the other day. She was at a shooting class* and saw someone she knew, a martial arts instructor of some renown. She was impressed with the fact that this fellow enrolled in a class where he was a real student, amongst students (and probably an instructor) who didn't know who he was or what he did.

The reason she was impressed goes well beyond the "always a student" phrase so many instructors use (and mostly don't really mean.) It's one thing to be a shooting instructor and go to another shooting class; it's a very different thing for a shooting instructor to go to an archery class, or a Tai Chi class, or perhaps a calligraphy class as an absolute beginner.

It's not so much what is learned, though that may be beneficial, but rather the attitude that is developed. It keeps us honest; it keeps us from believing our own bovine excrement.

Kelly puts it beautifully:

The idea that we as instructors need to place ourselves at risk for looking silly, making a mistake or simply not knowing, is a critical component to our own effectiveness.

I've more than once watched in horror as a shooting instructor, being asked a question to which he/she simply did not know the answer, made up something stupid on the fly to quell the inquisitive student. That's the kind of hubris that develops if one is not open to admitting that one is not infallible. It’s bad for the teacher, it’s bad for the student, and it’s bad for the rest of us who are tasked with cleaning up the resulting mess.

Unbridled conceit is an inhibitor of growth, either as a teacher or simply as a human being. Putting ourselves into a position where we
actually are a student, learning something about which we don't really know anything, is a great antidote for that conceit.

Go read the whole thing. It's worth your time.

-=[ Grant ]=-

* The class was the first ever interactive simulcast shooting class which I talked about
a few weeks back.

Real data from the mean streets.

Tom Givens is someone you should know. Tom and his wife Lynn run
Rangemaster down in Memphis, Tennessee, where they teach people to protect themselves with a handgun.

Now, Tom and Lynn aren't your average instructors; while you may not have heard of them, they command respect from the rest of us in the defensive training field because of the top-flight instruction they provide to their students. Rangemaster occupies a very interesting place in the self defense universe because their students have been involved in (at last count) over 60 self-defense shootings -- with stunning results.

Memphis, as Tom tells me, is a very violent city that exists inside of a strong self-defense gun culture. The result is that bad guys in Memphis very often come up against legally armed good guys, and if those good guys (and gals) trained at Rangemaster they almost invariably come out on top.

Tom has taken the time to interview those students who had to pull the trigger in self defense, and today has the best database of private sector defensive shootings that exists. He's very thorough in his debriefs, and because of that the rest of us have hard data on which to base our training.

Recently Tom sat down with Rob Pincus and produced a DVD in the Personal Firearms Defense series. Titled
"Lessons From The Street", it details ten of his student's incidents with lots of detail and lessons learned. I recently got a copy, and it is definitely worth your effort to acquire.

The realities that he presents may change your perceptions of what actually happens in a fight, and can help you evaluate (and perhaps change) your own training to reflect the realities of a criminal attack.

Tom tells me that he’s still got a few copies left, and you can get yours for $14.95 plus postage. To order, get your credit card ready and give Rangemaster a call at 901-370-5600. It’s a terrific and unique resource that you shouldn’t be without.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings: 2012, training, and a couple mysteries.

2012 is shaping up to be a very interesting year. Lots of stuff I can't yet discuss, but suffice it to say that there are intriguing things afoot on several fronts. Stay tuned.


One thing I can talk about: I've had requests for a lever action rifle class, which I plan to work into my offerings this year. I've watched a lot of YouTube videos and read a lot of articles and blogs about handling the lever action, and I'm surprised at how poorly conceived most of them are. The lever action is different from other types of rifles and needs to be handled on its own merits. Trying to make it into an AR-15 is just as silly as doing the opposite, and this new class will teach techniques and procedures tailored specifically to the lever action. I'll have a section for this class added to the training page sometime in January.


Speaking of training, I'm still open to booking classes for 2012! Check out my
training page for the courses I'm offering, and read the page about hosting a class. Remember that no class happens until someone steps up to the plate to hold one -- maybe that someone is you?!


If you like the writing of Ed Harris, and if you like the .45ACP, you won't want to miss this Friday's blog! (Trust me, it's not what you're thinking. No, I'm not giving you any more clues -- you'll just have to wait until Friday!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

A gun safety failure that goes deep into training methodology.

From Washington state, our neighbor to the north, comes an
interesting news article about a fellow who managed to put a round into a neighbor's abode while practicing his "quick draw".

There's a lot to say about this incident beyond just the safety failures. What struck me, however, wasn’t his gun handling stupidity; is was the erroneous training decisions he made before he ever committed a safety violation. It's one of those decisions that I want to discuss today.

First, an illustrative digression: many years back I was in (ironically) Washington state shooting a "tactical" match. One of the stages had the shooter standing in front of a single cardboard target with simple directions: at the buzzer, draw and put one round into the IPSC "A" zone as fast as you can; re-holster, and repeat for a total of five shots.

I was using a Colt Python in a straight-drop tunnel-loop holster and realized that I could easily 'game' the stage. The target was set abnormally low for a person of average height, which made it just right for me. All I needed to do was pull the gun from the holster, raise the muzzle to place it parallel with the ground at roughly my mid-torso, and fire. I never reached extension; it looked very much like an old FBI point shooting technique. My first draw and fire was .85 seconds and they got a little faster from there. If my memory is accurate, the fastest was something like .70 seconds. All were hits.

It was an interesting exercise and I'm sure that there are those out there who think it a good defensive shooting drill, but it's not. I was standing in front of a target which had been identified for me, the area of precision I needed to hit was predefined, I had already determined exactly what I was going to do, and I had my hands in the perfect place waiting for a buzzer which I knew was my permission to shoot. It meant nothing other than I was really fast under those artificial conditions, regardless of the importance given it by anyone else.

The fellow from the news account made a similar error of concluding that his "quick draw" was a significant thing to practice -- so much so that he absolutely needed a realistically weighted magazine to make the drill complete. There are legions of people out there just like him, oblivious to the reality that how fast one can draw is really of little importance in a defensive shooting encounter. Far more important is the ability to first recognize that an attack is happening, then efficiently process that information and recall the skills necessary to respond appropriately. The time sink isn't in the execution of the learned skills -- the quick draw -- it's in the recognition and recall.

Practicing the drawstroke by itself is called “skills in isolation", and it's a common error people make in practicing for defensive shooting. Is getting the gun out of the holster important? Yes, it is. But learning to react to a threat stimulus, efficiently process that information and develop the mental linkage which allows relevant skills to be performed without cognitive thought, is more important. Skills need context, a real relationship to the circumstances in which they'll be used, in order to be useful.

Draw practice, pulling the gun from the holster after getting ready and knowing ahead of time what you're going to do, is a simple mechanical action. It's an athletic skill, nothing more, and relative to all the other things you need to do in a critical situation not even the most important. Figuring out that you actually have a situation where you need to shoot, and figuring out WHO you need to shoot, is more important and usually the most time consuming.

How should one realistically practice? Read the last two sections of
this article over at the Personal Defense Network. A good defensive practice routine involves processing information and making decisions. It requires a random start command, one that forces the shooter to think about what he's doing, identify what he's dealing with, recognize the precision required, and recall the skills necessary to make the shot(s).

Can this be done at home? To a certain extent, yes. Having a training partner, or a smartphone app which randomizes the target calls and rounds needed, is a must. Couple that with one of the laser shot designators which are affordably available allows the kind of contextual training which is actually valid to developing self defense skills.

(There is a caveat: this is no substitute for doing the exercises in live fire. Shooting multiple 'shots' without recoil and muzzle blast is of no use. This kind of training is really only valuable to the extent of developing the necessary processing skills and verifying that the first 'shot' hits.)

The way I see it, this fellow set himself up for failure by insisting on practicing something of relatively minor importance, and doing so without any context to a real need. Forget about the safety rule violations for now -- his first mistake was making a poor decision about what he was going to "practice". The rest was simple negligence.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings.

This being a holiday week, I'm going to refrain from any major articles. Black Friday, however, will feature an interesting piece by Ed Harris! If you're tired of shopping, be sure to check in for his exploration of a load that most of us know nothing about.


If you live near a Gander Mountain store, listen up! They're building
Gander Mountain Academies into many of their stores, and you need to check them out. They haven't gotten a lot of press yet, but the GMAs are state-of-the-art shooting facilities unlike any others. Combining both live fire and computer simulation ranges, they provide a shooting experience that very few places can. These are major investments, and they show that Gander Mountain is serious about firearms training.

All of their locations can be video conferenced together, which is (to the best of my knowledge) the first time any shooting facility has done so. The great thing is that they can have a senior instructor in one location who can watch people in all other locations, and provide two-way feedback on what they're doing and how to correct errors. This is going to give people across the country far greater access to top-flight instructors than has ever been seen in this field.

The first such class is going to be with Rob Pincus, who will be teaching Dynamic Defensive Handgun on December 17th and 18th. If you've got a Gander Mountain Academy near you, take advantage of this opportunity to be at the leading edge of shooting education!


Have you gotten your copy of the
Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver yet? It's my new book dealing with all aspects of owning and shooting the double action revolver, and it's getting rave reviews. Even my lawyer said that he didn't expect a gun book to be this good! Get a copy now for yourself, and be sure to pick one up for each of your shooting friends. (Remember: orders over $25 at Amazon ship for free! There’s also a Kindle version!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Data sets, plausibility, and defensive shooting.

As I sat eating lunch last week I found myself perusing a gun forum with which I'm not all that familiar. On it I ran across a post from a fairly well known trainer, one that most shooters would not recognize but those familiar with the training world might. I've never met the guy, let alone trained with him, but his comments left me distinctly perturbed.

The statement was in reference to some particular techniques that he finds important to teach. In defending his approach, he wrote "I know, statistically, it is unlikely that you'll ever need these skills. Of course, statistically, it is unlikely you will ever need a gun at all."

I’m not at all sure that he understands the implications of what he said.

Let me start with some perspective. The American Cancer Society tells us that approximately 1.5 million cases of cancer will be diagnosed this year. With the U.S. population standing at a tad over 307 million as of the last census, that puts those patients at about .48% of the population. That’s right - less than one-half of one percent of the population of the U.S. can expect to be diagnosed with cancer, which one would have to say is a pretty small number. (As it happens, it's still quite a bit smaller than the percentage of people that Kleck and Gertz tell us will use a gun in self defense the same year, by roughly half. Keep that in mind.)

Those numbers make it statistically unlikely that any one person will develop cancer in any given year; the total number of cases is small compared to the whole population. Even though cancer of all types is not terribly common, we all know that not all cancers (nor diagnoses) are equally likely, let alone have the same outcome. Some cancers are far less prevalent than others; salivary gland cancer, for instance, occurs in perhaps 6,000 people per year - compared to nearly a quarter-million who develop who develop prostate cancer. That’s a huge difference despite the fact that neither is likely to occur.

What medical science doesn't do is to flail about and proclaim that since any cancer is "statistically unlikely" to begin with, they’ll throw the same treatment at all of them in hopes that something works. That's not how science is done, and it's not how lives are saved.

Within that small data set of cancer cases there is a huge range of probabilities and outcomes. It's that very fact that enables medical science to classify each case and use the best treatment approach based on where it falls in the data matrix. Since not all are alike, all do not get the same treatment.

This extends to the research realm as well. We don't spend as much time and money developing cures for salivary gland cancer as we do for prostate cancer. We put our research resources where they will do the most good, where they will save the most lives.

Am I saying that defensive shooting is the same as cancer? Of course not. What I am saying, though, is that just because an occurrence of an event is unlikely doesn't mean that all such occurrences are the same. A small data set does not imply homogeneity; even in small data sets there are differing circumstances and results. To imply otherwise is ignorant (or manipulative.)

Of course it's statistically unlikely that at any given time you'll need to use your gun. This is not news. Needing to use a gun to defend yourself is about twice as likely as you developing cancer this year, mind you, but it's still unlikely. Just because it's unlikely, however, does not mean that all skill sets related to a defensive shooting are of equal value!

Just as some cancers are more common than others, some defensive scenarios are more likely than others. For instance, how often in private sector self defense incidents are people called on to make 100-yard hostage rescue headshots with a handgun? It may have happened somewhere or at some time in history, but I think you'd be hard pressed to find a single case - let alone any sort of trend. Is that of equal probability to dealing with a simple assault in a parking lot after dark? Of course not.

Should we train equally in the skills necessary to deal with those two disparate events simply because neither is "statistically likely"? I don't think so.

When we look at defensive shooting threats and scenarios, there are some that are possible but have rarely (if ever) happened; there are some which happen occasionally but not often, making them at least plausible; and there are those which happen often enough that we can see some sort of likelihood, a certain probability of occurrence. Our problem as students is that none of us has the unlimited time or resources necessary to train for everything which is merely possible. We have to take into account the likelihood, the plausibility, of what can happen when we make training and technique decisions.

Using the "statistically unlikely you will ever need a gun at all" argument in relation to training is a smokescreen, a way to ignore the concept of plausibility. It's an attempt to deflect the student's attention, to get them to suspend their critical thinking so that they don't question the actual value of the technique. Yes, it is unlikely that you'll need to use your gun - but saying so doesn't magically transform "possible" into "likely", and doesn't elevate a rarely needed skill into something which is vital to learn.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings

It's odd, really. This is the time of year that I pine for the long days of summer that are sure to come, and in the heat of that season I wish the early darkenings of winter would get here sooner. I guess I'm just never happy with the here and now!


The whole zombie schtick has long since jumped the shark, and my thoughts on the utility of a .410 shotgun revolver are well known. It shouldn't have come as a surprise that someone would
combine the two, and likewise it won’t be a difficult task to figure out what I think of the thing. (Thanks to Tam for ruining my breakfast with this news.)


Trying to catch up with emails, snail mails, parts orders, and everything else around the shop isn't being helped lately. You may remember that my wife decided I needed someone to keep my company during work hours, so she brought in Shop Kat. Turns out that SK is a girl, which we learned when she finally grew up enough to go into heat. When that happened I decided to take her in for a little surgical modification, but as it happens that can't be done until she's out of heat. I thought that if I kept a close eye on her during her infrequent and short outings during that time things would be under control, as I'd seen no stray cats in the neighborhood. You can guess what happened next.

I now have a pile (seven, to be precise) balls of fur who are about six weeks old. They're constantly underfoot, seem to think everything exists for their own amusement, and are generally making the shop difficult to work in. I wear an apron while I work and they seem particularly amused by the parts of it that they can reach. Anyone want a free kitten (or two?)


I've got a couple of interesting articles by Ed Harris which I'm going to run on coming Fridays in place of the Friday Surprise. Ed's got some great stuff and addresses areas of the shooting world that aren't in my normal purview. I think you'll find them interesting.


In the next month I'll be working on my teaching schedule for 2012. If you'd like to book a class now's the time to start the process!

Of course I'll be teaching my flagship Revolver Doctrine course; if you liked my book, you'll love this class! I take you through the revolver, showing you how to shoot it, reload it, manipulate it with one hand, and more. It's a one-day class that can be held on nearly any range, and doesn't require drawing from a holster. It's a great introduction for anyone who is new to the revolver, regardless of their past shooting experience.

I'm also available to teach
Combat Focus Shooting classes, both one- and two-day. CFS teaches you the most efficient ways to defeat a threat, ways that work with what your body does naturally. CFS classes are open to revolvers and autoloaders (much as I hate to admit it, I do know how to run an auto. Let's just keep that between the two of us, OK?)

A great combination is what I call the Defensive Revolver Weekend, which combines Revolver Doctrine on the first day and Combat Focus Shooting on the second. RD teaches you how to
operate the revolver, while CFS teaches you how to use it to protect you or those you love. This is a great way to take these classes, as there is some overlap which is eliminated when they're back-to-back. The result is that we get in more material than we would if the classes were separated. (This combined version of Revolver Doctrine does require drawing from a holster.)

I’m available for classes all over the western U.S. How do you go about booking a class? It's easier than you might think, and you can train for free just by hosting at your local range! Email me for the details.


Looking even further ahead, I'm considering teaching a master class on Colt revolver gunsmithing. This wouldn't happen until at least 2013, but I'd like to throw out some feelers now to see if anyone might be interested. If so, drop me a note; if I have enough interest, I'll develop the course tailored to your interests.


Well, I think that's enough for one Monday. I'm going to return some emails then go do battle with some very intimidating kittens!

-=[ Grant ]=-

A (long) Combat Focus weekend.

I returned yesterday from a long weekend at the 2011
Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Conference. (If you were wondering why there was no blog on Friday or Monday, now you know.)

The annual Conference is a chance for active Combat Focus Shooting (CFS) instructors to get together with peers to exchange ideas, learn new concepts, develop skills, and have a little fun at the same time. In this conference we looked at some of the latest information about how attacks happen and how the body reacts to them, and asked ourselves how that changes what we teach and how we teach it. We learned and we grew.

This DNA-level commitment to progress is one of the things that sets the CFS program far apart from others. In any field of human endeavor perspective changes along with knowledge, and defensive skills are no different. Collectively we learn more every day about how to survive deadly encounters; the problem is that so very few instructors or programs are truly committed to evolving with that increasing knowledge.

Let's face it: humans are often resistant to change, particularly when that change means admitting that we are in some way wrong. When we have a lot of ego investment in what we do and how we do it, it becomes darn near impossible to make substantive changes even when they're really necessary.

For instance, I've always considered myself reasonably fit. I'm no athlete, but owing to the heavy work I do around our homestead I'm in better shape than at least half of the people my age. As I learned this weekend I still need some work in that area, and it's important because fitness is critical to long-term survival. Being fit not only helps you survive a deadly attack, but also helps you to survive equally life-threatening but far more common things like heart disease and diabetes. Only by stepping away from my ego am I able to see that and make the changes I need to make.

In CFS we're able to make progress, to evolve our program, precisely because of this lack of ego. Don't get me wrong: there are a lot of Type-A personalities in our group, but very little ego. I know that sounds contradictory, but it's not! One can be very committed and very driven with regard to a topic without the exaggerated self importance that comes from ego.

Colleague Ricardo Pipa put it best: “we lack ego, we are collaborative." We acknowledge that sometimes new knowledge makes old positions untenable, and we change those positions to the benefit of our students and the defensive shooting community as a whole. That's what makes CFS, in the words of founder Rob Pincus,
the most progressive defensive shooting program "on the planet."

On a personal note I progressed toward a couple of additional certifications: one for the rifle (Combat Focus Carbine) and one for a new program aimed at absolute beginners in the defensive shooting world (more on that later.) I don't yet know if I passed either one - CFS instructor certifications are notoriously difficult to acquire - but I hope to hear good news later this week.

Regarding my fellow CFS instructors, I don't wish to be maudlin. I'll close simply by saying that they are, in the words of the original Hawkeye Pierce, "the Finest Kind."

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: The Great Communicator.

President Reagan was given that nickname during his tenure in office, but all Presidents before and after have needed to stay in touch with the world around them. Lots of stuff to deal with when you're the CEO of a superpower, and being able to reach out and talk with anyone and everyone is pretty high on the priority list.

Seems simple in the days of cel phones, but it's not. The President needs fault-tolerant communications that work even where he can't get any bars on his iPhone, which is why he’s usually accompanied by a communications team. Back in the 1960s, that team - and their huge amount of radio gear - took up an entire rail car. And then some.

These pictures, from the JFK library and hosted at, are of the Presidential train communications car shortly after President Kennedy's inauguration. The White House Army Signal Agency, which in 1962 was eliminated and its functions transferred to the Defense Communications Agency, was responsible for the operation and upkeep of the assets.

Known as the General Albert J. Myer Car in honor of the
first commander of the Army Signal Corps, it contained all of the radio and telephone equipment needed by the President and his staff while on the train. When stopped at a station the car’s switchboard was hooked into the local telephone exchange. While underway, all communications were handled via high frequency (HF) radio. It even had a separate (locked, of course) cryptography room!

Presidential train travel had effectively ended during the Eisenhower administration, and I was unable to find out of the equipment was ever actually used by Kennedy's staff. The Myer car was still being held in a ready state in Harrisburg, PA as late as 1970, but its fate beyond that point is uncertain.

It was reported to be awaiting restoration at the Gold Coast rail museum in Florida when Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992, and later was rumored to have been transferred to the custody of the National Park Service's Steamtown historic site. Today no one seems to know where it is or even if it still exists.

(To correct a piece of misinformation: the train itself was NOT called the Ferdinand Magellan. That was the name of the President's private Pullman car, which was sold to the Gold Coast museum in 1959.)

It is a fascinating glimpse into state-of-the-art communications in the early '60s.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Defensive training. iPhone. What's the connection?

Yesterday Apple announced a new iPhone, and with it an advanced software to add voice control to that phone. (“Siri”? Who names these things?)

Almost immediately the blogs and tech sites were abuzz with inevitable comparisons to the competition, complete with tables breaking down the products feature by feature.

I found it amusing that they all had one line that said 'voice control', with a simple "YES" or checkmark on each product. Some of the more adventurous would take pains to point out that the competition had 'voice control' for some time, and Apple was just catching up. What they failed to take into account was the relative sophistication and integration of the feature on all the products; love 'em or hate 'em, Apple's new voice assistant goes well beyond the simple "call Bill at work" kinds of control that phones have had for years. The software anticipates and evaluates natural language requests in a way that hasn't yet been done on a consumer device, and interacts with the phone's functions in a wider way than we're accustomed to.

(My best friend was the founder of a software company which did pioneering work in the field of computer control via voice recognition. Even he's impressed with how far Apple was able to push this technology, and he's about as jaded an expert in that field as you could ever find. He’s also one of the best shooting instructors I know, which gives me the perfect segue into this article’s actual topic!)

My point is not to sell phones - personally, I don't derive my self-worth from what I buy or what you don't buy - but rather to point out the folly of making bullet point comparisons. If you just looked at the bullet point of voice control and saw the checkmark, you wouldn't come away understanding the vastly different ways in which that feature has been implemented.

This goes well beyond phones, as lots of people do the same thing when they take defensive shooting classes. I call them "checklist students" - people who make decisions as to what school or class they'll attend by looking over a list of topics being covered. I've actually talked to people who have chosen one class over another because of the number of topics covered, without understanding the depth of the instruction or the unique approach of the instructor.

I've also seen students request refunds from instructors when the simple number of things they learned wasn't the same as in other classes they've attended, even though the student made no effort to understand or become competent in those things that were taught. The checklist is in control, not their desire to learn nor their appreciation of their own skill development.

There are instructors out there who will throw a million different topics into a class and give the students perhaps a couple of minutes with each, then dash on to the next item on the agenda. There are other instructors who cover a fraction of those topics but cover them thoroughly, giving students time and opportunity to really start to develop some proficiency. Unfortunately, the former tend to be the more successful - checklists, it would seem, sell classes as well as phones, cameras, cars, and just about everything else.

If you buy a phone via a checklist, the worst that happens is that you don't have the functionality of another phone. You can always get another. When it comes to your skill development, particularly the ability to successfully defend your own life, the stakes are a little higher. Make your training decisions based not on an ambitious list of topics, but on an understanding of what, how and why your instructor does what he/she does.

Leave the checklists to those who would rather brag than learn.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Context, perspective and gun testing.

Something I've noticed in the last year or so: as I've incorporated the concepts of reality-based training (RBT) in my teaching and practice, my point of view has changed. I'm not really aware of it until I'm around people who haven't had that exposure, and then the contrast becomes stark.

The realities of how attacks actually occur and our reactions (instinctive and intuitive) affect not only
how and what we train, but what we train with. My upcoming article over at the Personal Defense Network examines this idea with regard to the seemingly banal process of holster choice, and this weekend it cropped up during an informal gun test in which I participated.

I was assisting with a rifle class and one of the other instructors brought in one of the new uber-compact 9mm pistols that are all the rage. We all got a chance to shoot the thing, and the results were telling.

Most people's approach to testing a new gun is to get set into a 'proper' range-based stance, carefully line up the sights, and make a slow, smooth shot; repeat until the magazine is empty, and declare it a wonderful gun. Everyone at this range did that, and I used to do that too, but lately I've been testing guns under the conditions I expect to use them, conditions that are congruent with the gun's purpose.

For a defensive gun that means shooting as if I'm being attacked.

I'd already played with the thing, so I was familiar with how it worked and how the trigger broke. In terms of the gun's operation there were no surprises. I chambered a round and, from the high compressed ready position, extended and pressed the trigger repeatedly and rapidly. I shot at a pace that was consistent with how I shoot an Airweight 'J' frame, which frequent and realistic practice has taught me would deliver the balance of speed and precision needed to put rounds on the target (the ring in an IDPA silhouette) at the distance I was standing (about 5 yards.)

The results were awful. This particular gun is so slim and flat that the grip panels do not appreciably contact the palm of the hand, and the only points of real contact - the front and backstraps - were polished and finished in a smooth gloss. The result was an alarming lack of control when shooting at a realistic pace. My first three shots landed in the target area, but the final three drifted far to the right as the gun rotated against the pressure of my hands.

I inserted a second magazine and consciously tried to counter the torque of the little monster. The results were a little better, but the extreme amount of physical force I applied to the gun brought my group down and to the left. As long as the gun was shot sedately, like on a nice friendly target range, it performed. Pushed into a more realistic shooting circumstance, it simply failed because of design flaws - the people who built it didn't understand the context in which the gun would likely be used. They built a miniature target pistol, but they’re selling it as a fighting tool.

Are there some people who might be able to make it work under realistic conditions? Perhaps, but no one else that day even tried; the closest anyone got was to do a sequence of double-taps/controlled pairs (a shooting method which illustrates that a gun can't actually be controlled for a realistic string of fire) and the results weren't a whole lot better. Would more practice - familiarity - with the gun improve my results? Experience suggests this is unlikely, as the first couple of magazines/cylinders out of a new-to-me gun are almost always my best.

I’ve covered this before, and it bears repeating: any shooting you do has to be in context. Are you practicing for an IDPA match, or are you practicing for the time when you're surprised and in true fear of your life?

What I see when I watch videos of actual shootings isn't the carefully measured BANG.....BANG.....BANG.....BANG.....BANG.....BANG of the target range, and It usually isn’t the contrived BANGBANG.....BANGBANG.....BANGBANG of the shooting match. What I see consistently, when people are surprised and in true fear for their life, is BANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANG. That's because the human in full reactive survival mode wants the threat gone as quickly as possible, and knows that the only thing which will do that is rounds on target.

Whether or not he/she can control the gun in those circumstances is the variable, which is why I insist on training in context so that I know I can do so.

When training isn't congruent with the realities of the fight, or if the equipment doesn't work well in that context, the needed hits won't be there. We call that 'inefficient' - using more of our own resources (time, energy, ammunition, space) than necessary to achieve the goal (making the bad guy go away.)

