Nov 302011

If you have the element of surprise, you’re more likely to win this encounter. But if the bad guy already knows you are carrying, you’ll probably lose.

Why do we carry a concealed firearm?  Note the question.  We know why we carry a firearm in general – for self defense, to save our lives and the lives of those who rely on us for protection.

But why do we carry it concealed?  In Washington state, we are allowed open carry – indeed, we don’t even need any sort of permit for that.  Anyone can carry openly, only those of us with concealed carry permits can carry a concealed weapon.

You might think this is the opposite of the way it should be, but the reason that concealed carry is considered more dangerous is because, well, it sort of is – to other people, but not to those of us who are carrying.

Arguments For/Against Open Carry

Some people advocate open carry, and say that if we don’t all make use of this right more, we risk losing it.  That’s for sure what happened in California just a couple of months back – prior to then, it was lawful to open carry pistols, but only if they were unloaded.  A group of pro-carry activists started prominently open carrying, which alarmed/terrified the more delicate citizens of California, and now new legislation has passed and you can’t even open carry an unloaded pistol in California.

We are – self evidently – enthusiastic supporters of the Second Amendment.  But we’re not enthusiastic open carriers, because open carry gives the bad guy the advantage.  He can see you, and he can see your gun.  But you can’t see him – he’s just one more person in the crowd in front of you.  Or, even worse, he’s behind you, and the next thing you know, he’s alongside you, and all of a sudden, your gun has been taken from you.  Ouch.

If you open carry you also run the risk of being confronted by ill-trained police officers.  We’ve had experienced police officers tell us directly that open carry is illegal in WA, and/or they’ve invented all sorts of weird restrictions on open carry.  They are utterly and totally wrong, but that’s not really relevant when they are surrounding you with weapons drawn and requiring you to turn away with your hands in the air and then kneel on the ground, etc.

Washington’s open carry law is also a bit ambiguous – you can’t open carry in a manner likely to cause alarm.  For some folks, simply seeing a gun on a person’s belt is enough to alarm them and have them dialing 911 on their cell phone.  And then you have the self-fulfilling prophecy – if a person calls 911 to say “I’m alarmed to see this person with a firearm” then prima facie they are alarmed, and if they are a sensible decent person and respected member of the local community, you then have to somehow prove that their alarm was inappropriate and unnecessary, rather than them having to prove that their alarm was justified.

Or, even worse, some drunken jerk decides to pick a fight with you, based on seeing you having a gun, and ends up backing you into a corner, both figuratively and perhaps literally too, daring you to shoot him, and threatening you with negative consequences if you don’t.  Sounds ridiculous, right?  But it does happen.

Visible handguns are magnets that irresistibly draw bad guys and idiots to you.

So, enough about open carry.  We don’t recommend it, and only open carry on ‘special occasions’.  But we’re very appreciative to see others ‘fight the good fight’ and keep those rights alive, and there’s one thing that we all should be very thankful for – most of the time, if our concealed weapon is briefly sighted by someone, somewhere, we haven’t committed a crime.

We’ve simply transitioned from concealed carry to still lawful open carry before then transitioning back to concealed carry again.  In states that don’t allow open carry, such a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ could (and does) have you up on a charge of brandishing.  You’d probably lose your concealed weapons permit, and might even suffer some jail time too.

The Danger of Letting People Know You are Carrying Concealed

So you don’t want to open carry, because that lets other people know you have a gun and allows them to plan and surprise you, rather than allowing you to react and surprise them.  However, while this is bad, at least in such cases, you know that other people know you are carrying, and you’re in a heightened stage of alertness and more protective of people getting close to you and your gun.

But there’s one thing much worse than this.  That is when you think your weapon is concealed, but when – unknown to you – other people actually do know you have a concealed pistol on your person.  In that sort of case, any actions they take against you based on that knowledge totally surprise you, even more than if you were open carrying.

Now, we’re not just writing here about the need to use good concealment when carrying your pistol.  We’re instead talking about not telling your friends, your family, your co-workers, and other people you meet and mix with about how you sometimes carry a concealed pistol.

Sure, you might trust people you tell this to completely.  But what say they in turn then tell other people?  Do you trust them, too – even if you don’t know them?  And then these people might pass it on to other people, with some sort of exaggeration of inaccuracy added on each retelling of the story.

