Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Can't" And All The Lies It Tells

"I can't...."

One of the most self-defeating phrases in the English language. Probably also one of the first learned and most often spoken as well.

And if people aren't proclaiming their own self-made limitations they are busy projecting them on others.

"You can't...."

We know that "can't" is lie. Still we claim it as truth in our own lives and force it on others with a ferocity that can range from benign to flat-out criminal.

Time and time again we've seen the lie that is "can't" be exposed for the facade it is...

You can't travel faster than the speed of sound. 
You can't travel outside of earth's atmosphere.

You can't run a mile faster than four minutes.

Even though we know, now, that given the right time, about of knowledge, skill, tools and motivation darned near anything is possible, people insist on limiting so much...

I can't be happy.

I can't find love.

I can't get that promotion. 
I can't get cancer.

I can't be in an abusive relationship.

I can't watch my family be murdered before my eyes.

That took a dark turn, didn't it?

The act of throwing up a middle finger to "can't" and telling it to copulate with itself is not limited to the positive things we want in life.

"Can't" is as much of a lie when you are denying an ugly reality as it is when you are denying a positive opportunity.

And yet, I see this type of "can't" being propagated in the self defense community. I see if every day in the comments I read on Facebook and YouTube and blog posts all over the internet.

"You can't let him get that close to you."

"You can't let it get that far."

"You can't let someone pull a knife on you."

I've got some really bad news for you: YOU FUCKING CAN!

You may not want to. You may do everything to avoid it. But it can happen. And it can happen to YOU!

And now that it has happened, what are you going to do about it?

Some people respond, having seen you work your hardest to prepare for those worst-case scenarios, by throwing in an extra bushel of "can't" for your dying pleasure.

"You can't get out of that hold."  
"You can't hold, draw, shoot, load, etc your gun like that."

"You can't defend against that."

"You can't work that technique."

"You can't survive that."

Well, I'm certainly going to try!

I prepare for the worst-case. I don't believe that carrying a gun and a pocket knife renders me perfectly prepared to combat any foe. I don't live in a fantasy world that makes me believe I can't be taken by surprise or ambushed. I don't believe I can keep every bad person out there at a twenty-one foot distance from me. I don't believe I will be able to perfectly perform every defensive technique I've ever learned at any given time. I'm preparing for the possibility that I might panic, freeze, forget, be sick, distracted, exhausted, afraid but so damned trained I will at least do SOMETHING to the best of my ability to survive.

I've experienced some of the ugliest truth of what CAN happen to me and I've lived through it all to the end that I work my ass off to be as prepared as I can be should I have to face it again.

I share what I do with others so that I might be able to track my progress, be inspired and motivated by those more prepared than me and maybe inspire others to abandon the lies of "can't" in their own lives for both the good and the bad.

Some use that openness on my part as a chisel to try to break apart my own efforts and training. They try to tell me what I'm doing isn't effective or won't work or isn't good enough. They may be right. They may be wrong. But one thing I know to be a fact is that I'm out there doing the work. I'm learning. I'm putting forth the effort. I do what I can do in a way that won't cripple myself or those I train with. Sometimes I do well. Sometimes I get my ass kicked. But always I am learning and working to be that much better, quicker, and fiercer than anyone who might try to harm me. I may never be bigger or stronger but I believe I can train until I can outsmart, outmaneuver or just plain outbluff or outluck someone who thinks they can harm me or mine. 

And so I ask... What the hell are you doing?

If you're out there working beside me and doing what you can do in the limits of your own time, money and life, then bravo! We're on this road together.

So many are still hiding behind the mask of, "That can't happen to me." And not all of them are anti-gun idealists either. Some carry guns and hold on to them like magic talismans disbelieving that anyone could get through their "situational awareness." Their eyes are blinded to the dark possibilities of the world. They stand proud and secure in their own illusion of what can't possibly happen but does every day. And still others look at people like me and find nothing better to do than project more negativity because, surely, the little woman can't beat the big guy.

Shit happens. It can happen to you. The bad guy can get to you. And sometimes the little gal can win.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Appendix-Inside The Waistband Carry: Practical vs Hype

I've been in the firearms community for well over six years. While appendix carry (the practice of carrying a firearm inside the waistband, forward of the hip bones) was around back then I couldn't give you the name of a single person I knew who carried that way. Then, again, perhaps my circle of gun-totting friends was a lot smaller back then.

Today, appendix carry (or AIWB) has risen in popularity and gained quite a foothold with many long-time shooters and trainers. The last two trainings I've attended had several AIWB shooters in them, my husband carries AIWB and several of the well-known instructors I have been following over the years carry AIWB.

AIWB is not a new method of carry by any means. For as long as people have been carrying guns they have been sticking them down the front of their pants. Hand a dummy gun to someone who's never carried a gun before in his or her life, tell them to hide it on their person and a good majority of the time you will see them attempt to AIWB carry it. It's even the preferred method of your average bad guy (sans the holster). It's a very logical place to carry and hide a firearm.

For a long time (and still in certain circles) the AIWB carry method has been demonized as unsafe or as a "gangsta" way to carry. It was purported that those with training and "in the know" carried behind the hip and only those who were careless and didn't mind being viewed as a "bad guy" carried AIWB.

But while the nay-sayers blasted well-meaning carriers with threats of blowing off manhood and bleeding to death from a negligent femoral artery shots, those who are willing to judge the method dispassionately and have confident handling of their firearms are finding it a valid and possibly ideal means of carry.

The benefits of AIWB have been well-established but in case you may have missed them here they are:

- Ease of access
Our arms, though capable of reaching behind our hip, are not naturally inclined to reach there. Our natural work space for our hands and arms is in front of our hip bones. We are strongest and fastest when we work in that area and we can better handle and access items kept in that area.

- Time
Because we are stronger and faster when dealing with things in our arms natural work zone (in front of the hip bones) it stands to reason that we can work things faster in that area as well. The draw (or presentation from the holster) is often faster when we only have to reach down a few inches vs back several inches. Many long-time shooters and competitors have reported faster draw times from appendix vs hip carry. Some have seen no or very little difference in time.

- Concealment
Greg Ellifritz illustrating poor concealment
carrying behind the hip on a bicycle

This seems to depend a lot on body type, gun carried and holster. While some find appendix carry to be far more concealable, others find it less concealable. Some find it more concealable in certain situations like bike riding where behind the hip carry would be far more pronounced. Others find it difficult to conceal double-stack firearms but not single-stack. Sometimes a thick holster can make concealment harder in AIWB vs behind the hip. It cannot be denied, however, that some people have far better success concealing AIWB than other carry methods.

This also applies to concealment of the draw stroke. It's a lot easier to sneak a gun out of the holster in the AIWB position than behind the hip.

- Comfort
Again, this seems to vary widely with body type and the type of gun carried along with holster selection. I've spoken to some that find AIWB to be extremely comfortable and some that find it extremely uncomfortable. One friend of mine finds behind the hip carry to mess with her gait and cause problems in her strong-side leg. She finds AIWB to be far more comfortable and easy on her legs because the weight of the firearm is more centrally located on her body. Some find that the muzzle of their firearm in AIWB will press uncomfortably in certain locations, especially when bending or sitting. For some this depends entirely on the size and length of the gun and holster.

- Ease of retention
Because the area in front of our hips is our natural work zone it is easily accessed by both of our hands. Because of that we can put two hands on a firearm that we are fighting to retain when it is carried in that area. From behind the hip we are limited to the hand closest to that firearm. We also have more strength when our hands are working in that natural work-zone vs stretched behind the hip.

- Ease of presentation
Anyone who has trained hard knows that in a fight for one's life it's very likely you may not be standing straight and in the ideal stance. You may have to draw from seated, from your back on the ground, from your side, etc. And, again, because your arms are working in a natural work zone they can better access an AIWB position than a behind the hip position from certain positions.

My attempt at concealing a double stack HK P2000SK AIWB
I don't like to give opinions about things until I've tried them myself and for a very long time I've been fooling around with AIWB.

I am a very small female and I like larger fighting guns (the Glock 19 being my regular carry gun). That particular combination does not seem to do be very conducive to AIWB. No matter how hard I tried I could not conceal a double-stack firearm AIWB. The thickness of the firearm and the holster would press out the front of my clothing and make me look at least a couple of months pregnant or clearly trying to conceal something large.

I was not willing to go to something so small as a .380 unless it was as a back up gun. My own personal standards are that my primary carry gun will be a 9mm, have a full size grip and good sights. Many of your pocket .380s obviously do not fit those criteria and finding a thin, single stack 9mm meant I had to give up the capacity I've grown to love in my 19.