Ironically, in these very small guns a lesser cartridge, like the lowly and maligned .380ACP, may actually be the better choice if it allows the defender to shoot with a balance of speed and precision that achieves the necessary efficiency.

The only way one can know for sure is to practice and test realistically. On this day, I did and it greatly affected my opinion of the hardware. If it weren't for the understanding of context in training, today I'd be telling you what a great little gun it is.

Just like everyone else.

-=[ Grant ]=-

King of the road.

Over a year ago I read a review of a training course on one of the gun forums. It's been long enough that I don't remember what the course was, or who the instructor may have been, so I don't think I have any dog in the fight. Besides, it's not the particulars that matter in this story; it's the student's attitude that I find most intriguing.

The person in question had taken a weekend course at some gun school and was very critical of the instruction received. As I recall, it wasn't the material itself about which he was complaining - it was the instructor's attitude. The writer was upset because the instructor had insisted that his students perform the drills as he taught them, rather than as they were used to doing. According to the reviewer, the instructor took a "my way or the highway" approach to the material being taught. This, apparently, was a Bad Thing.

My thought was (and still is) that this illustrated not a poor instructor, but a poor student.

Why does one take a course? To learn a new skill, I should think. If all a student wants is validation of what they've already been taught, then he or she should simply repeat the courses already attended. Taking a new course will naturally expose the student to new material, and doggedly resisting that exposure is counter productive for both the individual and the other students.

If one is going to learn a new skill one must first be exposed to it and then take the time to practice. If someone goes to a class and decides immediately that they don't want to do that, what's the reason for being there in the first place? If you take a class, you do it the teacher's way - that is, after all, the whole point of the event, is it not?

Ultimately the student - not the instructor - is responsible for his or her own competence. The instructor's job is to present material competently, logically, clearly, and factually, but it's up to the student to take advantage of what is being provided. An instructor who insists that, while in the class, the student practice only what has been taught isn't arrogant. (As long as the material has been clearly presented and the students have been given an opportunity to seek intellectual clarity and comfort with that material, of course.) An unyielding commitment to structure provides the proper environment for the student to become competent if he/she so chooses.

Whether or not one "likes" new material is irrelevant, as we've all had the experience of disliking someone or something until we got to know them/it better. Part of the process is habituation, which only occurs with repeated exposure. If the instructor doesn't insist on that exposure, letting the students do it their own way, how are they going to really know if it's for them? What other frame of reference can one use to make any sort of a judgement?

Note that I’m not considering the quality or applicability of the material in this argument. If the student deems the techniques or processes are silly or illogical or superfluous relative to his needs, he is always free jettison them
after class has ended. During the class, though, they need to be done the way the instructor is teaching them - and he should insist on it.

(I am not addressing the very real instances where a physical issue prevents the student from doing something the way it’s been taught. That’s a separate issue, and the instructor should be willing and able to accommodate the student’s limitations.)

"My way or the highway", to me, is simply an instructor's insistence that a student pay attention and get in enough reps to at least start on becoming competent. I think a student should look for that attitude in a trainer, not complain about it!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Hyperbolic training.

Sadly, I’ve seen it before: tactical 'expert' pronounces that if you don't use his pet technique, "you're going to get hit". A variation: "well, if you don't want to take a bullet you'd better do this."

Whether or not I agree with the technique being presented, I hate that method of getting a point across because everyone knows (or should know) it's nonsense.

Take, for instance, moving off the vector of an attack (which some refer to as "get off the X") while at the same time shooting at the threat. This has been raised to a religion in some schools, and one such congregant recently defended the idea by saying "people who stand still get shot."


If that's true, then there should be a whole lot of people around (whether alive or deceased) who can be used as examples. Humans have been defending themselves with firearms for more than a century, and the huge overwhelming majority of those people had no formal training before doing so. Since they were likely not trained to move, how did they manage to survive not getting hit? The fact that they generally did leads us to question the logic behind the statement.

I'm sure that with enough digging you could find one or two, but this fellow's absolutist statement would require that there be a whole lot of those folks - and I think even a little searching will show that there aren't.

This is the case with so much defensive training: when there really isn't logic or fact behind what's being taught, instructors will sometimes fall back on hyperbole to prevent the student from asking the hard questions. There may in fact be a benefit to a certain technique, but the benefit is less than the cost; there may, in fact, be zero benefit. It's up to the student to recognize when hyperbole is being used to mask a deficiency, and respectfully ask for a logical explanation of what's being taught.

Do I believe there is a benefit to moving offline during an attack? Yes. Do I believe that it is
always a good idea to continue that movement while I shoot back? No, and I think that I do a pretty good job of explaining “why” to my students without insulting their intelligence or trying to scare them into compliance. There is a cost/benefit ratio with any defensive move, and I think it’s a disservice not to communicate that to a student.

Reason. Fact. Ask for them by name. Politely, of course!

-=[ Grant ]=-

A different take on handgun stopping power.

An article by Greg Ellifritz, titled "
An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power", caused some waves a few weeks back. Like all such attempts at quantifying shooting incidents, it suffers from a lack of strictly filtered data and results in less adherence to statistical principles and methods than I would like (no confidence interval, for instance.)

I acknowledge that this is a problem with all shooting studies, simply because no two bullet paths are ever identical. I think it’s important to understand that one must be extremely careful about applying any such study in a prescriptive manner, and cognizant of the potential inaccuracies that are part and parcel of the kind of data being studied. That being said, I think Ellifritz gives us a much more realistic look at the topic than Marshall & Sanow ever did.

Even with my reservations, there much in his compilation that I think is interesting from a training standpoint (even if it might not be a completely reliable predictor.) Take, for instance, the number of people who failed to be incapacitated by shots fired. His figures for all calibers remain remarkably consistent, hovering around 13%, right down to the lowly .380 ACP. Below that, the numbers more than double but again remain surprisingly consistent.

The reason this is interesting is because today's training emphasizes engagement until the threat ceases activity. In the old days, when lots of people believed that certain calibers were magic wands, the common training was to shoot two rounds and assess the situation. This was aided and abetted by the bogus one-stop-shot percentages that were all the rage at the time (and continue to be in certain circles.)

Thankfully that changed as more and more people noticed that bad guys didn't always stop with the first round, and that the best course of action was to keep shooting until he did. That's the norm today: shoot until the threat ceases (though there are still some backwaters where the outdated techniques are still taught with gusto.)

If we’re going to shoot until the threat goes away, are there any calibers which won’t reliably achieve that goal? Not as many as you might think.

If his data is reliable it would tend to support my long-held view that there is a floor beneath which calibers are not terribly effective for self defense, and that the floor is probably lower than most gunnies will admit. I know more than one gunstore goon who sneers at the .380ACP, yet I've met people who've used it quite successfully. Ellifritz's article suggests that their successes were not unusual.

Those same people think I'm daft for loading my revolvers with "only" .38 +P rounds instead of the .357 Magnum, but I'm more than comfortable with my choice because I know it's based on a rational assessment of its performance over a long period of time.

One thing to keep in mind: a lack of incapacitation does not mean that the rounds failed their job! Even though not incapacitated, the bad guys may have changed their minds and stopped their activity without being physiologically forced to do so. That's just one of the problems with blindly applying data from these kinds of studies, because the lesser calibers might in fact be more useful than this would suggest. Still, it is a different way of looking at the issue.

Bottom line: pick your gun based on your ability to use it efficiently, practice frequently and realistically with it, and you'll be far more prepared than the average gunshow denizen who loudly proclaims that all good self defense calibers must begin with '.4'.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Change is inevitable. Growth? Not so much.

Rob Pincus asked one of his favorite questions on the (members only) U.S. Concealed Carry forum last week: "what have you changed your mind about?"

It's a simple question, and it's amazing how many people couldn't answer it. The most common reply sounds like something from a cookie-cutter PR firm: "Of course the world is in a constant state of change, and the prudent man, woman, or transgender individual is best advised to take note of such change and incorporate that which is applicable to his or her current situation to prepare for the future." Reading some of the responses reminded me of the old joke about the politician talking about prohibition: "some of mah friends are for it, and some of mah friends are against it. I tell you here and now, that I stand forthrightly behind mah friends!"

The question isn't concerned about what's changed around you, but rather in what has changed inside of you.

We all make decisions and adopt opinions based on any number of inputs, including raw evidence, our emotional reactions to factual information, and (all too often) what someone else thinks about those things. The problem is that we tend to treat those opinions and conclusions as static even as the world around us shifts. At some point our original positions are likely to become outdated, and some will be downright wrong. It's whether - and why - we make a conscious decision to amend or replace those positions that's important. If we're observant and engaged, we change our minds about things. If not, we persist in beliefs and practices that may not be congruent with the current realities.

Prejudices are like that. My late father grew up in a time and a place where anyone with white skin was deemed to be of lesser intelligence, honesty, and motivation. ("Stupid, lazy liars" in the vernacular.) Over the years he would be put into contact with one ethnic group after another and be forced to change his opinion of that group. Unfortunately he wasn't able to extrapolate those experiences to cover all ethnicities, but he was at least able to find common ground with Japanese, Hispanic, American Indian, and Chinese people. He changed his mind based on his first-hand experiences.

That kind of change is hard for some of us because it means admitting that, in some way, we're wrong about something. That might be because we misinterpreted something along the way, or it might mean that new facts or evidence were uncovered. It might mean that we relied too much on others to shape our opinions for us, or it might simply mean that we've grown up. We might have been right at one point, but the growth of the rest of society rendered our original position untenable.

Whether we changed or the universe changed is irrelevant to this discussion; what's important is how we ourselves adapt to that change. Can we accept new facts and evidence, or are we going to bury our heads in the sand?

Case in point: for a long time I've held an opinion about Taurus revolvers that is now evolving, based on their increasing levels of quality. Am I ready to put them on the same level as the market leaders - S&W and Ruger? Not quite, but I am willing to admit that perhaps they are making headway in product quality. I'm revisiting my opinions in response to what's going on around me, and I look forward to the day when I can say I've changed my mind about them.

Don't assume that I'm talking only about physical things (people, guns.) I'm also talking about concepts. How and what we train is subject to the same dynamic of change. For instance, I used to practice and teach one-handed shooting with the gun canted strongly toward the centerline. The idea is that it straightened the wrist (which it did) and increased recoil control (which it also did.) The problem is that it's much harder for the eye/brain combination to correctly align the gun on target when both the x- and y-axis are in abnormal positions. This is especially true when shooting quickly, as it significantly degrades one’s balance of speed and precision. The increase in recoil control, which enables the shooter to get back on target faster, is negated by the increased time required for the shooter to recognize and apply the necessary deviation control.

My opinion was wrong because I focused on an overly narrow aspect of the shooting task. I changed my mind based upon a broader understanding of what I was trying to achieve, and as a result no longer teach or practice that technique.

What specifically have you changed your mind about? What do you consciously believe or practice today that's different than, say, a year or two ago? Why?

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings, Aug. 22 edition.

Omari Broussard talks about 'cool' techniques
over at his blog this morning, and I agree with him.

About four or five years ago I took some heat from other instructors over the term 'Walter Mitty Training', which I used to describe techniques and courses that weren't grounded in reality. It's the kind of training one takes to pretend to be someone else (or somewhere else), because preparing for plausible scenarios just isn't a whole lot of fun.

Truth be told, I'd class most of the 'tactical' training out there as Walter Mitty or very close to it. There's a big difference between performing a tightly choreographed obscure skill after making ready, and trying to decide between fries and onion rings when you're unexpectedly forced to defend yourself.

Context. Plausibility. Two words that are absent from far too much training.


Someone emailed and asked about the new
Charter Arms Pit Bull revolver chambering .40S&W without the need for moonclips. My reply: "Ummm, OK. Why?"

As I see it, the only compelling reason to use autoloading cartridges in revolvers is because they require moonclips, making for blazing fast reloads. I suppose there might be some argument for the fellow who owns a .40 autoloader and wants a revolver to play with without the bother of stocking two kinds of ammunition, but really: how many of those people are out there?

The claim that it can be used as a backup to an autoloader and thus benefits from sharing ammunition doesn't compute: if you need the backup, it's probably because you ran out of ammunition for your primary gun. If that's the case, what are you sharing ammo with? It didn't make a lot of sense a couple of years ago when it was announced, and hasn't gained much in the intervening time.


Jeff Quinn over at GunBlast did a
review of a special edition Ruger GP100. The Wiley Clapp edition features non-standard dovetailed sights, an interesting matte stainless finish, and - hold still my beating heart! - a return to the original GP100 grips with inserts, dolled up for this gun.

(One of the dumbest decisions to come from Ruger’s management lately was replacing their perfectly usable grips with the execrable Hogue Monogrip. Glad to see they didn't throw away the molds!)

I'm not sure about the claim that the gun is "built for defense" - I'd have done things a bit differently and I see at least two important features missing - but it's a nice treatment of the old warhorse and an indication that Ruger still takes their revolvers seriously. Just wish they'd do so more often!


Everyone, it seems, has their name on a gun lately. The Firearm Blog tells us that Mossberg recently brought out the
Thunder Ranch Model 500 shotgun. Supposedly designed by Clint Smith, it features a shorter stock (12-3/4" length of pull) and a stand-off door breaching muzzle. In fact, very little other than the aforementioned muzzle and the much-appreciated shorter stock. And that huge TR logo with the expected higher price.

Seriously, a door breacher on a defensive shotgun? Someone has finally jumped the shark, but I can't decide whether it's Clint or Mossberg.

(It's my considered opinion that the perfect home defense pump shotgun would be an
Ithaca Model 37 Defense in 20ga with a few minor enhancements. The Ithaca is the smoothest, easiest-cycling pump I've used and is a joy to shoot. You listening, Ithaca?)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Silliness redux.

On Monday I commented about a video from an outfit called American Defense Enterprises (ADE.) In it, a group of black-clad aspirants show us what they can do with guns. It was apparently so embarrassing that ADE actually pulled it from YouTube, but
luckily someone managed to snag a copy and put it back up (and with a far more appropriate soundtrack!)

The whole video looks like a Hollywood caricature of firearms use; the word that kept popping into my head was 'choreography'. Hmmm....sure enough, ADE is headquartered on Wilshire Blvd in Los Angeles. That would go a long way to explaining why the video looks more like a video gamer's wet dream than realistic defensive shooting.

You really need to watch the video, as it illustrates some vital principles about how you should NOT train. How plausible are the scenarios they're setting up? Look at the safety aspect of some of their drills - is there a benefit that outweighs the not inconsiderable risks? My answers would be ‘not very’ and ‘no’.

I'll go out on a limb here: it's damn near impossible to produce an exciting video clip of quality defensive shooting instruction, because at its core it is boring. Learning to shoot efficiently doesn't lend itself to flashy room clearing footage, and how one deals with a real threat doesn't look anything like an exciting team assault. Defensive shooting is as much about concepts and processes as it is techniques, and when was the last time you saw a blood-pumping video of a concept?

If you want to see good defensive shooting videos, you can find them at the
Personal Defense Network. If you want entertainment, watch the video under discussion.

Just don't confuse the two.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Progress before our eyes.

Back in April
the Personal Defense Network published an interview with yours truly, wherein I opined that the future of defensive training would be integration: a fluid combination of both armed and unarmed responses. This month, we've been greeted with a big endorsement of that trend with the appearance of Rob Pincus on the cover of Black Belt Magazine.

The Black Belt article on Rob deals specifically with why and how unarmed combatives trainers should include armed responses in their repertoire. It's a good article, and you should pick up a copy of the magazine and read for yourself. I'm sure that there are some pure martial artists who will wail and gnash their teeth at the prospect, but the trend is now clear -- both sides have observed the same dynamics, and are headed in (roughly) the same direction.

Black Belt has published a Q&A with Rob on their website, where he answers questions about Combat Focus Shooting, what martial artists can bring to the table, and why novices need to train. Definitely worth the read.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The dangers of unbridled emulation.

There is a certain segment of the training community that makes quite a fuss about teaching techniques randomly collected from SWAT teams, Special Forces (ours or someone else's), or SEAL Team Six. (It's always Team Six, because they're apparently the coolest. And the only one which the average Mall Ninja recognizes. Good for marketing, you understand. I feel for the guys on Teams One through Five though, suffering with the knowledge that they're not nearly as cool.) These classes are usually sold to the public as being "full strength" or "not watered down for civilians" or some such twaddle.

I have two concerns with such courses. First is the applicability to prIvate sector self defense and the resulting drain on our training resources. Many of these techniques, such as shooting while running toward a threat, are offensive in nature and require either attaining initiative or being part a large enough group to be able establish and maintain sectors of fire. No matter how convoluted the logic (and I've heard some twisted justifications), this doesn't have much to do with the kinds of self defense incidents that you and I are likely to face. They are a lot of fun, I'll concede that point, but we need to keep in mind that we all have limited training resources (time and money.) If one spends precious training resources doing things that aren't at all applicable to the task at hand, it means that something which is really needed won't get trained.

The second issue I have is that of safety. For any drill or any technique, the benefit of the activity needs to greatly outweigh the perceived risk. Perception, I need to emphasize, is relative. What is risky to a real-deal SEAL is very different than what is to you or me! A SEAL puts himself in extreme risk on every active mission, and as a result his training is correspondingly riskier. That doesn't mean that they take foolhardy chances, but it does mean that the nature of their job requires them to practice things that are far more dangerous than what you or I need to practice. A drill that would seem boringly safe to them may in fact expose us to an unnecessary -- and correspondingly unacceptable -- level of risk. A downrange drill (one where students are downrange of other students shooting), for instance, has some value to those guys whose job it is to kill people and break stuff; in my never-to-be-humble assessment, it has near-zero value to those of us who face criminal threats here at home.

Getting hurt in a training drill that has no plausible application to the average citizen's life is a double fail. How to avoid it? Be discerning in your training. I realize the overwhelming desire to relate one's reality-show-like adventures to the guys in the office on Monday morning, but being practical will make you better prepared. It will also ensure that you leave the class sporting the same number of orifices with which you arrived.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The snakepit of groupthink.

Every so often I'll have a spare moment and just happen to be sitting near the computer. It's at those times that I visit one of the gun forums (fora?) just to see what's up with the world. More precisely, what's up in some very small portion of the world, one which is usually severely skewed.

One such moment happened last weekend while I was waiting for dinner to finish cooking. (Actually, I was waiting for my wife to finish cooking dinner since my culinary skills are limited to "I'd like to place a to-go order".) I dropped in on one forum where the main topic of conversation appeared to be the emergence of flash mobs for nefarious purposes.

Up until lately flash mobs existed to do stuff like umbrella dances and public sing-alongs. I'd always found them charming in an urbanites-need-something-to-take-their-minds-off-the-cage-they're-in sort of way, but over the last several weeks they've come to be used for criminal activity. It was, in hindsight, inevitable.

The discussion on this particular forum centered on how to protect oneself from a flash mob attack. It started out with a discussion of how much ammunition you should be carrying on your person (naturally there was the obligatory picture of one guy's carry rig with the proud explanation that he'd found a way to tote over fifty rounds, ready to go at a moment's notice.) Talk quickly devolved to OC grenades and how many of them you should have in your car. Some were even wondering if they were legal for concealed carry.

Yes, grenades. Yes, they were serious.

You can't prepare for everything, if for no other reason than you can't carry everything you'd need for all contingencies. Like Steven Wright says: "You can't have everything -- where would you put it??" You have to decide what are the likely threats you'll face and pick your skills and equipment to deal with those situations. Whatever level that may be is going to be different from others, because the probabilities are dramatically influenced by your environment and your habits.

Just because some anonymous nut on a forum is carrying OC grenades doesn't mean that you need to. Remember, a dispassionate review of the risks involved would probably lead to the conclusion that HE doesn't need to either. Finally, keep this in mind: whatever hardware you decide is appropriate for you, it needs to be such that you can carry it all the time. Loading up for the Apocalypse on the weekend but having a .380 automatic in your pants pocket for the bulk of your week isn't consistent, and it's probably not congruent with the threats you're really facing and where they're likely to occur.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Marketing. Someone's gotta do it.

I saw one again the other day: an after-action review of a "snubby" shooting class. I think I'm missing the boat.

A snubnose revolver is fundamentally no different in operation than a non-snubnose revolver. It will have increased recoil, a shorter sight radius, and generally be a little harder to efficiently reload than a larger wheelgun, but that isn't sufficient difference to drop them into their own special class. Apparently some disagree, because the snubby classes are a rapidly growing subset of the training business.

This tailoring of classes to fit a specific demographic is all the rage these days. Actually, that sentence is a little generous; it's more the tailoring of the title of the class to fit a specific demographic. My general rule of thumb is that a class whose enrollment focuses on a factor external to the skills being taught is probably more marketing than anything else.

That having been said, I might someday decide to compromise my beliefs and promote a snubnose class of my own. Should that happen, I promise to feel slightly guilty on my way to the bank.

-=[ Grant ]=-

My newest article is up at PDN!

My latest project, "
New Concepts of Precision in Defensive Shooting", is now available at the Personal Defense Network.

This piece is probably going to be controversial, because it takes a fresh and different look at how we think about accuracy and precision in the context of self defense. In it I make the case that shooting 'better' shouldn't be our goal -- shooting more appropriately should be. If I may be so bold, I think it's one of the more important things I've written.

It's a longish article that explores these concepts at a deeper level than you're going to find in the gunzines. Read it thoroughly and consider carefully the issues raised.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Someone is spying on me.

Here's how things work around here: I collect interesting snippets of information that are relevant to the topics of this blog (namely revolvers, shooting, and self defense) and write posts inspired by those snippets. Sometimes it's a news story that sets things in motion, sometimes it's my own experiences, and occasionally it's a remark by another blogger.

I usually write something up and hang on to it for release when I have room. For instance, Fridays are always devoted to an off-topic surprise so I hold any topical things for the following Monday. This week the CenturioGroup nonsense about lumens popped up and I was so excited to comment that I bumped the article I'd planned to today. It was based on a post last month at another blog, but there was no hurry because it wasn't any sort of current event.

In the meantime several other bloggers jumped in to comment, making me look like a Johnny-come-lately. This isn't the first time I've been scooped, though; I've lost count of the number of times I've thought "I'll get to this next week", only to have the entire blogosphere jump on the topic while I was busy doing more important things -- like earning a living.

Just so you know: I wrote the following last week. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


Miguel over at The Gun Free Zone recently wrote a piece
defending the 'shoot me first' vest -- that item of clothing, usually attributed to photographers, which is often the choice of the IDPA crowd. I don't like the things. Not necessarily because a bad guy will target the wearer of such a vest (there is no evidence either way on that assertion), but simply because they are an affectation. They always have been.

Back in the early 1980s I was working in a camera store and selling gear to actual working photographers. We had 'photographers vests' for sale, but rarely sold any -- and never to a real professional. Everyone considered them a mark of the dilettante, and no one I knew would be caught dead in one. Flash forward to 2011 and they still look silly.

That's not to say that you can't wear one (it is, after all, a semi-free country), but it's advisable to do so only if it's not out of place in your environment. I'm a big believer in blending in whenever possible, of not calling any more attention to oneself than necessary, and the 'photographer's vest' is almost always anomalous. Off the top of my head I can’t think of an environment where one wouldn’t stand out, save an IDPA match.

The funny part is that if one is fixated on concealing via a vest there is almost always a style that
will look right at home. Here in the Northwest, wool vests from Filson hit just the right balance between casual and business formal and look right at home in a wide variety of settings. For women, a patterned vest of some type usually looks good with just about any pants outfit. Canvas work vests are common in the trades, and in the trendier areas one can still occasionally find an argyle vest (though I think of them as quite hipsterish.)

When you get asked if you're a photographer or a fisherman that's not proof that you've pulled off some great feat of concealment; it's a sign that you've stood out enough to make people question your presence. I remain (while admitting that my Stetson occasionally puts me in that situation) of the opinion that such an event is not a Good Thing.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A great training weekend!

I spent this weekend up at the
Firearms Academy of Seattle teaching Combat Focus Shooting with Rob Pincus. This was the last leg in Rob's cross-country spring training tour, and a chance for me to see how he's pushed the state-of-the art forward in the year since we last taught together.

I've said that all instructors should jump at the chance to teach with (or at least observe without the distraction of being a student) a better instructor than themselves. It's especially useful to pick an instructor whose style -- and even material, in some cases -- is very different from one's own. It gives a fresh perspective and reveals the blind spots that we all develop over time.

This weekend was no exception. I came away with a whole bunch of new ideas that I hope to incorporate in my own work.

We had a good group of students, including one who had just recently bought his first gun. I always get a thrill out of watching someone go from zero to doing pretty complex tasks in just a couple of days, and this fellow really gave it his all. Two of the students were experienced instructors themselves and found that their first exposure to the advanced CFS exercises was as challenging to them as it was to everyone else.

Because the students were at various stages of ability, some came with bad habits from prior training. They weren't bad in the sense of being unsafe or dangerous but rather in the sense of not being appropriate to the task of surviving the sudden, chaotic events on which CFS focuses. We were able to have a good conversation about this important idea of context: that skills need to be judged in relation to the goal (efficiently making the bad guy go away after he's surprised you), and not to some separate and arbitrary measurement.

Marty and Gila Hayes, who run the Academy, are great hosts who bring in programs like Combat Focus Shooting in order to give their students a well-rounded view of the defensive firearms world. Even though CFS doctrine doesn't always agree with theirs, they know that perspective is important in this field. There are very few -- if any -- schools who are confident enough in the quality of their own programs to expose their students to new ideas. That's why FAS has evolved and stayed fresh over the years where other schools have become insular and hidebound.

Now if you'll excuse me I need to treat a badly sunburned elbow; apparently I missed a spot when applying the sunscreen!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Appeals to authority work both ways. Badly.

Stan Kenton was a standout iconoclast in a field of music that is, by definition, iconoclastic. Some of his albums were a difficult experience because they demanded so much of the listener. If one is not conversant with at least a little music theory, much of what goes on flies right over the head.

I remember reading, somewhere in the intertubes, a critical review of a Kenton album from just such a person. The writer opined that Kenton's music just couldn't be any good, because none of his personnel had successful solo careers.

Aside from the sheer ignorance of that comment, it struck me that this person suffered a common logic fault: looking for some sort of validation of worth or quality based on an external factor. This fellow wasn't capable of assessing the music as it stood, but instead looked to a unrelated metric to back up his opinion (a metric that was't even correct!)