Before you know it, you’ll have strangers coming up to you and asking you about your gun – possibly in front of other people who didn’t know you were carrying – people that you maybe didn’t want to know about this, either.

Here’s an example.  You’d told a friend, and then one day you meet him somewhere socially, and he asks you in front of others ‘Hi, John, is that bulge under your jacket your pistol?’.  Suddenly the entire crowded rooms goes silent and everyone turns and stares at you.

What happens next depends on the function you’re at and the other people in the room.  Let’s hope the people around you when the unwelcome other guy comes up and blurts out his nonsense aren’t gun hating people you were trying to impress!  Even gun neutral people will start to look at you a bit strangely, and wonder what color of paranoid to ascribe to you.  And what about your gun-hating boss.  And the gun-hating client you were trying very hard to close a big sale with.  etc etc

Or maybe, after you part, he turns to the people he is with and says ‘See that guy I was just talking to?  He’s got a Glock pistol under his shirt – if you look carefully, you can see the clips of his inside-the-waistband holster on his belt – see’.  He points at you, and half a dozen people all turn and stare at your belt.   Then one of them comes up to you, while you’re talking to someone else, and says ‘I’ve just gotta ask, is that really a Glock you’ve got under your shirt?  Joe said those clips on your belt are from its holster.’

Then, again, the room goes silent, etc etc.

And that’s not all.  Maybe one of the temporary staff hired to cater the event overhears the discussion, and tells his not so nice friends to watch out for you as you leave the function.  They jump you, take your gun, your wallet, and hopefully leave you unharmed in the process (but maybe not).  Your gun has made you a target and a victim, rather than what it was intended to do – protect you.

You can even have problems with people much closer to you than in this example.  Maybe a former girlfriend invents an untrue allegation about you threatening her with your pistol, and describes to the police both where/how you carry the gun and what it looks like.  That’s a lot more credible than an empty claim ‘well, yes, he threatened me with his gun, but I’m not sure where it came from, where he put it afterwards, and I don’t remember even if it was shiny mirror finish, pink, or dull black.

Closer still.  Maybe you get in an ugly custody dispute as part of a divorce and your ex-wife invents fictions about you being careless with the gun you carry.  If she doesn’t know the details of what/when/how, she’s not going to be nearly as credible as if she knows all these things.

Avoid Other People Knowing

It is possible, if you’re careful and discreet, to prevent even people who know you extremely intimately in other respects from knowing if/when/where you have a gun.  We know this from our own personal experience (not just from watching James Bond movies!).

We’ve regularly carried in every sort of business and personal situation, and no-one has ever known if we’re carrying or not.  We don’t even talk about it with our spouses – and they know not to enquire.  Our children don’t know about it either.

Maybe you have friends who know you’re pro-gun; maybe they even know you have a concealed weapons permit.  Perhaps they’ll ask you ‘So do you carry a concealed gun?  Do you have one now?’

You have to be careful in your answer, because quite apart from anything else, you want to convey a positive image of gun ownership to this person.

We’d suggest a vague response such as ‘Yes, as you know, I have a concealed carry permit.  That makes it easier for me to buy guns without a waiting period, to transport guns, and of course, it allows me to carry a concealed gun too.  Sometimes, in some situations, I feel comfortable knowing there’s a gun close to me, and I appreciate the rights my carry permit gives me.’

If pressed further ‘So, tell me, Bob; do you have a gun under your jacket now?’ you could laugh and say ‘You know how the US Navy will never confirm or deny whether its ships have nuclear weapons on board?  Well, perhaps I should do the same thing!’  Then seize the conversational initiative and start talking about the other person.  ‘And what about you, too, Joe?  Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?’.  Or whatever else you choose to say.

The One Time You Can Reveal Your Concealed Firearm

The only person who should ever know about your concealed firearm is the bad guy, and preferably mere fractions of a second before he either wisely makes a sudden and profound change of plan; or, if he continues his evil actions, just before he gets a series of very nasty surprises in the center of his chest.

Nov 242011

Practice on a traditional range is good and helpful, but fails to fully prepare you for the probable reality of a subsequent encounter

So you own a handgun, and have it in a typical ‘by the bedside’ sort of location, reasonably available for defensive purposes in extreme situations.

