Apr 222012

In theory, your training should prepare you with the exact skills you need for a real life situation. In reality, that is usually not the case.

There is a problem associated with almost all training that you’ll receive on the subject of self-defense.  Your training will not comprehensively cover all situations in which you might need to deploy the skills you are supposedly being taught.

This is in part because each person is different, and each situation/scenario is different, and so the correct techniques and tactics should also be different for every person and every situation/scenario.

Okay, so sometimes those differences mightn’t be significant, but sometimes they are huge.  They can make the difference between, for example, shooting and not shooting.  These differences might not only be starkly at odds with each other, but the outcomes you create, depending on which set of responses you adopt, can also be about as hugely different as is ever possible – your unharmed survival or your death; the need to shoot attackers or not, and so on.

Whereas there is presumably only one correct way to – well, I was trying to come up with an example of how there is obviously and only one way to do something, but I couldn’t.  Maybe all actions have alternatives of varying degrees of adequacy, but choosing one method or another of putting your trousers on in the morning (eg do you put your left leg in first or your right leg, or do you sit on a chair and put both in simultaneously) is hardly likely to have life changing outcomes.  On the other hand, choosing the wrong method to respond to a life threatening situation quite likely may have life changing outcomes.

Training Limitations

When it comes to self-defense and firearms training, you have two challenges.

The first challenge is that if you’re in a typical training class, the instructor will necessarily and unavoidably be teaching a ‘dumbed down’ set of average actions that work acceptably well for most people, most of the time.  He only has you for four or eight hours, or maybe even for only forty or even eighty hours, and he has to divide his teaching time among all the people in the class.

There’s no way he can give you the hundreds or thousands of hours of one on one tuition that you’d need to end up with a reasonably comprehensive understanding of what to do in varying scenarios.

The second challenge is that, unless he is unusually expert and experienced, he is also going to have an unavoidable set of biases that will cause him to focus on teaching you two sets of skills – the first set being those which he’s found, in the past, are easiest to explain to students, and the second set being those which he’s found have worked best for him.

Needless to say, what works best for him, and what is easiest for other students to grasp may not also be the best thing for you, or for any given situation you subsequently find yourself in.

Other training limitations exist as well.

For example, you might find yourself in a class where the instructor requires you to use a revolver, even though you don’t own a revolver and have no wish to shoot one.  What is the point of learning to shoot a slightly different type of gun, experiencing a different type of recoil sensation, and developing a slightly different grip, and of course, having to learn a completely different approach to reloading and gun management, if it is a gun you know you’ll never own or use?

Instructors who do such things have lots of justification for why it makes sense, and maybe it does, for some people, some of the time, but it doesn’t do a lot of good to you if you’re not one of those people.

Ego and Marketing Issues

There are other issues at play as well.  A particular school may have made a name for itself with a particular style of tactics, and this is their focus and all they teach.  They’re not interested in considering other approaches, because that is not their part of the marketplace.  It is like going to a Ford dealer and trying to buy a Toyota.

This is also true of big name instructors.  There are three ways to become a ‘famous’ instructor.  One is to have a distinctive twist or technique that you teach, the second is to be a shameless self-promoter, and the third is to be brilliant at teaching skills.

The sad truth is that most of the big name instructors are big names not because they are brilliant at teaching basic or even advanced level self-defense skills, but instead, due to some mix of the first two elements, and indeed, each feeds off the other.  If you aggressively promote yourself, you need some distinctive thing to feature about yourself, which leads into the first aspect of how to ‘succeed’ as an instructor – having a distinctive twist.

Official Methodologies

Even if you’re at a school which is reasonably open-minded, they will still have some rules, procedures, and limits for simplicity and good order.

One example of this is the basic shooting stance they teach.  It is rare to go to a school which does not have a standard shooting stance that is its ‘official’ stance.  Some will mandate you adopt a form of (modified) Weaver stance, others a form of (modified) Isosceles stance.

If you’ve ever wondered ‘How can this perfectly sensible group of instructors all claim that a Weaver variant is the only way to go, while this other perfectly sensible group of instructors all claim that an Isosceles variant is the solution?’ then that’s a very fair question, the answer to which is the theme of this article.  There is almost nothing

Would you like another example?  How about something as simple as reloading your semi-auto pistol.  Most instructors teach you to index the fresh magazine into the pistol’s magazine well at an angle against the rear of the magazine well.  But some teach you instead to do this at an angle to the side of the magazine well.

Is one better than the other?  Clearly some people think so, but which is the better solution, and why don’t all instructors agree on this.

Do you want another example.  Here’s one that has nothing to do with the mechanics of shooting, but rather the tactics of shooting.  Probably most instructors advocate you should do a ‘tactical reload’ any time the opportunity presents itself in a gunfight.  But some instructors disagree, and say you should run your gun until it is empty and only then do an emergency reload.

There are arguments in favor of both approaches, but how often will you hear an instructor tell you ‘There are two ways to manage your gun’s ammo inventory during a gunfight, I’ll explain them both to you and you can then choose whichever you prefer’?

These issues don’t only apply to skill at arms.  How many different types of unarmed self-defense are there out there?  From long-standing methodologies such as Judo and Aikido through to modern systems such as Krav Maga, there are probably a dozen or more different approaches to unarmed combat, each claiming to be better than the others.

Safety on the Range Sacrifices Safety in Real Life

Let’s look at another challenge that interferes with what in theory should be taught to you.  Range safety.  And here’s a strange contradiction.  Instructors will chant the mantra ‘You must train how you’ll fight’ and quote great examples of how people have been killed in confrontations due to inappropriately but automatically/instinctively performing their range training routines rather than the combat routines (things like carefully saving their spent brass while reloading, for example).