This happens frequently in all fields, to include that of shooting (specifically defensive shooting.) Rather than consider the logic of a technique or concept, many will evaluate what's presented to them on the basis of who else has adopted that same point of view. I've seen the question asked in all kinds of courses with all kinds of instructors: "what police agency/military branch/well known school teaches that?" A declarative version of the question is "so-and-so teaches something else, and he was a Navy Seal/in Desert Storm/on a SWAT team."

If one doesn't understand the material being presented, either due to not putting forth the effort to do so or because the instructor isn't taking the time to explain things, then one is left to rely on an external 'authority' to make decisions. If the context in which the authority evaluates something is different from the student's, it may not be relevant. It may not even be workable.

If you don't understand what you're being taught, and why, the burden is on you to ask questions. Respectfully, of course, but you still need to ask and get intellectual clarity on the subject. If your instructor himself uses the appeal to authority, justifying what he's teaching by telling you about the large police agency or secret military organization or champion shooter that uses it, that's not the answer you need.

When it comes to protecting your life, techniques and concepts need merit -- not endorsement.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Relevance and role models.

A few weeks back I saw a picture of a defensive shooting instructor which bothered me. I couldn't put my finger on why, but something about it gnawed at my subconscious. I know the fellow only by what he's written (and by his association with a much better-known trainer), so it isn't anything that would stem from a personality conflict, and yet the feeling remained.

It finally hit me the other day. In the picture this fellow is wearing what is apparently his 'normal' complement of two autoloading pistols, both carried appendix style: one for the strong hand, one for the weak hand. Of course he had the requisite spare magazines and folding knife clipped in a pocket.

What's wrong with that? It's a free country and people should be allowed to carry whatever they want on their person. I agree wholeheartedly. The problem I have is role modeling, and it's one that I've become increasingly concerned with over the past few years.

Many instructors (and I'd say all of those with any reputation), to include yours truly, live the instructor lifestyle: we spend a lot of time around guns and shooting ranges. What we wear, what we can get away with wearing, is not what most of the people reading this blog can wear on a daily basis.

When you live on a shooting range you get to dress casually as a matter of course. Oh, there is the occasional donning of more 'dressy' apparel for an event, but such things are few and far between (and the 'gunny' is usually cut some slack for having a suit that is not of the highest quality nor properly fitted.)

Contrast this with what most people wear to their jobs everyday. I don't know many who can get away with wearing the untucked polo shirts that are all the rage amongst the appendix-carry crowd, let alone the IDPA vests and other accoutrement that a lot of folks in this industry wear on a constant basis.

In my own family there is a hospital administrator, a media anchor, and a speech pathologist -- none of whom can adopt the kind of weaponry and the style of carry that the majority of trainers espouse. My nephew could possibly get away with wearing an unbuttoned tropical shirt over a colorful t-shirt, but only because he works for a company famous for producing such tropical shirts. The rest of my family? Not a chance. My wife’s family? No. My huge extended family (over 30 first cousins on my mother’s side alone)? Less than a handful could. My neighbors? Not in their jobs. In fact, almost no one I know outside of the shooting industry could; their lifestyles, jobs, or environments just won’t permit it.

This is important because students tend to emulate their teachers, adopting not just their techniques but also their weapons and dress. The problem comes when they spend their weekends training with what I call 'guru gear' (I ought to trademark that) but switch to their actual daily carry equipment at the beginning of their week.

Training with ultra-fast appendix carry of a high-capacity autoloader on the weekend, but defaulting to a 'J'-frame in a pocket holster during the week, is not training in context: in the manner in which something will be used. Training courses are too often set up to reward the use of specific equipment, which gives the student a false sense of their abilities with the equipment they usually tote.

Walking around a range and showing students the kind of gear they can't carry, in a manner that they can't in their workday lives, isn't encouraging them to train in context. Doing so tends to influence them, through aspirational psychology, to train with gear that is different than what they'll actually be relying on come Monday morning.

I'm not sure that's terribly responsible, and it’s why the picture -- which could be of most instructors -- bothers me.

-=[ Grant ]=-

What happens when a competitor goes to a tactical conference?

He discovers that maybe he didn't know as much as he thought he did.
Great writeup of the NE Shooters' 2011 Summit over at The Tactical Wire.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Someone is talking about me. Oh, wait, it's me!

Over at the Personal Defense Network,
they've put up a profile of yours truly. Based on an interview I did recently, it covers my views on teaching and the state of the training business. Hope you enjoy it!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Another self defense blogger appears on the horizon.

I keep my ear to the ground for new self defense blogs, and a colleague recently alerted me to this one:
Kicking Sacred Cows. Written in a distinctive style, the author says that the blog is about change and evolution in self defense and martial arts training.

It presents some interesting ideas. I'll be checking it regularly.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Some more thoughts regarding 'force on force' training.

The limitations of the equipment that we discussed in the
previous installment aren't the only things that affect the utility of force-on-force training. The way that drills and scenarios are approached is important as well.

I'll use two terms to describe broad categories of FOF training. Drills are man-against-man tests of mechanical or physical skills: drawing the gun, moving off the vector of the attack, and so on. Scenarios, on the other hand, test decision making and information gathering skills. They may also include a physical/mechanical component, but their primary purpose is to test judgment.

At the top of the list, as it always should be, is safety. FOF training demands a sterile, segregated environment. Any course that doesn't enforce both should be avoided at any cost. The risk of accident is too high to trust anything other than a rigorous, and rigidly enforced, exclusion zone for live weapons. That means all weapons: firearms, knives, chemical and electrical weapons. The only weapons allowed inside the FOF training area should be simulated - and that goes for the instructors, too! If you encounter a FOF course where the students are required to disarm but the instructor(s) aren't, that's your cue to leave. Vociferously, I would add.

As I mentioned last time, a drill or scenario which continues past the first shot is suspect. As I’ve pointed out, the lack of ballistic effect on both ends of the muzzle means that multiple shots from a simulated handgun have little to no value. If the scenario or drill is set up so that the gun serves as a marker, a device to signal force has been used and how successfully placed that force might be, then there is no need for more than one shot. If, on the other hand, it is set up so that some predetermined number of shots have been fired or - worse yet - unlimited shots are allowed, then its value as a teaching tool must be questioned. Remember that any simulated munition has value only in that it provides first round accountability; after that, it's just recreation.

It’s common to see FOF drills that attempt to teach something which is affected by a student's foreknowledge. For instance, a student knows that he's in a FOF class, he's got a loaded sim gun in his holster, and he knows that the drill is testing his reaction time or ability to do a specific task. His anticipation of the need to shoot is sky high. If the technique works, all it shows is that the student could do it when he had advance warning of the event. Would it work if he wasn't already primed for action? The trouble is that this can't be tested in FOF, because there will always be that anticipation. FOF drills must be carefully selected so that the skill being developed or tested isn't negatively affected by that anticipation. They also can't be used to justify training that benefits from anticipation, a fault I see all too often.

I've seen FOF courses that employ students as both attackers/antagonists and defenders/protagonists. With the possible exception of what might be akin to a martial arts flow drill, where the same pattern is repeated multiple times to build familiarity, I don't see the point in letting students fight things out. The antagonist in a FOF drill or scenario is the agent by which the protagonist, the student, learns whatever lesson is being considered. I don't see where the learning occurs if both parties are ignorant of the lesson.

Allowing two students to go at each other, no matter how well coached, seems to invariably devolve to the the equivalent of a dodge ball game. This is exacerbated by the lack of ballistic effect which we discussed last time. Students as counterparts works; students as teachers, I'm not at all sure of.

Scenarios that test decision making are a natural use of FOF. Here, too, care must be taken to ensure that there is actual instruction. One flaw I see is that scenarios are designed with arbitrary outcomes, and the student spends his or her time not evaluating the environment for what it actually is but rather for what the instructor wants it to be. In other words, the scenario becomes a puzzle where the student is figuring out the instructor, not the situation. This is very common in 'tactical' shooting matches, and is part of the reason that even the best stage design isn't all that realistic. The scenario has to be designed so that the situation, the interactions, and the conclusion are all plausible.

That's easier said than done! It is very difficult for a scenario designer to avoid bringing his or her idiosyncratic biases into the design. Scenarios shouldn't be puzzles and shouldn't be difficult to figure out, but it seems that many people are intent on making them so. If the student is forced to examine vague and misleading clues in order to arrive at the 'correct' solution, how does that in any manner relate to a plausible real life interaction? It doesn't, and that's the point.

At the same time, the people playing the antagonists in scenarios have to be good actors. A thug on the street behaves in ways that we all recognize (or should recognize), and the person playing a thug needs to be able to replicate that behavior. If he/she can't, then the protagonist is back to figuring out the puzzle rather than reacting to a real stimulus. The actors must be well practiced and disciplined - again, another strike against students being used in such roles. (Heck, it may even be a big strike against many instructors. I know how a crackhead acts, but I also know I’m not a good enough actor to recreate one realistically enough to teach a student what such an interaction is like!)

This is true even in drills. The antagonist already knows what the student is going to do, or at least has a very good idea. That foreknowledge allows him to act and react in ways that a real attacker couldn't or wouldn't. This skews the results of the lesson, and requires that the instructor both take the role and be able to play it as 'straight' as possible.

It sounds like I'm not a fan of FOF. That's probably true on some level, because I don't think it has the wide application that so many think it does. I think that it has some use in very specific circumstances, but not as a general teaching tool. Its utility is probably in well thought out scenario training, and less so - perhaps much less - in simple mechanical drills. To be valuable it has to be carefully conceived and implemented, something that doesn't seem to happen all that often. It's not the ultimate test of defensive preparation, as some contend, but properly and sparingly used it can be valuable.

If, of course, it's done with care.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Some thoughts regarding 'force on force' training.

Force-on-force ('FOF') training has become all the rage in the last couple of years, with some instructors making it a hallmark of their courses. Everyone, it seems, is buying Airsoft pistols and touting their FOF credentials. Supporters of the concept have done a very good sales job, as I routinely am asked if my courses have a force-on-force component.

Such questions remind me so much of my college days working in a camera store. People would walk in, look at a lens, and proceed to ask how many elements it contained. That's a useless bit of information to anyone other than an optical engineer, but these folks had been told by someone, somewhere that it was an important question to ask. They didn't understand the question, and certainly didn't know how to interpret the answer, but by golly they were going to ask anyway!

I've played with FOF a bit (yes, I bought the requisite gas-powered Glock lookalikes.) Understand that I don't claim to be guru at FOF, nor am I a super-tactical-high-speed-low-drag-tier-one-operator kind of guy. I am, however, fairly intelligent, reasonably well informed, and possess an inexorably analytical mind. I can truthfully claim to be a good diagnostician - figuring out how things work and, more importantly, why they don't. I also don't believe everything I'm told, no matter how well sold it may be.

What I see too often with regard to FOF promotion is a certain lack of critical thinking about the concepts, and it starts with the equipment used. FOF naturally is limited to the ability of the equipment, so it's important to know what the gear does and does not do.

Whether AIrsoft or simulated munition, FOF guns all do one thing: to the extent that they mimic a gun you actually own, they give you first shot accountability. That's it. Read that again, because it's important to the discussion. This is all they do!

When you discharge an Airsoft in a drill or scenario, where the first round hits will probably be pretty close to where it would have hit had you used a real gun (within the range limitations of the pellet, of course.) In other words, if you used a simulated Glock 19 and you regularly carry a Glock 19, you can be reasonably sure that the first simulated round would be representative of a real round.

Understand that this is only true if the guns match. If you use the Glock Airsoft in FOF training, but actually carry a Beretta 92, the value of that first round has been diminished. You don't know for certain that you would have shot your Beretta just like you shot the Glock simulant.

Beyond the first round, the predictive value drops to near zero. This is because of a lack of ballistic effect, from the standpoint of both the shooter and the shootee. Simulated rounds don't have the recoil and muzzle rise of a real gun, so each additional shot can be made much faster, with greater precision, than can real rounds; the shooter's balance of speed and precision is skewed. If the technique you're learning in FOF only works when you can discharge 10 rounds in under a second, how valid will that be when you're using a real gun with which you can't?

Just because a person can land multiple, fast shots with an Airsoft does not mean that he'll be able to do so with a real gun. At the very least, he'll shoot a real gun slower and with greater deviation than a simulated gun. Any conclusions drawn from the second, third, fifth, or ninth shot with Airsoft or Code Eagle has virtually no predictive quality with regard to a real gun with real ammunition.

The first time I picked up an Airsoft and started doing drills this became clear. As I was going through the exercises I thought "I'm kicking butt!" I quite literally put down the Airsoft, picked up a real Glock, and tried the same thing on the same target. Surprise! I couldn't shoot nearly as fast, with nearly the deviation control, that I could with the Airsoft gun. What, then, was the value of those extra simulated shots from the standpoint of the physical shooting skill?

The lack of ballistic effect is important on the other end as well. The pellets - be they Airsoft or paint capsules - don't stop people. There is no effect on the target other than a small sting (if that), and there is no cumulative damage. This means that where a real bad guy might start slowing down with the first shot and might be on the ground with the third, the simulated opponent can continue full speed, full power charges through the tenth, twelfth, or fifteenth round. The rejoinder, of course, is that one never knows how many rounds it will take to stop an attacker (true), so one should keep shooting until the threat goes away.

This also is true, but we have to go back and reconsider the lessons from the preceding paragraphs: you can't shoot a real gun that way, and the target won't react that way, so where's the learning happening? It's a vicious circle: with simulated guns, the more rounds you fire in an attempt to be 'realistic' the less 'realistic' the exercise becomes.

This is the basis for my belief that, in most cases, force-on-force drills which continue beyond the first shot are probably not of great value. They may be fun, may be exciting, but one has to critically examine whether they're really teaching us anything that is relevant to an actual encounter.

Next time we'll look at the structure of FOF drills and scenarios, and some of the issues they raise.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Attitude Change, 2010 Edition.

I've been actively interested in the topic of self defense training since the early 90s. Over the last decade, particularly in the last five years, a lot of my original opinions regarding self defense have changed. This isn't because I'm wishy-washy and unable to hold on to an opinion (just ask my wife!) Rather, such change is brought about by being exposed to new information, or because new research alters original assumptions.

As this year winds down, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at just a few of the things about which I've changed my mind in the last decade.

- The value of competitive shooting: back in the mid '90s I was part of a local group looking to advance our defensive skills through "tactical" competition. We tried rules, targets and procedures from USPSA, IDPA (as soon as it was formed), and even early versions of what would become The Polite Society rules. All of them had serious flaws, and we ultimately tried to develop our own rules and even specialized targets. By about 2000 we'd abandoned the effort altogether, and I shot my last "tactical" match of any sort in 2002. At the time I couldn't quite put my finger on why, but it just didn't seem that it was possible to get actual training value out of a game. Eight years later I'm better able to articulate the "why" than I was back then, as I learn more about both actual defensive encounters and how the mind reacts to them. Today I tell my students that competition may be a fun hobby, but there are serious scientific and practical reasons why it's neither training nor good preparation for self defense. Some gaming adherents react with predictable vitriol, but I've developed a sufficiently thick skin.

- The .357 Magnum as a defensive cartridge: at one time I was a huge proponent of the .357 as a "manstopper". I stopped carrying the load in 2004 or so because I came to the realization that all handgun cartridges are relatively weak, and expecting a single shot to reliably stop a determined attacker was sheer folly. From this came the realization of what ends fights: rapid, multiple, combat accurate hits on target. It was clear to me that I could not deliver that kind of performance given the recoil of a Magnum cartridge, and elected to give up sheer power in favor of controllability and recoil recovery.

- Night sights: all my friends had them, and I too was once convinced they were the be-all and end-all of defensive shooting. Oddly it took me some time to realize a simple fact: if there was enough light to positively identify my target, there was enough to get a visual alignment of the gun (using the sights or otherwise.) If there wasn't enough light to get a solid visual index, I probably couldn’t be sure of my target. Playing around with these ideas on darkened to downright dark ranges pretty much confirmed my suspicions. Looked at in this light (yes, I worked hard to make that pun) my conclusion is that night sights don't have a lot of value.

- The importance of changing your mind: in the last few years it’s sunk into my thick head that if you are putting yourself out there, stretching your intellectual muscles and exposing yourself to new ideas and concepts, you are going to end up changing your mind about something. You have to, if you're intellectually honest! If one is to assume to any degree the appellation of 'professional' in regards to training, one has to be able to grow and progress intellectually. To grow, one must change; it can happen in no other way. Doggedly sticking to an opinion for no other reason than inertia (or dislike of the person presenting new information) is inherently unprofessional; it stifles growth. I've met people, some students and some instructors, who simply could not accept that perhaps there was an objectively better way of doing something, or a factual reason why another approach might be more relevant than their own. I've resolved not to be so intransigent - how about you?

So much for 2010! On Friday I'll have the weekly surprise, and next Monday I'll kick off a new year of what I hope will be even more illuminating, annoying, challenging, informative, entertaining, infuriating, and progressive blog posts. I hope you'll continue to tag along!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Rhino Revolver. ProArms Podcast. Yours Truly. What could go wrong?

I recently recorded an interview for the ProArms Podcast, and
it's been released. The first half is the ProArms gang discussing the Rhino, and the second half is my discussion with Gail Pepin about the gun. If you've been waiting to find out what I really thought about the Rhino, have a listen!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday catch-up.

Whew! What a week I had! I’m actually glad it's Monday, as I might finally be able to catch my breath!

I spent a few days last week helping to teach a Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Development (CFSID) course in Washington (as in 'state', as in WA.) We had a great group, all of whom were there to learn how to teach progressive, reality-based shooting in both the public and private sectors. Rob Pincus was the lead instructor, and I had the pleasure of interacting with three other Combat Focus instructors who were also there to help out. Teaching something is the best way to learn the subject, thus teaching how to teach makes one a better teacher. (Seems almost circular, doesn't it?)


One of the take-aways from this session was a new way of looking at the concept of precision in combat. You'll be hearing more about this as I flesh out my thoughts.


Speaking of Combat Focus Shooting, I've received a number of emails showing interest in booking classes for next year. Some of them have been from sunny or very scenic locations out of state, which is much appreciated, but I'm also looking to do more courses here in Oregon. If you'd like to see either Combat Focus Shooting or my Revolver Doctrine class come to your town, let me know - perhaps you could be the one to host it!

Here's something to consider: host a Revolver Doctrine class on a Saturday, followed immediately by a Fundamentals of Combat Focus Shooting class on Sunday. The former teaches you how to run your revolver properly, while the latter shows you how to use it efficiently to protect yourself. It's a great one-two combination!

If you're interested, email me for the details. (Remember that while I love teaching in Oregon, I will travel in the Western states to hold classes.)


Last week was particularly full because I was working feverishly to finish my Chiappa Rhino review for Concealed Carry Magazine. Deadline was Sunday, and I managed to slip in under the wire. The review turned out to be very long - over 3600 words - and I'm concerned that it will need to be heavily edited to fit into the magazine's allotted space. (Lots of pics, too.) My editor at CCM, Kathy Jackson, has her work cut out for her!

I'll be posting the next installment of the blog's series covering the technical features of the Rhino on Wednesday. Coincidentally, I'll be recording an interview about the Rhino with the ProArms Podcast folks that day. I'll certainly let you know when that gets released.


One of last week's frustrations was my outgoing mail server. It stopped accepting my login name and password, thus no mail went out for about four days. Qwest's technical support (the pride of Bangalore) was of no use: "I'm sorry that you're not happy with your service, Mr. Cunningham. First I'd like you to turn off your computer and turn it back on again." I swear that if you called them instead of dialing 911, they'd respond to your request for an ambulance by telling you to turn your computer off!

I tried valiantly to get them to escalate my call to someone who wasn't translating a script from Hindi to falsely accented Southern American English. I failed. The problem finally resolved itself sometime Saturday. For that I am grateful, even if a bit puzzled.


On a personal note, I'm very happy that tomorrow evening all of the campaign advertisements will cease. (How do you tell when a politician is lying? When his lips are moving!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Training opportunities!

I'm starting to book teaching dates for next year. If you're interested in hosting a
Combat Focus Shooting or Revolver Doctrine class, drop me an email and we can discuss the details.

Of course Oregon is my preferred venue, but I'll travel anywhere in the Northwest and I could
possibly be convinced to go to California. (Since that's the only place to get Sparky's Root Beer, it might not be hard to get me down there!)

I also have some very limited dates for private instruction, which need to happen in western Oregon. Range facilities for private instruction can be less developed than for a class, as long as we have a safe area to shoot.

Check out the course descriptions, look at your calendar, call your friends, and get in touch with me.

-=[ Grant ]=-

It's not Monday; some more safety stuff.

Sorry for the lack of posting yesterday - I was occupied with more pressing matters. The series on the Rhino revolver will resume tomorrow.

I couldn't let this pass, however. Seems that
Alan over at Snarkybytes wants to do away with Traditional Safety Rule #1, "all guns are always loaded" (or variants thereof.)

Welcome to the club, Alan - I've been
saying the same thing for over three years now, and caught the same flak that you're now getting.

The comments over at his place are very similar to the comments that I got (and continue to get.) For whatever reason, people are convinced that the more 'rules' they have to follow, the safer they'll be. (Of course they'll argue the opposite about gun laws, the irony being lost on them.) They present all manner of convoluted arguments and frantic re-wording to avoid the very thought of doing with fewer gun handling guidelines despite the logical probability that those fewer guidelines would prove more effective.

(There is that rabid subset of Cooper acolytes who oppose any change simply because The Colonel didn't approve of it, but their numbers appear to be dwindling.)

I have a couple of nits to pick: "Keeping the finger off the trigger" isn't specific enough for my comfort level; I prefer "finger out of the triggerguard", as simply ‘off the trigger’ does nothing to prevent stumble/grasp accidents. Second, while I understand his argument (and even agree with it to a great degree) about knowing your target and what’s behind it, I believe there needs to be something that addresses things like aerial shotgunning and proper backstopping for dry fire practice. Hence my third rule, though I’m willing to consider that I’m being needlessly redundant.

My modest proposal is that safety rules should be taught thusly:

Never point a gun - any gun, loaded or unloaded - at anything you are not willing to shoot.

Keep your finger out of the triggerguard until you are ready to fire.

Know where your shots will land and what they’ll touch along the way.

Alan's chart is pretty good, though, and I wish I'd thought of it!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Your point of view?

Head over to the
Personal Defense Network forum and check out the discussions on 'realistic' training. Feel free to jump into the discussion, as this is a topic which is important to all defensive training.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Recoil and reflexes.

video of a petite woman shooting a S&W .500 Magnum made the rounds last week. At issue was an uncontrolled (negligent) discharge, occurring as a rapid “double tap.”

Watch the video, and you’ll see that as the gun recoils from the first round, a second round is ignited. The barrel is nearly vertical when the second shot fires, raising all sorts of concerns about its eventual landing place.

The various comments made (not just on The Firearm Blog) indicate a lack of familiarity with the forces at play.

If one observes new shooters closely, it's very common to see them release the trigger immediately after the sear breaks. This is particularly true where the reset force significantly exceeds the pull weight, as it does on most S&W revolvers in single action (especially the X-frame .500.) The strong rebound spring quickly, almost instantaneously, sends the inexperienced trigger finger back into the battery position.

As the trigger/finger reach full reset, the recoil has caused the muzzle of the gun to arc backwards toward the shooter's face. The shooter, who has not expected this level of violent reaction to the cartridge firing, finds that the hand does not have a firm enough grip on the gun. The hand muscles - all of them - instinctively tighten to maintain a grip and control the gun.

The problem, of course, is that as those muscles tighten so do those of the trigger finger, which is now sitting on a trigger that has reset and produced a gun that is in battery. The hand squeezes and the trigger is forced back, firing the gun again.

It's not a gun problem, and having a longer trigger travel or a heavier trigger as some suggest won't prevent this from happening. What would prevent it is proper instruction from a teacher who understands the whole issue, and is smart enough to do a couple of things: first, have the shooter dry fire the gun so that he/she understands what the trigger is going to do. Second, put only one round into the gun until the shooter is comfortable with the recoil/muzzle blast/trigger control.

The most important thing to take away from this is that it is a predictable, and therefore preventable, occurrence - assuming that the person in charge has the knowledge base necessary to do so. Some time back I took heat for having the temerity to suggest that a good shooting coach needs to have a passing familiarity with physiology, psychology, physics, and engineering. This incident illustrates why that opinion remains unshaken.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Wednesday wanderings.

I haven't done a Wednesday Wanderings post for a while, but since I took the holiday off what would have been posted Monday got shuffled to today.

So, what's going on in the world? Well,
Tam continues her slide to a greener lifestyle. She's almost to the point where she could move to Portland and lobby for more bike paths to further clog traffic. (I'll bet she's developed a taste for tofu, too.)

Firearm Blog recently posted a great old television commercial for the Mattel "Tommy Burst" gun. Someone I knew as a kid had one of these, though for the life of me I can't remember who it was nor do I remember the commercial. I do, however, remember the sound the bolt made as it was pulled back. Fun toy that would cause apoplexy of sold today. (Readers of a certain vintage will recognize the voice of the narrator and the face of the bad guy as both belonging to Hal Smith, the great character actor and voice artist.)

Gabe Suarez recently posted an interesting article of the value of
simplicity in training. I don't necessarily agree with everything he says, but his point about not having unlimited time to train is spot-on. That point alone deserves an entire article.

As if the Judge phenomenon couldn't get any sillier, I give you the
Tactical Judge. Make of it what you will.

Rob Pincus recently returned from a teaching stint in South Africa, where he made this video of a Glock suppressor that he (and I) didn't even know existed. Square (of course), made of plastic (what else?), and disposable (!!), it fits on a special barrel that Glock also sells.

Cool stuff, but why in 'repressed' South Africa are these things freely available, but here in the 'free' United States are they demonized and heavily regulated?

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

-=[ Grant ]=-

You need to read this. Seriously.

One consistent theme amongst the less informed is that all you need worry about in a defensive encounter is that it’s a “good shoot.” Nothing else, according to these keyboard commandoes, matters - you can do anything, as long as the shoot is "clean."

The trouble is that neither you, nor they, get to decide what's "clean" and what's not. In my state, a Grand Jury makes the first decision, and if they say it isn't "clean" it then goes to a trial jury to make the final decision. They're the ones who will scrutinize any self defense shooting, and the pseudonymous self-appointed experts from your favorite forum will be conspicuously absent.

You see, what looks "clean" to you may not look "clean" to another person. Even if you explain it in detail they may still not see it your way, especially if it's a jury weighing your explanation against someone else trying to convince them of the opposite. Malicious prosecutions and lying witnesses exist, and they don't make that job any easier.

