Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Judged By Twleve, Carried By Six

The self defense community, like any I suppose, is filled with quips and clever saying. Eventually they all become trite but that doesn't keep them from being thrown around with little thought or consideration to what is actually being expressed.

One such phrase is, "I'd rather be judged by twelve than carried by six."

What is trying to be expressed here is that one would rather be judged in a court of law by a jury (twelve jurors) than die (six pallbearers).

This phrase is frequently used when there is a measure of confusion about a self defense law. Instead of searching for legal clarification someone will say, "Well, I'd rather be judged by twelve than carried by six," implying that they are okay being on the questionable side of the law than face dying at the hands of an attacker.

Firstly, ignorance of the law is never a good defense. 

Shaneen Allen, a PA resident, was driving in NJ when she was pulled over for a dangerous lane change. She handed her driver's license and PA-issued carry permit to the officer and informed him that she had a gun in her car. According to her lawyer she did not know what she was doing was illegal.

She is now facing prison time. As this article, by the Washington Post puts it, "But if she is denied [an amnesty] defense, she will almost certainly go to trial, and under New Jersey’s gun law, she will have no real defense. Unless her jury engages in a defiant act of nullification, she will be convicted, and her trial judge will have no choice but to sentence her to the three-year minimum."

Shaneen's only crime was having access to a firearm in her vehicle and having a specific type of ammunition. She is going through a legal hell because of it. How much more difficult might the situation be if said firearm had been used? What if someone were involved in a questionable act of self defense with a firearm?

If there is ambiguity about a law it is not time to throw up your hands and say, "I don't understand it so I'm just going to hope for the best." It's time to knuckle down and get to the bottom of that law. Your future and freedom may depend on it.

Read your state statutes. If you don't understand them, ask someone who does. Get a few books and start reading, compare what you know about your own state with the states around you. Attend a class geared toward self defense law. Do not leave your understanding of self defense law up to chance, especially if you carry a lethal tool. 

No trial is no picnic.
I believe a lot of people who throw out this phrase really don't think their particular case will ever make it to trial. They are somehow under the illusion that if they ever get into a lethal encounter it will be so black and white that their innocence will never be in question.

Many times that is the case. The evidence paints a pretty clear picture and charges are never filed. That doesn't mean life gets to go back to normal. Sometimes it does. A lot of times it doesn't.

Reading accounts of self defense accounts where shots have actually been fired and especially where there has been loss of life shows a grim reality. Sometimes there are injuries to recover from. Other times there may be a loss of a loved one's life or an injury. Many times there are still social repercussions wherein friends and family distance themselves, no longer wishing to be associated with someone who has taken a life.

There may be threats from friends and family of the aggressor.

Even if the situation itself was pretty clear in the mind of the shooter, however, that doesn't always mean that witnesses or evidence paints the same legal picture. In which case, a trial is at hand.

Finally, death may not be the worst outcome and there are many ways to die. 

What really irks me about this particular phrase is that it implies that death is absolutely the worst outcome and that putting your future in the hands of a jury is always going to be a better option.

This will largely depend on what an individual can handle and what s/he can take in the way of financial, emotional and personal stressors.

There are people out there who can genuinely say that death for them would be the ultimate, worst case scenario. They don't care if they are bankrupt, in prison with no friend, have failing health and no rights. They are breathing, therefor it's not as bad as it could be.

On the other hand, there are many people who would welcome death before they welcomed bankruptcy or a felony murder conviction, the disgrace of their name, the loss of their wife and kids (even if that loss is only emotional), a substantial prison sentence or the loss of their lifestyle as they know it. To some, losing everything might as well be death. It may not be a physical death but it's a type of death just the same.

That may happen to anyone who leaves his fate in the hands of a jury.

You don't have to look far to find cases of where self defense is used as the legal defense that have gone to trial. Two of the most well known and publicized trials were the George Zimmerman trial and the Michael Dunn trial. One ended in exoneration, the other in conviction and both lives will never be the same.