But then these same instructors turn around and modify the actions you must take in a gun fight due to range safety issues.

Here’s a very clear example.  There are many different ways to hold a pistol when you’re not actively sighted in on a target and shooting.  One way is called ‘low ready’ where your arms are reasonably outstretched but angled down, with the pistol pointing ahead and towards the ground at about a 45° angle.  Another is called ‘retention ready’ where your arms are close to your chest, with your pistol pointing straight ahead, parallel to rather than angled down to the ground.

There are pro’s and con’s to both ready positions, and there are different scenarios where each might be the better position to hold your pistol.  But the same instructor who has, just a short while earlier, been going over the four gun safety rules, including Rule 2 about never pointing your gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy, and Rule 4 about being aware of what is in front, behind, and to either side of whatever you are pointing your gun at; may forbid you from using a low ready position on the range, requiring you to always use the retention ready position.

The thing is, a retention ready position has your gun pointing straight out, and in most environments, somewhere in the mile or so of danger range the gun has, there will probably be something your gun is pointing at that you truly don’t want to shoot.

A low ready position means that any accidental discharge of your gun is going to go relatively harmlessly into the ground a short distance in front of you, but the retention ready position means the bullet you didn’t mean to fire is going to go somewhere you didn’t mean to hit – a gross violation of gun safety.

So why do instructors forbid you to use low ready when training on the range?

Because, on a range, the safest place to point your gun is straight ahead – ie, towards the backstop at the far end of the range.  Pointing the gun at and accidentally shooting the floor might do a very very small bit of damage to the floor, which of course the range owner doesn’t want to happen, even though he has (or, at least, should have) built the range to be bullet proof in all directions and angles from where you are standing.

In other words, the safest direction on a range is the exact opposite of the safest direction in real life.  So, in most cases, what is most convenient for the range owner takes precedence over what is best for you to learn and safest for the people and things around you in the real world.

One more example of range training compromises.  In real life, your ‘after action drills’ involve you doing a complete 360° scan all around you; indeed, in real life, you should be as focused on what is behind you as what is in front of you.  Unseen bad guys are as likely to creep up from behind as they to jump out in front of you with a good-natured shout of ‘Surprise!’.

But on the range, instructors – with obvious and good reason – get extremely nervous any time you shift your attention and posture from facing more or less directly straight ahead.  There’s no way you can turn 360° without muzzling other students, and the instructor(s) too.  So you are taught to restrict your after action scanning to just a narrow band a little each side of straight ahead.  You are training in a way that is safe for other people on the range, but which would be dangerous for you in real life.

What to Do – How to Get Effective Instruction

Yes, there’s little that is black and white in self-defense.  But, just to make things more challenging, you may also notice that a common characteristic of many instructors is to be apparently close minded and very insistent that their suggested procedures are the best method to adopt, and that all other procedures are inferior.

So, here’s the unfortunate bottom line.  You have to put what you’re being taught in context, and you have to see past your instructor’s forceful advocacy of what he is teaching you, and you have to decide what will be best for you.

To make it even more difficult, sometimes the ‘best for you’ thing is not the same as the ‘easiest for you’ thing.  Sometimes you’ll have to force yourself not to take shortcuts and to train to do a more complicated and difficult thing.

We have several concrete suggestions for you as well.

First, test your instructor to see how rigid and closed-minded he may be.  For example, ask him why he is teaching a Weaver or Isosceles stance – ‘But don’t a lot of schools teach the other stance instead?  Are they equally good?’

What you’re looking for is an admission that his preferred methodology is much the same as other methodologies, or only very slightly subtly better, and a willingness to consider and discuss other approaches.  You want an instructor who not only admits to shades of grey, but who is willing to discuss and debate these shades of grey.

You also should separate your training into different categories.  The first category is to master basic skills – the ability to shoot well from a standing position at a static target, and the ability to ‘run your gun’ – to keep it fed with ammo, and to diagnose and clear any malfunctions as and when they may occur.

But once you’ve achieved a level of competency at these basic fundamental skills, you then need to start your ‘real life’ training – training that starts to add movement and realistic constraints and requirements on what you do and how you do it.  These skills – sometimes named ‘combat’ skills although that’s an aggressive term that sounds bad when portrayed as such to a jury – are the skills that will give you the edge and help you to both survive and succeed in any encounter where you’re required to use deadly force.

Developing these skills may require more costly instruction by a truly competent instructor, and in small group sizes (or even one on one).  Mass market classes are too restricted by all the factors mentioned above to truly teach you the full survival skills you’ll need in a real life encounter.

Apr 162012

The scene shortly before eight police officers fired more than 90 rounds at a crazy youth.

There’s a lot of valuable experience and skill to be gained from time at the range.  We all need regular range time to maintain our shooting skills, because they are ‘perishable’.  Unlike riding a bike – something you learn once and remember always – if you don’t keep practicing your shooting skills, they fade away.

However, there’s another sort of learning and experience we can, we should, we must gain as well; and this is the knowledge and understanding we can get without ever leaving home and without even touching a firearm.  This learning comes from studying real world events and encounters, and learning the lessons to be gleaned from them.

Here’s an interesting example of a real world encounter, which leads to two important self-defense lessons.

To quickly summarize the situation, a ‘troubled’ Muslim youth with prior convictions who seemed to have some sort of police fixation lead Los Angeles police on a chase around Los Angeles, driving a former police car.  While doing this, he phoned 911 and uttered various threats of violence against the pursuing police, and said that if they drew and pointed their guns at him, he’d do the same to them.