Let’s also say that you went along to a half day introductory type class at a local gun range that gave you a quick introduction to weapons safety, some principles of marksmanship, and an understanding of how your pistol operates and what to do if it malfunctions, along with a quick discussion on your legal rights and obligations associated with the use of deadly force.

Is that enough?  Are there other skills you need to develop, too?  Do you ever need any sort of refresher course?

Well, these are good questions (of course!), and you could write medium-sized books to answer them reasonably completely.  Today, we’re simply going to write a single short article.

The shortest answer is that your first pistol course is not nearly enough, there are many other skills you need to develop (all of which takes a lot more than a single four-hour course), and you need to regularly refresh your training to keep your skills at a reasonable level.

What Skills Should You Train to Develop

Here’s an interesting article that refers to recommended levels of training for police officers, in particular (the emphasis is ours) :

… He also outlined court decisions alleging municipal liability for training for lethal and nonlethal force.

Williamson said the DNR range basically allows for officers to stand still and fire at paper targets.  In the report, Marshall and Williamson said courts have held that officers must be trained in shooting under stress, decision-making, attitude, knowledge, skill, shoot/don’t shoot scenarios, moving targets, firing while in motion, low-light or adverse light shooting, and firing shotguns.  He said officers also need to be training in night shooting, use of tasers and in self-defense.

He called that “the environment in which they work.”

“We need to have scenarios in which we not only teach them when to shoot, but when not to shoot,”  Williamson said. …

Marshall said the cost of bullets for training might seem high, but it does not compare to the liability from a shooting lawsuit.

Williamson said the International Association of Chiefs of Police calls for firearms training three times a year.

Okay, so you’re not a police officer, and you’re not anticipating needing to use your gun on a regular basis.  But perhaps that is all the more reason to train at least as often as they do, because, unlike a policeman, your gun skills aren’t a central part of your consciousness, all day of every day you’re at work.

Let’s think about the circumstances in which you are most likely to need to use your gun for self-defense.  First, it is most likely going to be at night.  Second, it will probably not be at a time and situation of your choosing – it will be in a developing situation which you did not plan for and may not be controlling.  Third, there is likely to be more than one bad guy you will need to defend yourself against.

If you carry a concealed handgun with you for defense outside the home, there are going to be even more challenges and variables, making the experience you encounter even more different to standing in a lane at a range and leisurely firing at static targets.

Now, some of the training this article refers to – in particular, shoot/don’t shoot scenarios, stress, movement and night/low light conditions – are hard to duplicate on a regular static range.  But that is not to say that regular static range training isn’t valuable, and time pressures can help add to the stresses on you there.

Any and all competence is better than none, and the better you are at the basics such as you’d learn on a static ‘square’ range, the less challenging the extra stuff overlaid on top of it becomes.

So all range training is good, and anything you can do to add time pressures and other stress to your basic range training is a plus.

But your training should not only be limited to range work.  You also need to be able to instinctively recognize and respond to the main types of semi-auto pistol malfunction, so if your gun develops a problem, you can quickly resolve the problem and get back in the fight.

You also need to understand the color code of mental awareness, how to anticipate problems and solve them before they escalate to the level of needing lethal force, and having plans in place to quite literally ‘run away’ from problems and threats if at all possible.  If you are only risking the loss of your property, rather than the safety of loved ones or yourself, it is much better to be a live (and prudent!) ‘coward’ than it is to be a dead (or imprisoned!) ‘hero’.

How Much Initial Training is Needed

Of course you know that if you are shown a somewhat complicated multiple step procedure once, you will probably not be able to perfectly duplicate it the first time you try it.

That is only to be expected.  You’ll need to practice and get the skills needed to become quick and competent at any process.

Shooting skills require an additional level of training beyond that normally required for most tasks.  This is because when you find yourself in what is truly the ultimately most stressful of all situations, your brain changes mode from normal reasoning mode to a more instinctive mode.  You need to cement the skills and actions needed in weapons handling into the ‘muscle memory’ part of your brain so that in a high stress environment, you can go through the routines instinctively.