Because carrying behind my hip had never been a problem for me I never prioritized AIWB carry.

Glock 19, 4 o'clock
S&W Shield, AIWB
at ECQ
But after making a plea on Facebook to try AIWB again, an instructor friend of mine and gunsmith, David Bowie, from Bowie Tactical Concepts and instructor at the Tactical Defense Institute offered to let me borrow his S&W M&P Shield in 9mm and AIWB holster for the duration of the Extreme Close Quarters gunfighting class I took the first week of Oct.

I arrived on the first day and he had the gun and holster waiting for me. My immediate instinct was to put the firearm dead-center on the front of my body, right below my belly button and directly beneath my belt buckle.

After getting the gun and holster on I covered it with my shirt and went to show the instructors, Greg Ellifritz and David Bowie. While I was already seeing a huge improvement in my ability to conceal the single-stack 9mm they helped me adjust it to the right of my belly button and into the natural hollow just inside my strong-side hip bone. I was concerned that the grip would print more in that location but it was not an issue.

I was also immediately impressed with how comfortable it was. The gun was short and small enough not to press on the crease of my thigh when I sat or dig into my ribs when I bent over. Immediately, I ran through some deep squats, bends and twists to check for comfort and found it to be exceptionally comfortable.

I definitely wanted to try this new method of carry throughout the course of the class, however, it was not how I normally carried. It seemed counter-productive to do a whole class with a method of carry and gun I didn't use so I kept my Glock 19 behind my hip where it normally would sit. I decided to run the whole weekend with both guns, splitting each drill and exercise between the two guns and carry methods.

The holster I was using was a modified Comptac 2 o'clock holster that had the sweat shield cut off and a c-clip instead of the loop. It was a decent holster and did well but the c-clip was not as secure as I would have liked due to it being a little big for my belt. The gun tended to tip in throughout the weekend and while it was never a problem I found myself having to readjust after any rigorous activity. I don't think I would have had that problem had my belt and the c-clip been better fitted to one another.

Yes, I looked a little paranoid running both guns all weekend (including spare magazines for each and a TDI knife) but it was a great experience!

Bowie's modified CompTac 2 o'clock
with an M&P
Before class started I took Greg aside and asked him to give me a really quick crash course in drawing and holstering from AIWB so I did it safely as, though I'd tried AIWB before, I'd never actually done live-fire from the position nor had any real-world experience with it.

He reminded me that the most dangerous and important part of safely carrying AIWB was re-holstering (which is true of behind the hip carry as well). Because of where the gun is located, a careless reholster could mean a bullet in the inside thigh with potential of hitting the femoral artery. I also wanted to make sure that I didn't have the tendency to draw the firearm and sweep everyone to my left by pulling the gun in an awkward manner before pointing it straight down range. Greg watched my draw a couple of times, patted me on the back and called it good and we started class.

Getting to work both methods of carry simultaneously allowed me to immediately compare their methods. Interestingly, the hardest part of the weekend was remembering which spare magazine to reach for when I needed to reload with either firearm. There were at least two times I tried inserting a Glock 19 magazine into the the single-stack Shield.

The ECQ class was a great environment wherein to try AIWB for the first time and to compare it to the traditional behind the hip style of carry. In addition to shooting (which can be the least difficult part of using a firearm in self defense) we worked gun retention, drawing and shooting from unusual positions, one-handed operation, contact shooting, fighting to the gun and so much more. There really was no better way to directly compare both methods of carry.

I started immediately liking AIWB carry. It was easier to defend and very comfortable. It was concealable and the draw was quick and easy. I have strong confidence in my gun handling so I did not have a moment of fear or hesitation on either the presentation from or return to the holster.

I did not, however, like my depleted ammo supply. I found it very frustrating to have to reload the Shield so often and at one point, while clearing a jam in the Shield, I discarded a partially full magazine, reached for the spare and realized that had been my spare. I quickly switched to my Glock but felt that rush of heat knowing had that been a real encounter and I was limited to the one, low-capacity gun, I'd be out.

I liked shooting the Shield. It was comfortable and it was accurate and it had already had a trigger job so it was just as good to shoot as my Glock. It's low-profile top did not lend itself to easy one-handed operations like racking the slide but a new pair of rear sights would fix that. My Glock felt more familiar every time it was in my hand solely for the reason it's been my training and carry gun for far more years than the Shield. Even so, I could see myself picking up a Shield in the near future.

When Sunday rolled around and it was time for the force-on-force scenarios with Greg I offhandedly joked that I would continue to carry both guns. At which point Greg said, "Good, twice and many chances to disarm you."

I realized that it might be time to choose a single method of carry. I thought about it hard and, after sizing Ellifritz up a few times, opted for the Shield in the AIWB position.

During the first scenario he didn't attempt to go for my gun. We ended up on the ground with myself on my back underneath of him. I kicked him off of me, draw the Shield from AIWB and simulated shooting him in the chest and head.

I watched the video later and wondered if the Glock carried behind the hip would have been easier or similar in that particular position.

I had good distance. I had pushed him away with my feet. I would have had to have rolled a bit to my side to gain access to my Glock but I don't think it would have been much of a hindrance. I believe I would have been able to get a similar shot off had I been carrying behind the hip vs AIWB.

Below you can watch the first scenario.

In the second scenario we started on the ground with Greg on top of me. The point of this exercise was to illustrate that even if you have a lethal force tool and are completely justified in using lethal force, you may have to fight quite a bit before you can access that tool.

Greg later admitted to cheating. The rules were that he was only supposed to go for your gun if he saw it but he decided to go for my gun anyway. He didn't remember which carry method I chose and was reaching behind my hip. Watching the video later there is at least one moment where he probably would have been able to take my gun if I'd been carrying behind the hip vs AIWB. Carrying AIWB I was able to use his body as a means of retention. When I felt him trying to reach for my gun I would drop my hips below his or lay on top of him, pinning my gun between us so that he couldn't access it. It worked very well and even though I wasn't able to access the gun during the fight, I was able to get to my knife and cut him in the groin and get out of the situation.

I thought long and hard how that scenario would have been different had I been carrying behind the hip. He may have been able to take my Glock away from me easier but I may have been more aware of that and tried harder to keep it away from him instead of finding security in his inaccessibility to my AIWB carried Shield.

Below is the video of the second scenario.

The bottom line is that I felt AIWB would be easier to retain and that is why I chose that method of carry when I ran those scenario vs behind the hip.

If I could conceal my Glock 19 AIWB I would switch methods of carry tomorrow. I have been convinced of the superiority of that method for certain situations, particularly retaining the firearm and I see no benefit of behind the hip carry over AIWB other than possible concealment and comfort issues with less-than-ideal body types. 

For me, my hesitation rests only in the fact that it would require me to downgrade to a lower capacity firearm to successfully conceal AIWB and I am very hesitant to give up my 16 rounds of 9mm in a gun I know I can conceal well behind the hip for 7 or 8 carried AIWB. I have not been able to decide if the benefits of AIWB outweigh the drawbacks of the low capacity.

I find what Todd Green said in this article regarding capacity to be quite accurate regarding my own feelings: 
Bullets are opportunities. They’re options. Having more of them is always better than having less, even if you don’t need them.
I may find myself switching between the modes of carry in the near future as I am saving up for a S&W M&P Shield. And when I get said gun I will be carrying it AIWB. Who knows, maybe I'll carry both. There really is no quicker reload than grabbing a fresh gun!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Shot That Breaks The Legal System's Back

When people work self defense scenarios or force-on-force training the question of legalities--always so black and white on paper--present themselves in a hazy variations of muddled gray.

And if you add the stress and excitement of working a scenario you very well find out that a split second of irrational thought could be the difference between justified self defense and aggravated assault, manslaughter or a variation thereof.

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to take a class that's been on my short list for three years: Extreme Close Quarters at the Tactical Defense Institute.

On the second day of the class, attendees are invited to participate in two force-on-force scenarios. You can choose to participate in one, both or neither. The point of the scenarios is to let you work the techniques you've learned over the weekend and to put them into the context of a physical assault.

Something unique about the scenarios is that you are also supposed to think about the legalities of your actions. Class attendees who are watching the scenario act as a pseudo jury and opine as to whether or not they believe your actions were justified as you fought.

The first scenario is a "stand up" scenario which usually begins with some sort of interview process. Deciding when and how and what level of force to use can be much more tricky.