Eventually the strange chase came to an end on the 101 freeway.  The youth jumped out of his car after the police had rammed and immobilized it, and many police in turn rushed out of their cars and towards the youth.  A strange sort of semi chase then occurred across the freeway lanes, with the youth alternating between running away, dancing around, and turning to the police while adopting shooting stances, hands outstretched with some sort of object in them.

It was night, the distances were short, and several of the police were out in the open rather than behind cover.  Add to that the youth’s threats to 911 which had of course been passed on to the pursuing officers, and his past arrests/convictions, so of course, and completely understandably, when the youth did this the police switched from pursuing the youth to defending themselves against what likely was a crazed madman with a gun, about to make good on his threat and shoot at the officers.

It is unclear how many police were present at this point, but at least eight officers fired more than 90 shots at the youth before he collapsed and subsequently died.  The shooting went on for at least ten and probably 15 seconds.  There’s a good video linked at the bottom of this page that provides helicopter filmed coverage of the final parts of the chase and then the fatal encounter after the youth’s car was stopped.

There are two lessons to be gleaned from this scenario.

1.  Number of Shots Fired

We don’t know exactly how many shots were fired, all we know is that the total was more than 90, which of course could be any number greater than this.  We don’t know how many of the shots were fired after the youth collapsed, but it is probable that most of the shots were fired prior to that point.  We also don’t know how many of the rounds hit the youth prior to his collapsing.

If you look at the video you’ll see more or less when the police start shooting, and you’ll notice the youth remains active and seemingly unimpaired, even though on at least a couple of occasions he seems to pause as a result of being hit before then resuming his crazy behavior.

Now put yourself into this picture – not as the crazy youth, of course.  But perhaps imagine that you’re in a situation where some crazy person gives chase to you in your car, perhaps as a result of some imagined discourtesy you exhibited while driving.  Your attacker eventually forces your car off the road, and you are forced to respond to his aggression with lethal force.

How many rounds will you have to fire at him to end his attack on you?

Most of us, when we mentally role play scenarios like this, usually envision shooting two or three or four times maximum.  We also, truth be told, probably cherish a major hope (fantasy?) that the simple presentation and brandishing of our handgun will scare the bad guy away, and as a backup to that first level of optimism, we hope that as soon as we fire a single shot at the bad guy, he’ll surrender or run away.

Let’s think about this.  Do you see any sign of rational behavior or submission/surrender on the part of the youth in this scenario?  And he has at least eight police officers, first all chasing him, then secondly all shooting at him.  He doesn’t at any point surrender or stop.  He stays ‘in the fight’ in his strange way all the way through until being fatally stopped.

We all of us have to plan for worst case, not best case scenarios.  If we want to live our lives based on the hope of exclusively enjoying best case scenarios, we don’t need a gun at all, we don’t need locks on our doors, and so on.  But if we are willing to plan for worst case scenarios, we need to plan all the way, not stop half way.  It is a bit like insuring your house.  You either fully insure it or you don’t insure it at all, but it makes no sense to half insure it.

So, back to the question.  How many shots will it take to stop your own crazy guy/attacker?

Let’s think about one more thing as well.  In the encounter we are talking about, you have at least eight professional trained policemen, who go to work every day in the knowledge they might end up needing to use their weapons, and who practice regularly.  Each of the eight was supported by the rest of the eight, and probably they all had body armor on.  The confrontation was clearly one that they would win, and even if one or two officers had the misfortune to be hit (and as it turned out, the youth had no gun, and so obviously never returned fire) they knew their brother officers would support them, and that paramedics would be on the way there in short order.

This is not to say it wasn’t a high stress situation.  Of course it was.  But as high as the stress level might have been, imagine how much higher your stress would be, as a single person, forced to respond to an unreasoning attack by a crazy person.  You have no backup, no body armor, and have probably never shot at a person before.  Your shooting will be much more panicky and less well controlled than that of the eight (or more) police officers.

So, and here’s the point :  If it takes eight police officers at least 90 shots to get this crazy youth out of the fight, how many shots will it take you in a similar situation?

It would seem reasonable to assume that you would need at least as many shots, but let’s give you the benefit of the doubt and say that you only missed half as many shots as did the LA police officers, and let’s also say that the rounds you did get on target were better placed.  So perhaps you ‘only’ need at least 45 rounds to stop your own crazy attacker from continuing his threat.

Sure, there are cases where the mere sight of a gun will stop an attack, and other cases where a single shot fired will stop an attack.  Sometimes a bad guy will collapse from a ‘lucky’ first shot.  But look at the video again – you are looking at a case where it took eight police officers more than 90 shots to get this guy down.  Don’t reject the evidence in front of you – accept it and incorporate it into your training and your preparedness.

Now for some implications of this calculation.

  • Do you have at least 45 rounds with you at all times?  Sure, you have however many rounds are in your pistol to start with, but how many extra magazines (for semi-autos) or speed loaders (for revolvers) do you also have with you?
  • What say your attacker had a second (or third, possibly even fourth) person with him.  How many rounds would you need to stop two, three or four people?  Do the math – you won’t like the answer.
  • Look at the distances in this encounter.  The crazy guy was never more than one or at the most two seconds from the officers.  So consider this :  You’ve emptied your gun at your attacker, and he’s still pressing the fight.  You need to reload.  How long will it take you to reload?  Clearly you’ve got no more than perhaps 1.5 seconds to get your gun running again.  Can you get your gun reloaded – not on the range where you’re standing calm and still, with spare magazines in pouches on your belt, but in the real world where you’re having to move, to defend yourself, and to retrieve spare magazines from wherever you keep them on your person?