To fix these skills at this type of level, you need somewhere between many hundreds and many thousands of repetitions.  Which leads to the next point…

How Often to Train – And an Easy Training Solution

Next, how often should you train?  The more the merrier; it is impossible to ‘over-train’ when seeking to develop and maintain skill at arms, just the same as it is impossible to over-train if you are a professional athlete or musician.  There is no magic level of training, below which you’ll be the looser in any confrontation, and above which you’re guaranteed to be the winner.  More skill improves the odds in your favor, but random chance and unexpected occurrences can and do lead to unexpected outcomes – sometimes better than you hope, and sometimes worse than you hope, no matter how trained you are.

Ideally, you’d spend time at the range every month. maybe shooting off a box of rounds per visit.  More realistically, you should try to go at least twice a year.  Maybe add it to the list of things you do each time daylight saving changes, or perhaps make it something you do close to your birthday and some other anniversary date more or less six months removed from your birthday.

Now for the easy training solution.  Dry firing at home.  Attend a training course that teaches you how to train at home using dry firing techniques, and which also stresses the essential (and not always obvious) safety precautions you must take to ensure there is no possibility of your dry fire accidentally extending to live fire.

You’ll learn how dry firing can help you become a better shooter than live firing, and the convenience of being able to practice at home will make it much easier for you to include regular dry fire practice sessions.

Dry firing at home will also allow you to practice ‘real’ scenarios in your own home – the environment in which you’re most likely to encounter a deadly threat, and to introduce low light, stress, movement, and any/every other factor you might wish.


Few of us train sufficiently to ensure we can perform adequately in a ‘nightmare’ worst-case self-defense situation, and much traditional type training is inadequate to prepare us for what might occur in a lethal confrontation with an attacker.

Realistically, few of us are motivated enough to invest the time (and money) needed to build and maintain a full set of skills at a high level of competency.

Training therefore necessarily embodies compromises, and we each have to decide where the point is that we’re happiest compromising on.  As professional trainers, we of course urge you to train as much as possible, as realists, we urge you to be wise in your choices for what/how you train.

At home dry-firing practice is an invaluable supplement to traditional live fire training exercises.  And ‘thought’ exercises on what you’d do in various scenarios are also essential, as is a constant level of awareness and alertness, such that hopefully you can resolve situations before they become impossible to solve short of employing deadly force.

Nov 222011

The National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011 has now passed the House but needs to now clear the Senate

Very good news on this topic.  As you may know, for many years now there have been efforts to pass a national concealed carry reciprocity provision which would mean that if you have a concealed carry permit from one state, you could lawfully carry in all other states that allow for concealed carry (which presently is 49 of the 50 states).

At present, there is a confusing and regularly changing mess of a situation where some states recognize permits from some states but not others.  We discuss this in detail in our article about the best way for Washington residents to get as broad a set of concealed carry permissions in other states as possible.

Last week, the House of Representatives passed the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011, also known as HR822.  This was passed by an encouragingly broad majority of 272 to 154, with nearly all Republicans supporting it, and being joined by 43 Democrats.  This act – you can read it here (and it is amazingly short) would allow exactly what we hope for – a situation analogous to drivers licenses; a concealed carry permit from your home state works equally well in all other states too.

Interestingly, our own WA congressman Dave Reichert had an uncertain role (in terms of did he help or hinder) in the final form of the act.  He successfully added an amendment which is now section 4 of the act, requiring the GAO to report back within a year on how easy it is for state and local law enforcement officers to verify the validity of out-of-state concealed weapons permits.

Dave has been at best an uncertain friend to the Second Amendment, and this provision opens the door for a negative report back – ‘The police tell us it is too hard to check on the validity of a person’s concealed weapons permit’ – which could have one of two consequences; neither good.  The first would be repeal of the new law due to it being proven to be unworkable in the field.  The second would be the creation of a federal level concealed weapons permit registry system and license, and few of us can feel comfortable at the thought of allowing another level of government bureaucracy to get in the middle of our right to carry concealed weapons.

If the states can solve the de minimus problem of identifying out-of-state (and even out of country) drivers licenses, surely they can solve the ‘problem’ of how to identify out-of-state concealed weapons permits too.  This should not be an issue, and it is a concern that Reichert has allowed it to potentially become one.

Anyway, it is what it is.

The next step is for the Senate to pass a matching law.  HR822 has been referred to the Senate, but at present there is not yet any schedule set for its hearing or for a vote.  Then of course, we have to cross our fingers and hope another time that the law would receive presidential approval too.  That is far from certain.