In the second scenario, it is assumed you have been hit and rendered unconscious. You come to with your attacker already on top of you, beating you. It assumes lethal force is already justified. The point of the scenario is to illustrate that even though lethal force is already justified you may have quite a bit of fighting to do before you can get to a lethal force option like a knife or a gun.

I was the first student in this scenario. I laid down on the mat and the lead instructor, Greg Ellifritz, got on top of me in the mount and said, "Go!" while wrapping his hands around my neck.

I worked the ground fighting techniques we'd learned over the weekend and in Krav and while he was trying hard to get my gun off of me I was able to adequately defend it. However, towards the end of the scenario I was feeling as though I was running out of time. He grabbed my left hand and pulled me across him so that he had access to my waistband. I felt him grab at my magazine carrier/knife sheath. I heard something hit the floor, looked and saw he had successfully taken away my spare magazine.

I realized that, given enough time, he'd get my gun or knife and making space for me to get to my gun without having better control of him would mean he might be able to take it away from me.

I needed to make a move, now!

I dropped my hips below his to take away his reach and with my right arm pressed under his chin, trying to choke him with my forearm I drew my knife and buried it into the inside crease of his right leg and groin. I twisted it a couple of times simulating a deep wound and when I felt his legs loosen from around me I darted back and away.

While falling back from him I drew my gun, aimed in on his head and started pressing the trigger.

He was sitting up by now and staring at me.

I was surging with adrenaline and still had my knife in my off-hand. I wasn't even thinking about legalities. I was only thinking how scared I was at how close he came to getting my knife and how lucky I was that I got it first.

I can't tell you what stayed my hand but I didn't shoot. I screamed at him to stay back and the scenario was over.

I holstered my gun and deescalated. I didn't think about the scenario again until I watched it later on video my husband had recorded.

Between the time I cut him and my gun aimed at him is about 3 to 5 seconds. In that time I'm pushing myself away from him, making my way to my feet and drawing my gun. I've also put about 10 feet between us.

In that time a lot changed. I'd already used lethal force against him and with the type of cut I made it would be very likely that he would be bleeding to death. However, the dynamics of the scenario had changed.

If you are a student of self defense it's important to become familiar with the principles of AOJP in order to use lethal force.

A = Your attacker has to have the Ability to cause death or great bodily harm.
O = Your attacker has to have the Opportunity to cause death or great bodily harm.
J = You have to believe your life or limb is in Jeopardy.
P = There has to be no other reasonable option for you to remove yourself from that scenario or defend yourself. This is known as Preclusion.

In that scenario the AOJP was satisfied enough for me to be entirely justified in using lethal force as a means of self defense initially.

My attacker had the ability. He was a healthy, large, fully-functioning man.

He had the opportunity. He was sitting on top of me.

I was certainly in jeopardy. I was beneath him with his hands around my throat.

There was no preclusion. I had no other reasonable options. Despite how I tried I was not able to get away from him until I cut him in the groin.

There was also some disparity of force and position going on. Lethal force was justified.

And in 3 seconds the scenario changed drastically.

My attacker may still have had the ability to cause me death or great bodily harm (at least until he passed out from blood loss) but he no longer had the opportunity. Depending on how badly I cut him he may not have been able to use his leg to come after me. While I certainly could have felt like my life was still in jeopardy I now had reasonable options of escape. I didn't need to shoot him. I could leave.

I wasn't thinking about those things at the time. At the time I was feeling a mixture of fear and relief and I was putting pressure on a trigger beneath the barrel of a gun pointed directly at his head.

The threat was over and had I put another pound of pressure on said trigger I would have been stepping beyond the boundaries of self defense. The AOJP would no longer be satisfied.

If it had been real would I have been charged given the nature of the scenario? I don't know.

Would I have been convicted? Again, given the nature of the scenario, I don't know.

But the fact of the matter is, those 3 seconds and the smallest press of my trigger finger could have landed me in a serious mess of legal trouble I couldn't begin to comprehend (much less afford) if the scenario had been real.

There will be some that will argue that I would still have been justified in taking the shot. There will be some that will argue that I would not have been. I anticipate getting private messages from now until kingdom come with differing opinions. And it will all go to illustrate one thing: that that shot would not have been clear-cut self defense.

And therein lies the importance of thinking about these scenarios and attending force-on-force and the kind of training we worked over the weekend. Until you are there and experiencing the adrenaline and wondering what you are supposed to do and afraid and, yes, a bit panicked, you have no idea how well you will judge the scenario, when to use lethal force and when it may no longer be justified.

These classes not only help you learn about techniques of self defense but set you up to better judge situations. You learn how you can work them and when they may be over while also preparing you to continue to fight if need be or search for more threats. They construct patterns of behavior that are within legal boundaries (or at least they should!) and help you identify lethal force moments.

They also help you identify when you have fought yourself to a position of no longer needing that force.

If you haven't taken a class like that yet, I recommend you go out there and find one!

And if you want to watch the scenario for yourself here is the video. Watch between the :44 and :58 second marks. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Will Your Passion For Your Loved Ones Save Them?

There's an old saying in the self defense community: You will never rise to the occasion, you will fall to the level of your training.

People much wiser and experienced than I have all proclaimed this to be true.

Yet, at the same time we do hear stories of individuals defending themselves and those they love with little-to-no extensive training and a strong will to survive.

People who feel that those like me are a little extreme in our training regime's often point to these stories as excuses as to why they don't feel like they need to train hard, often or at all. They might even use those stories as excuses to not be aware of their surroundings, take stock of their personal health and fitness or evaluate their personal preparedness.

Many rely on their pure passion for life to save them or someone they love, pulling out statements like, "It's not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog," or "If your will to survive is greater than his will to do you harm, you will be victorious!"

Where I see this bravado most in the self defense community is in parents. Their passion for the lives of their children burns so bright it blinds their own, honest evaluations of their abilities. They slam their fists into tables and say, "If anyone touches my child I will kill him!" and they believe it.

While I believe in the motivational power of these kinds of statements, I feel they are misleading in that they give an individual a sense of a power they may not possess.

The power to be skillfully violent.

And when confronted with a situation they did not know how to handle they fail. Then the doubt and guilt become almost unbearable. The parent whose child is kidnapped or assaulted questions his or her passion for the life of their child that they could stand by and watch something like that happen. How could one really love and not be able to protect from such horrors?

The problem is compounded by the comments on news blogs and videos where anonymous twits who have never had to face fear and violence can spew their uneducated opinions about how they would never allow something like that to happen to them or to their children.

Here are a few examples:
In this first video a mother runs from a knife-wielding attacker and leaves her 4 year-old daughter behind.

In this second video a mother watches as her daughter is taken out of the cart in front of her and held hostage at knife-point.

When I talk about these scenarios in my classes I get bombarded with the comments, "How could that mother just leave her child?.. How could that mother let someone grab her child?.."

I can promise you one thing. These mothers do not love their children less than you love yours. You are not special and they are not stupid. If you have an advantage over them it is that you are reading this, evaluating yourself and realizing your own potential to let this very thing happen to you or your children if you don't prepare yourself.

Why did they "allow" these things to happen? Because they were literally scared out of their rational thinking minds. It has a lot to do with limbic system brain function and a perceived lack of time, fear and the suddenness of the attack. One or all of those things overwhelm the rational, thinking brain and dump adrenaline for the flight, fight or freeze response. All primarily centered on self preservation, NOT the preservation of those around you (including your children).

But there are always those who will follow up watching these videos with, "I would have........"

And the armchair tacticians begin their proclamations about how they would have saved the day.

And I'm forced to ask a very tough but honest question.

How do you KNOW you would have done better?

What experience in violent encounters gives you the foresight to know how you may perform under life-threatening stress? What skillful, life-altering decisions do you make on a regular basis that prepares you for such situations?

Could you rise to the occasion? Some do. But they are the exceptions. Your normal, every day individuals are those like the ones you saw above. They have no great preparation or skill in self defense. Standing in shock as her child is lifted from the shopping cart in front of her or running away and leaving her child behind. Still others cover their heads, curl into a fetal position and hope they can deny what is happening to them until they are either dead or it stops happening. Others plea for a mercy that's likely not to come.

So many want to believe they are inundated with this great ability and talent to perform perfectly in life-threatening situations to save their own life or the lives of those they love. The fact of the matter is that even though our emotional stakes are raised when it comes to our loved ones our ability stays the same until we do something to improve it.

So how does one know whether they have what it takes to respond in such situations?

To steal from my good friend, Ellifritz:
- You are highly trained and skilled
- You have seen ways out of similar situations
- You have a history of winning in a similar situations
- You have practiced this type of situation before

A lot of us practice and train for a lot of situations dealing with attacks against our own persons. But many of us ignore practicing attacks that happen to those we love.