2.  Aftermath of a Justified Use of Deadly Force

The first of the two linked articles does a reasonably good job of reporting on how the dead youth’s relatives instantly make him out to be a saint rather than a sinner, while also providing some rebuttals to the claims of the relatives.

Some of these claims are so ridiculous as to almost be amusing – he didn’t hate police, he wanted to be a police officer himself and was slain by the very people he admired and wanted to join.  He wasn’t pretending to point a gun at the police, he was extending his arms in peaceful prayer.  And so on.

While it could be argued that 90+ rounds was perhaps a few more than needed, watch the video, understand the background, and you’ll agree this was a fully justified use of lethal force.  But not in the minds of the now grieving relatives – and potentially not in the mind of the public at large (who seldom understand the ugly realities of self-defense) and potentially not in the mind of prosecutors and jurors, either.

Every crazy attacker is probably also some mother’s son, maybe some wife’s husband, some children’s father, and so on.  Even the worst of people have friends.  And the certain truth is that if any news media has to choose between a sobbing grieving relative talking about how the loss of her son/husband/father is now destroying her own future life and how ‘he didn’t deserve to die’ on the one hand; and on the other hand to show a happy laughing cheering mother/wife/child rejoicing in how their son/husband/father survived a deadly encounter and was coming home safe, which do you think they’ll feature in their story?

Happy survivors are not news – if anything, they strike a discordant note.  Unhappy grieving ‘victims’ make for good stories and compelling viewing.

Even in the most extreme and justified situations where you have validly used deadly force to defend yourself, you’ll find a lot of negativity focused on you.

In other words, no matter what the situation, any time you can, your best strategy is always to avoid the fight.  To run away, not as a coward, but as a wise person choosing to win the broader battle for the quality of the rest of your life.  The most essential skill to develop is how to avoid fights – how to anticipate and get out of potentially dangerous situations before they become fully dangerous, and how to happily run away rather than stick around.

But if you do run out of options, and have to fight for your safety, make sure you don’t also run out of ammunition!

Apr 062012

It is alarmingly common for bad guys to work in groups rather than alone. You need to plan and prepare for this.

It has been our general experience that most people, when taking training or buying a gun, are doing so to protect themselves against a single attacker.  A lone rapist.  A solo mugger.  An independent burglar.  One crazed drug addict.  You get the picture.

But this is not necessarily the way it will go down, if/when you end up in a deadly confrontation.  You know that if you see one rat somewhere in your house, that usually means there is a whole group of rats making their home in your home.  Rats are social creatures, ‘rats hunt in packs’.

This is true not only of rats.  It is commonly true with bad guys.  They’re also social creatures, and not only do they enjoy each other’s company, many times being a bad guy truly is a two person job.  It makes it easier for them to carry televisions out of a house they are burgling; gives them much more dominance and control if mugging a person on the street, gives them mutual encouragement, protection, and all those other good things.  It even gives them someone to brag to, and someone to confirm their boasting subsequently when telling other acquaintances about what they did.

So, here’s the thing.  If you’ve become aware of one person in a threatening position/demeanor, don’t stop looking and focus in on that single person.  You should anticipate that this person has at least one accomplice, and if you can’t see their accomplice, that doesn’t mean they’re not there; it just means you haven’t found them yet.

This is true on the street, and it is also true in your own home.  This article is being offered to you now in response to this story of a retired former police officer who was taking an afternoon nap in his home in Puyallup.  He woke to find not one, not two, not three, but four intruders in his house, and upon seeing him wake up, one of them rushed at him with a crowbar.

Fortunately, it seems the ex-police officer had read our recent article ‘Where Are You Most Likely to Need a Gun‘.  It isn’t clear where he was having his snooze – perhaps in his favorite comfy chair in his living room – but wherever he was, he had his gun with him, and was able to instantly defend himself.  He fired multiple shots fatally wounding the crowbar wielding attacker, and the other three ran off.

It is relatively unusual to have to fight off four bad guys, but as the article clearly demonstrates, it is not entirely unheard of.

Are you ready to defend yourself against multiple attackers?  There are two things in particular to keep in mind.

First, don’t think the fight is over once you’ve stopped the first attacker.  That’s why we teach you after shooting to physically force yourself to break your locked focus on the bad guy you were fighting – we teach you to ‘look and move’.

This reflexive action both physically reminds you of the need to find other bad guys and also gets you started in doing what you need to do to reduce your exposure (moving) and to help you find other potential attackers (looking).

The Problem With Revolvers

Second, just how effective do you think a revolver with five or six rounds in its cylinder will be against two or three or four attackers?  If we estimate that you’ll miss half the shots you take, and that you’ll need to place three or four shots on an attacker to stop them, go and do the sums.  Each bad guy will need six to eight shots to be taken out of the fight.

You’ve got enough rounds in your revolver for one bad guy – maybe two if you’re lucky.  You know that – and so too do the bad guys.  Everyone ‘knows’ that a revolver has six rounds (there are exceptions to this, both up and down, but the general belief is that a revolver has six shots) and the bad guys can sense when you’ve probably fired off all six rounds just as well as you can, and they also know that reloading a revolver takes time.

Most people will be out of the fight for somewhere between 5 – 10 seconds while they single-mindedly focus on reloading their revolver; and that’s way too long in an open fight with the bad guys on one side of your lounge and you one the other side.

At least with a modern semi-auto, you’ll hopefully have 15 or more rounds in the pistol, so by the time you’ve shot those 15 rounds off, you’ve probably massively changed the dynamics of the encounter in your favor, and instead of taking 5 – 10 seconds of concentrated effort to reload, you can swap magazines in your semi-auto in as little as 1.5 seconds and without taking your eyes off your surroundings.