Court costs and lawyer fees leave individuals hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt if not millions. Homes are sold. Divorce is common. The social repercussions from neighborhoods push families out of communities often resulting in divorce and disassociation of children and loved ones. Jobs are terminated. The trial process is long and even if the verdict is favorable there is the stress of picking up those pieces and moving on. There can even be PTSD or living with life-long injuries. If the verdict is one of guilt (and it may be) you then have a prison sentence to serve and a criminal record for life and the subsequent struggle to find work and a future based on that record.

Very few people know with certainty what kind of pressures they can handle. Could you handle a 20-year prison term separated from your family and life as you know it? Would your family be there for you afterward? Could the person you are survive that? If you physically survived would you emotionally survive? Could you pick your life back up after a manslaughter or murder conviction? Could you find work with a felony record? Is the death of everything you knew something you have considered?

Because I can't answer those questions for myself I choose not to be flippant about the responsibility I have to make sure I don't put myself into a position where such an outcome is probable. Don't get me wrong, a worst case scenario is always possible, not always probable.

To paraphrase one of the instructors at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference, "When you decide you will take on [a lethal fight for your life] you agree you accept the bill and pay for [the trial and any outcome] no matter what the cost."

That's not something anyone should take lightly.

Know your local law. Know the law of any states you frequent or may travel into. Learn the difference between true lethal situations wherein lethal force is justifiable and less-than-lethal situations. Learn when lethal force is no longer justifiable. Seek out training that helps you identify those differences. Understand the gravity of what a trial would likely be.

Are you giving those things the respectful attention they deserve?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Bad Info Prevails

A few weeks ago I went to a jewelry making event. There were a number of women there who didn't know me and I didn't know them. While we formed our pendents we started getting to know one another but I don't always disclose my interest and passion for self defense and firearms.

Somehow, however, the conversation turned to guns and self defense.

I tried to keep my mouth shut.

Someone said she didn't want to get a gun but she was thinking it might be good for her to get some pepper spray.

One of the other women said, "You know what's a great alternative? Wasp spray! It has better range and is more effective."

I couldn't hold it in any longer. I asked, "Would you like to know why that isn't necessarily true?"

She said yes.

After I was done explaining that wasp spray has never been proven effective against human beings like pepper spray has been I explained that modern pepper sprays have a great range and then left it be.

The conversation continued and one of the other gals said, "Well, that's why whenever I go anywhere I put my keys between my fingers so that I can punch with them if I need to."

I winced. "I'm sorry. But would you like to know why that's not a good idea?"

She said yes.

I explained that the keys between the fingers have no stability and punching someone with your keys between your fingers will likely do no more damage than just punching them. In addition, finger bones are not all that strong and if someone stronger were to grab your hand it's entirely possible to break a few fingers around those keys as they act as a sort of fulcrum. If you have any kind of key defense you're much better off getting a kubaton (careful to observe that in some states you need a carry permit to do so) or just swinging your keys on a key chain line a mace and chain.

I shut up again and eventually one of the other gals said, "What I don't understand about these shooting things is why the police can't just shoot people in the arm or the leg or something?"

I put my head on the table and said, "Would you like to know why that's not an option?"

She said yes.

I explained a little about deadly force and when you can and cannot use it and that there is no such thing as a non-lethal shot, not legally anyway.

The girl I came with happens to be one of my former students. She started laughing and finally spoke up, "Just in case you were wondering why she's so passionate about this stuff it's because she's a firearms instructor."

We eventually got the class back on a jewelry making track but this all got me thinking about why the bad information keeps circulating. Why, despite our best efforts, do people still regurgitate the same old myths over and over again? Why do they get shared with higher frequency than good information?

Is it because the information is novel and therefore sticks out as something to remember? Is it because the techniques seem easier or more accessible to common individuals?

Of course it doesn't help that we have national television programs spewing crap, either. Thank you, NBC, you just set us back seven years.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Announcing You Are Armed

For the purposes of this blog post we're going to assume you are a concealed carrier.

Here's the scenario:

You are confronted with a potential threat. You feel it may escalate to a confrontation involving serious bodily injury or death.

Do you tell or otherwise demonstrate to the individual that you are armed?

There are four ways that you could do this:

Verbally. Saying, "Hey, I have a gun. Back off!"