How many of us have practiced how we would respond to someone taking our child? How many of us have practiced what we would do if a loved one was in a fight for his or her life? How many of us have trained in what to do if our children are with us when the bullets start to fly?

Many people every year die in fires because they were going BACK for loved ones. They had enough sense to get out of the fire themselves but realized that they left their loved one behind and died as a result of attempting to go back for them. If you don't want to be running back into a fire you have to be prepared to save your loved one in the process of escaping yourself.

After showing the WalMart kidnapping video in a class of all mothers not to long ago I watched their faces become hard and animated with anger.

"What would you do?" I asked.

"I'd shoot him!" came the response from one. Everyone quickly agreed.

"How?" I asked.

There are glances around the room.

"He has your child in his arms. He has a knife to her. Are you even carrying your gun or did you decide you were just going to the grocery store so you don't need it? If you you don't have your gun what are you going to do? If you do have your gun and you decide to take that shot where would you shoot him? How do you make sure he doesn't cut your child in the process? Would you stand back or would you try to make a contact shot? Do you know how to make sure your firearm doesn't jam when attempt a contact shot? How to shoot so the bullet doesn't exit him and hit your child?"

My goal is to inspire thought and the room falls quiet as every mother is evaluating her skill vs her passion.

Don't let your passion for those you love deceive you.

Raise your skill to the level of your passion. Prepare yourself to defend those you love. Don't let yourself die in the fire of trying to go back.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Breastfeeding and Gun Classes

While at the Rangemaster Instructor Class this last weekend I was one of around six other women in class. As women are wont to do, we got talking about our children, their ages and other motherly issues such as childbirth and breastfeeding.

I mentioned I was still breastfeeding my youngest and one of the other mothers looked at me and said, "How do you come to places like this and do it?"

"It's not easy," I said.

"No, really," she said. "How do you do it? I want to know."

I realized that as women start to break into the gun community on a more regular basis, with them will come women who are going to be going through some very female specific issues.

I told her that when I got home I would write about it and she said, "Please do! Women need to hear about this stuff."

And as uncomfortable as it may be to read about male instructors need to be aware that if their goal is to reach out to female students they may have to accommodate a few female specific needs, one of which is the breastfeeding mother.

This is the third, multi-day gun class I've taken since giving birth to my daughter. She's nearly two years old and still breastfeeding. I say that very proudly because it has taken a huge commitment on my part to make sure I am doing all I can to keep producing during the times I am away from her. Including this weekend.

What does it mean to be a lactating mother in the gun community?

Lots of prep work.

My first and second two and three-day gun class were when my daughter was four and five months old. She was exclusively breastfed at that time and I should have been pumping on a 3-4 hour cycle to be keeping up with her demands in her absence.

Quite frankly, that didn't happen. But what I did do was sufficient to keep my supply up so that when I got home she was able to pick up right where we left off.

Step One: If you're going to be a breastfeeding mom you need a quality breast pump and the right size shields.
I am fortunate enough to have two quality breast pumps and every single size shield. Both of my pumps are Medela Pump-In-Styles. One is the backpack version and the other is the shoulder bag. Many women do not even know that there are different shield sizes for different nipple sizes and that the shield size can change depending on how engorged you are and can even be different from one breast to the other. Too large or too small of a shield can mean painful pumping and poor production. If you are unsure of the shield sizes see a lactation consultant before you leave on your trip. Often times they will help you fit your shields for free. I know that if I did not have a quality pump and the right size shields I would not have been able to pump as efficiently in the time frames I was given. A quality pump is essential.  

Step Two: Make sure you have enough milk stored up for your baby for your trip. This is going to involve a little math, some more time and a lot of dedication. Determine how much milk your baby is consuming each day. You can do this by weight, by volume or by averages for his weight and needs based on growth charts and then find out how much milk you are going to need for the entirety of your trip by multiplying your babies daily ounces consumed by the number of days you will be gone (including travel). Set yourself reasonable pumping and milk storage goals to make that amount of excess before you need to leave. The more time you give yourself the better your chances will be. Pumping two extra ounces a day for three months is a lot easier than suddenly finding out you'll have to pump twenty extra ounces a day for a week to store enough.

Step Three: Be sure your baby will take a bottle from your intended caregiver. Be aware that sometimes babies will take bottles only in their mothers absence. If they can smell you or hear you they will likely attempt to refuse a bottle. A good test of whether or not a baby will take a bottle is to leave a hungry baby with a caregiver and leave the building completely.

Step Four: You need to be able to cool/freeze the milk to you express. Thankfully, the school I was at the first two times had a refrigerator with a functioning freezer. I asked the owner if I could use the freezer (without telling him what I would be freezing) and he said it was ok. That made storing my milk at those classes very easy. In this last class there was no freezer and it was hot. Very hot! In which case it's important to think again and prep your cooler for storing milk.

1. Make sure the hotel or other location you are staying at has a freezer available. Even if you can't freeze your milk immediately, keeping it cool on ice or dry ice until you can get it frozen that night should keep it fresh.
2. Dry ice is better than regular ice. Ice cubes are better than cold packs.
3. On particularly hot days, the more ice and layers of insulation the better.

Dry ice can be difficult to find but not impossible. I have found it by calling big chain grocery stores in the area and getting it in advance. If it's a particularly hot day buy a foam cooler that can fit inside of a larger cooler. Pack the large cooler with ice and have room for drinks and sandwiches and pack the smaller cooler with dry ice or more ice for your expressed milk.

Step Five: You need to be able to clean yourself and your equipment. Firing ranges are not clean and sterile fields. We shouldn't even eat without washing our hands due to lead exposure, never mind about contaminating your breastmilk with lead and sweat and everything else. And once you are done pumping you have to have a means of cleaning your parts so that they are ready to use when you need to pump again.

Most big name schools will have a bathroom adequate enough to wash your hands and face. Wash all the way up to your elbows with cool water and lots of soap and, if you are particularly dirty and sweaty, consider washing your breasts as well or at least having wipes handy for that job.

If you can, take your parts to an actual sink and wash them with soap and water. In absence of that, what I did was rinse my pump parts with clean, bottled water and then dropped them into a gallon-size plastic bag with soapy water. I rinsed them with the soapy water and then rinsed again with the bottled water. I had a sterilizing steam bag I would use every night when I got back to the hotel.

A quick note on lead exposure and breastmilk: What you ingest will make it into your milk supply. You will inhale or otherwise absorb lead particles throughout your time at a gun class. That lead has potential to make it into your milk. Try though I may I have found no reliable source of information to indicate that that exposure is enough to harm your baby through your milk. Even so, some mothers choose to pump and dump the milk they express during and immediately after gun classes. That is your choice. Personally, I have not had an issue giving the milk I have expressed during gun classes to my children and the lead tests they have had in their childhood have all come back normal.

Step Six: Store your milk in bags, not bottles and bring a big enough cooler. Bottles take up more space and you run out of them pretty fast. For a weekend class while exclusively breastfeeding I filled an entire freezer with over 200 ounces of breastmilk. I was using 5 ounce bags and had well over 40 bags of milk in the freezer before I left. That's a lot of milk.

Step Seven: Find a private place with power. I hate to tell you this girls, but most of the time that's going to end up being your car. Lots of gun schools, if they have a bathroom will only have one. Sometimes it might only be a portable toilet with no power and no running water. Even if it has power and running water there's likely going to be a line of people waiting to use it during breaks.

Buy a power adapter for your pump that fits your car or a battery pack (beware that battery packs often don't provide adequate power for good suction), turn on the engine to get the air conditioner or heater working (whichever you need), hang some sweaters over the windows if you don't have good tinting and pump away. If you are particularly sensitive about looky-loos, make sure that you don't park in a place with lots of foot traffic (ask me how I know that one!).

Step Eight: Have your pump set up and ready for quick pumping sessions on short breaks. You may be squeezing in a quick pump with just enough time to take the nagging, painful edge off in five minutes before you have to run off to class. You don't want to be plugging in your hoses, getting your bags and shields and power hooked up. If you're going to pump in your car, have all of that set up so that all you have to do is jump in, flip the switch, pump and go. You may not even have time to store the milk you pump in an ultra short session or be able to clean yourself and your parts adequately and might have to dump what you pump (it's okay to cry over spilled breastmilk) but a five minute session can stave of engorgement, pain and mastitis. If you can sneak it in do it!