Better still, you can do a ‘tactical reload’ at an advantageous lull in the gun fight with a semi-auto (also something you should be able to do in under two seconds with a bit of practice), but doing the same sort of thing with a revolver again takes you out of the fight for 5 – 10 seconds.  It is possible to think of situations where you can steal a couple of seconds to swap magazines, but it is hard to think how in an ongoing encounter you’ll be able to safely take yourself and your gun out of the fight for up to 10 seconds.

Don’t get us wrong.  We love revolvers, and most of us have one or two of our own.  But they are never our primary gun of choice in a ‘real’ deadly encounter.  And with sufficient training, it is possible to get stunningly fast at reloading a revolver.  But for ordinary people with ordinary levels of training, forget it.


Bottom line?  Plan in advance to anticipate any encounter as involving multiple bad guys.  Make sure your tactics and your weapons are appropriate for a one on many situation, and most of all, don’t let your guard down at any point in the encounter – just because you can’t see the other bad guy(s) doesn’t mean they’re not there, and just because they are running away right now doesn’t mean they mightn’t regroup around the corner, circle around, and come back at you.

Apr 032012


A laser shows you where your gun is pointing, but when you pull the trigger, the gun may move

I was in a basic handgun class recently and we were explaining sight options.  One of the students suddenly and excitedly started talking about laser sights.  ‘You just need to shine the laser at the target, and whatever the laser is pointing at (assuming it is correctly sighted in) your bullets will hit’, he enthusiastically assured us.  He’d seen a video on a laser sight supplier’s website and so ‘knew’ this to be true.

I wish I could say that is the only time I’ve come across such a misperception.  I’ve had plenty of people come into the gun store and want to buy laser sights for their pistols to improve their accuracy.

Alas, this is all completely wrong.  It is easy to understand how the misperception arises – there is no way to misunderstand where a laser dot is located, and so surely it makes aiming a gun a simplistic and impossible to get wrong thing.

To understand where the error in the logic of this misperception creeps in, we need to look at a broader picture of what constitutes accurate shooting.  There are many different factors that go into good marksmanship, and a laser sight only addresses two of them.

Stance, grip, posture, breath control and all sorts of other factors are minor contributors to accurate marksmanship, and if you want to become a competition shooter and winner, you’ll obsess over every last factor that goes into improving your accuracy.  But in a ‘combat accuracy’ self defense scenario, where you’ll be under time pressure and general extreme stress, there are only three factors that matter to getting rounds acceptably on target.

The three key factors are sight alignment, sight picture, and trigger control.  And guess which of these three factors is the most important?  Yes, trigger control.

At typical self-defense distances (ie anywhere from ‘bad breath’ distance out to perhaps 21 ft) and when shooting for ‘center of mass’ (ie not a small bullseye but instead a relatively large space about 8″ wide and 12″ high) you can have your sights only very approximately on the center of mass and still score hits within that zone.  You don’t need and don’t have time for extreme precision with your aiming.

But what you must make time for, and what you do need, is good trigger control.  To put it in the most simple terms, you need to be able to squeeze the trigger without jerking it or moving the gun as part of the trigger squeeze.  This sounds easy in theory, but it is difficult in practice, particularly when you add some hard-to-control flinching into the process.

Here’s a video we created, using a SIRT training pistol, that demonstrates the challenge.

As you can see from the video, it is relatively easy to get the laser dot pointed at the center of the bullseye target.  The challenge is keeping the pistol aligned at the center of the bullseye when you pull the trigger.  The two big problems are not gently squeezing the trigger to get the ‘surprise break’ when the gun eventually goes ‘bang’, and flinching/jerking/anticipating the gun’s recoil and moving the entire pistol and its aiming point in the process.

Laser sights help you with the easiest part of good marksmanship – sight alignment and sight picture.  But this is the part you least need help with.  Unfortunately, they don’t help you at all with the hardest part – good trigger control.

To improve your trigger control, you need to practice extensively with dry firing, and then on the range, with your gun loaded with a random selection of blanks and live rounds (or empty chambers in a revolver) so that you never know, each time you pull the trigger, if the gun will go ‘bang’ or ‘click’.  This exercise will clearly show you how much flinch/jerk you are putting into your trigger movements.

Apr 022012

In less than five seconds, your home could suddenly change from a quiet refuge to a killing ground with home invaders attacking you. Where are you, and – more to the point – where’s your gun?

The chances are, by the very fact you’re reading this article (and thank you for doing so), you’re at least somewhat sensitive to the need to prudently protect yourselves and your loved ones.

Maybe you have a home defense gun of some sort in your bedroom somewhere.  Maybe you carry a concealed pistol with you, too, and if you do so, you’re probably more likely to carry one if/when you’re going somewhere you perceive to be less safe than other places.

But, where is the place you’re most likely to need a gun?  Hint – it is also the place you’re least likely to have one with you.

The answer is, of course, when you’re ordinarily at home, doing ordinary normal things.  Cooking in the kitchen.  Doing the laundry.  Mowing the lawn.  Watching television.  And so on.

Just like the old (and true) saying ‘most accidents occur in the home’ and ‘most car accidents occur within five miles of home’; the chances are typically greater – for most people leading normal lives – that they’ll have a violent encounter in their home rather than anywhere else.

There are several reasons why the place we perceive as our safest refuge is actually not.  The biggest reason – whether we’re talking accident statistics or risk of becoming a victim of violent crime – is simply the fact that it is the place we spend most of our lives at.  We probably spend more than 50% of our lives at home, compared to perhaps 25% – 30% of our lives at work (which may be more than just one fixed location), 5% – 10% of our lives in the car, and so on.