If you’d like to help, you could contact our two senators, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray and ask them to support the bill and to help it move speedily through the senate.  Click the links for the contact information for each of them.  Neither are known to be at all pro-gun, but if enough of us call, it might at least dissuade them from actively participating in moves to hinder the bill’s passage through the senate, and the more they hear from us, the more they may find themselves needing to rethink their current gun-unfriendly positions.

Talking points to raise with these two ladies include :

  • You have had a concealed weapons permit for (however many) years and have never been in trouble with the police because of it
  • You sometimes travel out-of-state, and as soon as you cross the state line into Oregon, your gun rights are zeroed out due to Oregon refusing to recognize WA permits (although Idaho does).  In total, 25 states (and DC) refuse to recognize WA permits.
  • The bill passed with bi-partisan support in the house, including the support of a quarter of all Democratic Congressmen
  • The concept is no more extreme – and just as necessary – as requiring each different state to recognize other states’ driving licenses (and there are many different driving laws in each different state, and vastly more deaths and injuries on the road each year than from handguns)
  • The bill doesn’t trample over each state’s rights – out-of-state permit holders have to observe the laws of the state they are visiting (just the same as with drivers)
  • The bill clears up an area of appalling confusion at present that sees ordinary law-abiding citizens risking the danger of becoming inadvertent felons (if one state has suddenly stopped honoring another state’s permit – how can we possibly keep fully up to date on this)

Remember the old adage – keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.  We need to be regularly in contact with Maria and Patty on this and all other gun rights issues.

Nov 082011

These adjustable sights are fragile, obtrusive and unnecessary

Sometimes a pistol you’re thinking of purchasing is available with either fixed or adjustable sights.  I was talking to a lady last week who was considering two guns in the case and who decided she’d prefer the one with adjustable sights, because it was ‘better’.

Not so.  For most of us, and for most of the time, fixed sights are very much better than adjustable sights.

If you are choosing a pistol to use for target shooting, and which you’ll carefully transport always in its protective case, then there is a case to be made for adjustable sights.  And if you have a rifle that you’ll be shooting different loads through, at widely varying ranges, then adjustable sights are essential.

But for home and/or self-defense purposes, adjustable sights are not only unnecessary but may actively be a bad thing and detract from the ease with which you can use your gun when needed.

Six Reasons to Choose Fixed rather than Adjustable Sights for Your Pistol

First, it doesn’t really matter if the sights are slightly out of alignment on a gun that you’ll be using at large targets and short distances.  You’ll probably be snap shooting at the ‘center of mass’ of an oncoming attacker – someone who is already way too close to you, and closing the remaining distance rapidly.

This is not a carefully aimed shot to start with.  You’re going to be instinctively pointing and pulling the trigger as fast as you can rather than carefully making sure you have the correct stance, grip, sight alignment, sight picture, breath and trigger control.

You have a maximum of one, possibly two seconds, in which you need to stop this attacker.  Sight alignment is the least of your worries.

Second, adjustable sights are more delicate than fixed sights.  If you are carrying your pistol, particularly in a hip type holster, you will for sure bump it against things from time to time, and with the sights being one of the bits that stick out, the chances are you’ll be hitting the sights against other objects from time to time.  That is okay for fixed sights, but not so okay for adjustable sights – a few bumps and blows and knocks and you’ve not just bumped them out of alignment, you’ve damaged them so they now wobble loosely or sit on an angle or something.

To put it another way, adjustable sights are something that can more easily ‘go wrong’ – either by accidental damage or just from the stresses inherent in being mounted on the gun’s slide and the strong recoil and spring forces it experiences every time you fire the pistol.

Competition shooters love to adorn their pistols with all sorts of ‘enhancements’ – if they work, the enhancements may improve their chances of winning a competition, and if they don’t work, the worst the shooter has to experience is not winning.

But defensive shooters want a gun that is as simple as possible – the less complex it is, the less that can go wrong, and the more reliable it may be.  Because we – the defensive rather than competition shooters – are relying on our gun to save our life, not win a competition, and the downside we face is similarly extreme.

Third, it is extremely rare for factory fixed sights to be appreciably out of adjustment to start with.  You just don’t need any adjusting capability.  The only thing most of us can do with adjustable sights is ‘un-adjust’ them and make their aiming point worse, rather than better.