Step Nine: Know how much to pump.
If you're lucky enough to pump as often as your child nurses then pump only what your child would eat. Depending on how much milk you produce your child may or may not empty your breast at each feeding. If you are struggling with your milk supply already and there may be delays in when you can pump again, empty both breasts and pump for an additional five minutes or so to make sure they are good and empty and stimulated to make more. If, however, you have a good supply and you pump too much your breasts will think you need more and will produce more. You could end up far more engorged and uncomfortable than if you just pumped enough for one feeding at a time.

If, however, you feel any hot or firm spots, empty that breast COMPLETELY while massaging the area to avoid plugged ducts and mastitis. Keep in mind that your breast tissue runs all the way up to your armpit so don't forget to massage there as well working towards your nipple.

Step Ten: Be prepared for engorgement, unexpected let-downs, leaking, plug ducts and the potential for mastitis.
The best way you can avoid all of the above is to make smart decisions about the clothes you wear. Sports bras and tight shirts will compress your expanding breasts throughout the day and can cause plug ducts that, if not handled well and quickly can and will lead to mastitis (a breast infection). Wear a quality nursing bra and a looser fitting shirt that can stretch and expand with your breasts.

Invest in some leak-proof nursing pads that will catch any unexpected leaks or let-downs through the day and change them as often as needed for your comfort. Trust me, you do NOT want to be trying to stifle a let-down in the middle of a live-fire shoot house!

When you are able to rest for the evening, take a hot bath or shower and consciously check your breasts for hot spots, places that feel unusually firm or are particularly sore. If any are found massage the area rigorously, preferably while pumping (yes, it will hurt) and take an anti-inflammatory.

Step Eleven: Eat and drink well. Your body needs extra calories to produce milk. Yes, it needs water but it also needs protein and fat. Stay hydrated and eat enough protein and fat to keep your supply up. Breastfeeding can take up to an additional 500 calories a day to maintain. Don't skimp on the snacks.

Step Twelve: Speak up for yourself. If you're in a fast-paced class that wants to have a "working lunch" or doesn't take breaks, put your foot down. It won't do you any good to get mastitis on the second day and find yourself in bed with a fever and the most pain ripping through your body you've experienced since childbirth (I've had mastitis three times in total.. I know of what I speak).

For the rest? Roll with it. You'll figure it out. I promise!

And to instructors: Be aware of who you have in your class. Get to know your students before hand. If you find out that you have a young mother in your class consider having an hour long or at least half hour long lunch so if she needs to pump she can do it without rushing. If you have a freezer available to you let her know it and welcome her to use it. She may be uncomfortable asking. If she says, "Why would I need a freezer?" don't worry about it. You offered. If she needed it, she'd know why you were offering it.

I know instructors don't always have a choice of where they teach and don't have control over things like bathroom facilities, power, water and refrigeration. But you do have control over when to take breaks and making someone feel comfortable. If you suspect there's a nursing mother in class attempt to give her a little more time, especially for the lunch break. Not only will she need to pump in that time but she'll have to eat and probably go to the bathroom, too. I guarantee she won't want to be a burden to the class so help her by giving her time and space if available.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Own Your Skill Level

I entered an art contest my freshmen year of high school. I drew a picture of a little girl in braids. She was looking out at you, the viewer, with a sort of somber look on her face. I won first place at the regional competition and went on to an international competition where I placed within the top 15 in monochromatic pencil. I was good. Everyone told me I was good. I knew I was good.

That summer I enrolled in an art camp and we were required to take a drawing with us to show the instructors what we were capable of. I took my little girl.

The instructors were going through the other student's work. Some of it was good. Some of it was not so good. When he got to mine he said it was good and was about to move on when I asked him to critique it. He looked at me and said, "How honest can I be?" I encouraged him to be completely honest.

"Her right eye isn't looking the exact same direction as the left. Her left eye isn't a perfect circle. Her mouth is curved wrong. Her nose could be much more defined. You have very light shading. In black and white, skin isn't white, it's grey..."

I had a choice. I could have been offended that he was being so hard on me. I could have believed that I was good enough and I didn't have to listen to his criticisms. I could have gotten mad. I also could have defeated myself by thinking his criticisms meant I wasn't good. That I somehow failed. I decided neither of those choices would help me.

He looked at me and must have thought I felt he was being too harsh. I was just staring at my drawing and he said, "I'm sorry." What he didn't know was that I was in awe. I was in awe that he was seeing these things and instead of just patting me on the back and allowing me to continue doing them wrong he was willing to point them out to me and help me improve. I wasn't offended, mad or defeated. I was inspired to do better. I chose to improve.

Over the week he pushed me hard.

The next year I entered the same competition and drew a picture of a soldier sitting on his cot with his head in his hands. I won first at the regional level and second place at the international level. I went back to the same art school and took both the girl and my new work.

He immediately took it in front of the entire class set it on the podium gave a speech, "If you are willing to open yourself to honest criticism and listen to our instruction, this is what you are capable of."

He pushed me even harder that year and the following year I did even better.

What does that experience have to do with shooting and self defense? I'll tell you.

This weekend I went to the Rangemaster Instructor Course. I was good shooter when I enrolled. I knew I was good. I've been told repeatedly I was good. I was confident and ready. I knew I was going to be challenged but I didn't know how much. I figured it wouldn't be easy but I didn't expect to have my butt kicked.

It took me about an hour to see where my weaknesses were. Every thrown shot, every time I took a shot after my time was up, every time I struggled with a drill, I felt like I was failing. Like I was no good. Like I didn't belong at that class.

On lunch on the second day one of the instructors said there was only a handful of people in the entire class that he thought had a good handle on all of the fundamentals. I asked him if I was included in that group. With a look of apology on his face he said, "No."

It stung. Bad.

But then it hit me. I faced a decision. I could ignore him. I could think I was "good enough." I could puff out my chest and assume he didn't know what he was talking about. I could also feel defeated and give up.

I'd been choosing defeat all weekend. I was defeating myself by thinking I was terrible. I was beating myself up and feeling like everything I'd done to that point was for nothing. I was feeling like a failure.

I kept questioning everything I'd ever taught others. How could I possibly be a good instructor when I wasn't performing perfectly here?

But I remembered that art class. I remembered how I felt being critiqued by that instructor and the third choice I could make.

I could improve.

I had the choice to accept that all of the work I had done to that point was valid. I was good. But, I could be BETTER. I could stop kicking myself in the butt, get out of my own way, stop letting my pride screw with my head and absorb the instruction I was getting.

I asked him where I could improve and he critiqued my presentation (draw) from the holster. I could immediately see where what he was saying was valid. He wasn't telling me anything new. He was showing me that I'd gotten lazy. I wasn't applying every step of what I'd learned. It was time to hold myself to a higher standard.

I went back to my hotel room that night and drew my gun for twenty minutes.

I dry-fired, did magazine changes and committed myself to improving.

The next morning I shot my best score on the qualification.

It's easy to convince yourself that you are "good enough" or above criticism. It's also easy to defeat yourself when your errors are pointed out to you. It's harder to own your skill level for everything it is and for everything it isn't and accept the criticism of others to your own improvement.

At the same time, you have to be careful of where you get your criticism from.

I don't accept the criticism of people on the internet who I don't know to be an authority on the subject. I put myself out there and so I get a lot of criticism. The anonymous jerk who goes off about how stupid I am and tries to list all of the things I'm doing wrong doesn't make me bat an eyelash.

I also won't allow people to tell me I'm no good. Not even myself. I know I'm good. I have no doubt that, if shooting were necessary, I would be a formidable opponent. I know I can pick up any handgun and operate it to a basic standard. I will not allow some arm-chair commando tell me I don't know what I'm talking about.

But I also will not allow myself to think I'm above instruction. I have areas where I need to improve. I have a higher standard for myself and when I reach my next shooting goals I'm going to reach higher.

And if one of the instructors I know well and respect wants to critique me I am all ears. Every new instructor I train under or who reaches out to me to critique me will get my full attention. They are trying to help me. They are trying to help me improve.

I choose to improve.

What's your choice?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Childbirth, Self Confience and Leadership

I am a great follower.

What I mean by that is if there is an individual present who I perceive to be in authority I yield easily him or her. This has served me well in many instances with good leaders. It has also served me very poorly as there have been times I have followed the commands of "authority" knowing it wasn't the best course of action.

There is a lot of safety and comfort in not making decisions for yourself or anyone else. Being able to point at someone else and say, "I'm just doing what he told me to," is a safety net I enjoyed in my youth. It got me off the hook many times.