So, okay.  You might be thinking ‘Not a problem; I’ve got my trusty revolver by the bed; I’m always ready for anything that goes down’.  But – may we ask this :  You’re seated at the dining table having dinner when suddenly CRASH!  Someone kicks in the front door and bursts into your house.  Now tell me how useful the gun in your bedroom is, while you’re at the dining table, and potentially the bad guys are standing between you and your bedroom.

Similar scenario for if you’re outside mowing the lawn.  Or in the laundry.  Or maybe relaxing on your deck on a warm sunny summer afternoon.  The gun in your bedroom is only good while you’re within arm’s reach of it, also in your bedroom.

One more scenario.  Instead of the bad guys drawing attention to themselves by kicking your front door down, what say they instead politely knock and stand back, waiting for you to come to the front door and open it for them.  That’s easier on them – you open the door for them.  But don’t expect a thank you as they then rush you from a distance of only three or four feet away and knock you to the ground.  If you don’t already have your hand on your gun when opening the door to strangers, you’re completely at risk of a sudden attack.

Here’s another thing to consider.  We all know that concealed carry is a bit of a hassle, requiring us to accept compromises in terms of comfort, convenience, concealability, and caliber/power.  We accept such compromises in return for the massive boost in safety and security we get in turn.  Now, when we’re at home, we don’t need to worry about concealability.  We can wear a nice comfortable on-the-belt range style holster, and wear a dual magazine holder on our other side, too, and carry as big a gun as we wish to.

Some people might think ‘Oh, this would never happen to me.  I live in a good neighborhood.’  But, from a criminal’s point of view, ‘good’ neighborhoods are the best places for them to visit.  The chances are there are more valuables inside homes in a good neighborhood, and – sad to say – the chances are also that ‘good’ people are going to be more trusting and less likely to be suspicious and ready to defend against a sudden surprise attack.

Do you commute to work?  Guess what.  So too do the criminals.  It is actually considered impolite for criminals to attack each other; and they’re more fearful of recriminations if they should do so.  But they all know that if they do a reverse commute out into the better ‘burbs, they’re going to find street after street lined with tempting tasty targets.

It seems that the prevalence of violent ‘home invasion’ type burglaries might be slightly increasing.  Home invasions – when the criminals don’t care if there are people home or not (or, worse still, if they expect and are pleased to find people at home) are extremely dangerous for the home occupants, because the criminals have the privacy of the house they’ve taken over, and the luxury of uninterrupted time, during which they can do anything at all to the house, its contents, and its occupants.

The immediately preceding two articles concern what happened to a couple when a person invaded their home late one night.  Fortunately, they had gone to bed and so were close to their bedroom, but re-read that story and wonder what would have happened if they were still up and watching television when, without warning, all of a sudden a propane tank crashes through their outside door and is followed seconds later by a berserk deranged attacker.

Here’s another example of how home invaders suddenly swoop down on a house.  Note, in this story, that the police, while promptly called by a girl already in the house, didn’t arrive until much later.  We mean no disrespect to the police at all when we repeat the mantra that you must understand, accept, and build into your planning :  When seconds count, the police are only minutes away.

Are you ready to respond, right now, if your home is invaded?

Apr 012012

No matter how extreme the need for self defense, many people will condemn you for doing what you are forced to do

If you haven’t already done so, can we suggest you first read our article ‘Excellent Example of Public Reaction to Justified Shooting part 1‘ then after reading that, come back to this article second.

There is a scary lesson in the way too many ill-informed and un-informed comments posted in response to the account of the homeowner who shot a violent intruder who was hellbent on killing the homeowner.

The scary lesson is simply this :  What say if the homeowner wasn’t so fortunate, and ended up facing a criminal charge?  Or (as he still may) if he faces a civil charge?  What say some of the people on the jury have the same opinions these posters do?

It isn’t really a ‘what say if’ scenario at all.  It is close to a certain fact.  Statistically, there’s much more than a one in 12 chance of getting a juror who implacably hates the use of lethal force even in the most obvious case of necessary self defense.  Read again through the list of complaints that readers posted about this – which ones do you think jurors would have as well?

Some people quite literally and truly believe it is better to allow themselves to be killed than to instead kill a fellow human being.  One can perhaps almost understand this element of self-sacrifice in a one on one situation, but these people usually go further than that and say ‘Yes, and it is better the violent criminal be allowed to kill my children too than I should kill him’.  They add with a triumphant conclusion ‘Nothing can justify taking another human life’.

It is even crazier than this.  When it is pointed out to them that their selective ‘sanctity of human life’ belief has now not only caused them to allow a crazed murder to kill them and their family, but has left the murderer free and enabled, encouraged to murder again and again with impunity, they might start to realize they’ve painted themselves into a bit of a corner, and when one then says ‘So, in other words, your refusal to kill this one man has resulted in the deaths of four or more other people, some of whom rely on you for their protection and safety, and others of whom are total strangers simply relying on a just society to protect them as much as possible’ they will then say something like ‘Well, I still don’t agree with killing anyone’ and change the subject.  They don’t say ‘Oh yes, I see your point – perhaps the lives of four good ordinary innocent productive members of society are worth more than the life of one violent criminal’.

Sadly, there’s no more way you can reason with these people than you can with the violent criminals they’re so determined to protect.