Implied. Sweeping your cover garment aside and/or placing your hand in the general area of where a firearm is likely to be kept. This is often called a furtive movement and widely recognized by criminals and law abiding citizens alike.

Brandishing. For the purposes of this post we're going to call brandishing the display of a firearm while it's still in the holster with intent to intimidate. Usually brandishing means the display of the firearm is not justified but we'll get to that in a moment.

Implied or brandishing combined with a verbal confirmation. Placing your hand on the firearm or displaying it while it's still in the holster and saying, "I'm armed."

I'm usually a "never say never" kind of gal. But I will say that some things are generally not a good idea. Any of the above responses, in my opinion, are all bad ideas.

The thinking, of course, is that announcing you are armed increases the stakes for the bad guy to a point where he decides to deselect you as a potential target. This has happened and it may work at deterring the threat . But, it may not and when it doesn't deter the threat it generally means you are dealing with someone who isn't afraid of your gun or isn't convinced you will use it, or use it effectively. In which case you are probably in for a violent encounter--an encounter you would be in anyway even if you didn't announce you were armed but now wherein you have lost a significant surprise advantage.

Not only am I a strong believer that a firearm should be kept concealed pretty much at all times, but I also believe that the only time a potential assailant should know that I am armed is when I'm pointing my firearm at him or he's hearing really loud noises and wondering about the strange sensations in his body accompanied by flashes of light.

This isn't an opinion I've borrowed from others. I'm sure there are others out there who will disagree with me but I've decided it's better not to tip my hand. I want the element of surprise and here's why.

You Announced That You Have Something Desirable
A gun is a pretty desirable thing to have if you are a career criminal. And if you don't mind beating someone up to get one, here is someone who just announced that there's one available for the taking if he's willing to take the risk in fighting for it.

The only thing that will likely save you is his ineptitude, your skill, luck or a combination thereof.

There Could Be More Than One
If your training is reputable you are being taught that bad buys come in pairs. In a confrontation you should always assume there is another assailant ready to jump into the fray when you least expect it. That could also happen to be the moment you decide to announce you are armed while fixated on bad guy #1. While there is no honor among thieves, there is potential for a lot of violence, and announcing you're armed might be all that the second assailant needs as ammunition to unleash his violence on you instead of allowing his buddy to interview you further or initiate contact. And his attack will likely be targeted and brutal (more on that below).

Just saying you're armed allows him to speculate as to where it is, but placing your hand over the firearm or displaying it allows both assailants (again, assuming there are two) to plan for it accordingly if they decide to continue their assault. Depending on factors such as distance, holster type and carry method and skill you may not be able to get your firearm out of the holster before your attacker is on top of you and doing serious harm.

You Open Up Dialog
"I have a gun."
"No you don't. I don't see a gun. You think you're all big and bad?"
"No. But I will use it!"
"You don't have to be like that. I don't see any gun and I don't think you'd use it anyway. What's a sweet little thing like you doing with a gun?"

All the while bad guy #2 is sneaking up behind or bad guy #1 is creeping closer and closer and planning his attack.

Dialog is dangerous. If you have to say more than, "BACK OFF!" you're starting down the rabbit hole. A few of the close quarters classes I have been to have demonstrated the dangerous potential of dialog. We naturally allow people to get closer to us when we dialog with them. Dialog also slows down our reaction time because we're thinking about responses instead of defense or offense.

Your safest bet is to shut down dialog immediately with anyone you perceive could be a threat.  If you want to dialog, verbally establish a boundary and have a plan should it be crossed. 

Yes, you could scream, "I'm armed! Back off!" and leave it at that and refuse to engage in any other dialog but then you're still leaving yourself vulnerable to my next point.

You Set Yourself Up For A Targeted, Brutal Attack
When the bad guy knows you're armed and decides to fight you anyway he will target your weapon or attempt to overwhelm you with such violence you are unable to use that weapon. If you don't have retention skills, a very good retention holster and the skills to resist that kind of violence you will likely lose your firearm and/or your life. 

All you have to do is watch altercations with police officers. One of two things happen:
1) The violence of the attack is so brutal the officer rarely has opportunity to defend himself with his firearm, if at all.
2) The gun is immediately targeted and fought for.