Fourth, adjustable sights are often slightly bigger than fixed sights, and may stand proud of the gun a bit more, making it slightly harder to conceal and easier to catch on things.

Fifth, if the sights are indeed larger, they can make fast sight picture acquisition more difficult than with lower seated sights.  A big rear sight obscures your picture of your gun’s barrel, and the rear sight can hide the front sight, making it difficult for you to know if the front sight is to the left or right of the rear sight’s notch.  Or maybe it is neither to the left or the right – maybe it is too low.  These ‘sight acquisition’ issues are not nearly so problematic with small low-rise type fixed sights.

Sixth, if you have a gun with a short barrel, the sight radius – the distance between the front and back sight – is so short to start with that fine accuracy is never going to be possible.

So – do you want adjustable sights on your next defensive handgun?  Hopefully not!

For More Information

For more information, please refer to our detailed series on choosing a pistol.

Nov 072011

Use each Daylight Saving switchover to remind you to run through this checklist

They say (whoever it is that ‘they’ are) you should check the batteries in your smoke detectors every time daylight saving switches on or off.  That is probably a good idea, but don’t just stop with checking the batteries in the smoke detectors.

We recommend you use these six monthly occurrences as a prompt to check some other things that, the same as smoke detectors, might make all the difference in an emergency between safely surviving and, well – let’s just say ‘not safely surviving’, shall we!

Here’s a check list of home and self-defense items to check over too.

1.  Light bulbs

Check all your exterior and key interior lights and make sure the bulbs are all functioning correctly.  If you have any lights that are essential to your home defense plan, consider swapping the bulbs for new ones every six months.  Take the still working bulbs and use them, as needed, for other lights in less critical locations.

Most lights give no warning or indication of their pending failure, and while bulbs have an average life, they are a bit like people.  Some keep working perfectly way beyond their promised lifespan, but others fail tragically early.  This is as true of ‘long life’ bulbs as it is of regular bulbs.

Of course, if you have a ‘must work’ light somewhere, you should consider having a twin head to the light, with two lamps, so that you have built-in backup in the event either bulb fails.

Flashlight bulbs

If you have defensive flashlights – well, of course you do, right?  For your defensive flashlights, make sure they do not have ‘old fashioned’ incandescent type bulbs, or even newer style Xenon or halogen or whatever.  There is only one type of light source that is acceptable these days for defensive flashlights – LED lights.  This is for two reasons.

First, they have a very long life indeed (think tens of thousands of hours).  Second, they are very efficient – they use very little power to generate a huge amount of light.  Third (a bonus reason!) they are small and don’t generate a massive amount of heat, allowing you the flexibility of much tinier flashlights that are easier to carry and operate.

2.  Batteries

Don’t just check the batteries in your smoke detector.  Check the batteries in any and all other things you might use for self/home defense purposes too.  Of course, flashlight batteries are an obvious thing to check, and the rule of thumb is that you’ve always used more battery life than you think.

What other devices do you have with batteries in them?  Go through all the gear in your emergency kits and make an inventory of what you have that is battery-powered.

Make sure that batteries are still at least six months away from their expiry date, that they haven’t started to swell or corrode/leak, and that they can fully power the device they are with.

If devices use rechargeable batteries, check that they are being correctly recharged, and also check that once you take the device off its always-on trickle charger, that the battery has reasonably good life.  Batteries can sometimes fail over time, even if they are never used.

Perhaps under this category can also be considered your emergency power generator, if you have one.  You should run this for 5 – 15 minutes or more every month or two or three, and definitely at least once every six months.  And keep it with only a little fuel in it so you can burn through the fuel and replace it rather than end up with five-year old fuel that will not work and/or which will damage the generator when it is finally operated.

Make sure also that you can access and activate your generator in an emergency.  If you have no power, and your generator is in your garage, how will you get it out of the garage (if the garage door won’t open electrically)?

3.  Inventory of Supplies

You probably have various things as part of your emergency kits – in your cars, in your home, maybe at work, and take-along kits that you always keep with you.

Check each of these different emergency kits and make sure that they are full and everything is operational.  Maintain anything with moving parts.  Check expiry dates on other items – because you won’t be checking again for six months, make sure you’ve still got at least six months of validity in them.

Replenish anything that has been taken from the kits.