For those of you who still don't get this concept, I urge you to run over to the
Armed Citizen's Legal Defense Network and read this month's Journal. It is devoted to the story of Larry Hickey, who just recently won his freedom after two trials that stemmed from a defensive shooting. His ordeal, recounted in complete detail, serves as a caution to all those who still believe in the myth of the "clean shoot."

Don’t get me wrong - I’m not saying that you necessarily need to indulge in some fearfully exaggerated lawyer-proofing of your defensive preparations, but you do need to understand that you can’t run around like Rambo, either. This article dramatically illustrates the the value of knowing how to interact with the police after you’ve been involved in a shooting, the need to be able to articulate why you did what you did, and how evidence can be ignored, lost, or even turned to your disadvantage.

The article runs twenty-two pages, and I believe it to be
invaluable for anyone who carries a gun for self defense - and should be required reading for anyone who pontificates about legal issues on gun forums. The Journal is in PDF form; here's a direct link to that file.

Don’t brush this off - go read the article.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

Someone sent me
this link to a tale of a Ruger Redhawk whose barrel had parted company from the frame. It's an old story; not this particular occurrence, but the problem in general.


Seems that a certain Canadian manufacturer of simulated munitions now has some competition. I've always disliked the existing company's elitist insistence on only selling to police and military buyers, and Speer, the maker of the new product, looks to change that. Their new product,
Force On Force, will be sold not just to the public sector but to "professional instructors" as well. They've even got portable enclosed shoothouses available! Cool stuff from a solid, responsible AMERICAN company. (Thanks to Fear & Loading for the tip!)


DPMS was apparently the prime sponsor for a match called the "Tri-Gun Challenge", which was recently cancelled. What's interesting isn't the match, but rather
why it isn't going to happen this year. The range on which it was to be held was slapped with an order prohibiting the firing of handguns on the property. When the range/club was founded 30 years ago, they allowed all kinds of guns to be shot. In 1995 they were issued a conditional use permit for a trap and rifle range, and their neighbors apparently are alleging that the shooting of handguns violates that permit!

This is hardly unusual. My wife and I belonged to a gun club a few years back, a club which had been in existence since 1952. The conditional use permit under which we operated stated that no camping was allowed. Once a year, however, the Boy Scouts used the club facilities for a two day shooting party, with a sleepover the intervening night. The kids camped out in the classroom, but a couple of the den mothers brought camping trailers (for obvious reasons.) One particularly nosy neighbor, a recent transplant from another state, spotted the trailers and notified the county. We were hit with a similar order for violating the CUP.

People with an irrational fear of guns will always find a way to cause problems. Don't believe for an instant that because we won in the Supreme Court, the gun prohibitionists have been defeated.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Here we go again.

The blogs are alive with talk of women and guns (and not a single mention of the
excellent magazine, sadly.) Bane, Giddings, and Andrews have, amongst others, weighed in on the topic.

But there is something oddly...
familiar about this whole meme. Could it be because I covered this over a year and a half ago?

-=[ Grant ]=-

Dealing with revolver malfunctions.

My latest article for the Personal Defense Network has just been posted! This time I detail a malfunction drill for the revolver.

It's fair to say that severe malfunctions with a revolver are much less common than with autoloaders. Balancing that out is that fact that the malfunctions that can occur are often more serious, in that they can tie up the gun enough to make it non-functional for the duration.

In this new article I present a non-diagnostic drill that will clear the vast majority of the likely revolver malfunctions as efficiently as possible.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Instructions without instruction.

Shooting Illustrated recently
posted an article about how to shoot a snub-nose revolver. I’ve generally found that shooting a snubby is exactly like shooting any other double action revolver, save for the shorter sight radius, but apparently I’m now in the minority. (That, or I just don’t know how to sell articles and classes effectively.)

The author suggests dry firing for 20 days as a good way to learn trigger control. Unfortunately, he never tells you just how to achieve said control, let alone what it is, asserting that dry fire will magically take care of those little details. You should already know
my feelings on this subject.

May I humbly suggest that you
read this article over at the Personal Defense Network instead? I think you’ll find it far more useful.

Now, about that "hip shooting" nonsense...

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday update.

I'm recovering from a BUSY weekend.

On Friday and Saturday I did my annual duty at a local high school's all-night graduation party. For several years I've volunteered as part of their security detail, making sure the kids stay safe from both internal and external threats. (This, despite having no children of my own! How did I get talked into this?) It starts every year at about 10:pm and goes until breakfast the next morning.

I usually get a long nap Friday afternoon before the event, but this year I couldn't do it. Not in the sense that I didn't have time, but because I just couldn't fall asleep in the middle of the day! The net result is that I ended up going 24+ hours without sleep, and I'm just not used to that kind of thing! After it was over I crawled into bed and dropped right off to sleep. Saturday was essentially toast.

Sunday I worked my way up to The English Pit range in Vancouver USA to help out at a Combat Focus Shooting/Advanced Pistol Handling class with Rob Pincus. Jeff Varner, one of my fellow Combat Focus instructors, hosted the course at what is his home range. Great class.

After class Randy, the club's owner, brought out his Mateba Unica 6. Rob thought the Unica to be mythical, but here is a picture of him shooting the .44 Magnum beast as Randy looks on in amusement:

(I have another pic of Rob which is far more embarrassing. I'm keeping that one in my files as "insurance"!)

Non-related note: the best arrangement of the tune "It Might As Well Be Spring" is on the 1961 Stan Kenton "Adventures in Jazz" album. I don't have the liner notes handy, but I believe it's a Gene Roland arrangement.

-=[ Grant ]=-

What I did on my days off.

I spent the weekend up at
FIrearms Academy of Seattle teaching a Combat Focus Shooting class with "the man", Rob Pincus. We had one bright, sunny day (got the sunburn to prove it!) and one exceptionally wet, cold, dark day. That's life in the Pacific Northwest!

We had a diverse group of just under 20 students, some of whom were "advanced practitioners" and some who were significantly less experienced. From the comments in the mandatory end-of-class debrief, everyone came away learning something about themselves and about how to survive a deadly encounters. How fortuitous that the course is designed to do exactly those things!

(If you're an instructor, one of the best things you can do is to teach with another instructor, preferably one who style is very different from your own. I learned as much about my ability to teach as the students learned about their ability to shoot. It pushes your limits, identifies areas where you need to improve, and gives you a different perspective on the art of teaching.)

One of the
best weekends I've had in a long time.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Book Report: Combat Focus Shooting - Evolution 2010.

Rob Pincus' original book on
Combat Focus Shooting was published in 2006, and in a very few pages - 120, give or take - managed to present an entirely new way of looking at defensive handgun training.

Instead of forcing contrived techniques onto a fight, techniques that might not be appropriate or even effective, CFS offered a radically different perspective: pay attention to how the body reacts to a threat, base your techniques on what works well with those reactions, and train in those techniques as often and as realistically as possible. It was a concept-driven philosophy, and stood in stark contrast to the majority of training that was (and remains) technique-driven.

CFS sounds simple, and at its core it is. The concepts that back it up, however, draw from many fields, and explaining them in writing takes a bit of space. The brevity with which the original book it was written meant that some parts of the program didn't get the exploration or explanation they deserved.

At the same time the Combat Focus Shooting courses, which were the origin of the book, were evolving. Much new material was added, and there were changes to the way the program looked at certain aspects of defensive handgunning. It was time to update the book.

What an update Pincus has brought us!

"Combat Focus Shooting - Evolution 2010" is not just a simple edit. It's been greatly expanded, now over 210 pages and with very little fluff. Gone is the minimalist treatment of the concepts that underlie the program; the new book feels luxurious in comparison, with every facet of the Combat Focus philosophy explored and explained. The new edition makes it easier to understand what CFS is all about and especially why it's different from other courses. It's much more readable and closely follows the path of a live CFS class.

Of course
nothing beats taking a CFS course in person, but this book will give you a good grounding in the concepts and science behind intuitive shooting. If you want to develop defensive shooting skills that reflect the realities of actual encounters, "Combat Focus Shooting - Evolution 2010" should be on your reading list. It's a must-have for every serious student of defensive handgunning.

Of course,
it's available in my Amazon bookstore!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

Winchester's top sellers: The Firearm Blog reports that Winchester recently released their top five (even though there are six listed!) pistol cartridges. The 9mm is not surprisingly in first place, and that favorite of law enforcement, the .40 S&W, is justifiably in the number two slot. Coming into third place is a bit of a dark horse - the venerable .38 Special.

What's most curious is the .380 ACP in fifth place. According to a Federal rep I talked with a few years back, the .380 wasn't a big seller. If I recall the conversation correctly, they only made a run of that caliber every other year, as they could easily warehouse enough for the intervening period. I suspect a combination of many new guns chambered for the round, and the big buying frenzy that resulted in widespread ammo shortages, conspired to create a pent-up demand. Once everyone has gotten their box (or two) of the
9mm Corto, then sales will drop back down to normal.

A little problem at Gunsite: According to, a man was shot in the abdomen at Gunsite a few days ago. If you’ve seen pictures of their facility, you’ve seen the shoothouse with catwalks above which allows observation of the proceedings. Apparently a man was on the catwalk and silhouetted by overhead lights; the student saw his outline and shot it. Luckily the man survived the incident and is recovering.

Gunsite says that students are instructed not to shoot toward the catwalk, but the excitement of playing searchg-and-destroy games often leads to instructions being forgotten. If you have a facility in which you've hidden shoot targets, then challenged someone to find and engage those targets (especially under any artificial time constraints), such forgetfulness should not come as a total shock.

Yes, the guy who pulled the trigger is responsible for his rounds,
and I am in no way excusing his behavior. However, it's the instructor's job to ensure that the benefit of any training outweighs the risks. I'm not sure what the benefit of having a live observer perched on a catwalk in view of the shooter is, but setting up a bank of monitors and some cameras with 2-way audio capability brings the risk to nearly zero. In this age of cheap, remote-controlled IP cameras, the practice of having people suspended above a line of fire is decidedly antiquated.

-=[ Grant ]=-


Just got word from Rob Pincus - I passed my written and subjective teaching evaluations, and am now a certified Combat Focus Shooting instructor!


-=[ Grant ]=-

Better than I could say it.

One of the people in the
CFSID class last week was veteran trainer Robb Hamic. He posted a recap of the class on his blog.

Being fundamentally lazy (which I now realize to be 'efficient' - CFS students will get the joke), I'm just going to let you read his great thoughts while I attend to other matters.


-=[ Grant ]=-

What I did during Spring Break.

I just returned from a visit to Virginia Beach, where I attended the
Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Development (CFSID) course. I've been searching my brain for a one-word description of what the class is like, and this is the only thing that even comes close:


We spent 4 days and just shy of 60 hours learning the ins and outs of Combat Focus Shooting so that we could accurately and efficiently communicate the program to students. We spent the first of those day on the, that's not quite right; for any other course it
would have been the first day, but for us it was roughly half of the first day, as the entire session ran well past 9pm. The rest of the week was spent not on becoming better shooters, but learning to be better teachers.

We studied a little of everything: anatomy, physiology, neurophysiology, psychology, philosophy, and more. By the end of the fourth day, which is when testing was done, my brain was fried. I don't even remember the final written test, but I do remember nearly passing out somewhere on page three (serious blood sugar drop, complete with tremors and sweating.)

Apparently I finished it. At least, I think I did!

This isn't like most other instructor courses. Most of the time, an instructor certificate is a matter of showing up, shooting well, and having your check clear. CFSID is different;
Rob Pincus is committed to producing good teachers, not just good demonstrators. That showed in the caliber (pardon the pun) of the people who were there, as I'd be confident in recommending any one of them as a competent and knowledgeable instructor.

There's a reason that, historically, less than 50% of Combat Focus Shooting instructor candidates pass the course. It's that tough, and takes a phenomenal amount of mental discipline just to make it through.


As it happens, my return trip routed me through Chicago, where I spent nearly three hours waiting for my next flight. Turns out that
Tam was in Chicago at the same time. Wish I'd known, I'd have loved to finally meet her.


We also got to study some (unintentional) modern art, courtesy of an ancient video projector that refused to hold a sync signal with Rob's new MacBook:

Yes, that's Rob Pincus getting all Warhol on his students.


I don't usually plug local businesses, but this one deserves it.

The day before I left, I discovered that my old camera had died. It powered up, but none of the controls worked. (It will still take pictures, but the exposure control is fried and the autofocus appears to be only sporadically active.) We had planned to upgrade our camera later this year, but this forced our hand: we needed it now.

I spent that day not packing, but running all over Western Oregon to find the camera I'd decided on. I finally found the body, but the lens I wanted wasn't in stock anywhere. I decided to pick up a used optic as stopgap measure, while I waited (and recovered financially) for the one I really wanted. Trouble is that none of the camera stores I called carried much (or any) used equipment. About that time I remembered seeing a yellow pages ad for a little one-hour photo place located in a small town fairly close to us. I had it in my mind that the ad said something about used cameras, and since phone calls are free I dialed their number. A pleasant young lady answered the phone and said that yes, they had used gear and that they had several suitable lenses for me.

What I found when I walked into
Focal Point Photography blew me away. This is a tiny shop, located in a small farming community in a rural area, and it is filled with photo gear. From Speed Graphics to the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, these folks have a little of everything. Piles of used gear (literally), a surprising selection of lighting equipment new and old, even darkroom stuff, all stuffed (literally) into a two-story building in little ol' Dallas, Oregon. It was like going back in time, to what camera stores used to be before the age of big-box homogenization. I don't know if they do mailorder, but they're so accommodating I suspect they would. If you're looking for just about anything photographic, particularly if it's out of production and now hard to find, give them a call: (503) 623-6300.

I have no affiliation other than as a satisfied, if somewhat amazed, customer.


Now, I'm back to catching up on your emails!

-=[ Grant ]=-

School spirit.

Rivalries among neighboring schools are nothing new. They start in high school, and continue into college: here in my slice of heaven, it's the Oregon State University Beavers versus the University of Oregon Ducks. In Texas, it's the Aggies and the Longhorns. Alumni from the respective schools can get downright cantankerous when discussing the "other" team.

So too with shooting schools. Graduates of one school (or, more commonly, one instructor) hold their alma mater or guru to possess the "true way" and refuse to even acknowledge that others exist. In the worst cases, the arguments end up sounding an awful lot like "my Dad can beat up your Dad".

This came up the other day in a discussion I had with
AFGWWWTRA. The term that sparked the conversation was "disciples", and I think that conveys the thought quite nicely. Once one has invested time, effort, and money into an area of interest it's hard to accept that there are other, competing, interests in the world which might just have validity as well. The guru becomes infallible, because if he/she isn't the disciple has wasted time, effort, and money - and who is ever going to admit to that?

I'm not immune; I went through a mild episode of school spirit some years back, but since then I've progressed a bit. I'm open to new ways of thinking and new methods of doing, and my attitude has gone from "so and so says this and it is immutable" to "show me why." The litmus test of any technique or opinion is not the logical fallacy of argument from authority, but rather that it makes sense given an open and agreed-upon criteria.

In an odd coincidence, I just started reading a book that explains this behavior, and as it turns out the concepts involved may have profound implications for self defense. They go well beyond the guru, school, stance, grip, or anything else, and deal with our behavior at a surprisingly base level. In other words, discipleship in and of itself, irrespective of doctrine or dogma, may affect how one performs in a violent encounter.

I'll have more to say when I finish the book.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Pincus on stances.

A while back I shared my concept of the shooting stance, about how it was really a type of scaffold - a device by which one can build skills, and of limited utility past that point.

Well, it turns out that I'm not alone at the Blessed Bovine Abattoir -
Rob Pincus has a new video up at the Personal Defense Network giving his take on the concept of the stance. Watch it with an open mind.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A uniform is scant protection from stupidity.

Today we have two tales of poor gun handling. Pharmacist Tommy sent me
this story about a police officer who shot himself in the head.

From Carteach's blog we get the tale of an Army soldier whose buddy shot him. The young man is quite lucky to be alive.

What do these two incidents have in common?
People do stupid things with guns they perceive to be unloaded. (The problem isn’t that the gun is or is not loaded, but that people are doing stupid things with them in the first place.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

The revolver is not a low-capacity autoloader.

Over the years, a number of 4x4 vehicles have come under fire for being "prone" to rollover accidents: the Suzuki Samurai. The Jeep CJ. The Ford Explorer. The Isuzu Trooper. While the government probes their safety and juries award inflated damages, one pertinent fact is conveniently ignored: a four-wheel-drive isn't a family sedan, and can't be driven like one. The results are predictable.

Guess what? The same relationship exists between the autoloader and the revolver.

In the last couple of decades, the revolver has become the red-headed stepchild of the shooting world. Since autoloaders became the dominant handgun platform, the necessary skills to efficiently run a revolver have fallen by the wayside. Many instructors, particularly in police service, have little to no experience with the wheelgun. This lack of familiarity has led to the wholesale adoption of handling and shooting techniques that work fine with autos, but don't work so well with revolvers.

Last week I linked to a little problem that Robb Allen experienced, and used the phrase which serves as today's title. The thumbs-forward grip that works very well on the autopistol is simply out of place on a revolver, as Robb painfully discovered. Robb's singed thumb is the perfect illustration of my contention: the auto and the revolver are different tools, and need to be handled differently.

Autoloader techniques imposed on the wheelgun lead to reduced efficiency, and sometimes more. For instance, trying to emulate the reloading techniques of the autoloader - shooting hand staying gripped on the gun while the support hand does the reloading - forces the revolver shooter to perform a complex, fine motor skill with the hand least suited to do so.

That's not all, though; leaving the cylinder unsupported can result in crane damage during the reload cycle, particularly on the newer light alloy guns. It's much better instead to use a reloading method that is designed from the ground up to work around both the shooter's and the revolver's weaknesses. (One such method, and the one I espouse because it has the fewest operational weaknesses, is the
Universal Revolver Reload.)

It's time that firearms training reflected the strengths and weaknesses of the revolver, instead of assuming it's just like an autoloader "except for that round part." I'll have more to say on this in the coming months.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

DRAW FAST, HOLSTER SLOW: Tam alerts us to a ND that happened at a Todd Green class. In his commendable reporting of the incident, Todd says "Never be in a rush to holster your pistol. We all know it, we say it, we teach it. Not all of us do it." So true.

As instructors it's easy for us to forget that reinforcement, and sometimes enforcement, are necessary parts of our job. Especially when we're dealing with "advanced" students, we tend to go easy on the reinforcement of fundamentals for fear that we'll be resented for belittling their ability or experience. We have to resist that tendency, and we need to do so consistently. When warranted, enforcement (up to and including ejection from class) has to happen.

The only instructor I've ever seen who is absolutely consistent in this regard is Georges Rahbani (
TBRIYNHO.) Even in his advanced rifle classes, which are invitation only and have stringent prerequisites, you will hear "safety on" and "finger in register" (index, if you prefer) commands at the end of a string of fire. He never wastes an opportunity for reinforcement at any level of training or ability.

When Georges encounters failures to heed commands or instruction, he has a way of bringing the point home to the student: he/she has to publicly deposit a dollar bill into a pot. (The students have a friendly shoot-off at the end of class to win the pot.) This has a non-confrontational, yet still very chastening, effect on both the offending person and the rest of the students; I've seen it work on countless occasions. I don't know where the idea comes from, but I'm giving Georges the credit.

THE PROBLEM WITH ELECTRONIC SCALES: I recently sat down to work up a new .308 load. I turned on my RCBS electronic scale, waited a couple of minutes, and starting weighing charges. Much to my surprise, the weight of the charges thrown by my powder measure increased each time! I'd forgotten that electronic scales need protracted warmup periods before accuracy and repeatability can be expected. After a half-hour of warmup, it settled down and gave correct readings. Word to the wise: keep your mechanical scales around to double check the electronic ones, or buy a set of check weights.

HERE COMES DA JUDGE: From The Unforgiving Minute comes this gem:

"The inexplicable success of the Taurus Judge still depresses the hell out of me. Taurus keeps cranking out new versions, each more grotesque, hideous and nonsensical than the last, and people KEEP BUYING THE GODDAMN THINGS. Just another sign that our culture is doomed, I suppose."

(The opinions of the contributor do not necessarily reflect the views of the Management of this blog. Then again, they just might.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

An exciting new personal defense resource!

This week is dominated by SHOT Show news, and in the midst of all the shiny new goodies it's hard to remember that self defense isn't just about hardware. Guns and ammo are easy to write about, so that's what most people concentrate on. As a result, you find lots of sites that deal with hardware, but precious few with the software so necessary for survival.

That situation is about to change: the
Personal Defense Network has gone "live"!

PDN is the new source for self defense articles, tips, and video lessons on the net. Rob Pincus, the Managing Editor, has gathered some of the best authorities from around the country to staff PDN, with a simple goal: PDN aims to be the leading destination of high-quality, personal defense content online, as well as a no-nonsense gathering place for those serious about arming themselves for defense in every aspect of their lives.

This isn't the same old "9mm vs. .45ACP" stuff you find in the magazines or on the gun forums - the information at PDN is at a higher level. You'll learn some new techniques, some refinements of your existing skills, and some vital topics that other sites just won't touch (check out "
Dealing with a Gun Shot Wound During Training Class".)

It isn't all about guns, either; self defense is more than simply shooting people, and PDN delivers vital information to help you expand your hand-to-hand and less lethal skills ("
Don't Bring A Gun To A Knife Fight" is a great introduction to why the gun isn't always the right answer.)

There's lots more, from fitness to legalities to tactics, all written by some of the best people in the business. You'll hear from master trainer Rob Pincus as well as such
renowned experts as Tony Blauer, Michael Janich, John Brown, Marty Hayes, Andy Langlois, Kent O’Donnell, and Paul Haberstroh. (Oh, and some guy named Grant Cunningham - anyone know who he is?)

Check out the site, watch the videos, read the articles, and
join the forum. Check in often, as there's a lot more great content coming at PDN.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Massad Ayoob's new gig.

I got an email from Massad Ayoob recently, in which he told me about his new venture: the Massad Ayoob Group (MAG).
He's got a great website where you can read the official announcement.

While the curriculum will be new, the principles he teaches aren't. No one knows more about the legal and ethical side of deadly force, and his updated classes will build on that expertise. I asked Mas about how the new curriculum will translate to his old courses:

"I'm trying to keep the new curriculum such that, say, an LFI-I in a previous course will be acceptable as a prerequisite for second level with [the Massad Ayoob Group.] The analog to JUDF, for example, will be MAG-20 Classroom, with the suffix indicating the hour number. The commonality goes two ways: just as I'll structure MAG-80 so it will be suitable for an LFI-I graduate, I'll make sure MAG-40 gives the student strong enough a foundation to be an acceptable prerequisite for an LFI-II."

For those not familiar with his work, 'JUDF' refers to 'Judicious Use of Deadly Force' - perhaps his best-known course and the gold standard on the topic. The live fire accompaniment to that will be MAG-20/Live Fire, and the two combined - what corresponds most closely to the old LFI-1 - in updated form will be called MAG-40.

The Massad Ayoob Group also signals a new emphasis on teaching lawyers how to handle self defense cases. In conjunction with the
Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network, he's initiating his Continuing Legal Education (CLE) classes. First in the new schedule is "Defending the Deadly Force Case", already on the calendar for Anchorage and Seattle this year. He tells me that more are in the works.

That's particularly important news, as it ensures that there will be more properly trained counsel to help you and me if we ever find ourselves in court. This is the kind of class that Mas is uniquely qualified to teach, and it's great that he's taken up the cause.

Check his site; if he's teaching anywhere near you, take advantage of the opportunity to learn from one of the good guys.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! 2010 is finally here, and I'm still surprised about that. Back in 1979 the twenty-first century looked sooooooo far away that I thought I'd never see it. Here we are in the second decade already; where did the last ten years go? (So, this is what it's like to age....)

I took a four-day weekend for the New Year, though it wasn't really time off: I spent the time doing work around the farm, to the screaming protest of my muscles and joints. This brief respite reminded me that it's been many years since my last vacation (which, as it happens, I spent in a shooting class), and I think it's high time for another. I say so every year, but this time I'm going to do it. Of course, I say that every year too!

S&W GOES PRO: Remember a year or so ago, when I wrote about a limited run of no-lock Model 642? At the time S&W claimed that they'd "found" a stash of pre-lock frames and decided to put them together for sale. Apparently they were popular enough that the company has managed to "find" some more NOS frames, as they've brought out a couple of new editions: the "Pro" series 442 and 642. They're just like the non-Pro models, except they have no locks and have cylinders cut for moonclips. There are a whole lot of questions one could pose about the decision to bring these to market, but I'm glad to see them all the same.

(I do wish they'd get consistent with their naming conventions: they have the
642 PowerPort Pro Series revolver, which has a ported barrel AND a lock, but no moonclip capability. The only thing these models have in common is a matte black finish, which harkens me back to the days of selling high end camera gear: you could get many cameras in either chrome or black finish, the black models inevitably referred to as "professional". At least they're not calling them 'tactical'!)

SPEAKING OF MOON CLIPS: I get several queries per month regarding moonclips for a carry revolver, and I recommend to all that they be limited to range use. Yes, they are faster to reload (the margin depending on the cartridge) - but I don't believe that outweighs the fragility of the clips themselves, as even a small bend will tie up the gun. (There's always someone who writes back "well, I've carried moonclips in my pocket for years and have never had a problem!" I'm sure that's true, just as I'm sure that someone, somewhere has a perfectly reliable Colt All American 2000. I'm not willing to bet my little pink bottom on either one, however.)

MORE SMITH NEWS: The regular Model 642, along with the 637 and 638, will now be available with 2-1/2" fully lugged barrels instead of the 1-7/8" tubes. I always liked the .357 version of the Model 640 for its slightly longer barrel, and am glad to see it come to some other models. That little extra weight up front helps with control on the lightweight frames, as well as providing longer extractor travel. (Sadly, they are still afflicted with the silly lock.)

WELCOME TO OREGON: This holiday season saw three groups of people lost in the Oregon woods - thanks to an over-reliance on GPS navigation. This should serve as a cautionary tale: ceding your health and safety to something (or someone else) is an invitation to disaster. Take responsibility for yourself; make sure your brain is always engaged. You'll notice that these are consistent themes here at The Revolver Liberation Alliance, and they have application well beyond protecting yourself from human predators. (Oh, and buy a decent map when venturing out of the confines of the suburbs.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Book Review: "Personal Defense for Women."

Personal Defense for Women: Practical Advice for Self Protection by Gila Hayes

It is only now that society is beginning to recognize what those of us who've been married for decades know all too well: men and women are different. 'Equal', as it happens, does not mean 'the same', and we are slowly coming to realize this. (Back to the future!)