What ends these scenarios is death or defeat on the officer's part (at times resulting in the firearm being stolen), a competently trained officer being able to retain his firearm and regain control and fight through his injuries (make no mistake about it, there will likely be injuries--possibly severe) with skill and aggression, the officer using a hidden weapon the bad guy didn't see, or the force of other responding officers ending the confrontation.

You retain a small advantage if you have not revealed the firearm's location (i.e. saying you are armed but not indicating where it is by either touching it or displaying it) but you lose any advantage of surprise.

And here is where I will refer back to the Extreme Close Quarters class I attended in the fall of 2013.

In the final force-on-force scenario with Greg Ellifritz, Greg decided to try to disarm me even though he hadn't seen my weapon. He knew I was armed but he didn't remember where I was carrying my gun (if it was appendix or behind the hip). While we fought, if you watch the video (NSFW, btw), you can see him searching behind my hip for where I would normally carry my Glock. That little bit of confusion on his part allowed me the opportunity to simulate stabbing him in the groin with my trainer knife. I never actually did get to my gun until after I broke contact but neither did he. Had Greg known exactly where my gun was I'm not sure how things would have played out. I prefer to never find out. Or to find out, but in the safety of a training environment because I'm morbidly curious like that. In real life, however, I prefer not to have people trying to take my gun away from me.

I do not think one has to be a skilled fighter to carry a gun but I do think anything less than a skilled fighter trained in weapon retention is taking undue risk by advertising a weapon they can legally conceal.

You Lose A Fighting Arm
If you have done any force-on-force while armed you know how hard it is not to reach down and finger your firearm during the interview portion of the scenario. You know your gun is there and you know that if you need to use it you want to get it out quickly. There's a psychological comfort in having your hand on top of it even if it's not necessarily the best tactical move, especially in close quarters.You soon learn that if you put your hand on your gun you aren't protecting your face and you have one less appendage to use in fighting and controlling your attacker so that you can get in a better position to use your weapon of choice.

Yes, there are times to put your hand on your gun. No, I can't tell you when that will be. A lot of that has to do with distance, gear, skill, size and you will have to figure that out for yourself in a safe training environment. In my opinion you should either have your hands up in a defensive posture ie. the fence or your gun out and in your hand.

In my opinion, the hand goes on the gun as part of the draw stroke.

The key point here is that before you decide whether or not you want to announce you are armed and how you are going to bring a gun into a fight you need to be getting training in those scenarios and practicing them.

This is multiplied if you chose to carry openly on a regular basis.

It's a really bad day when you get your gun targeted, have to fight for it and potentially taken from you and shot with it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

What Advice Would I Give My Younger Self?

What advice would I give my younger self?

Man, that's a hard one.

I've been trying to answer that question ever since Baz Luhrmann came out with the song "Everybody's Free" in 1999. I still don't know what I'd tell my younger self in regards to life to prepare myself for the future. Maybe that's as it should be. I probably wouldn't have listened to myself anyway. My life has been a journey of ups and downs, failures and successes, surprises of all kinds. And not knowing has always been half the fun. Overall, I have nothing to complain about.

Today, however, A Girl And A Gun challenged those on her facebook page to reveal what they would tell their younger selves in relation to self defense.

That, I can do!

It's a narrow enough scope that I can pinpoint specific areas where I could have been better prepared to face the evils of life.

The original challenge was "what would you tell your 20 year-old self?" Well, I'd have to go a lot younger than that to really do much difference in the scope of protecting myself or preventing some of the worst tragedies in my life.

How young? That's a tough one, too.

I decided to look at it from the perspective of a mother. I look at my two sons and my daughter and I think, "When should I start teaching them these lessons?"

The answer is now!

So, if I could go back in time and teach my younger self some self defense lessons I'd go back to the times of a little girl who was terrified of flushing toilets, learning how to tie her shoes, how to write the number "4" and stealing her mother's high heels out of the closet to wear around the house and these are the things I would tell her:

- It's okay to say, "No!" 
In fact, you need to say no. You need to have boundaries and it's good to have boundaries. People who don't respect your boundaries aren't people you should have in your life.