4.  Guns

Field strip, clean and oil all your guns, whether you’ve fired them or not in the last six months.  Even if they haven’t been touched, they may have gathered dust or in some other way now could benefit from a bit of TLC.

As part of this process, you’ll see if there are any problems with corrosion, or any other unexpected issues.  Maybe you’ve had a moth lay eggs inside, or rodent infestations, or anything at all.  You need to check your guns on a regular basis, at least six monthly.

This also means you are inventorying your guns, too, and confirming their locations and readiness states.

Part of inventorying your guns should also involve checking your logs for each gun and totaling up the rounds fired.  Is it time for some gun-smithing?  Do you need to give the gun an overhaul and get some springs replaced?

5.  Ammo

You should inventory the ammunition you keep at home, and make sure you are properly rotating ammunition so that you are shooting the oldest stuff first.  Don’t end up with a box/case in the back of everything that stays untouched and almost forgotten about, while you buy newer boxes of ammo, shoot them off, and replace them, on a regular basis.

This will also give you a feeling for what your supply levels are like.  Is it time to check around for a bulk pricing deal on a large re-order?

Critical Defense Ammo

By this we mean the ammunition you keep loaded into your magazines and in your primary defense guns.

Although most modern ammunition has a long shelf life (five, ten, maybe even twenty or more years depending on how it is stored) the ammunition you keep loaded in your guns will have a much shorter life, while also needing to have the highest degree of reliability.

The ammunition that you carry is all the time being attacked by corrosive sweat, humidity, temperature changes, and, if in your gun, possibly by gun oil and other cleaners/lubricants too.

We suggest that every six months you shoot off the ammo that is always in your guns, and replace that with the ammo that are in your extra magazines (which will then get shot off in six months time too).  That way the ammo in your gun never sits there for more than six months, and the other carry ammo spends probably six months being carried, then six months in the gun, before also being used up.

Shooting your ‘real’ defensive ammo is of course more expensive than your plinking ammunition, but needs to be done from time to time just to reassure yourself that it is still working perfectly, feeding perfectly, and to remind you of the different shooting experience you’ll get from shooting possibly hotter loads than you use for plinking and practice.

6.  Magazines

No, not the things you buy at the bookstore to read.  The things that hold your ammunition.  🙂

We generally recommend that you never load magazines all the way to maximum capacity.  Single stack magazines should have one less than the maximum number of rounds, and double stack magazines two less.

This reduces the stress on the spring in the magazine, and also it seems that if a semi-auto is going to jam, it is most likely to do so when the magazine is completely full (also can jam when nearly empty).  So by not filling your magazines all the way to the top, you give yourself a bit more reliability.

We recommend that every six months, you rotate your magazines.  Empty out the ones you normally carry loaded, and fill up a matching set of spares.  That way, your magazines and their springs get six months of duty followed by six months of recovery.

Yes, do the math.  If you typically have a magazine in your semi-auto pistol and two extra magazines, that does mean you’ll need to have six magazines total.  It is a small price to pay.

7.  Range Visit

Several of the things you need to do every six months might involve shooting some ammo.  Even if nothing causes you to ‘need’ to go shooting, when did you last spend some time at the range?

Skill at arms is a ‘perishable’ skill.  While it is probably true that you never forget how to ride a bike, your skill at arms definitely drops off if you don’t practice it from time to time.

In truth, you should visit a range much more than once every six months.  But if other things get in the way of spending an hour at the range on a regular basis, you’re far from the first person to mean to go to the range more often than you actually make it there.  But do make it a high priority item to go at least twice a year – and this is as good a time trigger as any other.

This is even more true if you’ve never built up a basic mastery (is that an oxymoron – ‘basic mastery’) of your weapons in the first place.  If you don’t instinctively know how to work your safety lever, if you can’t almost without thinking respond to and clear a jam, if you don’t always focus solely on the front sight, then you should invest more time to build your skills up to the point where they are more readily maintained.

8.  Everything Else

What else is part of your home/car/personal defense gear?  All sorts of things.  Well, for sure, you have fire extinguishers in your home, right?  Check those for pressure and expiry dates.  Check the pressure in the spare tire in your car(s).  If you keep spare cans of gas in the garage, even after treating them with fuel stabilizer, you need to use those up and replace them perhaps every six months.

If you keep a bulk supply of emergency drinking water, that needs to be flushed and replaced, perhaps also every six months.  Frozen food and dry goods also has finite shelf life.