Because we're different, it's difficult - if not impossible - for a man to understand, let alone sensitively address, the feelings and fears that women experience as they approach the very concept of self defense. "A good man always knows his limitations", says Dirty Harry, and all men have this one. (Any man who believes he doesn't is in denial.)

Recognizing my limitations requires that I refer the women in my life to the best source of information for their personal safety. For the last decade-and-a-half, that source has been the book "Effective Defense" by Gila Hayes. It deals with the gritty details of self defense from that particular perspective only women possess.

Last year, Gila was given the opportunity to completely rewrite her landmark tome, to bring it up to date and expand on many of the topics. The result is "Personal Defense for Women", and I'm happy to say it is even better than the original. That, folks, is saying a lot.

Though the word "defense" is in the title, Gila's book is a comprehensive guide to women's safety, which goes well beyond what we think of as defense. Gila explains:
"...I earnestly advocate crime avoidance over fighting, and escape over shooting. Safe housing, safe behavior, and awareness of danger when you're at home, work, in your car or in public, are among the first survival lessons I want to emphasize."

This is evident just by looking at the table of contents: the first nine chapters deal with avoidance, not shooting. Gila tackles things that would be taboo for me to even broach; for instance, the delicate topic of drawing unwanted attention with a revealing wardrobe. She points out that certain activities are inherently more risky than others, and the aware woman needs to acknowledge that choosing some pleasures may carry larger risks than less exciting options.

Gila talks about responsibilities as well as rights, gently pointing out that the self-reliant woman chooses her safety level through her actions. This sounds simple, but as she expounds on the topic the power of that concept becomes evident.

The rest of the book deals with the active defense - fighting in all forms. She starts with information on empty hand defenses, and moves through various less-than-lethal tools before starting a particularly comprehensive discussion about firearms. Gila is a renowned trainer and champion shooter, and her fluency with the subject is obvious. Women just starting out with firearms could not be in better hands. She provides authoritative and clearly articulated information about guns, ammunition, shooting techniques, and even a great exploration of the merits of the home defense shotgun.

One chapter I liked very much was devoted to the use of the Taser, and one very needed chapter deals with dressing around a handgun. (Men have it incredibly easy compared to women, and we always fail to appreciate the difficulties they have concealing a pistol!)

While all the chapters are good, there are a couple of standouts that make it a "must buy": one deals with safety on school and college campuses (including the active shooter scenario), and the other is a sensitive discussion of rape prevention and survival. These are important topics, and Gila deals with them in the way that only she can.

If it seems that I like this book, I do - very much. It has instantly become my new recommendation for all women interested in self defense, and I can hardly think of a better gift for a wife, girlfriend, sister, mother, or daughter than "Personal Defense for Women."

Now a disclaimer: At Gila's request, I provided some of the pictures in this book, and my name appears in a couple of places. Many of the actors in the pictures are people that I know well. It would seem that I am biased with regards to the merits of "Personal Defense for Women", and you're right - but it's because I've been consistently and actively recommending its predecessor for 15 years! The old book was good, and this edition is even better. I'm proud to have played a small role in its production.

This is a worthy update, and there is so much new information that owners of "Effective Defense" would be well advised to pick up a copy of "Personal Defense for Women."

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

THAT TIME OF THE YEAR: I hope everyone had a great (as in safe and happy) Christmas weekend. I hope you'll accept my sincere wishes for a happy New Year - may 2010 be a darn sight better than 2009!

HERE WE GO AGAIN: Maryville, TN has had a couple of accidental shooting deaths in the past weeks. Both incidents involved guns that (brace yourselves) people thought "were unloaded." The Maryville Police Chief, one Tony Crisp, concludes that people just weren't pretending hard enough:

"Treat a gun as always being a loaded gun," he said. "Once you cleared it, check it again."

A more nonsensical statement I cannot imagine! I hope that you will save me the trouble of tearing it apart by seeing for yourself the logic failures therein. How much better it would have been had he taken the opportunity to do some
real education by saying something like: "never point a gun - any gun, loaded or unloaded - at anything you're not willing to shoot. Don't let anyone around you do so, either."

SOMEONE ELSE FOR A CHANGE: A couple years back I made an offhand remark about Charter Arms guns. That one little sentence generated a ton of hate mail, including some from Charter's president/owner and their largest distributor. Well, M.D. Creekmore over at made a more pointed statement regarding Charter's "quality", and he too heard from Charter's owner. It's in the comments; scroll to the bottom.

-=[ Grant ]=-

What safety standards?

I've just had an interesting email exchange with an instructor. Said instructor read
my articles on safety, and opined that anyone who didn't teach the 'industry standard' was opening himself (or herself) up to liability problems. "Everyone teaches the Four Rules for a reason", he concluded.

I've heard this argument before (more than once, in fact) and it makes less sense each time I hear it - on several levels. I'm sure this view is quite common, so let's tackle the subject head-on.

First let's address the very notion that there is such a thing as an industry standard for firearm safety (and by extension that there is a version of the Four Rules which can be held to be that standard.) There is enough variance regarding the wording of the Four Rules that I'm not sure you could hold up any one and say "this is the standard, but these other similar examples are not." To be a standard requires consistency, and the Four Rules are hardly consistent in their wording, interpretation, or application - particularly Rule One, which is the one I take most issue with.

Second, even if the wording of the Four Rules was consistent you'd have to establish that they were in use by the majority of instructors in the business of teaching firearm safety, and further that they were being taught to a majority of firearm students. This isn't even close to being true.

I submit that the only candidate for establishment of an industry standard would be the NRA. The NRA has more instructors teaching more students every year than (probably) all the independent training venues in the country combined. As a certified NRA instructor, I know that the NRA has its own safety rules, and they are not the Four Rules. I further submit that if one is not teaching the NRA safety rules, verbatim as presented in their course material, one is in fact NOT teaching anything remotely resembling an industry standard and the argument/defense is moot.
(This should not be construed as either an endorsement or criticism of the NRA safety curriculum.)

Third, even if the Four Rules were consistent among all their users AND it could be shown that they were being taught verbatim by a majority of instructors to a majority of students, the industry standard argument is simply an admission that one can't be bothered to seek anything better. 'Industry standard' is not the same as objective standard!

Back in the early '80s, the photographic industry was rocked by several high profile suits regarding handling of hazardous chemicals in photofinishing plants. The common defense was that the industry had its own standards with regard to safe handling, and that they were being followed. That proved to be no defense at all, and several companies paid out large settlements and/or fines. The government stepped in and required that the industry's standards be replaced with up-to-date and independently verified practices, and a for a while there was a small boom for businesses who provided compliance packages tailored to the industry. (I should know, as I was one of those entrepreneurs who made and sold such packages.)

Were I sitting on a jury in a liability case, I'd want to know if what the defendant did was the best that could be done. If the answer was no, regardless of how widespread the behavior happened to be, would cause me to find in the plaintiff's favor. Relying on a defense of compliance with 'industry standards' when there are demonstrably better practices is probably not going to win any juror's favor!

Integrity says that It's not enough to show that you do what everyone else does; you have to show that it is the best thing to do, and that there is nothing better. I'm a big believer in excellence over compliance; of going above and beyond when possible, particularly in the area of keeping people safe from harm.

Bottom line: defending the Four Rules using the 'industry standard' argument is roughly the same as a teenager screaming to her Mom "but everyone else does it!" No, they don't, and even if they did it's irrelevant. That didn't work with my parents, and it doesn't work with me.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

AN ADVENTURE: Spent some time last week working on a project with Rob Pincus. You'll have to wait a while to hear the details, but a good and educational time was had by all. (Yes, Rob, it's still raining here.)

LUBRIPLATE COMES THROUGH: Got an email from Alex Taylor, a District Manager at Lubriplate. They're now selling the superb SFL #0 grease in consumer quantities in their online store! Comes in a 14oz can for $23.01, plus shipping. Glad to see them recognizing the firearms market; now let's see if we can get them to sell their FMO-AW oil in small quantities too!

THIS DOESN'T HAPPEN EVERY DAY: Remington recently announced that they've produced their ten millionth 870 series shotgun. I knew they were popular, but ten freakin' million? I would never have guessed anything close to that. The shotgun, it appears, is alive and well in America.

THIS IS JUST WRONG: I'll take some of what I just said back: certain shotguns are alive, but not well. Apparently trying to out-silly the S&W TRR8, Stoeger recently announced the availability of the Double Defense - a tactical side-by-side shotgun. Yes, a SxS with a fore-end rail. Black, of course. (Folks, I couldn't possibly make up something like this. It takes a marketing department to do so.)

I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW: A University of Alabama prof has claimed to have invented a revolutionary sighting system that promotes "intuitive aim." Knowledgeable readers will recognize the concept as being eerily reminiscent of the Steyr "trapezoid" sights as used on the 'M' and 'S' series pistols, which have been available for a decade now. Hmmm...

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

GETTING THE MESSAGE: I've been harping on the failures of "Rule #1" for some time now, and it seems that the attitude is catching on. Slowly, but at least progress is being made.

IT ISN'T JUST ME: I've recently expounded on the issue of dogmatic teaching in the self defense world, and I'm not alone in my criticism. Check out this post from Roger Phillips over at, then read the entire discussion. (I've never met Roger, don't know him from Adam, but he makes sense. Can't say that about everyone.)

POCKET COMPANION: no, not a J-frame! From Dustin's Gun Blog I learned of a new iPhone/iPod Touch app called Legal Heat. It's an interactive version of their printed guide to concealed carry and gun laws in all 50 states, written by attorneys and instructors. It' a great idea, and something that's needed. Unfortunately, despite the viability of the concept I cannot in good conscience recommend this particular app.

There is a big issue with Legal Heat's usability. The pages are just images of the book, which means they're pictures and not text. This sounds inconsequential, but it's not. When you bring up the laws on a state, because it's showing the whole page the text is tiny; unreadably small. To read it, you need to magnify the image by pinching. (The usual double-tap doesn't work, because it doesn't work on full-frame images!) Once you magnify the image to read the text, you have to continually scroll back and forth because images don't wrap text. Finally, the app doesn't support screen rotation; it only displays in portrait orientation, which exacerbates the scrolling issue.

Frankly, iPhone users are accustomed to a higher level of application quality than Legal Heat delivers. If they would simply make their pages actual text and enable screen rotation I'd be comfortable recommending it. As it stands, even at $1.99 it's not worth the hassle.

DEAL ALERT: My background in commercial photography has left me more than a little anal retentive with regards to optics, particularly when it comes to binoculars. I'm a fan of porro-prism designs, as they a) have better three-dimensional perspective, b) are brighter, and c) cost less than roof-prism types for any given level of optical quality (resolution/contrast.)

Minox makes some of the best porro-prism binocs. The optical performance is exceptional, and the build quality matches the glass. They make an 8x and a 10x version, and at a street price of roughly $550 they are something of a bargain; you'll need to spend roughly twice as much to get a roof prism of comparable performance, and you still won't get the perspective advantage that the porro-prism design gives you.

Despite their advantages, porro-prism designs are distinctly unfashionable these days and don't sell well regardless of brand. Roof prisms are what people buy, and Minox has bowed to the market: they've discontinued the 10x model.
SWFA is closing them out at $299.95, which has to be classed as a screaming good deal. You won't find anything even approaching their optical performance for that kind of money. (Yes, I grabbed a pair - for that price, I wasn't about to pass them up!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Circumstances change. Hardware doesn't. That's a problem.

Last week I heaped scorn and derision on AR-15 foregrips ('Pharoah's Beards'), and feedback suggests I need to expound on the subject.

The issue with foregrips is that they limit how you interface with your rifle. That's a fancy way of saying that they get in the way; instead of the hardware (the rifle) allowing flexibility in use, it becomes more specialized - less flexible. The rifle no longer responds to the user's will, rather the user now must adapt to the accessory's limitations, in addition to the rifle's.

As long as the AR-15 is being shot from a standing, squared off position, the Pharaoh's Beard feels like a great invention. A real incident, however, may demand more. The shooter may have to contort himself into a stable firing position because of the surrounding cover; the opponent may be at a radical angle (in any direction) from the defender's point of view; rapid fire from a compromised 'stance' may be needed as the defender rapidly moves relative to the attacker.

When any of those things happen, the changed body position requires a modified relationship to the rifle. With a plain forearm, the support arm simply moves to the necessary position and the shooting commences. With some sort of foregrip hanging off the rifle, one of two things will happen: the shooter will doggedly maintain a grip on the thing, all the while trying to get his body to do things that it isn't structurally capable of doing, or the shooter will realize that the grip isn't working, and try to maneuver around it to get to the best placement. Sometimes he can, more often he can't, because that accessory is taking up the very space he needs. Bottom line: less-than-optimal shot placement and less-than-optimal response times.

Most people test these things in a range-perfect stance of some sort; they don't push themselves or their equipment. In such undemanding circumstances, foregrips seem to work well. The further from that ideal world, the less well they work. You can decide for yourself if that's meaningful to you.

I see this frequently with students in class. Georges Rahbani, who I've mentioned many times in this blog, runs his 'Fighting Rifle' course as a triad: three separate 2-day classes, based on real-life encounters, that rapidly ramp up critical survival skills. The first class has the students working on fairly traditional range platforms: standing, kneeling, etc. Foregrips seem to work in that environment, because they're designed to facilitate just this kind of handling. The environment isn't asking much of the shooter, which is important to understand.

By the time the second class rolls around, students discover that they're not in Kansas any more. The environment now asks much more of the shooters; the concept off 'ideal' is dispensed with, and 'field expedient' becomes the new paradigm. As that occurs, the students who showed up for the first class with gizmos and gadgets on their rifles find themselves hurriedly removing them during breaks.

Why? Because they've discovered that their options are limited, not increased, by added hardware. They've learned that the situation dictates their response, not the other way around. The more universal their equipment, the easier they can adapt their response to the situation; the more specialized the gear, the less they're able to do so.
Conceptually, this is the same thing I said last week; substitute 'gear' for 'technique', and the same lessons apply.

There is also an issue with attitude, with perception of the rifle's role. Georges asks his students: "Is your rifle a fun toy, or a serious tool?" If it's strictly a recreational object, a ballistic tinker toy, go wild - hang whatever you want on it. (Tacticool accessories, it must be admitted, are a heck of a lot of fun and building just the "right" configuration can be an enjoyable hobby in itself. Machined aluminum is like bacon - it makes everything better!)

Otherwise, save that money and use it to buy more ammo. You'll be better off.

-=[ Grant ]=-

What is the true value of "dry fire"?

A few weeks back, I took some flak for suggesting that a working knowledge of cognitive science - especially neuropsychology - was a valuable instructional tool. Such knowledge allows an instructor to better serve his/her students, and gives the students the tools they need to self-correct aberrant behaviors. Some apparently don't believe this, or perhaps simply don't understand why.

Some years ago I was having a specific shooting problem, one which I had a great deal of difficulty solving. During a course I approached my instructor, a person of some renown in the business, with the issue. I was hoping to gain an insight as to what I could do to solve the problem, but the response was a curt and dismissive "dry fire." I countered that I had done quite a bit of that, and it wasn't helping. "You need to do it more," was the conversation-ending reply.

As it happens the problem couldn't have been helped by any amount of dry fire, but it took me quite some time to figure that out. In retrospect it was obvious, but only because I'd gone to a great deal of trouble learning how the brain works (without which I'd never have found the solution.)

Why was dry fire not the answer? Well,
Rob Pincus recently wrote a terrific piece titled "Dry Reps can lead to Poor Performance" which answers that question. Rob is one of the few people in this field who has a good grasp of how the brain interprets information and makes decisions, and he's applied that knowledge to his Combat Focus courses.

A little close observation will support his contentions; for instance, I notice that even relatively new shooters have no problem learning how to reload their autopistols. Push the button, the magazine drops out, insert new magazine, release slide using whatever method one prefers. Easy, right? Physically, yes.

The issue comes when it's time to reload during a string of fire. When the gun goes empty, the student usually try several times to shoot again, only slowly realizing that there is a problem. They tip the muzzle up and observe that the slide is locked back, then stop for a second or two while their mind confronts the situation: "Oh, I need to reload!" The physical manipulation of the reload proceeds smoothly and quickly, compared to the awkward moments before the decision to reload was made.

Dry reps will not make the situation better, but rather will reinforce this behavior. Rob explains why.

(Interestingly, I've observed the same phenomenon among some "experienced" instructors. They may have practiced slide-lock reloads dry, but since that practice lacked context they never developed the reflexive sequence of recognizing an empty gun and reloading it efficiently.)

Read the article carefully, as there is some terrific information to be gleaned.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

One of the hardest things to predict in this business is workflow. The shop will be humming along, work flying out the door, then suddenly a few large projects (total customs or heavy restorations) come in and the work slows to a snail's pace. Those bottlenecks seem to come in groups, when they're most difficult to deal with. It makes mincemeat out of the most conservative projections!


Occasionally someone will suggest that being a one-man shop is limiting the amount of business I can do, and that I should take on employees. Aside from not wanting the hassle (I was once a corporate lackey with a pile of employees to handle - I know of what I speak), there's also a bit of personal pride involved: if my name is on the work, I think it's important that I actually do said work. If it's good, I want the accolade, and if it's bad I don't want to be reduced to pointing like a 5-year-old and screaming "but it's HIS fault!"

There exists today a well-known gunsmithing concern whose very talented owner used to do all his own work. He "progressed" to having employees, but supervised their work closely. Judging by the recent experiences of several of my clients, he's been reduced to sending out emails explaining why their shoddy work is actually better than the quality product he used to provide.

Personally, no amount of money (or time savings) will convince me to do that - my clients deserve better.


I've written about this before, and others continue to make my case for me: people have a different mindset about guns they perceive to be unloaded. You may get tired of hearing it, but safety is so important that I'm going to keep bringing it up: there is a solution.


Dog people, I need some advice. We have a year-old Shepherd/Newfoundland mix who won't sleep in the spacious, insulated doghouse we've provided. He'll go in to eat, and he's been known to voluntarily pile his toys in it, but he sleeps on our porch exposed to the rain and wind. One would think that sooner or later he'd get cold enough and wet enough to use it for the intended purpose, but it has yet to happen. Should I just leave him to his misery, since it appears to be of his own choosing?

-=[ Grant ]=-

Well, there's something you don't see every day.

Did you know your eye dominance can be changed? I didn't!

I recently had a problem with shots hitting several inches off my point of aim (at only 5 yards.) That's odd, I thought, it's as if I'm seeing out of my left eye. But that's impossible - I'm right eye dominant.

For some reason I did a quick dominance test, and I was shocked that it showed I was left-eye dominant! I must have done it wrong, I thought; I did the test again, and it showed the expected right eye dominance. Whew! One more time, just to be sure - darn it anyway, it came up left again. And again.

That's odd. Dominance, as I've always understood the mechanism, is neurological, not optical. Your brain simply prefers the vision from one eye or the other, and it appears to be hardwired from birth. I've always thought it to be unchanging, as most people do, yet mine had definitely changed.

Guess what? Turns out it's not as immutable as I'd believed. According to my ophthalmologist, who I called the next morning, eye dominance spontaneously changes only in a very, very small percentage of adults - usually as a symptom of an underlying neurological disorder.

Neurological disorder? Doesn't that mean...tumor?? YIKES!

As it happens, I'd had a complete physical (including a thorough eye exam by this doctor) just a couple of months ago. I had no other symptoms, and he reassured me that lack of symptoms and my recent positive tests made me an unlikely patient for surgery.

As it happens, he said, eye dominance can be trained away. The usual trick is to wear glasses with some Scotch-type tape on the lens of the dominant eye. The out-of-focus image forces the brain to use the other eye, and in time becomes used to the arrangement - thus changing the dominance.

But, I protested, I haven't put any tape on my glas....oh, wait.

For years I've worn a jeweler's loupe over my right eye. When I'm working, I swing it down so I can look through it and back up when I no longer need it. It's a hassle to swing it in and out of my vision all the time and get it perfectly aligned again, so for the last year I've just sort of looked around it instead of flipping it up. I use my left eye for distance vision, and the right when I need to do closeup work.

What I normally see in my right eye, then, out-of-focus image. It's the same as tape on the lenses, and by doing that I've unintentionally trained away my right eye dominance! At this moment I'm part of the small number of people who have no strongly dominant eye. If I continued using the loupe in that manner I'd end up strongly cross-dominant.

I immediately swapped loupe positions to force my brain to accept the right eye again. It's been a month or so, and I'm already seeing results. Once I'm back to my normal, strong right eye dominance I'll swap my beloved loupe for a binocular magnifier.

Trouble is, I hate those things! Decisions, decisions...

-=[ Grant ]=-

Packing your training trunk.

There is a concept that, in order to properly teach the use of a firearm for self-defense, one must have been in a shootout. The term most often used to describe that state is "seeing the elephant." (I'm not sure how the phrase got corrupted to mean shooting at someone, but I am sure that I find it quite annoying.)

The assertion, of course, is that only those who have drawn blood with their weapon are in a position to talk about it, and anyone else isn't worthy of attention. This harkens back to the days of the warrior caste, when knights were the privileged class and could own mere peasants who weren't supposed to voice their opinions. The same dynamic is in play today, especially amongst a certain cadre of defensive shooting instructors.

I'll admit that I've gone through an evolution with regards to this. There was a time when I thought that only experience counted, but over the years I've come to realize that experience is just another data point, and one point may or may not be adequate to promote a conclusion.

Rory Miller, whose book "Meditations On Violence"
I've already gushed over, deals with this up front. As he correctly observes, all fights are idiosyncratic - one will not necessarily be like another. While there are some characteristics that are true of a large number of incidents, there are many more that vary from encounter to encounter. As he puts it, no one person can have been in enough fights to generate enough data to make generalizations. Experience is important, he believes, but not to the exclusion of everything else.

This was brought home to me in a recent
ABC News story out of Tampa. A woman was carjacked, and successfully ended the encounter with her own gun - but not in the way you might think. She punched the assailant in the forehead with the muzzle, which caused him to jump out of her car.

She did everything wrong (starting with her beliefs about the use of deadly force), and yet she came out on top. Would you want to emulate her in any way? I would hope that you answer "no"! Imagine this, though: she could start teaching other people how to defend themselves with a gun, claiming authority based on experience. How silly would that be?

If you didn't know the nature of her experience, and/or had no other reference with which to evaluate it, it wouldn't seem silly at all. It's only when you can put her performance up against the experiences of a large number of others can you gain the perspective necessary to draw conclusions. It's what we call 'research', and is just as important as
optical observation of the genus Loxodonta.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Use-of-Force Myths.

archives over at Force Science News continue to fascinate. Issue #68 deals with several myths about the use of deadly force, myths that a large percentage of the population (regardless of their level of firearms knowledge) believe. The whole article is interesting, but it's the first myth - that of the Demonstrative Bullet - that is most immediately useful.

The article discusses the myth from the standpoint of those who judge an incident after the fact. However, the material is also of great importance to the person in the incident. The lawful user of lethal force needs to understand that bullets don't act like we see in movies, including the fact that one bullet simply isn't enough to guarantee rapid incapacitation of a determined attacker.

Belief in the "one shot stop" is prevalent at gun counters, in classrooms, and on firing ranges all over this country. The simple fact is that no handgun round - no matter what caliber or weight or velocity - will reliably incapacitate an attacker, immediately, with a single shot. It just doesn't happen all that often, which is why we need to train to put
rapid, multiple, appropriately placed shots on our target. Any time, at any realistic distance, one hand or two, in all lighting conditions, from any stance, while moving, in the rain, from behind cover or in compromised positions. Can you? Be honest with yourself.

Yes, it's a tall order, but that is the reality of the situation. I've said it before: you either acknowledge reality and use it to your advantage, or it will automatically work against you! What you can do on a nice range, in perfect lighting, after carefully working yourself into your favorite stance, isn't the same as what you will be called to do when feral man chooses you as his prey. You need to train for the latter, not the former.

Of course it's easier (and cheaper) to simply Believe, which is what most gun people choose to do. Listen, if you want to believe in the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, fine and dandy! Those things are inconsequential. Belief in the Demonstrative Bullet, on the other hand, can get you killed. Educate yourself, get relevant training, and practice.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Can you make good decisions - and would your peers agree?

The March issue of Force Science News contained a very interesting article about how police and private citizens differ in their views of "justified" shootings.

While some may see the article as having application to law enforcement only, they would be wrong - it is well worth reading because it deals with differences in perception of a critical incident, differences which are not necessarily "cops vs. civilians" but more like "trained vs. untrained."

Private citizens are both more critical of decisions to shoot, yet simultaneously less skilled in making those decisions themselves. This has grave implications for those who carry concealed weapons for self-defense; it suggests that an untrained person might shoot with less justification, while at the same time be held to scrutiny that is not commensurate with the risks of an evolving scenario.

My take on the research is that it is imperative the person carrying a defensive firearm be very well trained in the judicious use of deadly force. (Sadly, very few are.) At the same time, that person has to retain defense counsel who can educate a jury in the dynamics of a deadly encounter, so that they can judge the defendant's actions more realistically. You need to be able to show the jury what you knew, and when you knew it.

Think carefully: how's your knowledge of the judicious use of force?

-=[ Grant ]=-

Be honest with yourself.

In college I minored in music performance. Being just out of high school (read: thoroughly stupid) I thought I was a hot musician, harboring dreams of becoming a professional trumpet player. Like so many other aspiring performers I really had no idea what the world of a professional musician actually entailed, but I was absolutely sure I had what it took.

One of my professors, an accomplished professional trombonist, made it his job to bring us post-adolescents into the real world. Shortly into my freshman term, he was talking with a few of the members of the trumpet section after class. The talk turned to the requirements of a "pro", and all of us were convinced we had the Right Stuff. Our prof had heard this kind of chatter before, and bet our first chair player that he didn't yet possess the bare minimum skills necessary for the job.

Trumpet players are usually narcissistic personalities, the kind who don't back down from a fight, and the kid said "you're on!"

The prof sighed and said simply "get out your horn. I want you to blow a perfect half-note G above the staff" (trumpet players in the audience will understand.) The kid smirked, dropped his case to the floor and pulled out his horn. "Wait a minute", said our teacher. "I said a perfect G. No warmup. Just one perfect note; in tune from start to end, solid attack, no slop or waviness, crisp decay. You have one and only one shot. Go."

I shouldn't have to tell you the kid failed - miserably. Then again, none of the rest of us would have done any better. We were clueless: none of us yet knew enough to understand how much we didn't yet know.

Fast forward a few decades, and the shooting range serves up the same lesson. Georges Rahbani, "
The Best Rifle Instructor You've Never Heard Of" , has a way of impressing on his students how they should assess their own abilities:

"You are only as good as you are, on demand."