- Your body is your own. PERIOD!
With EXCEPTIONALLY few exceptions, no one has the right to touch you, hold you or ask you to do something with your body that you don't want to do. You don't owe anyone your body.

- Your parents are wrong.
A lot of society will be wrong, too. They will tell you things like, "You are safe here," "This person is okay," "Stay in public places. The public will protect you," "Good girls don't hit." It's confusing, I know, when people you trust tell you things they believe to be true and they turn out to be wrong. It doesn't mean they don't love you, it means they were human. You'll have to learn to discern the truth for yourself and that's where your own instincts, life experience and feelings will have to come in.

- Listen to your instinct.
When that inner voice says, "Something's not right," listen to it. Don't try to talk yourself out of it. Don't let other people downplay your feelings or talk you out of them. You're having those feelings for a reason. But here's a newsflash for you, sweety, you'll be wrong from time-to-time, too.

- It's okay to be angry. 
There are people who waste their lives on anger. They are consumed by it and use it for minor issues where it has no place or they use it disproportionately to the offense. Or they dwell in it, wallowing in it in misplaced comfort and failing to use it as the tool of action it should be. There are also people who never use anger for fear of it. They allow people to misuse them and abuse them and never get angry enough to change their situation.

Don't be either one of those people. Don't misuse or neglect anger. Don't be afraid of it, either.

Anger is a tool of action when you have suffered a legitimate hurt or injustice. Get angry--even if you need to get angry at someone you love. Use that anger to cut through the fear, the societal norms, the lies you've been told about how you or a "good girl" should act. Use it to give you the courage to act, to stand up for yourself, to do something about your situation. If you need to, use that anger to act immediately to save yourself. If it's after the fact, use that anger to give you courage to seek help. Learn to use it appropriately and to the right degree. Then, learn to put that anger away. As useful of a tool as it can be, it will destroy you and your relationships with those you love if you overuse it.

- Learn to hit.
Despite what you've been told, good girls DO hit. They hit hard and in the right way and at the right time. Be a good girl. Learn to hit!

- Get strong.
Seriously! Do it now. Lift weights. Screw running! Your life and the defense thereof will be way easier the younger you do this and the better you maintain it. You'll probably save yourself a lot of aches and pains and open up a lot more opportunities for yourself, too.

- Don't mistake your skill or defensive tool as a talisman.
I know you won't, but here's a reminder anyway. As you get older you will learn the hard lesson that there is no magic talisman against evil. Saving yourself will mean hard work. It will mean exercising your boundaries, your anger, your common sense, instincts, avoidance and learning proficiency with whatever tool or discipline you choose (Hint: choose as many as you can and take time working them all when you can). It will mean working that tool or discipline as regularly as you can which will demand money and time. You will need to keep working those tools and skills and it will become a part of who you are but it won't define you and it shouldn't. Avoiding or defeating evil is a tiny, TINY part of what will make up your life and the joys therein (as it should be), but that doesn't mean you should neglect developing and maintaining your skills in that area.

No one is as devoted or available to defend yourself as you are. You need to be in a condition--physically, mentally, skillfully--to do the fighting for yourself.

- Not everyone is out to get you.
There will be people you trust who will betray you. They will hurt you. They will make you question everything you thought you knew about life, love, trust and who you are. You won't be right about everyone and you will be hurt. Sometimes more than others. Sometimes just emotionally, sometimes physically. But there are other people who do love you. They legitimately want to help, encourage and support you. They won't test your boundaries, instead they will help you build new, stronger ones. They will love you. Rest securely in the love of those people. Seek out those people. Appreciate them, as I know you will. It will be your relationships with those people and the people you meet (and even create with a special someone down the road) that will make it all worth it in the end.

Friday, April 25, 2014

How Are You Going To Do That?

Anyone who's been in the gun community for any length of time has come across this scenario.

Someone reads a news report or hears a story and the conversation abruptly turns into a "What Would You Do?" situation.

Good, conscientious gun-carriers do this all on their own. Asking themselves what they would do in any number of given situations is part of the mental training that goes along with carrying a gun in self defense.