How about other things not so obviously related to defense?  Emergency contact details, both your own that you’ve given to other people, and those of people you in turn want to be able to reach in an emergency.  Are your present emergency routes – for example, to the nearest hospital – still correct?

If you have children, you may need to update details of their school contacts, their probable friends, and such things too.

You should consider also having a ‘family meeting’ to quickly go through the family plans for emergencies of all kinds.  Again, if you have children, their roles will be changing as the grow up and mature, and with other changes in your life and situation, other aspects of how best to respond to all emergencies – not just those involving lethal force in a life or death self-defense situation – are ideally revised and reviewed every six months too.

Have there been any legal changes that might alter how you should respond to an emergency?  You should check with a reliable source every so often to see if the laws have changed – either for the better or worse.  Remember that ignorance of the law is no excuse.

A little time spent going through a checklist such as this every six months will help ensure that if you ever need to use any of these emergency items or strategies, they are likely to work as needed at the time when they are indeed desperately needed, and also means that you are more likely to be familiar with how to use these items and best respond to whatever the emergency is.

Nov 022011

This chart from Gallup’s 2011 survey clearly shows the erosion of support for banning handguns.

Sometimes – if we are to believe the media reports – we may feel that we’re in a small and extremist minority because of our interest in firearms, and our personal ownership of them.  It isn’t just the media – the chances are you probably know some friends, colleagues, and/or neighbors who are vociferously opposed to any sort of guns and any sort of gun ownership, under any sort of situation.

The loudness of these people’s sincerely held opposition to firearms sometimes serves to obscure the fact that it is they, not us, who are the minority extremists.

This is vividly shown in the annual Gallup Crime Poll, where the well-known polling organization gathers statistics on people’s attitudes to guns as part of their crime survey.  This year’s results (the poll was held in early October) have just been released, and the results are very conclusive.

Only one in four American adults favor an outright ban on handgun ownership.  A record low of only 26% favor this, whereas an all time high of 73% of Americans are opposed.

We know there are two types of gun the media (and gun haters) particularly focus on – pistols and so-called ‘assault rifles’ – a made up term that has no meaning or reality other than whatever it is the anti-gunners choose it to mean from time to time.  And this year, even with the best will in the world (and a question designed to make it easy to support banning), Gallup can’t get people to support an ‘assault rifle’ ban, either.  An all-time low of 43% of American support banning ‘assault rifles’, compared to 53% who oppose such bans.

There are also significant changes in the number of households who are now admitting to owning a firearm.  This year 47% of adults said there was a gun in their house or elsewhere on their property, up from 41% last year, and the highest level since 1993.

Interestingly, Gallup themselves wonder if part of the reason for the sharp drop in claimed household gun ownership in the second half of the 1990s was due to people simply lying and not admitting to owning guns.  This is understandable – it is not always prudent to admit to a stranger on the phone that you keep guns in your house.

So maybe the increase in apparent household gun ownership is due merely to more people feeling free to tell the truth about their gun ownership?

On the other hand, it seems reasonable to expect that overall gun ownership – whatever the real true level actually may be – is on the rise.  Gun sales are booming, and more guns are being sold per month now than at any other time since gun sales started to be nationally tracked.  All new gun sales are sort of reported in the form of gun dealers needing to get approvals from the FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), a system instituted in late 1998.  The FBI publish monthly statistics on the number of requests received each month and as you can see, these numbers have been steadily and significantly increasing for the last ten years.

If anything, it is surprising that only 47% of households have a gun.  With 130 million NICS checks since 1998, and – by coincidence – the same number of households in the US, it seems that, on average, every household in the country has bought a gun in the last 13 years.  And because guns have very long lives, most of these gun sales have been new guns rather than replacement guns.

This is supported by our own sense of who it is that come into our stores and buy guns from us.  We’re seeing a lot more ‘first time’ gun buyers, in all age groups and demographics, coming in, getting advice, carefully considering it, and walking out with their first ever gun.

Anyway, whatever the level of real true gun ownership is, this Gallup survey shows us some very clear things.  People are more supportive of gun ownership than at any previous time over the last 20 or more years, and people are both buying and owning more guns than ever before, too.

So, please don’t feel part of a strange minority group.  You’re part of the (silent) majority.