What you can do right now, without warm up or sighting shots, without excuses or alibis, is the true measure of how good you are.

This is different from how most people gauge their ability. Most folks would take their rifle to the range on a nice sunny day, settle in comfortably at the bench, fire a bunch of rounds, then shoot a 1" group. They're so proud of that group they take the target home and hang it in their garage or office. "I'm hot stuff!", they'll think - after all, they have the target to prove it!

The next day at the range it's raining, they've had a fight with their spouse, can't get comfortable on the cold bench, and now their best group doesn't even break 3". "That's not me", they'll say to themselves, "I shoot one-inch groups!" The alibis flow like PBR at a fraternity house, and serve to obscure the fact that the 3" group wasn't the anomaly - the 1" group was. The larger one is the true indicator of their skill.

It's not what someone can do when everything is going their way that shows ability; it's what they can do under suboptimal conditions that does. If a person can't shoot until getting into just the right stance, with perfect foot placement and textbook body positioning, then that person still has a lot of work to do to master the fundamentals. (I've seen people who can shoot pretty well on a concrete pad, but go all to pieces on a gravel range. They can't get into their comfort zone.)

This is one thing if we're talking about plinking, but becomes another thing entirely when the subject turns to self defense. The other guy isn't going to wait for us to get into the perfect stance we learned from our guru; we need to be able to deliver rapid, multiple, properly placed shots from whatever position the situation dictates, under whatever conditions it hands us. That requires the courage to admit to ourselves that maybe - just maybe - we aren't quite as good as we think.

Right here, right now, no warmups, no excuses - how good are you?

-=[ Grant ]=-

Wednesday wanderings.

Lots of linking to avoid thinking on my own!


Xavier recently posted a letter from - and his response to - one of his readers. The exchange (and the comments that follow) bring up important issues in the area of Second Amendment activism. It isn't always black-and-white.


When you've finished reading Xavier, pop over to Breda's place and read
this related article she posted about a month ago. (I realize it's a bit late, and I'd meant to bring it up earlier, but just kept forgetting.)


Rob Pincus is one of the more thoughtful trainers working today. He's got a great post up on the Breach-Bang-Clear blog about
putting techniques on pedestals. Highly recommended read.


Speaking of Rob, I discovered that he has a
blog of his own. Good stuff.


Not just techniques get put on pedestals; equipment does too. There are the 1911 people, the Glock folks, the "any caliber as long as it begins with '4' " crowd, and so on. I suppose one could accuse me of doing the same thing with wheelguns (retro pedestal?), but I'm on record as saying - more than once - that the revolver isn't the perfect tool for everyone and every purpose.

For example, a number of years ago I was engaged in an activity of some risk. For that, I forsook my beloved revolver for a Glock and all the high capacity magazines I could fit under a suit coat. I believe in picking the right tool for the job; it just so happens that, for some jobs, the revolver is at least one of the right tools.


Rejoice! Tam has finally posted a
new article over at The Arms Room. (I was beginning to think she'd given up writing about guns...)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Facing your demons.

I used to love shooting steel. The plates dropping, the loud "clang" from a Steel Challenge target - no matter what the venue, reactive metal targets are just addicting. This addiction, I discovered, can be broken - even if you don't want to!

A number of years back I was shooting a Steel Challenge-type match. On one stage I was watching someone else shoot when a piece of bullet jacket bounced back from the steel plate, sneaked around my safety glasses, and caught the corner of my eye. (Mine was not the only injury that day - my buddy Hunter Dan suffered a leg cut from shrapnel, and another fellow caught a piece on his cheek.)

My physical damage was minor - lots of blood, though no permanent damage - but the psychological impact was greater than I could have imagined. You see, I'm somewhat paranoid about my eyesight to begin with; always have been. I don't like the thought of anything heading straight for my eyeball, let alone touching it. (In the old days, when glaucoma exams meant a little pressure gauge touching the cornea, having my eyes checked was absolute agony.)

This close call with the jagged piece of copper left me more than a little skittish around steel targets. Ever since then, regardless of size or distance of the target, shooting a steel plate causes me to blink just as the sear releases. (The problem never occurs on paper targets, only steel.) I can't help it, and I shouldn't have to point out that it makes hitting the target more than a little challenging!

Early last year I resolved to cure this affliction. I'm lucky to have a range on my own property, and last year I acquired a self-resetting, half sized Pepper Popper. Whenever I go out to shoot, I make it a point to do so on that target first. I shoot it repeatedly, and with every shot I consciously force my eyes to remain open.

The first few times I tried this were pathetic; no matter how hard I concentrated, my eyelids always won by doing what they're designed to do - protect my eyes. As time went on, and the round count increased, it became easier to keep them open, though I still have to do it consciously as opposed to subconsciously. (The latter will only occur when my mind has been retrained to accept the idea that shooting a steel target is perfectly safe, and that nothing will happen to my precious eyesight. I'm still working on it.)

I could have just ignored the whole issue and simply avoided shooting steel targets, but a) it's not practical - they show up in the most unexpected places, and b) it's not very much fun. Instead I decided to address the issue, and I'm hoping to be in shape to finally shoot a steel match again this summer.

Whether sports, music, or martial arts, if all you ever do is practice stuff that you've already mastered you'll never make progress. When you go to the range, work on those things that you don't do well. By facing your demons with your eyes open and brain engaged, you can eventually conquer them.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Risk assessment, or lack thereof.

I meet many people who possess concealed handgun licenses, but don't carry on a regular basis - let alone every day. The explanation is usually something along the lines of "I carry when I'm in a bad area" or "if I'm going into a situation where I'm more likely to need it, I'll take my gun". There are myriad variations, but the excuse always boils down to confusions between likelihood and consequence.

Likelihood (probability of attack) is variable. Yes, there are areas (and times) in which one is more likely to be attacked. This is what most people base their carry habits on: the less likely they are to be attacked (the lower the probability), the less compulsion they feel to carry a firearm.

While likelihood changes,
consequence doesn't. Consequence refers to the impact on the victim of an attack; consequence is a level, a magnitude. An attack that justifies the involvement of a personally carried firearm is, by definition, of extreme magnitude and thus high consequence. For such incidents, consequence is a constant - it is the same for all times and places. Thus, the necessity of response is the same.

The problem is that most people base their carry habits not on consequence, but on likelihood. I'm not sure of the reason, but perhaps it is societal: we have a tendency to defer issues of consequence to others, because facing them is unpleasant. Dealing only with likelihood allows people to focus on the pleasant (the probability is, after all, that everything will be fine) rather than dwelling on the unpleasant.

Acknowledging the consequences of an attack is frightening to a lot of people; not only do they have to contemplate their own death or injury, they also have to consider that of their opponent. It's ultimately about mortality, and that is more than many people can handle.

You'd think that the possession of a carry license would mean that the person had considered these issues, at least minimally. My experience says otherwise. Even serious gun enthusiasts seem to only face up to the realities of consequence when they have to, which is why even they don't carry all the times that they could.

Are you basing your carry habits on likelihood or consequence? If the former, you're not as safe as you believe yourself to be.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Is that gun loaded, and do I really care?

In the comments to
last week's post regarding safety rules, someone asked why checking the condition of a firearm is never listed in any rules. It seems logical enough - why not check the condition of a gun when you pick it up?

I'd like you to think about that for a minute -
really think: why are you checking it?

If you plan to shoot it immediately, I can understand wanting to make certain that it was loaded. If you were going to disassemble it for cleaning, or do dryfire, or some other specific task that would require it to be sans ammunition, I understand why you'd want to verify that it was unloaded. But checking just to be checking? I'm not sure that it keeps anyone safer.

Other than those obvious examples, I can't come up with a good reason for someone to obsess about the load condition of a gun - unless it's because, consciously or unconsciously, they want or plan to do something unsafe.

Look at it this way: why are you verifying the condition if you're just going to pretend it's loaded anyhow? The answer seems to be quite obvious: because you're not really going to treat it as though it's loaded, and the reason you're not going to is because, deep down, you want to do something that you know isn't all that safe.

When I'm handed a gun, unless I'm going to do something that requires a particular state, I don't feel a need to immediate check it. Why? Because I treat all guns to the same standard:

Never point a gun - any gun, loaded or unloaded - at anything you are not willing to shoot.

Keep your finger out of the triggerguard until you are ready to fire.

Know where your shots will land and what they’ll touch along the way.

I'm not going to point that gun at anything I'm not willing to shoot, regardless of whether it's loaded; I'm not going to have my finger on the trigger, either, loaded or not. I don't make exceptions, because the Three Commandments neither contain nor allow exceptions. That is why they are superior to any form of the existing "Four Rules."

There's yet another dynamic at work, which I've observed over the years with a wide variety of people. Those who do the habitual check often display an absolutely frightening tendency: after they've checked the gun, they relax. Visibly. You can see the changes in their body language and facial expressions, showing that they are now at ease - and less vigilant - with that firearm.

I've seen this with new gun owners, and I've seen it with the most experienced instructors. I've seen it with combat vets and with gunsmiths, with gunstore jockeys and seasoned competitive shooters. People check the gun, see that it's empty, and drop their guard. The situation is obvious to anyone who has the courage to look for the signs. You can almost hear them thinking: "don't worry, it's not loaded!"

(Of course, not every single person does this - but you'd be surprised, when you start looking, how large the percentage is and how it cuts across all levels of experience.)

When people are handling firearms, I want to see them completely engaged. Dropping one's guard because the gun has been verified as empty is the genesis of negligent discharges. Never become complacent - the consequences are simply too great.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Yes, I'm repeating myself.

written about this before, but it's getting worse. All across this country are people standing behind gun counters who need to be taught that women are people, too.

I've lost track of the number of times I've run into a woman who was
sold (as opposed to deciding to buy) a revolver for self defense. Now it should be pretty clear to even the densest web denizen that this is a revolver-friendly blog, so it should not come as a shock that I think revolvers are a great tool.

They are not necessarily, however, the right tool.
As I mentioned last week, the revolver is the easiest gun in the world to shoot, but the most difficult gun to shoot well. That long, heavy (in stock configuration) trigger requires a certain amount of hand strength, without which the gun cannot be fired.

Herein lies the problem: the female of the species, in general, tends to have less strength in her digits than does the male. It's not unusual, therefore, to find a woman saddled with a brand-new revolver on which she cannot manipulate the trigger. I've seen countless numbers of women who actually have to use two fingers to get the trigger moving!

It's not so much a matter of gun fit (though that enters into the equation far too often), but simply the trigger offering more resistance than a slim finger is capable of overcoming. In reality most women would really be better served with the shorter, lighter trigger action of an autoloading pistol, but the wisdom of the gunstore commando is that autoloaders are just "too complicated for the little lady."

Hey, Bubba, I've got news for you: women actually drive cars these days! Yes, automobiles, with their myriad switches and levers and pedals and buttons. Women have no problem figuring those things out, yet you think they can't handle the concept of a slide stop lever?

The usual rejoinder is that women don't have the upper body strength to manipulate the slide of an autoloader. This is fact turned on it's side to bolster a flawed assumption; yes, women tend not to have our arm strength, but that deficiency can be rendered immaterial through proper technique. It's a simple matter, and nearly any female (and a more enlightened male) firearms instructor can teach it inside of thirty seconds.

This whole issue wouldn't bother me so much - and I wouldn't be writing about it again - but the inferiority attitude is so pervasive that some women are themselves buying into the notion that they're not "capable" of handling an autoloader. I've actually had students to whom I've taught the autoloader manipulation techniques (and who've shot very well with one) go out and end up with a revolver. Not because they wanted one, mind you, but because some dolt behind a counter convinced her that it was all she could handle.

Mind you, I'm not some new-age "sensitive man". I'm as big a neanderthal as the next guy; I believe that women and men are different, and you can thank your favorite deity for the difference! I'm just tired of people assuming that my wife, sisters, nieces, and mother are so stupid that they can't handle a simple mechanical device. I'm annoyed that they are doing their level best to indoctrinate women to this nonsensical point of view, and I'm appalled that it actually seems to be gaining some traction among women themselves!

I don't have a prescription for this problem, other than to continue to educate every person - man or woman - I run across. If that means I repeat myself every so often, I'm willing to do so. I hope you'll forgive me!

Yes, revolvers are wonderful, but they're not for everyone. We need to help people to make intelligent decisions, and if that means they choose a self-shucker, so be it. Heretical? No, just realistic.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Guns are not magic wands.

There is a perception amongst a large percentage of the gun-toting public that guns are magic wands: one shot and the bad guy flies backward, landing in an unconscious heap at the bottom of a wall or tree.

Think I'm exaggerating? Spend a few minutes at a gun counter sometime. Random samples would tend to support the supposition that the majority of people carrying guns get their information from Hollywood, not

This incident from east Texas should serve to remind us that real life ain't like "reel" life.

There are, of course, a number of unanswered questions: was the good guy's gun not adequate for effective defense? Was he not able to draw and shoot in time? Did he make an effort to "get off the X" or did he simply "stand and deliver"?

We don't know. Sadly, we may never know. All we do know is that something went horribly wrong, leaving the good guy six feet under and the bad guy getting three hots and a cot.

Let's review how to avoid the same fate:

1) Select a gun and cartridge that are suitable for self defense. (At the risk of tooting my own horn,
read my series on this topic.)

2) Learn how to be aware of your surroundings (it most assuredly does not come naturally to modern man); study and memorize the precursors to violent attacks.

3) Practice drawing and shooting from your holster; don't carry your gun in an unaccessible place, and
carry it the same way all the time.

4) Break the habit of just standing and shooting; learn to get off the axis of a violent attack. (This is not the old "take one step to the side and shoot" exercise - it is far more dynamic. Love him or hate him,
Gabe Suarez has been preaching this for many years, and only now does the concept seem to be gaining traction.)

5) Understand that one shot is quite unlikely to do the job, and that the old "two shots center of mass, then evaluate" doctrine may just give your opponent the opening he needs. Learn how to quickly put multiple, accurate shots on target - while moving.

6) Understand that you can do everything "right", and still lose. This is a concept that seems to be lost to even the best instructors: luck plays a huge role in survival. Do everything you can to put as much of it on your side as possible.

Be careful, stay safe.

-=[ Grant ]=-

My muckraking safety articles

I've been asked to provide a permanent link to my articles on the failings of gun safety rules. Happy to oblige; I've added them to the Library as well.

The original article: "On Safety"
Followup article: "Following the safety rules religiously"

Please read them and consider them carefully. Of course, I'm always happy to hear comments from readers!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Illustrating the concept

A reader sent me
this link to an old Richard Davis "Second Chance" video. The video has Davis shooting a fellow - who is wearing one of Davis' vests, of course - with a .308 rifle and himself with a .44 magnum revolver. The reader's comment was "if this doesn't show an energy dump, I don't know what it shows."

I agree. With the second part of the statement, at least. Going back to our
"Stopping power" series, as I pointed out the term "energy dump" is nonsensical - energy isn't "dumped", it is used to do work.

What is the work in this case?

First, I can guarantee that the bullet itself was grossly deformed in its contact with the vest material. It takes energy to deform the bullet, and that energy only comes from one place: the bullet itself.

Second, there is a huge amount of work being done by that slug. It is trying to part and sever the fibers in the vest material, which are quite tough and designed to resist such force. The bullet does manage to defeat some of the fibers - which is why it's buried between the layers of cloth - but the energy required to do that job, again and again (there are many layers in a vest) rapidly depletes the bullet's stored energy. The result is that all of the energy is used up doing the work of penetrating the vest.

Again, the bullet's energy wasn't "dumped" - it was used. Understand the difference, and terminal ballistics won't seem so mysterious.

(Notice also the second myth busted in the video: that a bullet has enough energy to knock a man down. As you can see, even full-power .308 NATO, at near contact distance, isn't sufficient to knock over a man standing on one foot. Again, there is nothing mysterious at work - simply basic physics.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

The "Holster of the Week" Club

Last week I promised a story. I heard this from "the horse's mouth", and if you knew this particular horse the story would not surprise you...

Anyhow, I happen to know a fellow (I'll call him "Ted") who, back in the '70s
, was a Detective in a very large eastern police department. He had just been promoted from patrol, which meant that for the first time in his career he got to dress in plainclothes.

Ted and his more experienced partner were headed to lunch one day. They worked in a not terribly good part of town, and picked a restaurant in the vicinity of their last call. They pulled up in front of the restaurant, just behind a taxicab.

As they were exiting their unmarked vehicle a male climbed out of the cab ahead of them. He drew what Ted described as "a chrome-plated automatic", and started firing at another person who was still in the back seat of the cab.

(Allow me to digress as I explain that Ted, taking advantage of his now much looser dress requirements, had taken to wearing all manner of holsters. He alternated between a shoulder holster, crossdraw, strong side hip, appendix, and even ankle. He made the decision about which one to wear almost on a whim each morning. I'm sure you're beginning to see where this is going.)

Ted, who was exiting on the curb side of the vehicle, was in direct line of sight of the suspect. Being the gung-ho young cop that he was, he yelled "police, freeze!" as he reached for his gun. The perp turned toward the source of the command, and seeing two witnesses in suits raised his pistol in their direction and started firing.

Here's where the story gets interesting: Ted habitually reached for the spot where his uniform belt had always placed his gun. Of course, it wasn't there! I wish I could convey the level of comical panic that he did, but the gist is that he started patting himself all over, trying to find his gun while at the same time diving for cover behind his car door. "I couldn't remember where my gun was," he exclaimed to me. "I suddenly had the horrible thought that maybe I'd left it on my dresser!"

In the meantime his older and wiser partner simply drew his "snubby" revolver from the crossdraw holster he always used, and proceeded to drop said perp in his tracks. Ted found his gun just in time to help clean up the mess.

Ted told me that this incident convinced him to carry his gun in the same holster and in the same place every day. His advice to me was that I should do likewise - and I always do.

A firefight, gentle readers, is not the time to try to remember where you put your gun, or where your bullets are landing relative to your sights. Standardize on your load and your holster, and practice regularly so that you can quickly draw and reliably put your shots where they need to go!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 9

(For convenience, you can access all the installments at this link.)

Stick with what works

You've all heard of the "Gun of the Week" club, right? That's the term used to describe an "enthusiast", the guy (gals are too smart to engage in such nonsense) who carries or competes with a different gun every time he goes out. (Closely related is the "Holster of the Week" club. I'll post an amusing story about that, soon.)

There is also the "Bullet of the Week" club. Some folks read the gun magazines assiduously, loading up with the latest and greatest "stopper" from the current issue. The next issue (or possibly a competing magazine) tells them about yet another new bullet, and off to their gunstore’s ammo shelves they go!

There are problems with this approach. Aside from the fact that one is unlikely to see any major performance differences between modern designs from major makers, there is a reliability issue. If you're shooting an autoloader (an affliction which elicits my sincere sympathies), you need to fire a minimum number of rounds - some say as many as 200 - of your chosen ammunition to ensure reliability. That's a lot of ammunition to buy and shoot every time you change loads!

Even with a revolver, you should shoot a some of that ammo to ensure ignition reliability in your gun, especially if you've had action work performed.

The other issue is with the sights on your gun. Fixed sights, as featured on both revolvers and autos, will not shoot all ammunition to the same point of aim, necessitating on-the-fly windage or elevation corrections. Trying to remember whether this week's ammunition choice shoots up or down, right or left, relative to the sights is hard enough. Imagine trying to do that with someone lobbing rounds into your personal airspace!

If you have fixed sights, you should regulate them to match the load you'll be using - then use that load, and only that load, for "serious" use in that gun. If for some reason you change the standard load for that gun, have the sights adjusted to shoot to point-of-aim for that load.

That's why I say "stick with what works." Pick a decent load that proves itself to be reliable in your gun, have the sights regulated properly, and just use it. Constantly switching between different bullets gains you nothing, and may in fact cost you in a dynamic self-defense incident. Pick one load, practice with it, and use only that bullet in that particular gun.

I go even further - I've standardized on one load for all my .38/.357 guns, and I've regulated all of them to shoot that load. That way, I don't have to maintain a huge stock of ammunition to fit a bunch of different guns.

I think this finally does it for the "Self defense, stopping power, and caliber" series. I'm just about "talked out"! I hope that it has given you some insight into the task of selecting a gun/cartridge for your self defense needs.

Stay safe, make sensible choices, and practice. It's all you can do - but, as it happens, all you can do is enough!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 8

(For convenience, you can access all the installments
at this link.)

"So, smarty pants - what caliber should I get?"

I receive many emails asking, in essence, what the "best" self-defense caliber might be. (Those emails, in fact, have served as the motivation behind this series.) The correspondents are probably expecting sage advice, the wisdom of years, a sort of Ballistic Oracle. What they get is a non-committal "it depends!"

If you take nothing else from this series, take this: there is no such thing as "best" - there is only "suitability for purpose."

Why is that? As we learned in the first parts, there is a pretty large envelope - caliber, weight, and velocity - of performance criteria that have shown themselves to work well. Thus, any cartridge you select within that envelope is likely to do the job, as long as you do yours.

That's the most important part: that the gun in question enables you to do your job. It is the first place you should start. You need to be honest with yourself, accurately assess what you can and cannot handle. Remember that a self-defense scenario often will call for multiple, rapid, precisely-placed shots. Can you do that with the guns that you're considering?
Really? Be honest with yourself!

I see many people who are talked into a gun that is touted as a "better stopper", but who are unable to handle it to the standards given above. Most of this is technique, and technique can be learned, but everyone has some upper limit. Remember: only accurate hits count, and you should strive to maximize your hit potential. As we've explored, power is irrelevant if it doesn't get to something important!

Once you've passed that hurdle, the choices almost make themselves. In any given cartridge, if you pick a hollowpoint load in the middle of the caliber's normal weight range, you'll generally have most of what you need. There are exceptions, of course: at the lowest ends of the energy spectrum (say, standard .38 Specials) penetration becomes an issue, so you should tend to the heavier rounds. At the other end (the heavy magnums), the more powerful loads often need lighter bullets to limit penetration and enhance expansion.

For everything else, stay away from the lightest and heaviest bullets, pick a decent hollowpoint, and you'll most likely be just fine.

The most important part of this whole selection process is to practice with the load that you've chosen. If the cartridge/gun combination is "too much" for you to do so, that's a sign that you need to pick something else. You need to practice with your safety/rescue equipment, and if you can't or don't want to, then you will be less prepared to face a deadly encounter. The old trick of practicing with Specials while carrying Magnums on the street has been thoroughly discredited, because it doesn't allow the user to get used to the dramatic difference in handling between the two.

(This isn't to say that you have to do all your training this way; I do a lot of work with light loads when I'm diagnosing a trigger control issue, or to help develop a specific skill. When I've got them down, though, I switch to my carry load and train extensively with that.)

So, what do I carry? Most of the time, I load up the trusted and proven .38 Special +P 158 grain all lead semi-wadcutter hollowpoint. I've spoken with many people who have actually used this load against an adversary, and to a person they were all very satisfied with the ballistic effect. Massad Ayoob tells me that his research showed police agencies who switched from that load to hot autoloading cartridges did so not to get "better" bullets, but to get "more bullets." I'm confident in it's abilities, and in my ability to handle the cartridge from any gun under any conditions.

This is a conscious tradeoff. For instance, I really like the .44 Special. It's a great round, but in a concealable gun I just don't handle it as well as other calibers. In fact, a hot .357 Magnum from a Ruger SP101 is easier for me to control than a .44 Special from a small gun, and I consider the Magnum to be too much for delivering multiple, rapid, combat-accurate hits on target. I like the .357 too, but I have to admit to myself that if I want to shoot as efficiently as possible, it’s not the wise choice.

I've picked the most effective round that falls within my personal limitations and practice with it extensively. I think that is the most rational way to approach this whole topic!

Next time, we'll explore some less obvious considerations when picking your "ideal" self defense cartridge.

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-

Series index: "Self defense, stopping power, and caliber"

Here's the whole series for your perusal!

Part 1: Introducing the Twin Tasks.
Part 2: If it doesn't get somewhere, it can't do something.
Part 3: Once it gets there, it has to do work.
Part 4: The bullet is more important than the caliber.
Part 5: More energy can be a good thing - as long as it actually does something useful.
Part 6: What would I want with a reputation?
Part 7: There Is No Such Thing as a Magic Bullet.
Part 8: "So, smarty pants - what gun should I get?"
Part 9: Stick with what works.

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 7

(For convenience, you can access all the installments
at this link.)

There Is No Such Thing as a Magic Bullet

What does that mean, you ask?

One of the last bastions of the snake oil salesman is in the field of ammunition promotion. Claims that would make Professor Harold Hill blush are the norm, and are repeated in gunstores, shooting ranges, and deer camps across the country. They sometimes even make their way into magazines and the internet - though the latter's instant exchange of information has helped to quell the worst of the hyperbole.

Still, many hold on to their belief in "magic bullets" hoping that there really exists something that will transform their .25ACP into an elephant killer. (I exaggerate, of course, but one ammo maker used to claim that their product for the little .25 had the same "one shot stop" percentage as a .45. That, my friends, is a true belief in magic.)

Like many fables, the legend of the Magic Bullet has its roots in reality. As Arthur C. Clarke said, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." In the bullet world, that advanced technology is the hollowpoint bullet.

The hollowpoint, as we've learned, is a good mechanism to control the penetration and wound profile of any given cartridge. Sometimes, it can work what seems like a miracle - transforming an otherwise unremarkable cartridge into a respectable "stopper."

One of the best examples of this is the .30 M1 Carbine cartridge. Many servicemen had experience with the little Carbine in World War II and Korea, and they either loved it or hated it. Those that hated it often complained about a lack of "stopping power" - enemies who were hit often didn't go down with alacrity. (Some even claimed that the rounds "bounced off" the heavy wool coats worn by the opposition. That wasn't true, and was easily shown as such, but when someone is running toward you screaming his head off a lack of convincing ballistic effect makes the distinction unimportant.)

The .30 Carbine, as it turns out, is a penetrator. Its sleek bullet usually went straight through the target, making a quick-closing wound and doing little damage along the way. (Sound familiar?) After the war, one of the ammo makers got the bright idea of stuffing a semi-jacketed hollowpoint into the casing. When they did that, the entire complexion of the carbine changed.

The penetration was now more controlled, and the expanded bullet had a much larger frontal area that did more damage along its path. So changed was the round that Jim Cirillo, the famous member of the New York Stakeout Squad, proclaimed it one of the two most effective weapons in their entire arsenal - the other being the formidable 12 gauge shotgun. High praise indeed!