Our point is simply this :  You need to keep in mind that your actions will be judged not just by people of similar values and beliefs as your own, but by people with unfathomably different values.  Apart from a very limited amount of pre-screening, there is little quality control that goes into the make-up of juries (and even less quality control that goes into the make-up of district attorneys and judges – success at politics and winning an elective position does not necessarily correlate with general ability and common sense – just look at most of our elected officials in DC for further evidence of that!).

You need to be able to justify your shooting to people who view a shooting as impossible to justify.  You need to explain why you selfishly took your attacker’s life to someone who believes you should have instead generously sacrificed your own life.

It isn’t only potential jurors you need to explain it to.  How about your friends and colleagues?  Your employer and your customers?  Maybe even your spouse, children, and parents.

And it isn’t only immediately after the event that this will be an issue.  Any time anyone Google searches you or does a background check on you (perhaps a credit check, perhaps an apartment rental background check, perhaps an employment check) the fact that you killed someone is likely to appear.  Your life will change, enormously, unpredictably, but absolutely not for the better, and will stay changed for the rest of your life.

In other words, you need to do everything you can to always avoid any situation where you’ve ended up needing to use lethal force.  Maybe the people who offer to sacrifice themselves have got it half right!  Because the consequences, even of the most righteous acts of self defense, will be appalling.

If you’re not convinced of this, go to part one of this article and then re-read the justifications/excuses from people who thought the intruder shouldn’t have been shot.  The people who posted those comments could be your boss, your future boss, your bank manager, your (formerly) best friend, your church minister, and so on.

Apr 012012

What should a person do when a violent intruder attempts to kill them in their home at night?

Here’s a short and to the point story about a clearly and completely justified shooting – so clearly justified that it took the police less than 24 hours to announce not only that the killing was justified but that the homeowner had shown extreme restraint.

Go read the short report.  It is a short and simple story.

A couple were asleep in bed, and woke to the crashing sound of an intruder smashing their back sliding door by throwing a propane tank through it, just before midnight.  The couple hid in their bedroom and called 911.  The intruder gained entrance to their house and started noisily smashing stuff up, while calling out ‘Where you at, I’m gonna (expletive) you up. I’m gonna kill you’.

The homeowner called out to the intruder to go away, and warned the intruder he had a gun.

The intruder ignored the warnings and next broke into the bedroom where the couple were hiding.  The homeowner thereupon shot the intruder who died from his wounds.

We know what happened because the 911 tape recorded a lot of what transpired, and deputies were quickly on the scene, having already been called out by a woman one block away – the intruder had first banged on her door and tried to get in (and apparently had also created a ruckus at a local convenience store earlier in the evening).

This is as classic a case of a ‘perfect’ justified killing as there ever could be.  You’re at home asleep, when a total stranger violently breaks into your house and starts smashing it up, while calling out threats that he will kill you if he finds you.  You call the police, you call out to the intruder and warn him to leave because you have a gun.  You wait in your bedroom, but when the guy breaks into your bedroom, you shoot him.

This is exactly as how we and most other schools teach home owners to behave.  You don’t go looking for the intruder, you don’t lay in wait for them, you don’t set a trap and catch them.  You call the police, you retreat to the safest place, you call out to the bad guy and warn him you have a gun and tell him to leave.  But if he persists and enters your safest place, you resolutely then shoot to stop the threat without further pause or hesitation.

The police clearly agreed.

But.  And it is a huge but.  What about other readers of the article?  Did they sympathize with the two homeowners who were terrified out of their wits, who experienced a horrific event, and the man who was forced to break the ultimate taboo in our lives and kill another human being?

Sure, some people did.  But a lot of people did not.  Go read the huge number of reader comments that quickly started piling up (at the time of writing this there were 202 comments already).  Some comments are way off topic and some are unfathomable as to if the person agrees or disagrees with anything at all.

Let’s look at and respond to some of the very wrong comments.  It is helpful to read things like this, because it reminds us of the misinformation and misperceptions out there.

Shoot to Injure/Disable Rather than to Kill

There was the sadly predictable rhetorical question ‘Why couldn’t they just have shot him in the leg?’.  This is perhaps the most common complaint by people objecting to the use of deadly force, no matter how justifiable it may be.

Two quick responses.  The first response is that there’s no such thing as a shot that is guaranteed to only wound.  The asked for shot in the leg might have hit the femoral artery; meaning that 20 – 40 seconds later, the attacker would be dead.  Any shot is a potentially fatal shot.  If you’re not in a situation where lethal force is needed, you shouldn’t be using a gun, period.  Which leads to the second point.

When you’re in a life or death situation, and when the bad guy is almost on top of you, there is no time for feats of marksmanship.  Your priority must be simply to stop the threat before it stops you.  You shoot for the biggest target – the ‘center of mass’ – ie more or less the center of the guy’s chest.

One extra thought, here.  What if you did shoot to wound.  Does this attacker sound like the sort of guy who would then break off his attack?  Or would this just enrage him even further and propel him faster towards you with more determination?  When he’s across the bedroom from you, it is not a good point to start indulging in social experiments.  You must stop the threat urgently and fully.

Let’s understand the moral obligations here.  The homeowner had no moral obligation to do anything other than defend himself and his partner as best and as certainly as possible.  This strange crazy man broke into their house, ignored warnings, and called out threats to kill them.

But some people think we should risk our own safety so as to diminish the risk to our attacker.

Attempt to Crawl out a Bedroom Window and Run Away

Washington state law imposes no obligation on people to run away.  We can ‘stand our ground’ when we’re somewhere lawfully.

But, quite apart from the letter of the law, what makes the best sense?  If you leave the safety of your ‘safe room’, what might happen outside?  Maybe the mad man’s friends are waiting outside?  Maybe the mad man is a faster runner than you, and catches you halfway down your driveway?  Tactically, it is usually a mistake to leave a safe room where you can take cover and defend yourself and the room’s space.

