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 ]=-
The Armed Citizen's Legal Defense Network (of which you should be a member) has published an interesting look at the Martin/Zimmerman case in their June newsletter. The Florida courts, as their law requires, released all of the evidence related to the case a couple of weeks ago. In his article, Marty Hayes looks at a portion of that released evidence and makes some observations which might be useful to those who carry a firearm for self protection. I recommend you read the article.
One of the more intriguing bits was the condition of the area around the entry wound on Martin's body, leading to some speculation about the exact distance from muzzle to contact. This will, as Marty clearly points out, require ballistic testing of the gun and identical ammo to determine at what distance the test matches the evidence.
Since the court will likely not let the remaining ammunition in the gun be shot (that would be destruction of evidence), they'll need to get exemplar rounds (rounds which match exactly the ammunition used) to make those tests.
I point this out because there is still a vocal subset of people who insist that carrying handloaded ammunition for self defense is a perfectly good thing to do. (I do not know if Zimmerman did or did not; that probably won't be known until the testing progresses.) If Zimmerman did the smart thing and carried factory ammunition, all the defense will need to do is contact the manufacturer and get a box or two of the same ammunition, preferably with the same lot number. The results from firing that ammo in his gun should then match the results from the shooting, which will allow the defense to precisely determine the distance from which Martin was shot.
The testing could help validate Zimmerman's claim of self defense. Given his recent tribulations over bail revocation, he may need all the objective help he can get.
If this were a case where the shooter handloaded his ammunition, regardless of how carefully he kept records, the results of the testing would likely not be allowed into evidence. I won't go into detail as there is copious reading material available on this subject, but the bottom line is that the courts generally don't allow the defendant to manufacture evidence for his/her defense. If someone in a similar situation used reloaded ammunition, he'd be at a double loss: not only would the courts not allow the ammo in the gun to be used to support his claim, they wouldn't allow any other self-manufactured ammo to be used either.
It's not about what's "legal", it's about the rules of evidence - and they work differently than you might expect.
The supporters of handloaded ammo constantly repeat the refrain "if it's a clean shoot, then the ammo won't matter." Is the Zimmerman case a "clean" shoot? At this point I don't think anyone would be stupid enough to say that it was. It may turn out that he was completely justified (or not - we won't know until a jury comes back), but the arbiter of a "clean" shoot ultimately isn't you, or me, or the cops, or the DA - it's the jury. A shoot isn't "clean" until a jury says it is, and the ammunition used is going to be one factor in their determination.
It's something of a Catch-22: in a clean shoot the ammo wouldn't matter, but we don't know if it's a clean shoot until the jury has decided it was, and part of their decision making may involve having the ammo tested, which means the ammo DOES matter. See the problem?
This is why I only carry factory ammunition in my guns. I use my considerable reloading skill and experience to craft practice rounds that duplicate my carry ammunition in bullet weight, velocity, recoil, and point of impact, which I use only for practice or training. When I load the gun for defensive use, I put in ammunition made by someone who can supply a certified duplicate of what I've used should I need to shoot someone. Their word about the composition of the ammo will be accepted by the court, where mine wouldn't. This way I can practice cheaply and still have the backing of a reliable third party in case I need it in court.
This is also why I only carry ammunition from a major manufacturer. I don't carry "boutique" ammunition, the kind made by small speciality manufacturers, because a) those companies tend to go in and out of business with disturbing frequency; b) I don't know if they have the resources or motivation to keep samples of every lot produced in case it's needed by a court; c) I don't know if they have a credible witness who can get on the stand and testify to both the composition and chain of custody of the evidence they've provided. I know Winchester, Federal, Remington, and CCI/Speer can and do, and so I load my guns with their products.
(I also never use ammunition made by a company which is not a member of SAAMI, but that's another article for another day!)
-=[ Grant ]=-
My wife and I trekked up to Firearms Academy of Seattle yesterday to spend a little time talking about revolvers, books, and assorted nonsense. Massad Ayoob and Gail Pepin were there, along with Marty and Gila Hayes, Jennie Van Tuyl, and several dogs. We recorded a rather raucous round-table edition of the ProArms Podcast (wherein I actually say some nice things about Taurus, and try to say some nice things about the Chiappa Rhino but fail miserably.)
Marty gave us a status report on the Armed Citizen's Legal Defense Network as well as a sneak peek of what's to come. As I pointed out last week, the ACLDN is unique in the field; it's the only place where the armed citizen can get high-level education and legal assistance in the event he or she is involved in a self defense incident. Glad to hear that they're growing and expanding their programs.
Jennie Van Tuyl and her husband Bill own Rivendell Sales, a rather unique gun store. Among other things they specialize in customizing the Remington 20 gauge autoloading shotgun for defensive use, an activity which I wholeheartedly applaud.
I'm a huge fan of the 20 gauge as a defensive tool. No matter how well you shoot a 12 gauge, you'll shoot a 20 gauge better simply because of the huge reduction in felt recoil. The only difference between them is the payload; they both throw their pellets at the same velocity, it's just that the 12 throws a few more. As Mas Ayoob is fond of saying, if you shoot a bad guy the only person who'll be able to tell whether it was a 12 or a 20 is the coroner, and only then by counting the white specks on the x-ray.
(One point I think is often overlooked: many 12 gauge owners use the lower-velocity "tactical" buckshot loads to help tame the recoil of their gun. It's my firm belief that those loads have less effectiveness than a full-power 20 gauge with the same recoil. Any way you slice it, the 20 gauge is the best balance of lethality and shootability that exists in the shotgun world.)
The Remington autoloaders are slim, trim, light shotguns that are a joy to heft after lugging around one of the same guns in 12 gauge. Many years ago my wife and I standardized on the 20 gauge and picked up a Remington 1100 LT-20 Youth Synthetic model. The youth guns had a shorter stock than the regular line, a feature which both of us appreciate. Since there was no one who really worked on the 20 gauges back then, I installed a 20" smoothbore barrel with rifle sights, reamed the forcing cone, and generally spruced it up as a home defense gun. Today the Van Tuyls can handle all that and more, giving you a superb handling, easy shooting shotgun without having to become your own gunsmith.
Check out their site. (I’m jealous of the wood in their stocks.)
Over the weekend Tam exposed us to yet another questionable training organization. Their video actually made me simultaneously cringe and laugh, which when you think about it is really a pretty good trick. pdb also picked up on their shenanigans, giving us his typically humorous critique.
I think, however, that both Tam and pdb wasted a lot of effort actually analyzing the video. They could have simply used my theorem: quality of instruction in a video is inversely proportional to the sound pressure level of the cheesy heavy metal music used on the soundtrack.
Correlation seems to be high.
-=[ Grant ]=-
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 ]=-