Sometimes those questions lead to revelations about gaps in training. If the answer is, "I don't know," to any particular scenario situation, it becomes wise to seek out training to fill that gap.

But every now and then and sometimes far too often, there's a jump in track of the logic train.

A scenario will be presented and the answer becomes, "I would shoot."

It may be a very reasonable and justifiable answer but there is a whole lot missing--the how.

The other day I read a scenario of a woman being run off the road, pulled from her vehicle and beaten.

The levels of avoidance when coming to road-rage incidences being discussed, the scenario was whittled down to being run off the road, not being able to flee and the driver of the aggressor's car is coming after you.

The go-to answer was, "I'd shoot."

Legalities aside, I begged to ask the question, "How?"

You are sitting in your vehicle, presumably seat-belted in and you want to shoot someone who is walking towards your vehicle, (again, presumably) from a vehicle that is in front of you, cutting you off.

How, physically, are you going to accomplish this task?

Where is your gun? Is it accessible with your seat belt on or do you have to take it off? Once you get your seat belt off, how do you draw your gun? Do you shoot through the windshield or try to get out of the car or roll down your window? Do you know what a windshield will often do to handgun bullet trajectory? How many bullets are you willing to waste through a windshield before you switch to another tactic? Is there a better alternative to shooting in the first place or a better way to shoot out of a vehicle if you have to?

This isn't the first time I've talking about the "how" and it won't be the last.

I'm on a campaign of sorts to getting others to start thinking about the how as well.

When you approach scenarios don't start and stop with "what would I do?"

Start with "What would I do?" and finish with "How would I do it?"

Think it through and then practice it. Even if it's just a matter of walking through it with your hand as a finger gun. You might even be surprised that discussing the "how" might actually change what you would do in the first place.

Many times new carriers don't know what they don't know. Influenced by bad television, biases, misinformation and pure ignorance they may have no idea that there are so many variables in any given situation.

I stood in slack-jawed amazement the first time I watched what happened to handgun bullets being shot through a windshield. I really had no idea they could be deflected so much. It's something I didn't even know to consider when it came to the dynamics of shooting in and around cars. Now that I know it's something I must consider when it comes to vehicular incidences.

Scenarios are (and should be) a lot more than simply deciding whether or not to shoot. They should be an exercise in determining the steps you may or may not take given that scenario.

Next time you read or ask what others would do in a given scenario, add "And how would you do it?" in there.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Equipment And The Point Of Diminishing Returns

One of the most common questions I get is, "What gun should I get?"

I used to spend a lot of time responding to these inquiries because I genuinely love helping people. I loved being in gun sales. I love finding guns that fit people and I love helping them find that good fit. I love taking them to the range and helping them take their first shots even more.

Through the years, however, I've come to the conclusion that internet-based advice is more-often-than-not a waste of everyone's time. I have nothing new to add to what has already been written about what kind of gun is ideal for any number of different specific situations; be it jogging, home defense, deep concealment, etc. Without seeing someone shoot and seeing them with the firearm and having the opportunity to assess them in action, it's nothing more than a best-guess anyway.

That being said, it's still the reigning question for a few reasons:

1) The volume of options is overwhelming and people want to have it narrowed down for them, presumably by someone they consider to be an authority on the subject.
2) People generally overestimate the role of equipment in performance and therefore want to get the "best" gun, ideally at the lowest cost.

I'm going to skip over the first point for now and just hit you with a few general truths regarding the second:
  • What gun you choose doesn't make as much of a difference as you think it does. 
  • Your first gun will likely be the wrong gun, purchased for the wrong reasons.
  • You'll more-than-likely not put enough rounds through it to figure out whether or not it is right/wrong for you. 
  • You'll go on your merry way possibly advising others on what they should get based upon your limited experience training/shooting with a gun that probably isn't the right one for you.
The end.

You may be thinking that what I said was contradictory. How can your gun choice not make a difference but be wrong?

Allow me to explain...