But some people think we must be prepared to risk ourselves rather than defend ourselves.

These Sorts of Situations are Never Black and White

Some commenters attempted to adopt a statesmanlike tone of wisdom and said that these sorts of scenarios are never black and white – in other words, they were implying that some fault or blame must lie on the part of the attacked homeowners too.

Excuse me, but this was completely and utterly black and white!  It doesn’t get any clearer than this.  You’re at home, a stranger smashes into your house and calls out he is going to find you and kill you.  He ignores your warnings, smashes into your bedroom; – some people say this isn’t black and white?

Some people just refuse to accept there is ever any excuse for self-defense and so pontificate about ‘shades of grey’ even in the most black and white situations.  Don’t be trapped into taking the ‘easy way out’ and agreeing with their pointless sophistry.  This was black and white.

Should Have Been Tolerant Because The Attacker Was Drunk/Drugged/Mistaken

Several people suggested that the guy was simply drunk (or on drugs) or in some other way acting out of character.  Maybe so.  But what difference does it make when you’re confronted by a guy who has been violently smashing up your house, telling you he is going to kill you, and smashing into your bedroom, ignoring your warnings?

Does the possibility that 12 days ago, at 3pm, he might have been in a good mood and helped a little lady cross the street make any difference to what he is doing to you, now?  No, of course it doesn’t.

Others make comments about the world crumbling today under various pressures.  Maybe life isn’t assuredly easy for all of us, but that’s no excuse for behaving the way this intruder behaved, and it is no reason for the terrified homeowner to submit to the attacker’s desire to kill him.

Does being drunk excuse one from liability from one’s actions?  Should we perhaps go easy on drunk drivers who cause accidents, rather than being much tougher on them?  Does it hurt any less if you are beaten up or killed by a drunk person rather than by a sober person?

And should we require a householder, in a desperate situation protecting their life against a raging intruder, to try and call a time out and ask the intruder if he is only doing this because he is drunk?

Of course we can’t expect that.

This Shows Why We Need Better Mental Health and Drug Treatment Programs

Maybe it does show this, maybe it doesn’t.  But what relevance does that have to the immediate issue?  Some people are quick to repurpose any event and situation to support whatever cause they wish.

Let’s keep it plain and simple.  The homeowners were validly in fear of their lives, and had no choice but to defend themselves as they did.

The Police Should Not Have Exonerated the Homeowners, Only the Prosecutor Should Do This

Here’s another oblique way of trying to subtly suggest that this is a grey area rather than a black and white fully righteous act, and also of trying to ‘punish’ the homeowners – perhaps with some gratuitous jail time, perhaps with days/weeks/months/years of mental anguish about possibly facing a murder charge, and perhaps with a legal bill in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for protecting their interests while prosecutors dig every which way to try and turn a justified shooting into an illegal act.

The police aren’t trained to do this, the poster said.  That rather begs the question – what are the police trained to do, then?  If they can’t tell a righteous shooting when it is so obviously apparent, what good are they at anything at all?

Innocent people who suffer terrible experiences and attacks from criminals shouldn’t then have to suffer a second time, at the hands of our justice system.  The police did the absolute right thing here.

They Should Have Used Pepper Spray

Pepper spray is sometimes a great way of neutralizing a threat, and it has a place in the continuum of escalation of forces.

But when you’ve a crazy man rampaging around your house, smashing things up, and calling out that he will kill you, and when you have warned him that you have a gun and told him to leave, if he persists in the attack and breaks into your bedroom, you’re way past the point on the escalation of forces where pepper spray is appropriate.

Pepper spray – especially in civilian strength sprays – doesn’t work reliably, against all attackers, all the time.  If a person is crazy on drugs, they might not feel the effects at all.  Pepper spray might work well against some youths making you fearful in a car park at night, but not in a case like this.

Lastly, when someone chooses to break into your home, and says he is going to kill you, why should you be under any obligation to do anything other than respond as affirmatively as possible to the threat?

If the Bad Guy was Given a Second Chance, He Might Have Been Able to Turn His Life Around

There are two responses to that.  First, that in giving the bad guy a second chance, that would have required the homeowners to risk and possibly give up their lives to the bad guy in his current violent rampage.  So, the person saying this has already agreed it is okay for two innocent people to lose their lives in the hope that a bad guy might turn his life around.

And what if the bad guy doesn’t turn his life around?  We’ve let an unstable killer remain loose to terrorize and possibly kill others.

We’ll use this statement again in a minute in the second part of this post, but after this terrible outpouring of nonsense, we need to freshen up a bit.  Happily, there were also some more sensible comments.  One is worth repeating in its entirety

So the police, responding to another call about the same man, heard the glass door break.  They were close enough to hear the door break and respond, but not close enough to stop the intruder from getting to the occupants of the home.

Those of you who have a false sense of security because you believe the police will come save you, should rethink that “logic”.  Once the police arrive and believe there may be an armed intruder in your home, do not expect them to rush in to save you.  You are on your own and you are going to have to save yourself and your family.

To believe, and prepare for anything less, is not only foolish but places your family in real danger.

Or, to paraphrase the comment, ‘When seconds count, the police are only minutes away’.

That is why we arm ourselves and train ourselves in how and when to appropriately use our firearms.  This homeowner was clearly well trained and clearly acted appropriately.

But, note the large number of people who disagree.  Which leads us to the second part of our analysis.  Please click on to read ‘Lessons from the Public Reaction to a Justified Shooting part 2‘.