He wasn't the only one who made note of the "enhanced" Carbine. The late Gene Wolburg, wound ballistics expert and one of the most knowledgeable people in the field, once said that his home defense weapon of choice was the M1 Carbine loaded with that semi-jacketed hollowpoint.

It may have seemed like magic to the servicemen who had bad experiences with the round, but the effect of the hollowpoint loading was simple physics. It did its job better - it just happened to be a lot better.

A "magic bullet", in contrast, appears to violate the laws of physics, or so skews its sales copy that you think it does. For instance, magic bullet purveyors play up the "energy" of their load, to the exclusion of everything else.

Energy is the result of multiplying the mass of the projectile by the square of it's velocity. Without boring you with the math, what that means is that a small change in velocity makes a big change in the energy of the projectile. In other words, if you drop the projectile weight you can up the velocity, which will make a big increase in energy figures. Sounds great, right?

As we've already studied, energy isn't everything. A light projectile might be moving very quickly, but when it contacts solid matter it loses velocity quickly. That translates into shallow wounds. (Remember the last installment, where we looked at the .357 Magnum? Same thing, only worse.) A projectile needs weight as well as velocity in order to penetrate well, and if you sacrifice enough weight for more speed, you'll fail at the First Task: reaching something important.

Exotic bullets that claim to do something others can't should set off your B.S. detector. Any cartridge that proclaims a "massive energy dump" as the wounding mechanism or pushes velocity over everything else is probably vying for a magic bullet award. Personally, I'm not going to trust my life to that kind of ammo!

What I'm getting at (and have been for this entire series) is that there is nothing mysterious, nothing magical about the way a bullet works. It has to get to something important, and it has to do rapid and significant damage when it gets there. That's it. Any claims that seem to skate around the topic should be looked at with great skepticism, for there is truly no such thing as a "magic bullet."

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 6

(For convenience, you can access all the installments of this series
at this link.)

"What would I want with a reputation? That's a good way to get yourself killed!" - Jason McCullough, "Support Your Local Sheriff" (my favorite movie of all time!)

What about "reputation"? Some cartridges or loadings have reputations for better effectiveness than others. Sometimes that's valid, but other times it may not be.

Let's take the mighty .357 Magnum, one of my favorite cartridges. The 125 grain semi-jacketed hollowpoint loads have the reputation of being superbly effective; some believe that they are the "best" manstoppers ever made. I've talked with people who have actually used them in real shootings, and they were generally very happy with the performance.

But there are also instances of stupendous failures. For those who hold that energy is everything, this may come as a shock. How could all that power possibly fail? Simple - if it doesn't do both of the Twin Tasks!

Let's consider what happens with the 125 grain Magnum loads. Leaving the barrel at nearly 1500 feet per second, the bullet enters the target with a huge reserve of energy. As the hollowpoint fills with fluid and starts to expand it uses up some of that energy to grow dramatically in diameter. The increase in diameter means more resistance in the tissues, which uses more energy and further slows the bullet. Because the relatively light weight of the slug doesn't have great momentum, and thus not a lot of stored energy, it doesn't travel very far before it finally runs out of steam. The result can be a shallow wound - one which doesn't reach something the body finds important.

This is the "ugly secret" that proponents of the .357 125 grain JHP don't want to talk about. Shallow wound profiles with these "barn burner" loads are not unheard of, and occasionally prove to not be as effective as expected. As one noted trainer once told me, when they work they’re superb - but when they fail, they fail spectacularly!

Suppose you've decided that you'd prefer something a bit more predictable, but want to retain the performance level of the round - what’s the solution? Simply go to a slightly heavier bullet, one which carries a tad less velocity and a bit more momentum. Winchester, for instance, has the 145 grain Silvertip bullet, and Speer is now making a 135 grain Gold Dot Magnum load. Both are obviously designed to retain the Magnum's reputation as a fight-ender, but do so on a more consistent basis.

This is a good illustration of the tradeoffs involved in cartridge selection. Speed isn't everything; bullet size isn't everything; bullet weight isn't everything. It's a combination, a concert of all of those (plus good handling qualities as defined by the shooter) that make a round effective. One can't simply say "I've got a Magnum" or "I carry a .45" and smugly claim that one has the "perfect" self defense gun. While it may work, there is always the chance that it may not; handguns, after all, are underpowered things.

Through intelligent selection, you can dramatically improve the performance envelope of your chosen gun, regardless of the cartridge it shoots.

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 5

(For convenience, you can access all the installments of this series
at this link.)

More energy can be a good thing - as long as it actually does something useful.

Last time we discussed the concept of the hollowpoint as a way to increase the frontal diameter of the bullet in the target. I also introduced the idea that it takes energy to expand the bullet, energy that is also needed to push the projectile into something that it needs to reach.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. If we want the bullet to expand, it doesn't happen by magic. Somewhere the energy has to be found to deform the metal used in the bullet, and that energy can only be found in the bullet's own movement. If there is too little to start with, there won't be enough to carry the bullet on its path.

If the cartridge has insufficient energy the expanding bullet will stop forward movement too rapidly, resulting in very shallow wounds that may or may not be effective. This tends to explain the lack of expanding bullets for the venerable .38 Special cartridge - there just isn't enough energy to drive a bullet deeply into the target
and expand it at the same time.

How do we get around this problem? Well, the first alternative is to simply switch to a cartridge with more energy. In the case of the .38, we could bump up to the .357 Magnum. The .357 certainly has enough energy! Of course, that energy reserve comes at a price: greatly increased recoil and muzzle blast, which reduce the shooter’s ability to deliver multiple combat-accurate shots.

The other alternative is to make a higher energy version of the cartridge we already have. This time-tested approach results in what's know as "+P" ammunition, which is the designation for a cartridge loaded beyond what is considered "normal" pressure. The idea is to increase the energy delivery of that cartridge to accomplish a specific task. Generally, it works pretty well!

You'll see criticisms on the internet of some +P loadings, usually centered on the idea that "it's not much of an increase in power." If you consider what we've explored in this series so far, you'll realize that it doesn't have to be a "lot" - it just has to be "enough"! If a cartridge at normal pressure can't quite deliver an expanding bullet to where it needs to, but a +P version does, then that is sufficient for the task at hand.

Remember: if the energy doesn't do something useful, then it is wasted from our perspective.

Get away from the idea that you need vast increases in power for defensive applications. You simply need
enough power to perform the Twin Tasks. Is it better to have a large reserve amount of energy on tap? That's a question that only you can answer, after being honest about your own abilities and needs. Everything comes at a price and needs to be considered relative to the goal at hand.

In the next installment we'll bring together the things we've discussed, and look at the tradeoffs you need to consider to pick your "ideal" self defense cartridge.

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 4

(For convenience, you can access all the installments of this series
at this link.)

The bullet is more important than the caliber.

We know that our bullet needs to do damage to whatever important thing it manages to find. How, exactly, is that going to occur? It just so happens that most animal tissue (including that of the violent felon who has just attacked you) is remarkably elastic, and consequently difficult to damage. Most tissues have a tendency to "close up" around puncture wounds, in the same way that they close up after a hypodermic needle withdraws. If they didn't, every time our doctor gave us an injection we’d spring a leak!

The upshot (pardon the pun) of this is that our bullet needs to die-cut or crush the tissues in its path rather than sliding cleanly through. The reputation of the old .38 Special 158 grain round nose bullet as a "widow maker" was well deserved, as it often went in one side and out the other with very little blood loss. That smooth, aerodynamic profile travels through water-filled tissue about as cleanly as through air, for all the same reasons. It neatly parts that tissue in a way that facilitates immediate closure and minimal blood loss. In our self-defense scenario, that's what's known as "A Bad Thing."

In fact, round nose (or "ball") ammunition is an unremarkable performer in just about any caliber; "they all fall to hardball" is right up there with "the check is in the mail" for statements you should never believe, no matter how authoritatively (read: arrogantly) delivered.

If we can get a bullet to cut or crush a non-closing hole in the target, we stand a better chance of doing the kind of work necessary to cause that target to stop in its tracks.

The amount of disruption that a handgun bullet delivers to the target is dependent on its shape/construction and on the overall diameter (caliber.) A shape that encourages efficient travel through the target is to be avoided; a shape that is non-aerodynamic will generally produce the kind of result that we seek. All other things being equal, flat-faced bullets usually beat pointy bullets.

(Personally, I pay more attention to bullet construction than caliber. Hunting and shooting experience, plus a lot of research with those more knowledgeable in the field of wound ballistics, has convinced me that there is more variation in effectiveness within calibers than between them. In other words, you're more likely to see performance differences by changing your bullet type, rather than changing calibers. )

This isn't news to any old-timers out there! Hunters in bygone days were always told to use flat-pointed bullets over round-nosed varieties, because they delivered more "shock" to the quarry. That was their non-scientific way of explaining why the bullets obviously performed differently, and what they lacked in technical understanding was more than compensated by their acute observations.

Of course there just isn't a free lunch; those flat bullets don't usually work in autoloading actions, and they make speed reloading of a revolver more difficult. There is an answer: the expanding bullet. We can actually enhance the terminal results by using a bullet (usually a hollowpoint of some sort) that grows in diameter as it goes through the target.

A hollowpoint bullet works because, as it enters the target, it expands to a greater-than-caliber frontal diameter and assumes a very flat-faced shape. This means that the bullet can crush a much larger hole than normally possible for the caliber, ensuring the kind of target damage necessary to complete the task at hand.

There are, of course, issues in making these things perform as desired: first, the work of deforming the bullet takes energy. This energy can only be come from the bullet itself, which means there is that much less available to enable the bullet to continue its travel. Second, the resulting increase in drag from that wide face also uses energy at a tremendous rate, and thus also drastically limits penetration. Because of these factors, shallow wounds from hollowpoint bullets are not at all unheard of, both in hunting and in self defense.

The solution is to a) use a different cartridge that has enough energy to spare to begin with, or b) increase the energy of the existing cartridge. We'll tackle those issues next time!

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 3

(For convenience, you can access all the installments of this series
at this link.)

Once it gets there, it has to do work.

In today's installment, we're going to look at the second of the Twin Tasks:

2) The bullet has to do rapid and significant damage to that thing when it arrives.

It may not be self evident, but kinetic (moving) energy is either used or conserved (stored.) In the case of a bullet, it starts being used simply by fighting the friction caused by traveling through the air. Unless it encounters a target, the bullet will use all of its energy in flight and gravity will pull it to the ground. We're interested in using that energy for lawful purposes before it's wasted in the atmosphere!

I usually refer to the second Task as "doing work", because that's exactly what is expected of the bullet. From the perspective of the target, the kinetic energy in a bullet can only do one of two things: it can be used to do work, or it can be wasted beyond the target.

(There is no such thing as an "energy dump" in a target, no matter how many times you see that nonsensical term. The energy does some sort of work, whether doing damage to tissue or pushing the bullet through the air. The bullet may use up all of the energy available, and stop inside the target, but it doesn't "dump" anything. The energy in such an event is depleted in expansion/deformation and in forward movement, both of which are work. Whether or not the work performed was useful to the goal depends on what it encountered along the way, which brings us back to the First Task.)

As the bullet traverses the target, its energy is used to push it through material more dense than the air it previously encountered. The amount of energy used in this endeavor is dependent upon the shape of the bullet; the more streamlined the projectile, the smaller the frontal profile, the less energy is expended in pushing it through the target. Conversely, the "flatter" the bullet profile, the more energy is necessary to move it through.

Think of a rowboat paddle - easy to move through the water edge first, much harder face first. If the bullet expands in the target, some of the energy is used to deform the bullet itself, and the rest is used to push the much larger, flatter profile through the target. In some cases, it uses up all its energy trying to get through the target and never makes it out the other side. This is why, as we touched on in Part 2, penetration can be controlled through the use of an expanding bullet.

At some point, we hope that the bullet finds something that the body deems immediately necessary for function - and disrupts that functioning. That item could be structural (skeletal) - where disruption causes collapse; It could be electrical, where interruption of signals causes instantaneous nervous system malfunction; or it could be vascular (plumbing), where large leaks cause a loss of pressure that eventually results in unconsciousness.

Whichever system is compromised, the bullet needs to use some of its energy to do the necessary work of disruption. This is why I say that the bullet has to do rapid and significant damage to something when it arrives; if it gets there, but has so little energy left that it is incapable of inflicting necessary damage, then it is nearly as if it had not gotten there to begin with.

(This is not to suggest that the bullet's wound in such a case is benign or trivial! Remember, we have a task for that bullet to accomplish; if it doesn't do so in the necessary time frame, then it is useless to us. The classic example is the attacker shot with a .22 but still able to complete his assault. He might die of peritonitis a few days later, proving that the wound is not unimportant. However, it didn't complete our goal of stopping the criminal before he could harm an innocent, making it irrelevant to our situation. Keep the goal in mind!)

Now that we understand the Twin Tasks, we'll take a look at the mechanisms by which all this might be accomplished. Until next time!

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 2

(For convenience, you can access all the installments of this series
at this link.)

If it doesn't get somewhere, it can't do something.

OK, so we know about the Twin Tasks, the two things that a bullet has to do in order to stop an attacker:

1) It has to get to something the body finds immediately important, and
2) It has to do rapid and significant damage to that thing when it arrives.

Today we'll be taking a look at Task #1: getting to something important.

Let's start by pointing out that the user of the bullet must be capable of putting it on a course that will lead it to something important. If the cartridge in question presents too much of a challenge for the shooter to handle with the requisite accuracy, it doesn't make any difference how "good" the cartridge is! Since a single shot is unlikely to incapacitate an attacker, a shooter needs to be able to control their gun for multiple, combat-accurate shots.

This is only given lip service by trainers and enthusiasts; they'll repeat the mantra "a hit with a .22 is better than a miss with a .45", then in the same breath give some arbitrary limit on "acceptable" calibers for self defense. Folks, there are people in this world who do not wish to, or simply cannot, practice to become proficient with a "correct" caliber. When the time comes that they need the weapon, wouldn't it be better that they possess a bullet that they can send where it really needs to go? Of course!

Step One, then, is pick a cartridge that is within your ability to control for random strings of fire - two, three, four rounds at a time.

Once the bullet is in the air, it has to negotiate all obstacles to reach a vital organ of some sort. This requires that it get through any outer shell (clothing), past the skin (which is a lot tougher than you might believe), and alternating layers of bone and muscle. It has to have what's known as 'penetration'.

Penetration is dependent on several things: the weight of the bullet, the diameter (caliber), the velocity, and the shape. If we were to take two bullets of different weight, but of the same caliber and shape and traveling at the same velocity, the heavier one would penetrate further. We can do the same comparison for any of the factors, as long as the others remain the same. If we had two bullets of different shapes - a round nose and a wadcutter - with everything else the same, the more streamlined bullet (the round nose) would penetrate further. Simple, right?

When we look at expanding (softnose or hollowpoint) bullets, which increase their diameter at some point in the target, the situation changes. The increased frontal are of the expanded bullet acts like a parachute, slowing it more rapidly and reducing penetration. Sometimes penetration can be reduced so much that the bullet will not reach anything important, and we're back to that unreliable psychological incapacitation thing again.

Remember that too much penetration can be as bad as too little. Having a bullet that sails through the target without doing much work, or (worse) encounters another (possibly) innocent target beyond, is not a good thing. Hence it behooves us to have a bullet which demonstrates sufficient penetration, but not an excessive amount.

It's not uncommon to find a cartridge that, when loaded with streamlined, roundnosed bullets, goes through multiple targets - but when loaded with expanding bullets stops inside the desired one. As it turns out, this behavior has major benefits in terms of terminal effects, which we'll cover next time.

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber

I've gotten a bunch of emails recently regarding the choice of an appropriate self-defense handgun caliber and/or bullet. Around this one topic swirls more misinformation - and outright inanity - than any other I can think of. And now, here's mine!

What follows is a layman's understanding, backed by research of available literature and years of hunting and shooting experience, of the practical mechanics of wound ballistics. It is not intended to be a complete and exhaustive study of the subject. Instead, I hope to give my readers - who are, in all likelihood, laypersons themselves - a solid base of information to help make good decisions when choosing self defense ammunition.

Let's start by understanding that in a self-defense scenario our goal is simply to cause the perpetrator of a crime to cease immediately his/her antisocial activities. That's it - we want the miscreant to quit doing whatever it was that caused us to draw our gun in the first place. The closer to "immediately" that this occurs, the better for all concerned.

There are two mechanisms by which this can be accomplished: psychological incapacitation and physical incapacitation.

The first - psychological incapacitation - is the least predictable of the two. Some people will stop and run when grazed by a well-thrown rock, others will soak up all manner of chemical, electrical, and physical deterrents without so much as flinching. Since it's all in the mind, and minds vary significantly (especially when intoxicated in some form), we cannot count on delivering a reliable jolt to a criminal's psyche. We must instead focus on doing enough physical damage to cause cessation of action through reduction of motor skills.

On this subject has been constructed all manner of measures, each attempting to quantify the unquantifiable: "One shot stops." "Knockout index." "Wound channel volume." There are more, and none of them ever seem to agree (at least most of the time) on what actually works.

Well, folks, hunters have known something for a very long time, and it has been proven in the field again and again: to reliably put the brakes on a living entity, a bullet must do what I call The
Twin Tasks.

1) It has to get to something the body finds immediately important, and
2) It has to do rapid and significant damage to that thing when it arrives.

That's it. Either, by itself, simply won't deliver the results we seek (at least, not in the physical sense.) If the projectile fails at either of these tasks, any success that occurs is in fact a product of psychological incapacitation, which we already know to be both unpredictable and unreliable.

Keep in mind that as the bullet traverses the target, it may repeat the Tasks; in other words, it may encounter more than one thing the body finds important. The more times that it does, and then completes the second Task, the faster the incapacitation is likely to occur. (Note that I didn't say "will", only "likely to". Handgun rounds are underpowered things, and with them nothing is ever certain.)

Within certain limits, it doesn't really matter what the caliber is or what the bullet is made of or how fast it travels, as long as it does
both of the Tasks. That's why there seems to be such a wide range of calibers, weights and velocities that have shown "good" results in self defense shootings, and why arguments about "stopping power" rage on the gun forums: there is, as the saying goes, more than one way to skin a cat.

Remember, as long as both Tasks are accomplished, the envelope of "how" they are is large enough to encompass a variety of approaches.

The reason that the "heavy and slow" and "light and fast" bullet camps exist is because, generally, their choices just happen do both of those Tasks on a fairly regular basis. Arguing about which is the "better" approach is really quite silly, because when they work it's because they did both Tasks, regardless of the actual mechanism; when they fail, it is simply because they didn't do one (or both) of the Tasks, again regardless of their physical attributes.

It's at this point that someone invariably chimes in "but my cousin is engaged to a girl whose brother-in-law heard about a guy who saw someone shot fifteen times with a 9mm, and the victim was still able to walk into a French restaurant, order a 5-course meal, eat, chat with the sommelier, and stiff the waiter before finally collapsing on the sidewalk while waiting for his cab! That's why I carry a .467 Loudenboomer Ultra Grande - if it hits them in the pinky the hydrostatic shock wave will knock them down!"

I'm exaggerating, you understand, but if you regularly haunt the gun forums you'll recognize that it isn't all that far off.

Yes, small caliber bullets fail. Guess what? Large caliber bullets fail, too. As someone once told me, "put on your big-boy pants and deal with it!"

A good friend gave me a first-hand account of a battle incident wherein a fellow absorbed several solid torso hits and was still able to jump from his vehicle and cross a road before finally collapsing.

The gun in question? A .50 caliber heavy machine gun. Yes, you read that correctly. Sometimes, folks, nothing works.

Our job is to choose those calibers and bullets which seem to do the Two Tasks fairly reliably, and prepare to deal with the times that it just isn't enough. With handgun rounds, those times are more common than the gunshop commandoes would have you believe.

In the next installment, we'll take a layman's look at the physics involved.

Click here to go to the next article --->

Or, you can access the series index
at this link.

-=[ Grant ]=-

It's not often someone is willing to admit to doing dumb things

There are times that I feel I'm harping on the safety issue, but with the number of grievous injuries and deaths that occur I don't think it is unwarranted.

The latest, sent to me by an alert reader, is a self-expose (complete with pictures) of a nasty handgun incident. Short version: this fellow, in an attempt to test a recently installed grip safety,
pointed his gun at his leg and pulled the trigger. The sequence of events was predictable. (Warning - the pictures may be graphic for some people.)

Once again, I'm going to place the blame squarely on Traditional Rule #1: "All guns are always loaded", or any variant thereof. He felt free to do something blatantly stupid with his gun, because he was sure that he had unloaded it. Since he was sure that he unloaded it, in his mind the other rules obviously didn't apply. If they did, he wouldn't have pointed it at his leg as he intentionally pulled the trigger!

What bothers me most about this fellow's misfortune isn't that he was injured, but that he still doesn't get why it happened in the first place. He is so clueless about this, in fact, that he cites the classic Four Rules of Firearms Safety, starting with the offending Traditional Rule #1 in his article, and explaining to his readers that they should follow them. This is in fact the wrong thing to do, and is what caused his injuries.

It is my opinion that the more people who follow Traditional Rule #1, the more accidents like his will occur. Again, Traditional Rule #1 leads people to do dumb things with guns, because once they're convinced the gun is unloaded they feel at liberty to ignore the other three. In my opinion, we should instead be teaching people to follow the Three Commandments of Gun Safety religiously:

Never point a gun - any gun, loaded or unloaded - at anything you are not willing to shoot.

Keep your finger out of the triggerguard until you are ready to fire.

Know where your shots will land and what they’ll touch along the way.

Let's look at his accident: he violated the First Commandment, because he thought the gun was unloaded.

He then violated the Second Commandment, because he thought the gun was unloaded.

Finally, he proceeded to violate the Third Commandment, because he thought the gun was unloaded.

The result? A large emergency room bill. Lots of pain. All because Traditional Rule #1 allowed him to do stupid things with a gun once he was "sure" it was unloaded!

(It is worth noting that the gentleman in question, one Darwin Teague, is on Usenet record as declaring that he would never carry a Glock, as he considers them to be "unsafe." With all due respect, Mr. Teague, if you do stupid things with guns, loaded or not, all the safety features in the world won't stop you from shooting yourself - as you have found out. I wish you luck, as you seem to need it.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Defensive ammo update

It's been several years since Speer introduced their Gold Dot Short Barrel Personal Protection 38 Special +P loading. It looked good on paper, and the Gold Dot line has a superb reputation for performance, but many of us prefer to carry well-tested ammunition. Let someone else be the guinea pig!

Sporadic reports have come in that the Gold Dot load is "working"; Massad Ayoob told me that he's heard around the country that people are "satisfied" with the performance. Still, I'd not been able to run down anything more specific.

That is, until yesterday, when one of my clients called. He's a higher-up in a large metropolitan police department and a long-time revolver carrier. He indicates that his department has had several shootings with the Speer load, and that he personally knows two of the officers who have used it. His verdict? The load performs as advertised - very effective at stopping violent action.

He notes, based on his agency's long experience with the famous 158gn +P loads from various makers, that the new Speer 135gn appears to be very similar in terms of terminal effect. "No complaints", was his succinct summation.

Good news for those who have chosen this load!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Following the safety rules religiously

In last week's article, I mentioned that there was an ancient religious principle that can help keep you safe from firearms accidents. Allow me to digress for just a moment to give you the necessary background.

As you may know, Orthodox Jews have a rather rigorous set of rules that they follow. According to their tradition, there are 613 commandments in the Torah (their Bible, which consists of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.) Imagine trying to keep track of, let alone follow, 613 commandments!

To make the job easier and to prevent the unintentional transgression of a commandment, they have a concept called
gezeirah, which is explained as "building a fence around the Torah." This idea, which goes back roughly 800 years, refers to the additional precepts that one should follow to avoid even coming close to violating a commandment itself. They supply a sort of early warning system; if you know that you've broken the lesser rule, you know that you're in danger of violating the more sacred one.

Now I'm not saying that everyone should run out and become Orthodox Jews (you'd have to give up Saturday morning cartoons and pepperoni pizza, for starters), but the concept of a "fence" around a core set of rules is as good for keeping us physically safe as it is for safeguarding their spiritual well-being.

So, if our overriding precepts are the Three Commandments of Gun Safety:

Never point a gun - any gun, loaded or unloaded - at anything you are not willing to shoot.

Keep your finger out of the triggerguard until you are ready to fire.

Know where your shots will land and what they’ll touch along the way.

What kinds of rules might constitute our "fence"? Well, they might include the "Seven Rules of Dry-Fire":

- Select the proper time and place (alone, no distractions, safe backstop).
- Remove all live ammunition from your training area (including those in your own gun and the gun that you will use for dry fire).
- Go into “practice mode” state of mind. Say out loud: “This is practice time, I am going to practice now.”
- Perform practice.
- When practice is over, go into “reality mode.” Say out loud: “Practice is over, this is real.”
- Put the gun into the condition in which it is normally kept.
- Put the gun away immediately (secured).

The NRA has a poster of 10 or 12 firearms rules that could constitute another fence, and I'm sure you'll find more. Some may be very general, others may be specific to the range you're using or the particular shooting activity in which you're participating.

These additional rules don't relieve you of the need for always following the Three Commandments, and are never to be considered any exception to any of them. They are a
supplement. They provide one extra guard, one extra layer of security, before you're put into a situation where the "fail-safe" of the Commandments is all that stands between you and grievous injury. They set up an attitude, a frame of mind, that makes an accident all the less likely.

For instance, I have my own fence: my shop is a sterile area, meaning that there is no live ammunition in the shop area proper. (Need I mention that there are no exceptions?) I still follow the Three Commandments, mind you, but following the rule of no live ammo in the shop area makes the constant handling lots of guns even safer.

Now go and sin - ballistically speaking - no more!

-=[ Grant ]=-

On safety

A reader alerted me to
this thread over at GlockTalk, where a debate about the first of Jeff Cooper's "Four Rules of Gun Safety" is raging. Specifically, the argument centers on the allowable "exceptions" to Rule #1: "All guns are always loaded" (or, alternatively, "Treat all guns as if they were loaded." Cooper himself said "All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.” That comes directly from an article he wrote in 2003.)

I feel entitled to comment, inasmuch as the observance of said rule by gunsmiths has been invoked as one of the "exceptions." I take exception to that exception, and in fact take exception to the very notion of exceptions! Allow me to explain, and perhaps start some exceptional controversy of my own.

To be blunt: I don't like Rule #1. In fact, I believe that it is not just unnecessary, but that it actually sets people up to have accidents. I don't believe it makes anyone safer - I contend that it has the opposite effect.