But it's really no way to live a life. Yes, there are times when you need to know how to follow orders completely and without question. There are other times when you need to stand up to authority and say, "I'm not doing that." There are also other times when you have to step up and be the leader no one else can be in the moment.

My first role as a leader was as a high school drama team leader. There were four teams and ours came in dead last. It made me never want to be a leader again and I avoided leadership roles as long as I could.

But leadership roles have found me and life is nothing if it isn't a series of things you have to do that you may not want to do.

As the movie quote goes: Sometimes I do what I want to do. The rest of the time, I do what I have to.

I've gotten more and more comfortable in a role as leader. When I instruct I take my role as leader very seriously. I am fun and we have a good time but I have no problem getting authoritative when it comes to certain things like safety.

I have not been given the opportunity to be a leader as an EMT. I've always been under the supervision of paramedics or senior EMTs and, much to my own surprise, I really want to be lead! I feel very confident in my skills as an EMT and I feel as though I would do a decent job... at least until I got more experience and then I would rock it!

Previously, even if I was on the correct path, being in a leadership role would make me panic. The higher the stakes the more the panic. It put a knot in my chest and I would doubt myself constantly. I was constantly on the edge of freezing up entirely and that scared me more than not knowing what to do.

I'm finding that EMT training has helped my self confidence more than anything else I have ever done to date. It has given me a sense of self awareness and preparation that makes me feel confident and ready for almost anything. It has given me far more confidence to look at someone and say, "You! Do this!.. You! Pick that up!... You! Start doing this... You! STOP!"

That being said, I've seldom been tested on my own. I've always had a safety net of other experienced people around me. When I have been tested has been in relatively low-stress environments.

Then I got a phone call at 6:30 on a Sunday morning.

My friend and neighbor was having a home birth and, trusting my skill as an EMT to recognize a dangerous situation and being close friends, she had wanted me at her birth.

Her midwife lived an hour away and so I knew that there was a good chance I would be the only caregiver for quite some time. If something went wrong or the birth was exceptionally fast it would be on me to make decisions and lead the family in the correct course of action. As honored as I was to be trusted in that role I was worried I wasn't ready.

But when her husband said, "It's baby time," I sprang into action.

I was at their house in less than five minutes and a little surprised at just how calm I was. Mom was doing well, laboring well and I took a moment to recognize what was going on and orient myself to what needed to be done.

We'd gone through childbirth in EMT training and having had two children of my own the process was not new to me but this would be the first birth I would be attending as a caregiver and not a mother in labor.

I realized that dehydration and a lack of energy is a huge complication in labor. I asked Mom what she'd had to eat or drink that morning. I got her drinking water as her husband set up the birthing area.

Between contractions we made a game of figuring out baby's position so I knew I wasn't dealing with a surprise breach. During contractions I was her support and couch.

When I recognized she was going through transition and the midwife still wasn't there I waited for the panic to come but it didn't. I moved Mom to the birthing area and started thinking about what needed to be done if baby came and there was no midwife.

Mom started pushing in earnest and still the panic didn't come. I started mentally going through the check list of things to do to assess both baby and Mom.

I made sure we didn't have parts of the baby coming out first that weren't supposed to be coming out first and told her to do whatever she felt her body was telling her to do.

I was ready... totally and completely ready to deliver that baby on my own with no hesitation when the midwife finally walked through the door.

Baby was born about fifteen minutes later into mine and the midwife's hands.

One of the most incredible moment in my life aside from delivering my own children.

Afterward, my job was to continue monitoring Mom's vital signs and assist the midwife. I fell back into the role of assistant, taking instruction from the midwife. Handling the blood and relative gore of the afterbirth was a breeze though when it came to that part everyone else was more than happy to leave me and the midwife to ourselves.

Delivering a baby may not be as stressful as some things people find themselves facing. But it was a crystal clear moment to me of how far I've come in my ability to handle stressful situations and leadership roles. I had a lot of responsibility resting on my shoulders. I was completely alone as a caregiver and trusted to make the right call when it came to the health of both Mom and Baby. I had no tools except my EDC bag, a stethoscope, a blood pressure cuff and a telephone. And I rocked it.

The best moment of the day for me was when a friend of the family arrived, looked at me and said, "Who are you?"

Mom said, "She is my birthing assistant. She was here for an hour before the midwife got here and I don't know what I would have done without her. She was helping me so much. She was amazing!"

That's right.

I was amazing!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Distractions In Class

I taught another basic gun class this last Saturday. It was small but it was a great group. Everyone there was eager to learn, excited and fired up about self defense.

One of my students I have known for a couple of years and have watched her explosive entry into the world of self defense. I've loved the random emails asking about all manner of equipment and self defense concepts. She's a fast learner and eager.

She went from working in a library to prepping to become a reserve police officer. She's started taking regular hand-to-hand combat classes and other training seminars for all manner of defensive situations. She'd already taken one carry class but felt it was a bit lacking and enrolled in mine.

She was, by far, the most interactive student. She asked thought-provoking questions, gave examples of self defense concepts I spoke of and generally engaged herself throughout the entirety of the class. I was thrilled to have her there!

When the discussion turned to the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) loop she was on fire. As I talked about interrupting someone else's OODA loop she raised her hand.

She said, "May I show you something regarding OODA loop interruption?"

I wasn't sure what she was up to but always up for a practical application I welcomed her to demonstrate.

She stood at one side of the classroom with an empty water bottle in her hand and said, "Okay, let's say you are the bad guy and we are walking towards one another."

We started walking towards each other and out of the blue she throws the water bottle as hard as she can into the corner of the room. I watched her carefully expecting some kind of a strike or furtive movement.

"No, no, no," she said. "You're supposed to watch the water bottle! It's a distraction technique!"

The whole room burst out laughing including the both of us.

"I'm sorry," I said, "but the threat isn't the water bottle it's you! I'm not taking my eyes off of you."

"This time watch the water bottle," she said as she retrieved it from the floor.

"I'll try," I promised.

Even knowing what I was supposed to do, when she threw the water bottle I kept my eyes glued to her.

Once again the room burst out laughing.

She threw up her hands and laughed, "You're too hard to distract."

"I'm sorry," I said. "I think I'm a little too conditioned. If I got distracted like that in my martial arts class my instructor would smack me in the head so I'm very trained to watch people vs objects. But, you're on to something. May I?"

I held my hand out for the water bottle and she gave it to me.

I said, "Now you're the bad guy coming toward me."

We started walking at each other from across the room and when she was just outside of my striking distance I tossed the water bottle straight at her face, striking her softly on the bridge of the nose and forehead. She threw her hands up, twisted sideways and stopped as she blinked a few times. By the time she recovered and looked at me I was several steps back, my hand over my gun, waiting for her.

"Or you could do that!" she said as she smiled.

Everyone was laughing again but the point was pretty clear.

"If you're going to use a distraction technique," I said, "make it count. People can be condition not to watch objects being thrown around them but it's hard to ignore something coming straight at your face. A water bottle, a cup of coffee, gravel, whatever you have, throw it right at their face. It will be more distracting." 

I'm not sure where she learned the distraction technique she tried to demonstrate. It may very well work if the attacker was in "task fixation mode" such as wanting your wallet or purse and you tossed that item to the side to gain distance, but as a general distraction technique throwing objects away may or may not be as effective as just smashing them in the face with said object.

I told my krav instructor about the incident and he smiled, "Yeah, I would smack you if that distracted you."

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Woman Shoots Herself In Hand At Staples

I was sent THIS STORY by a Facebook follower who wanted to get my take on it.

First let me say that I trust news reports just about as far as I can throw them when it comes to details. That being said, we know a few things to be fact:

1) A woman and her toddler were shopping for school supplies at Staples in North Carolina.
2) The woman had a carry permit and her gun was in her purse.
3) She ended up shooting herself in the hand.

My take is that women need to wake up to the realities of purse carry.

If you watch the short news video in the above link you will find yourself giving yourself a double palm strike to the face. First when you hear about the woman shooting herself in the hand and again when you hear the eyewitness who is also a gun owner speculate that the discharge was due to a firearm having an external hammer.

(Don't believe me? Go watch the video.)

No, I don't know exactly what made that firearm go off but I have serious doubts it had anything to do with the firearm being hammered vs hammerless. I know guns well enough to know that the trigger being pressed is the #1 reason for discharges of any kind. #2 would be things getting inside the trigger guard that were never supposed to be there in the first place (which, when you think of it, is merely an extension of #1).

External hammer or not something got to that trigger. Period. End of story. Full Stop.

Every year I read a slew of stories like this. And every year I want to go shake some women.