A gun is a gun is a gun and even an ill-fitting gun put in the hands of someone who is skilled in shooting will perform adequately. He will get accurate hits at a good rate but he would perform better and more comfortably with something that fit him better. So also, if your skill were the same (or as it increases) you would be able to better assess the fit and feel of your firearm and what makes it right or wrong for you and adjust accordingly.

Skill is far more vital to performance than your equipment (presuming, of course, your equipment is quality enough to last). And eventually, as you get skilled enough, you can better gauge whether or not your performance will be augmented by your equipment and through what change--a small-handed person having better control with a single-stack firearm or having the grip reduced, a cross-dominant shooter getting better sight picture with a red dot, an individual with arthritis getting a trigger job, etc.

Most people do not seek out enough skill to where their equipment choice matters that much. There are exceptions, but that's the general truth. They buy a gun, they put maybe a box or two of ammo through it a year (if that) and whether or not it is the right one for them is irrelevant compared to their lack of skill.

So what does that mean for you? 

Well, it means nothing if you aren't committed to gaining skill. If you are committed you've likely already purchased a firearm, trained with it to the point where you've figured out what is working and what isn't (or your about to) and you might even be on your way to your next gun or a modification of the one you already have. Or you are lucky enough to be one of the few who bought a good fitting gun the first time but found you have a preference you'd like to change (sights, a cleaner trigger, an extended magazine release, etc).

I caution you! There is a point of diminishing returns. It happens all the time. A new shooter buys a gun. As he gains skill he finds what he doesn't like about his firearm and he changes it or modifies it. He gains more skill and changes or modifies his gun again. He often attributes his increase in skill to the modifications or new firearms he's purchasing. Then one day he finds out that a modification or new gun doesn't help. In fact, it hinders or he improves slightly in one area but worsens in another. The new gun doesn't shoot the way the old one did. He had better sight picture with the last sights. If he's not careful he can get stuck in a rut of cycling through gun after gun, throwing hundreds and thousands of dollars of equipment at a skill problem.

The solution? Find the gun that fits you best, make any modifications you have to (if any) and then leave the gun alone. Work on gaining more skill.

Now, there are a lot of people out there who say you should never (ever, Ever, EVER!!!!!!!) modify a carry gun. A lot has been written on that subject so go read it and make up your own mind on the matter. If you make a modification to your carry gun make sure you have a good, logical explanation for why you did it. If you have the disposable income, time and inclination to go nuts on a competition or range gun? Go. Be wild, my friend! But keep your carry gun as close to stock as feasible and avoid the equipment rut.

Finally, there are reportedly those out there who get lucky. They go into carry and shooting with a committed and realistic mindset. They wisely choose a stock firearm that fits them well, they train with it extensively and they gain in skill until they perform masterfully with the first and only gun they've ever bought. I have yet to personally catch said unicorn. Though I have met many who have been issued firearms for duty and gained skill to a very proficient degree with that duty gun that they apply to a personal firearm that fits them better when off duty. Even the best of the best out there have their stories about the guns they started out with and the changes they've made along the way.

In summation, if you're serious about this gun/carry thing, put the effort into getting a gun that fits you well. Take a class, rent, shoot with friends, ask for advice and (please, I implore you, FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE!!) listen to what that person tells you. Purchase a firearm and then commit yourself to gaining skill. Make note of what you like or don't like about your firearm as you train with it, talk to others about it, have an instructor critique you and make an educated decision as to whether or not it is an equipment problem or a YOU problem.

Adjust accordingly.



PS... If you are somehow misguided into thinking I have it all figured out, let me assure you that I am still struggling with my own likes, dislikes, frustrations, biases, stubbornness, changes, adaptations, learning curves, etc. If I ever figure it all out, you'll be the first to know.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Why Read Words


I'll share a little secret with you: I don't particularly love to read. But I love to learn. Amazingly enough, the two often coincide. Therefore, I love to read. I am a very slow reader so sometimes it takes me a while to catch up but I keep plugging away at it and I'm better off for it because I do learn a lot.

That being said, I'm always astonished how few people are interested in reading about the topics of self defense. Some may follow the occasional blog or visit forums wherein reading is presumably necessary but from time to time it's made very clear that even those are not actually read to be digested before they are commented on.