It boils down to this: people do stupid things with guns that they perceive are unloaded. (Re-read that line, focusing on the word "perceive.") Once people have convinced themselves that a gun is unloaded, they treat it differently. That is where accidents occur.

The trouble with Rule #1 is that it encourages such shoddy behavior.

Follow me here: "treat all guns as if they were loaded" tacitly admits that there are, in fact, two states for a firearm - loaded and unloaded. If there were not an unloaded state, it would not be necessary to admonish someone to treat a gun "as if" it were in the loaded state, would it? If unloaded guns did not exist, the statement would make no sense. Therefore, the phrase itself establishes that there exists such a thing as an unloaded gun. Clear so far?

While Rule #1 logically admits that there is such a thing as an unloaded gun, it asks us to pretend that it doesn't really exist. This is important, as the rule only makes sense if the state of being 'unloaded' exists, but it implores us to make believe that such a state doesn't really exist. This situation is called
cognitive dissonance: holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously. It's a state of mind that humans don't tolerate all that well.

If one accepts the fallacy that an unloaded state doesn't exist, it becomes clear in the mind that the remaining three rules apply only to loaded guns. After all, the first rule says that there is no such thing as an unloaded gun; therefore, the other three rules can apply
only to loaded guns, because - remember! - unloaded guns "don't exist."

Here's where that cognitive dissonance thing comes back to bite us. The human mind cannot maintain two contradictory concepts ("there is such a thing as an unloaded gun, but it doesn't exist because all guns are always loaded") without resolving them in some fashion. The way that most (if not all) people apparently resolve this is to apply the rules to all guns,
unless they've convinced themselves that the gun in question isn't loaded.

In other words, to resolve the logical conflict that Rule #1 establishes, the mind translates it to say "treat all guns as if they are loaded,
unless you've verified that they aren't." The other three rules are tossed right out the window, because they obviously don't apply to unloaded guns! A statement that everyone knows is untrue, which this is, will simply be ignored.

See how this comes about? If not, re-read the preceding paragraphs.

That, gentle readers, is the crux of the problem! The sad side of Rule #1 is that it implies once you've verified a gun is unloaded, the rest of the rules don't apply to it; you may handle it differently. That's when the accidents come, and is why I say that people do stupid things with guns that they
think are unloaded.

Proof? Easy: it is axiomatic that all gun accidents occur with unloaded guns. Those are guns that people had convinced themselves were not in the loaded state, and therefore didn't fall under the rest of the rules. No matter what the experience or training level of the person involved, "I thought it was unloaded" is the first excuse out of their mouths when something bad happens.

Need more? Here's an interactive proof: go into any gun store, and watch as customers (and often the counter clerks) sweep muzzles over everyone in the store. Now complain to a clerk about the shoddy practice; I guarantee the first thing you'll hear from his or her mouth is "don't worry, it's not loaded."

Still not convinced? Ask Massad Ayoob to tell you the tragic story of a well regarded and highly experienced competition shooter who accidentally killed his wife - with an "unloaded" gun, of course. My contention is that he followed Rule #1 like most people, but that its logical failings caused him to treat the gun differently because he was sure it was unloaded. The result was sadly inevitable.

This is why the forum debate runs so many pages, and ultimately devolves into the attitude "of course, Rule #1 doesn't apply to
experienced shooters, who understand what the exceptions are." I'm sorry, folks, but I believe that any safety rule that implies or encourages "exceptions" - experienced operator or no - is a "rule" that should be thrown out.

One of the best shooting instructors I know - Georges Rahbani - has done just that. He acknowledged the problem and dealt with the issue by eliminating what I'll call "Traditional Rule #1" from his curriculum. Instead, he teaches that
any and all guns, loaded or unloaded, are treated to the same standards, which he calls The Three Commandments of Gun Safety:

Never point a gun - any gun, loaded or unloaded - at anything you are not willing to shoot.

Keep your finger out of the triggerguard until you are ready to fire.

Know where your shots will land and what they’ll touch along the way.

There are no exceptions, and thus less chance for the accidents that usually result from them.

The big difference between his rules and Cooper’s is that if you forget everything except the first one, you’ll still be safe. With Cooper’s rules, if you forget all the others accidents will still happen and people will still get hurt. The goal of gun rules should be to prevent injury or death, to the shooter or others; if one follows these rules, whether the gun is loaded or not, it will reduce that risk to the lowest probability.

As you might guess, in my line of work the chances of a negligent discharge are somewhat higher than usual. Consequently, my interest in the safety rules is higher than usual! The online debate mentions that gunsmiths must, out of necessity, violate the Traditional Rule #1 and thus don't need to follow the other rules.

Not in MY shop, bunky!

I follow the Three Rules as codified above. I don't point a gun (any assembly capable of igniting a cartridge) at anything I'm not willing to shoot. That means, in my case, a solid concrete wall in the back of my hillside shop. Because of that, I know what my target is, and what the backstop is. Finally, I don't put my finger into the triggerguard until my sights are on target (the gun is pointing at that backstop.) Yes, all the time and every time; I'm rather fond of my various body parts, and desire to retain them in full operating condition!

I think that's enough pot-stirring for one day. Next time, we'll see how an ancient religious principle can help to reinforce the constant observance of the safety rules.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A different approach to the backup revolver

A gentleman wrote in asking about small backup revolvers - that is, a revolver to carry as a backup to a primary revolver.

I know that many people carry their primary gun on their hip, with a lightweight (aluminum, titanium, scandium) wheelgun in an ankle holster, and I know a couple of folks who carry a S&W "J" frame in a front pants pocket as a second gun.

This is not what the writer had in mind, though. He was thinking of a very small (smaller than a "J" frame) "subcompact" revolver for a second gun, in the same way that there are subcompact autoloaders (Seecamp, Kel-Tec, etc.) to serve as backups to a larger autoloader. Sadly, the market in this case is pretty limited.

The only one that comes quickly to mind is the North American Arms "Mini" revolver in .22LR and .22WMR. (The Magnum, of course, would be a better choice than the Long Rifle, ballistically speaking.) The trouble with these guns is that 1) I've never seen one that could be even charitably referred to as reliable, and 2) they are harder than heck to even keep on an IDPA target at 7 feet, let alone be assured of a solid hit in the vitals.

Beyond that there are only the much larger S&W "J" frame guns (and the Taurus equivalents, though I'm not wild about them.) However, there may be a "blast from the past" that is worth considering: the Colt Pocket Positive. Never heard of it? Well, you're in for a treat!

The Pocket Positive was nothing more than a scaled-down "D" frame (Detective Special, etc.) After all, the "D" frame was just a scaled down "E" frame (Official Police, etc.) so why not go even smaller? The Pocket Positive was a tiny little gun - considerably smaller than even a "J" frame. (A cylinder on the Colt measures 1.240", while the "J" frame comes in at 1.310". What really makes the difference, though, is the frame - the Pocket Positive is a tiny, almost jewel-like gun, noticeably smaller than the popular "J".) The action is, as noted, of normal Colt design, and should smooth up as nicely as its bigger brothers.

The Pocket Positive was most commonly chambered in the .32 Colt Police round, aka the .32 S&W Long. Now the .32 S&W round isn't terribly powerful, of course, but neither is the .32ACP - a cartridge used and praised in the backup role for many years. The .32 revolver round has a significantly heavier bullet, so it should have better penetration than the .32ACP - always a good thing when shooting a "mousegun." Ammunition is still being made, though the factory offerings are limited to lead round nose.

Pocket Positives have not yet captured the collecting world's imagination, and are still available at reasonable prices. I picked one up a while back for $150, and it's been sitting in my "to do" pile awaiting some spare time. I think I'll dig that out and put it back into working order; I think it may be the answer to the need for a good backup revolver!

(Now if only someone would reintroduce it in titanium...)

-=[ Grant ]=-

The case for DAO

In the Gunsmithing pages of this site, I endorse the practice of rendering defensive revolvers double action only (DAO.) Many people ask why, and I thought I'd give you my thoughts on the matter.

Let's start with the usual argument for retaining single action capability, which I call the "Walter Mitty scenario": the mythical need for making precise long range head shots. Let's face it, folks - this just never happens in real life!

However, let's say that you're having a
Jack Bauer kind of day and are now facing just this scenario. Mightn't that be just a tad bit stressful? Wouldn't that make you even more nervous, knowing that you'll be trying the toughest possible handgun shot under the worst possible conditions? With all that adrenaline now flowing through your system, is this really the time that you want a light, short trigger pull that is very easy to accidentally release? Not me, bunky!

This is the reason for DAO: light single action triggers are great on the calm shooting range, but pose a liability risk for unintentional discharges under stress. As Massad Ayoob says, single action triggers are great shooting tools, but lousy threat management tools.

Now I I know what you're thinking: "OK, but I promise I'll never use it!" I'm sure you mean that sincerely, but It's been well established over the decades that people tend to do in combat what they do in training.

It's human nature to practice what we're already good at, and to do that which is easiest for us. At the range, it's not uncommon to watch someone shoot a revolver at, say 50 feet and become disenchanted with their groups. At that point, they usually switch to the easier pull of the single action, and shoot that way. This imprints their subconscious to use single action when they are unsure of their abilities, and this may be what they revert to under stress.

Once that act of thumbing back the hammer has become habit, another problem crops up: the Hollywood-inspired (and reinforced) act of cocking the gun to show the bad guy that you "really mean it!" I'll refer you back to the second paragraph, with emphasis.

(Yes, I know you'll promise not to do that either. But if you've told your subconscious that cocking the hammer is accepted shooting technique, do you think it'll ask your conscious mind for permission when the time comes - especially if decades of TV and movies has told it otherwise? Of course not! "Besides", your subconscious thinks, "if
Tyne Daly can do it, why can't I?")

Removing the SA capability eliminates the chances of any of this happening. (If you make the conscious decision to carry a gun with SA capability, I recommend that you attend the
Lethal Force Institute's "LFI-1" class, where you will learn how to defend that choice - and counter any false claims that may arise from it - in court.)

From a gunsmithing perspective, I've found that eliminating the SA capability can, on some guns (Colt and Dan Wesson), give a bit more leeway in terms of honing the double action. Without the need to worry about the single action sear, the double action can be tuned far more radically than is otherwise possible. In S&W and Ruger guns, reducing the DA pull to the barest minimum (as some request) will result in an unconscionably light SA pull - often below 32 ounces. Eliminating the SA notches means that this ceases to be a worry.

Speaking for myself, I didn't start to shoot DA well until I'd gotten rid of the SA capability completely. True story:  one day (many years ago), shortly after transitioning to shooting only revolvers, I was participating in a match (Bianchi type.) I was having trouble with missing those little round steel plates they use for one stage, and it was making me madder and madder. At one point the buzzer sounded, and I drew the gun (a Python) and cocked it for each plate. I downed all of them, but my happiness was shattered by a taunting voice of a 1911 partisan that said "hey, Grant, I've got a gun that does all that for me!"

After that I removed the SA from my revolvers and started shooting DA exclusively. It wasn't long before I was beating the guys (including the loudmouth in question) who were shooting 1911s with crisp single action triggers. It can be done!

If you have any doubt as to how accurately a double action can be shot, go watch your local PPC match - there's one just about everywhere in the country. You'll see lots of folks shooting DAO revolvers at up to 50 yards and producing groups that can be covered by your hand. That should be good enough for any defensive use, and you too can do it with just a bit of practice!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Yes, there are people who still think this is a good idea

Xavier Thoughts chronicles the story of an elderly gentleman who, using his gun, confronted a burglar in his home. The outcome was that the perp got sent to jail. Great, right? Well, maybe not. This may get ugly when the inevitable civil suit is filed.

You see, the perp was injured because the homeowner fired an unaimed "warning shot" which fragmented and struck the intruder. As if that wasn't bad enough in these litigious times, the gentleman couldn't help running his mouth on television, which didn't do any good in terms of his legal defense.

I'll leave the analysis to Xavier, who does a much better job than your humble correspondent. I will, however, leave you with this thought: this is exactly why I strongly encourage anyone who even contemplates keeping a firearm for self-defense to take
Judicious Use of Deadly Force from Massad Ayoob at the Lethal Force Institute. Had this fellow done so, he wouldn't have left himself open for what will probably be a whale of a civil lawsuit.

-=[ Grant ]=-

How NOT to spend your training dollars

I admit up front that I'm not a professional firearms/tactics instructor. I do some assistant teaching now and again, but I'm no Clint Smith. However, I have been a student, I have been involved in the teaching side of things, and I am a general all-around busybody. As it happens, those are better qualifications than some "instructors" I've met!

Here's my two cents worth: avoid "checklist" shooting classes. What do I mean by "checklist" classes? Those where the instructor provides a long list of the things that you will (ostensibly) learn in his/her class, implicitly (or explicitly) inviting you to compare how many things he teaches versus how many things another instructor does. It's a variation of the "mine is bigger than yours" game played by adolescents of all ages.

This topic came to mind recently when I read a review of a "tactical carbine" class someone had taken. The student - gushing with praise over how great the class was - had a long list of things that the class had "learned" over two whole days. My assistant teaching experience happens to be in that type of rifle class, and I know for a fact that there is no way to adequately cover even half of his long list in a single two day class. Note the term "adequately."

Just getting proper explanations (lecture portions) of the techniques he listed would take a couple of days, let alone a single repetition of each technique by each student. (A single repetition, you understand, doesn't even begin to develop a skill.) In this case, the sheer quantity of techniques presented would have necessitated a "demonstration only" type of curriculum for many of the techniques. Heck, just doing a proper sight-in procedure with a dozen (or more) students will take a good portion of a day, and sight-in was one of the things he listed!

Beyond that, even those things that were actually treated to live fire would not have allowed time for any feedback from the "instructor." Without feedback, without critique, how do you know how you've done - and how to increase your skill? Isn't that why we train in the first place?

The student who runs his finger down a checklist (see why I use the term?) of things he "learned" in a class will come away impressed - but no more capable. There is a difference between developing a skill (which is what you should be doing in a shooting class) and simply being exposed to the topic (which is undoubtedly the experience of this fellow.) Sadly there are some, both teachers and students, who don't know the difference.

It's that old quality vs. quantity equation all over again. In the immediate area we have a couple of shooting schools; one is of the checklist variety, while the other is more concerned about what their students actually retain. The former trades on quantity, while the latter is concerned with quality. Guess which one I recommend when locals ask me where to train?

When you're shopping for schooling, what you really want to know is if the teacher covers his/her material thoroughly, and is concerned that the students actually make progress - not how many items are on the checklist. It make take a little more effort to find such a school, but your effort will be rewarded.

Unless, of course, you just want to compare your checklist against your buddy's. In that case, there are lots of places that can take your money, and they're a lot easier to find!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Are ammo prices keeping you from learning?

Lately I've been hearing from people who've decided against attending training courses because of the cost of ammunition. If I may, I think that this is a shortsighted attitude!

Yes, ammo prices are the highest they've ever been. Yes, the number of rounds necessary to complete a decent shooting class is a significantly higher expense than it used to be. It's still worth it, and it's a bargain that you should take advantage of.

If you plan to carry a handgun, or if you keep a shotgun for home defense, training - proper training - may make the difference between a successful outcome and a tragedy. Isn't that worth the few extra dollars that the necessary ammunition is going to cost? I sure think it is!

By the time you add up travel, lodging, registration fees, meals, and incidentals, that little extra the ammo costs really isn't a big deal. Spend the money - it's important to you, and to your loved ones, that you not miss that class!

-=[ Grant ]=-

"It's perfect for the little lady" - NOT!

If you're here, it's probably because you like (or at least appreciate) our friend the revolver. My feelings, of course, are well known: I believe the revolver to be the single greatest firearm that one could ever hope to own. I believe that people who shoot revolvers demonstrate themselves to be of above average intelligence, more refined sensibilities, and generally better looking than those who do not. (I exaggerate, of course. Except in my own case, where these things are certainly true. I tell my wife so every day.)

However, even in my zeal I cannot recommend the revolver to every single person; it is not the best choice for everyone or every circumstance. I've said this before, and I'll probably being saying it again and again as time goes on.

I particularly cringe whenever I see some fellow buying (or hear someone recommending) that the revolver is always the "best choice" for a woman, hinting that women are incapable of operating a semiauto properly. Sometimes the revolver is the best choice for a female, just as it sometimes is for a male - though not always, and not even most of the time!

Not being a woman, I've been at a loss to explain my discomfort in any terms other than "that seems stupid to me." Luckily, over at the View From the Porch,
Tam does a good (and concise) job of explaining just why.

-=[ Grant ]=-

On pairing women with guns

This article in the Tennessean newspaper explores the "phenomenon" of women who choose to carry a gun for their own protection. It's an interesting read, and when I saw it I was reminded of my own wife's journey to self-empowerment (in the ballistic sense.)

I'm of the belief that women should always be proactive with regards to their own safety. Sadly, our current society has inculcated a fear of weapons into the collective conscious of the female half of the population. It takes real fortitude for a lady to swim against that tide and arm herself, and I salute those who choose to do so.

Drawing from my own wife's experience I've formed some very specific opinions on the topic of introducing women to shooting. Guys, if there is a woman in your life who has decided to travel down the road of self protection, I offer you
Grant's Rules For Helping Ladies Who Want To Shoot.

1) Don't try to teach her yourself. Aside from passing on bad habits that you have (I don't care if you did qualify as "expert" when you were in the Army), it's difficult to impart what you do right no matter how sincere your desire to help.

Women learn differently than men; precious few men understand this, and even fewer understand how to teach to it. It's not uncommon for women to become extremely frustrated under these conditions, and give up entirely. It may not happen until the lessons are over - you may never know of the damage you've done. Let someone else - someone who is experienced teaching women - do this for you. It doesn't mean you're any less of a man, and it just might save you some grief.

2) Rule #1 is increased by a factor of 10 if she is your GF or wife! Ignore this at your peril!
I am not kidding!

3) If possible, get her to a women's only class that is actually taught by a female instructor. (If you're on the west coast, I highly recommend that you take advantage of the women's only classes taught by
Gila Hayes at the Firearms Academy of Seattle. She's tops. Seriously.)

4) Don't pick her gun for her. So many times a woman, bowing to the desires of the man who proffers her shooting advice (solicited or otherwise), ends up with a lightweight titanium or scandium revolver that is incredibly ill-suited for her physical makeup. The recoil is brutal (hey, even I don't like shooting them), and their stock triggers can be difficult for petite forefingers to actuate. Yes, you could send it to me and have that problem eased, but let her decide if it is right for her!

(Listen, if you've read my blog for any length of time you know that I'm a rabid proponent of the revolver for personal protection. As far as I'm concerned, there isn't a problem extant that a good revolver can't solve. Even so, I acknowledge an autoloader is often the better choice for a woman.) The very best thing you can do is curb your own opinions and take her to a gun range that rents guns, where she can pick her own way through the models. If she picks an autoloader, it won't hurt my feelings. (Not for long, anyhow.) The important thing is that it be her own choice.

Following these simple rules will result in an excited new shooter and harmony at home (where appropriate.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

On reliability...

Forgive my deviation from revolver centrism, but a recent rifle class in which I assisted brought to mind a topic which is just not understood amongst gun owners: "reliability."

What is "reliable"? You'll hear all kinds of definitions, all kinds of criteria. My definition is deceptively simple: the next time you pull the trigger, the gun will function perfectly. That means zero, zilch, nada, nyet failures. Every single time, regardless of how many rounds you've just shot. Not just "bang", but feed, fire, eject, and feed again.

Sounds like I'm easy to please, right? You'd be surprised at how few guns actually do perform to this standard. I expect a reliable gun to do this after a full weekend of shooting, regardless of the number of rounds I've shot, as well as right after cleaning. Every single time, without exception.

Note that I don't specify any particular number of rounds, because I've encountered instances where reliability was defined by some arbitrary round count, such as 500 - and when the gun crapped out on the 501st round, it was still deemed to be reliable since it had met the number! Sorry, not in my book.

One test I've heard (for autoloading rifles) is "six magazines of duty loads, fired as quickly as you can change magazines." Sounds great, right? I've seen an AR-15 which would only pass such a test one time, yet the owner decided it was reliable because it met the test criteria! The fact that it couldn't perform the feat again did not dissuade him in his opinion.

The only caveats are that 1) the gun be maintained according to the maker's recommendations and 2) fed ammunition which conforms to industry standards for that caliber. Anything else - such as the ever-popular mud wrestling test, making it into a popsicle, and other such activities - can be considered the ballistic equivalent of a Harlem Globetrotters game: entertaining to watch, but no indicator of an ability to win the NBA finals.

I've seen more than one gun which happily ate a magazine of ammo after being dropped into a mud puddle, but couldn't be counted on to function perfectly at any unannounced time. Mind you, it malfunctioned maybe once every 400 or so rounds, but sooner or later it would fail. Reliable? Not by my definition.

You'll run into many people who will tell you that this is "no big deal - I've got lots of guns that will do that." At the risk of offending someone - believe me, it's not my intention - I will quote Hugh Laurie, playing the namesake character in the TV series 'House': "everyone lies."

When I say "every time you pull the trigger", I mean
EVERYTIME. When I say zero failures, I mean ZERO. One fellow of my acquaintance is known locally for his promotion of a particular gun, which he insists is "absolutely reliable." This is a fellow with a good reputation, someone that other people consider honest and, presumably, look up to. Trouble is, he lies - I've seen his gun fail, and I know others who have witnessed it too. Yet, he continues to insist that his gun is "perfectly reliable." In one class, I met someone with an HK 91, supposedly the epitome of functionality; of course, the owner insisted it was "reliable". It suffered a FTF the first day, and an FTE the second. The owner continued to refer to it as "reliable".

If your gun will not function with ammunition that meets industry-standard specs, then it is unreliable. I had an encounter with a gunstore commando a while back; he was going to loan his "custom built" AR-15 to another employee. He gushed that his pride and joy was the most reliable gun he had ever seen - then, almost in the same breath, told the other fellow not to shoot Winchester ammunition in it, as "it won't feed Winchester all of the time." Even if it functioned 100% with everything else (though I doubt it), that it wouldn't work with one specific brand means that it simply wasn't reliable. (Back to revolvers - if your wheelgun won't fire every brand of ammunition in its caliber with zero misfires, it's not reliable!

My favorite rifle instructor, Georges Rahbani, always says that you are only as good as you are
on demand - the same goes for your gun!

-=[ Grant ]=-

She "gets it"

Tamara K., over at her blog The View From The Porch, says this:

"For what it's worth, I don't carry a gun to protect me from muggers at the mall. I don't even carry a gun to protect me, period. I carry a gun every day despite living in an area where I'm more likely to be hit by an asteroid than attacked by a mugger as a symbol of my refusal to buy into this culture of teat-sucking victimhood for one day longer. I carry it because I can."

Recite this, word for word, next time some busybody asks (with the inevitable sneer) why you need to carry a gun.

-=[ Grant ]=-


Revolver grips: finger grooves or plain?

Many people ask me where to get finger grooved grips for various guns (often for the Colt Python, but the Ruger GP-100 seems to be a common request as well.) Personally, I usually try to talk them out of that style grip, and I'd like to share my reasoning.

First, the grooves rarely fit any given person perfectly; for my hands, for instance, every grooved grip I've ever tried required me to spread my fingers to an uncomfortable degree. If I didn't, my fingers would wind up on top of the separating ridges, making shooting far less comfortable and secure! Women, who often have hands that are significantly smaller than their male counterparts, are particularly sensitive to this problem.

Second, anytime you add spacing between your fingers the combined strength of your grip is reduced. You simply grip harder with your fingers together than apart. There's a reason that hammers don't have finger grooves!

Third, having grooves on your grips slows down your acquisition and draw. No less a personage than Jerry Miculek, in a television interview, eschewed finger groove grips. As he put it, "no one gets a perfect grip out of the holster every time." A smooth, non-grooved grip allows you to get a workable grip immediately, where a grooved model requires that you get perfect finger placement from the outset. That is not what you want on a self-defense firearm!

I could point out that another revolver shooter who was "pretty good" was Bill Jordan, and you'll note that the grips he designed and used don't have finger grooves.

It's possible that if one is accustomed to holding a revolver in a light target-shooters grip, finger grooves may help in control. (I don't, I don't know anyone who does, and it's not what most trainers teach today.) Outside of that, I think they are an abomination and suggest that you not use them!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Speedloaders: which brand is best?

Lots of people ask me about speedloaders - as in "what speedloader should I buy?"

Well, there are really only a couple of choices these days: Safariland and HKS. (The superb SL Variant models are no longer imported, the Maxfires don't - at least in my mind - qualify for the "speed" part of the name, and the Australian "Jet" loaders are close enough to the Safariland Comp III that we'll consider them the same.)

Personally, unless I'm using a gun for which they don't have a model, I use only Safariland speedloaders. Here's why.

First, they're simply a whole lot faster to use. Not only are they faster to release their payload, they hold the rounds in a solid, fairly rigid package. That rigidity makes it faster to align the bullets with the chambers than the "floppy" HKS style. This is an important, and often overlooked, advantage.

Second, they're more secure. Over the years I've listened to people bad-mouth the Safariland speedloaders, with the statement that they release their rounds too easily - when in a pocket or dropped, the story usually goes.

I've been carrying Safarilands on my person for about 10 years now, and I've never had a single round released when I didn't want it to. They won't, unless you forcibly jam an object into the release button which is in the middle of the rounds. I've had more than one HKS let go while in the speedloader pouch, let alone my pocket!

Dropping? When this argument comes up I pull out the oldest, most used Comp II that I have. (It's been used for practice for a decade, and I stopped counting when it reached 5.000 reload cycles. I keep it loaded with dummy rounds - regular bullet, case, but no primers- for practice.) I drop it on the floor or ground, then pick it up and throw it on the ground; if there's a wall nearby, I'll either kick it or throw it into the wall. I've done this little demo hundreds of times, and I've never had a round fall out.

However, the only way to get this kind of performance and reliability is to load the things correctly! Safariland doesn't help their case, as they sell competition "loading blocks" that force you into loading the things improperly.

Most people will put the rounds into the speedloader, then turn it face-down onto a table so that they can push on the button to lock the rounds. This is almost guaranteed to leave a round (or two or three) that isn't fully seated, and when the speedloader is dropped it/they fall out. No wonder people think they don't work well!

The key is to hold the speedloader BULLETS UP, and push the button up while simultaneously turning it to the right. You'll feel the rounds "lock in", and they won't come out until you want them to!

UPDATE: I've now seen several guns whose cranes (yokes) have been bent apparently due to the side loading forces of Maxfire speedloaders. I strongly recommend that you not use Maxfires!

-=[ Grant ]=-