If we women want to stop the stereotype that we don't know what we are doing when it comes to guns we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard and stop doing things that are irresponsible, dangerous and neglectful.

Yes. Leaving your gun in your bag where your child can access it is irresponsible. It is dangerous and it is neglectful.

Not having your firearm properly secured within that bag so that objects and fingers can't get inside the trigger guard is irresponsible. It is dangerous. It is neglectful.

And trying to shift blame onto something like an external hammer shows a lack of working knowledge of firearms that is, quite frankly, alarming.

I hate being overly harsh to people who have gone through tragedy when it comes to firearms. This woman is likely looking at a long road of recovery for herself and my hope is that her hand will heal with not a lot of lasting damage. She'll have to live with the scar as a reminder and be grateful that it wasn't worse, that her child is safe and no one else was injured.

Ladies, don't waste this story by ignoring it. Woman up and carry your gun on your body in a quality holster made for that firearm.

If you cannot or will not do that (for whatever reason). Get a gun purse. Get a holster for your gun that fits that gun purse and secure your firearm properly.

Then, keep that bag on your body and away from your children.

Stop being irresponsible. Stop being dangerous. Stop being neglectful.

What would be your recommendations for a gun purse?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Kids, Guns and Schools

When it comes to the subject of kids, schools and guns tensions start to rise. With school shootings seeming to happen more frequently and the terrorized knee-jerk reactions of politicians and frightened parents and teachers, never before have we seen children so punished for being children. Kids who talk about guns, draw pictures of guns, even point their fingers, bite pastries into gun shapes and wear gun shirts have been suspended, the police have been called, they have been expelled, punished, questioned to the point of wetting their pants and so on.

Our Son at 1 year with his first toy gun.
 The American parent is forced with a conundrum. What do I tell my child's school about guns and what don't I? Is it any of the school's business? Will my child be persecuted and his opinions be tainted because of the negative attitudes of staff against firearms? Will my child's teachers even care?

This is the first time I have had to ask these questions for myself because it is the first time I've put my child into school.

My son, who will turn five this year, is starting preschool this fall. While I desperately wanted to home school him I had to self evaluate and be honest with myself about my abilities to teach my own child at this stage in his life. I came to the hard conclusion that, as of right now, I am not the best person to teach him (for several reasons).

That being said, it should be a surprise to no one that guns are a very large part of my son's life. He sees guns every single day of his life. He makes everything (and I do mean everything) into a gun. He gets to play with trainer guns and toy guns. He knows how to identify the different parts of guns and anything that explodes makes his day. He begs us to let him go shooting with us and he's been to the range with us quite a few time to watch. He even demands to see our targets at the end of range sessions.

Of course he is not blind to what is on TV as well and his play reflects that. He talks about shooting bad guys and shooting down airplanes and every airplane toy he has is a combat aircraft that shoots any and everything which consequently explodes.

We continue to actively construct his play in a positive manner. We influence his morals in regards to firearms in that it is inappropriate to talk about killing people. However, I refuse to make him feel ashamed for liking guns. I will not attempt to reconstruct his entire idea of play in the few short weeks before he is off to school. I also refuse to construct an idea for him that his parents are ashamed of being gun owners by encouraging him to hide that part of his life when we are so open about it with him and so many others who we come in contact with every day.

I would also much rather be proactive than reactive.

At 2 years, learning how to load and unload a shotgun
with dummy ammunition.

His preschool teacher scheduled a home visit with me and our son and I fully intended to bring up the subject with her. If it didn't come up I would have brought it up and if she hadn't scheduled a home visit I would have sought her out to talk about the subject. I was (and am not) above going to the administration with my concerns and questions as well.

My intent was simple and two fold:
1) Inform them that guns are a part of my child's life and therefor can be expected to be talked about, drawn and mimed in school.
2) To gauge their response and to see if this was something that was going to cause problems for my son.

If this was something that was going to cause problems I would refuse to let him attend that preschool and I would find another that was more accommodating to his lifestyle.

I do believe in being modest about who you talk to about your firearms and I do believe in teaching your children to be modest about their firearms talk as well. I think it is important that children learn what is appropriate and not appropriate conversation in certain venues. However, in school, a place where they are encouraged to express themselves and where teachers are expected to get to know their students to better tailor their teaching to them, something as routine as a four-year-olds gun play is going to eventually come out. In which case, I'd rather it come out in a candid conversation between me and his teacher than through panicked, knee-jerk reactions to him constructing a gun out of legos.

At our home visit his teacher asked me if there was anything she needed to know about our son and his play. I openly explained that both my husband and I were firearms instructors. Guns are an every day part of our child's life and he talks about them and mimics play with them. I told her that he knows that talking about killing is inappropriate and can be corrected if that occurs. I expressed that in today's political/social climate guns can be a touchy subject and asked if that was a problem. She said no.

She thanked me for telling her. She asked if there were other things he would likely talk about like camping or fishing, favorite pets, and our conversation moved on to tornadoes. 

When I asked on my facebook page if anyone felt the need to discuss firearms with their child's teacher one commenter asked whether or not I felt it necessary to talk about the power tools in my home. While I agree that, to me, a firearm is no different than a power tool, it cannot be denied that the topic of Daddy's gun when brought up by a child in school is a whole lot more politically and socially charged than if that same child talked about his Daddy's power drill.

Some have expressed that it's not the teacher's business. Of course it's not the business of the teacher to know everything we own. But it is that teacher's business to get to know his or her student and to learn the interests and motivations of that child to help construct a learning program that works for that child. Knowing that a child has a great fascination and love for firearms would be on par with knowing that another child thinks he's Spiderman or loves bugs.

It's also the teacher's business to keep their children safe. Some teachers, driven by fear and the hyperbole regarding guns, believe the way to do that is to persecute and punish any child who talks about firearms.

Learning how to grip a handgun.
Having that kind of teacher for my son would be a recipe for disaster. He would be punished for the lifestyle his parents chose and for his loves and innocent play and that would be unacceptable to me. It would be a negative environment for him where he would not be able to learn and flourish. At worst it could negatively affect his opinion of me and his father because of our lifestyles. It would be irresponsible of me to put him in that environment. And the only way I would know what kind of atmosphere I would be subjecting him to would be to be open about it with his teacher.

As he ages and with every passing grade and with every new teacher (should we choose not to home school him or his sister) we will reevaluate any conversation we feel we might need to have with his teachers about firearms and their role in his life. If he moves on to enjoy other things then it's logical that talking about firearms and mimicking play with them will cease and there will be no need to bring it up once he understands that kind of thing is private. If, however, he chooses to compete in shooting sports, hunt or otherwise work with guns on a regular basis, I will be his advocate and do my best to insure his learning environments and teachers will not persecute him for those choices and interests.

I don't believe in being ashamed of being a gun owner and I don't believe in letting people who believe differently than me socially persecute my children to push their agenda and fear. Especially when I put them in a position of authority over my child.

The decision to make a proactive stance when it comes to my child's freedom to express his interests in firearms was the right decision for our family. It may not be for others and for a variety of reasons. And I respect that. Perhaps your family is not as passionate about firearms as ours is and your children do not have the same interests. Maybe you don't want your children to have interests in firearms and don't want them to talk about them or mimic play with them. Perhaps there is good reason for you to keep your firearm ownership a secret. Those are the decisions that you need to make for your own family and for your child's own education.

What about your family? Do you feel the need to take a proactive stance with your child's school regarding his (or her) interest in firearms?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Massad Ayoob on Zimmerman

I've not commented on the Zimmerman trial because I don't feel qualified to do so. I didn't watch the trial or research any of the evidence. So when people ask me about my thoughts on George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin I prefer to refer them to better men.

Massad Ayoob is an expert in the field of self defense and the criminal proceedings thereafter. He spoke with Zimmerman's attorneys and followed the trial. His legal knowledge and understanding combined with his closeness to the case give him far more authority to discuss the case than many of the people who have been giving opinions.

Read his series on the Zimmerman trial. I think you will find them well worth your time:

The Zimmerman Verdict, Part 1
Zimmerman Verdict, Part 2: "The Unarmed Teen"
Zimmerman Verdict, Part 3: "Who Started It?"
Zimmerman Verdict: The Stand Your Ground Element
Zimmerman Verdict, Part 5: The Gun Stuff
The Zimmerman Verdict, Part 6: "What if" Versus "What Is"
Zimmerman Verdict, Part 7: Why The Jury Didn't Learn About Trayvon Martin
Zimmerman Verdict, Part 8: The Quantity of Injury Argument
Zimmerman Verdict, Part 9: The Propaganda Factor
Zimmerman Verdict Part 10: The Semantics
Zimmerman Verdict Part 11: Rating the Lawyers (Defense)
Zimmerman Verdict Part 12: Rating the Lawyers (Prosecution)
Zimmerman Verdict Part 13: Angela Corey

The stand your ground one is particularly good.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Sights And Sounds of Trauma

I've never shot anyone. I've never seen anyone who has been shot. I've never witnessed, first hand, the sights and sounds of battle.