Worse still is the idea that reading is unnecessary to the understanding of the principles of self defense.

I've seen many a comment to self defense book recommendations that go a lot like the Snotlout quote from How To Train Your Dragon:

"Why read words when you can just kill the stuff the words tell you stuff about?"

Or, as one person commented to a Rory Miller book recommendation, "I don't need to know what makes a criminal a criminal or how he thinks, I just need to know if he's a threat."

There is a certain sort of logic to that but it's also pretty naive. I may set people up for assuming too much or too little in any given encounter and in every aspect no less.

A Mindset Aspect:
Mindset is pretty driven into people who carry guns these days. But there are still a lot of people out there who carry guns who ".. don't want to hurt anyone." They will just, "shoot someone in the leg." They have no concept of awareness, avoidance and they can't recognize a dangerous situation unfolding until it's already gone past the point of no return. Yes, you can get this information from classes but a lot of it comes from sitting down and digesting the written material of those who've already been there.


An Equipment Aspect:
Many people base their carry setup choices based upon the recommendations of those they know ("My friend, who is a cop, told me I should get..."), feelings ("I got this one because it has pink handles"), cost ("It was between this one and that one but this was cheaper") and assumed reputation ("The military carried the 1911 for 70 years (with an empty chamber, no less). If it was good enough for them, it's good enough for me.")


So much has been written about what makes a good, civilian fighting/carry setup it's impossible to list all of the resources. Despite that fact, many people still skip absorbing the seasoned advice of people who've been there and done it in favor of pink handles and cheap accessories.

Why read? So you don't end up with crap.

A Tactical Aspect:
You may not have $500 to go to the class you want, but you can afford a $15 book on the principles of carry or gunfighting. You may not be able to sit under an instructor who will demo for you the ways to utilize cover, set up your equipment, think about how you walk down the street, clear a room, etc. But you can get the basic gist from a good book or two on the subject.

One of the best students I've ever had came directly to our intermediate class and had never taken a firearms class in his life. All he'd ever done was read, test what he read at the range, watch a few videos online and take what he learned to heart. He was a FINE shooter and had a great rudimentary grasp of everything we were trying to teach. With a few tweaks he was flying and started competing in IDPA the next day.

A Performance Aspect:
What will your bullets do? What won't they do? How far will it travel if you miss? What is cover? What is concealment? What is the penetration of your particular caliber choice in your particular gun? What about your target? What are the best areas to target?

What about your body? How does it work with things like adrenaline? How can you expect to reasonably perform under that kind of stress?

Guess what... There are books about that.

A Potential Threat Assessment Aspect:
So, you don't think you need to know how a criminal thinks or works but when some guy comes up to you and compliments your shoes you have absolutely no concept as to whether or not this is just a nice guy paying you a compliment or a predator using charm as a way to get close enough to victimize you. You have nothing to do but wait until the situation escalates or attempt some sort of immediate shut down.

Why read? Because being able to distinguish between the types of criminals and how they operate can tell you how you might be able to assess them and even be deselected or deescalate the situation.

Why is that important? Because it's always better to deescalate than let it progress to a fight and how you deescalate a situation with one type of criminal is different from how you may deescalate from another.

An Emotional/Psychological Aspect:
So you had your day. You shot someone. There are people out there who are unaffected by this. But a lot of people go through a whole gambit of emotional and psychological stages. Knowing about and/or being prepared for them can help one process and heal. And there are lots of good books on the subject.

A Legal Aspect:
It still astounds me how many people don't care to read about self defense law in general or in their own state.

"I was in fear for my life," is not the begin-all and end-all of your defense.

You do need to know when it's legal to engage and (sometimes more importantly) when it's necessary to disengage. You do need to have a sense of the law so that you can articulate why you were justified in doing what you did.

You do that by reading. If you don't have your state statutes bookmarked on your internet browser yet, what are you waiting for? Get reading!

And I'm just scratching the surface. There are so many more subtopics and theories and principles laid out by great minds worth exploring.

If you're serious about it, you should be reading about it.

Want a good place to start? Greg Ellifritz's "Recommended Reading" link on his website and all of his "free book" links.