I know people who have and the consensus is unanimous: it's hell.

It's something very few people are prepared for. It's something that not many people attempt to prepare for.

This morning Greg Ellifritz posted an article about the Ross Township shooting in Pennsylvania. A reporter at the scene said that some of the people were off to the side throwing up. A comment to the blog expressed concern that one might find himself in a similar position if forced to deal with a mass shooting type of situation and having to face the sights and sounds of the carnage going on around them instead of responding or helping.

How do you prepare for that? How do you ensure you aren't the one curled in a ball and expelling your breakfast or passed out when you should be seeking cover or fighting or helping? Is there a way?

The commentator's concern resonated with me because I had the same concerns when I entered EMT school. I'm not a needle person. I fainted while my blood was being drawn in high school. I nearly passed out watching other people get shots. I was horribly afraid that I would get to the scene of an accident and pass out or throw up and not be able to preform my job, nevermind getting into a self defense situation where blood and stress were free flowing.

I was not a veteran, soldier or police officer. I was just an average civilian woman. But I was determined to find a way over my own aversion to trauma not only so that I could do my job as an EMT but so that I could also withstand the sights of trauma if ever in a self defense situation and forced to treat myself or those I care about effectively.

I started to do some searching on the subjects of getting over the fear of needles and getting over the shock of seeing blood and how emergency responders get over the sights, sounds and smells of horrific scenes.

Hypnosis and other suggestions aside, the two pieces of advice I found most helpful were:
1. Stay hydrated and well fed
2. Exposure therapy

The advice to stay hydrated and well fed kind of surprised me but it made sense as I started to learn about what goes on physiologically when you pass out or become ill from traumatic sights.

When presented with something traumatic your body goes into psychogenic shock which manifests itself physiologically. Your blood pressure plummets, pulse increases, skin becomes pale and clammy and light-headedness, dizziness and nausea can follow along with unconsciousness. There are many theories on what actually makes you pass out but, it's theorized that, your body shuts off your consciousness to get you prone in attempts to ease profusing your entire body (particularly your brain). Nausea is a by-product of psychogenic shock and often accompanies passing out though not everyone who vomits passes out and vis versa.

The more hydrated and energized your body is the better it can handle fluctuations in blood pressure, particularly quick decreases.

Also, the people at the scene of the Ross Township shooting were treating themselves well without knowing it. Vomiting usually makes people double over and forces blood to the head. When feeling the effects of psychogenic shock the best thing to do is get blood to your head. Lie down, get your head between your knees, scrunch up in a ball, do whatever you can to keep blood in your head so you don't pass out. Vomiting is helpful. If the vomit is coming, don't fight it.

But, of course, the goal is to not have any of those side effects to start with. Even if you know how to treat yourself if you feel like you're going to pass out or become sick you are in a bad position, especially if you are still in danger or, in the case of a responder, expected to do one's job.

In which case there is no better way to prepare yourself than by exposing yourself.

In EMT school, during the trauma section we were shown dozens of pictures of the most horrific accidents one can witness or respond to. Decapitations, crushed bodies, missing limbs, the most gruesome disfigurements, protruding eye-balls and burns. I forced myself to look. When everything inside of me didn't want to see what I was seeing.

We were encouraged to put aside the shock of the trauma and look for ways to treat. If it was an obvious traumatic death what would we do? If it was the loss of a limb what would we do? The key was to stay focused on what can be done. We were assured that every responder who works in the field long enough will vomit at least once in his/her career and maybe even pass out. It toughens him for the next, harder call.

While doing my clinical time in the ER the first time I heard someone was getting stitches I asked if I could go in and watch. I had to leave because I almost passed out. The second time someone came in for stitches I was able to stay through the entire procedure. The third time someone came in for stitches I was holding him down and the stitches were being preformed right under my nose. I was watching the subcutaneous tissue being washed and pulled together and then needled and sewn. I didn't so much as blink. Helping start IVs used to terrify me. I now hold arms and comfort patients while the needle goes in.

I went from getting woozy at the sight of blood to walking into a room covered in blood spray and holding a vomit bag for a boy who was vomiting large amounts of blood and not having a moment of hesitation or feeling the slightest bit unstable. Disfigurement was always a really hard one for me so I forced myself to be involved when the orthopedic surgeon was setting bones.

I have yet to go to a scene that requires me to actually put my hands into blood or bodily fluids (though I have held many a vomit bag and treated moderate cuts and bleeding injuries) or deal with traumatic death but I feel much more confident in my ability to stomach the sights and sounds of trauma than I did a year ago. Even thinking about some traumas used to make me feel sick. Now my thought is on how to best treat them.

It's not easy to get exposed to trauma these days. Unless you work in medical fields or as a police officer or are deployed to combat you will likely never see a major trauma. What's worse is that if you try to expose yourself without being in these fields you are considered weird or gross. This is what compounds the problem. Having never witnessed trauma, if/when we come across it, it is a complete psychogenic shock. Hunters, farm hands who assist in birth or slaughter of their animals, people who work in slaughter houses, all have at least some exposure to the blood and smells. Pictures help but, as macabre as it sounds, nothing completely prepares you for the blood and body fluids of a human like the blood and body fluids of a human.

That being said, even the most experienced and hardened individual can be overwhelmed and everyone has their limit. For some it's children. The sight of a wounded child is too much for many people to stomach. I've read stories from even the most battle-hardened veterans who still cannot get over the smell of burning bodies or the sight of brain matter. For some it is excrement or vomit or intestinal organs. For some, the worse trauma in the world to witness is childbirth. The worst part is that you won't know what effects you most until you see it. I do not look forward to finding my new limit.

Be aware that self defense that progresses to a physical fight will never be pretty. Disfigurement, body fluid, blood, broken bones, screaming are likely going to happen. Be aware that it might even be your blood, bodily fluids and disfigurement that you are going to have to deal with. Knowing is half the battle. At least you won't be completely shocked if it happens. But think about what/if you are prepared to handle it.

Once again, I'm no combat veteran. I don't have a long list of traumatic experiences that I've endured that have toughened me to the point where I know beyond any doubt that I can withstand every trauma out there. I was (and am) a very vulnerable and sensitive individual and I had/have to actively seek out ways to desensitize myself to trauma.

If you can't expose yourself to trauma (or even if you can) at least follow these steps:

Have a plan. And the first step of that plan should be to think about how you are going to get to safety or make your area safe. The use of cover, getting to a safe exit, ending the conflict, etc, should be your first priority.

Think about certain scenarios and how you are going to deal with them. If it's an active shooter and someone beside you gets wounded what are you going to do? If you are at home and your child is injured what are you going to do? If you are in a car accident and find yourself bleeding what are you going to do? If you are robbed at gunpoint and suddenly shot what are you going to do? The lack of a plan sets you up for psychogenic shock because you are overwhelmed and your mind wants to check out of the trauma. If you are injured yourself and if you are bleeding any delay might surpass psychogenic shock and you might be dealing with hypovolemic shock. A combination of psychogenic and hypovolemic shock could very quickly turn deadly.

Know how to treat. Setting your mind in motion as to the steps to take to treat a traumatic injury can distract you from the traumatic injury enough to not be so affected by it.

Once it's adequately treated, cover it. Not only will you protect the wound but you will also protect your psyche from having to stare at it or get distracted by it.

The biggest indicators that you are about to lose consciousness are tunnel vision, light-headedness, dizziness and nausea or a queasy feeling. You might even feel hot or flushed and find yourself sweating. Don't try to fight through these feeling. Get blood to your head. Get your head lower than your heart. The last thing you want to do is lose consciousness in a self defense environment.

Get help on the way and stay busy getting out, seeking cover, treating, escaping. Learn the steps of patient reassessment so that you can keep your mind active.

Talk to yourself. Freezing at the sight of trauma is pretty common. Even if you know what to do, getting yourself to actually do it can be the hardest part. A common tactic I have seen employed by experienced medics is talking to themselves, running themselves through the treatment steps or their plan of action.

How do you think you would respond to sights and sounds of trauma?