Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Pros and Cons of Babywearing

I have three beautiful children. As a parent, my style could be summed up in what is often referred to as Attachment Parenting. I have practiced extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping and babywearing with all three of my children. I've also been armed.

These practices have made for a rewarding, close and loving environment for my kids but there are some fall backs when it comes to defensive tactics.

The social and developmental benefits of babywearing are often debated among mommy groups all over the place, neither of which I will discuss here here. If you babywear you know the benefits of it for your family.

If you are interested in some basic babywearing and gun-carrying tips, please read Carrying A Gun And A Baby.

What we are going to discuss here is the narrow scope of the pros and cons of babywearing from a purely self-defense standpoint.


- Free Hands
One of the best aspects of babywearing is that it allows for hands-free activity. Fighting, drawing a weapon, controlling an attacker long enough to gain access to a weapons, etc., are all easier with two free hands.

Whether the baby is front or back carried will also have an effect on how easy it is to work in a particular space or allow access to tools. Babies too young to sit up on their own are primarily carried in front carriers and wraps. However, this position limits your range of motion slightly with a child on your chest and if you carry a defensive tool on the front of your body they can hinder access to said tool, depending on how high you carry and the size of your child. It will also completely impede your access to something like a flashbang holster.
Front Body Carry Makes Center-line Carry More Inaccessible

Front carrying a baby with a front carry defensive (handgun, knife etc.) system also hinders your ability to look and reholster your tools. It's not a huge issue if it's a fight for your life, but it's something to consider.

- Baby Cannot Be Left Behind
This is both a pro and a con (as we will discuss later) but a baby that is physically strapped to your body obviously cannot be easily left behind.

One would think this would never be a concern but it is something that has happened on several occasions when it comes to violent crime or other emergency situations. This has a lot to do with the freeze, fight or flight response. These responses are designed for your personal self-protection and do not concern themselves with the defense of others. It is possible to leave your child behind in a flight response, but obviously not if that child is strapped to your body.

- Baby Is Secure
Child snatching is a huge concern for many parents, despite the fact that it is statistically unlikely to ever occur--especially via a stranger. That does not mean it cannot and has not happened, however. A baby attached to your body cannot be snatched either as a means of kidnapping or to be used as a tool of compliance. There is also no chance that your child will be accidentally dropped in panic.

- Movement Is Easier
To a degree, movement is easier when you are carrying a baby on your body. Yes, having an 8-20 lbs. child strapped to your body does degrade your movement to some point, but it's a lot easier to move around with your child strapped to your body than with a baby in a stroller. If trying to escape a burning building I'd absolutely prefer to have my child strapped to me than in a stroller or in my arms. I would be less likely to drop my child, get caught up fumbling with my baby and a door, or have him knocked from my arms by other panicked patrons.


- Holster Systems Can Be Hindered
Back Carry Allows More Access to Tools Carried on the Center-line of the body

This is the single most common issue I see with babywearing and carrying. Because of the nature of baby carriers that attach around the waist, over the chest, and across the back, some of the most common carry locations for firearms are compromised or hindered due to the carrier or baby interfering with the holster or draw. Sometimes it's a simpler solution like changing the babywearing method or going to a different holster. Sometimes it means coming up with an entirely different defensive carry system depending on the method of carrying the child. What I have seen in practice is parents compromising access and putting their guns and holsters in places that are impractical and potentially dangerous for a self-defense situation.

But that will be a blog for another day.

- Damage To You Means Damage To Baby
Herein lies the single most terrifying part of wearing a baby from a defensive standpoint: If you take damage, it's highly likely your baby will as well. In other words, babywearing is like pregnancy. While pregnant and under attack there is nothing you can reasonably be expected to do to protect your child. The same goes for babywearing. Because you can't put your baby down or distance yourself and because your baby is so exposed if you are taking fire, it's highly likely your baby is going to be shot. If you are under a knife attack, it's likely your baby is going to be cut. If you are being kicked or hit or punched, it is likely your baby is going to be on the receiving end of those blows as well.

You could certainly try to shield your baby from harm by turning him or her away and placing your own body between yourself and the attacker, but even that is no guarantee your child will not come to harm.

As terrifying as that is to consider, it is something that must be addressed. If all of your preventive measures are overlooked and someone chooses to visit violence on you while babywearing you must be aware and prepared for the fact that it will likely mean harm to your child.

- Baby Cannot Be Left Behind Or Handed Over
As promised, I told you this was both a pro and a con. The con side of this particular coin is that you cannot leave your child behind to draw fire or violence away from them. If you are the target and not your child and the violence is centered on you, there is no quick, easy way to separate yourself from your child or give your child to someone who can take him or her out of harm's way. If the fight is on it's going to require fighting around the child.

- Fighting Is Harder
Hand-to-hand fighting is hard enough. Doing it with a 10-20 lbs. weight strapped to your back or front will make it harder. Your center of gravity is off. Your range of motion is restricted. Your ability to clench up or ground fight is almost gone. Roundhouse kicks? Front snap kicks? Vicious knees? All harder with a child strapped to your body. Not to mention the elevated degree of violence you may need may mean harm to your child.

- Running Is Not An Option
Let me rephrase: Running is always an option. It's not always a good option, but it is an option. Remember that women often cannot run as fast as men. If you are a man, 20 lbs. of strapped baby will probably hinder you as well.

If you have an opportunity to escape to safety you absolutely should take it! However, you have to reasonably understand what your capacity for escape is when you are carrying a child. Even if you are a runner, your ability to sprint with a child will be hampered. Try it sometime.

Thankfully, crime against parents while they carry their babies is still quite low. While it does happen, it's not so common as to be expected. That being said, it's still a possibility.

When the pros and cons are weighed exclusively from a defensive standpoint, babywearing is a terrible defensive tactic and has no real advantage and lots of disadvantages that can be devastating for both the parent and baby.

That being said, babywearing does have great developmental, bonding and even health benefits for the parent and baby. Whether or not one decides to continue to babywear should be based on all of those factors as well as risk factors for actual violence.

There are those who may decide that babywearing increases the difficulty in defending themselves too much and decide to no longer babywear. If that's the case, that's fine.

While I have continued to babywear, I have amended my practices to make the outcome better for the both of us.

-Be smart about when and where you wear your baby.
This should go without saying, but it stands to reason that making smart decisions about where, when and who you are with when you babywear is going to help with your defensive options.

Do you and your husband and your kids all have to go to the grocery store? Can you or your husband stay home snuggling the baby while the other goes to the store by him or herself for some alone time and therefore not have to worry about defensive situations with a child in tow?

If required to go some place with a higher rate of violent crime, might it be better to place your child in a stroller vs babywear? It may seem counter-intuitive, as parents like to collect their children to their persons when they feel threatened, but from a purely defensive perspective it may not be the best tactic.

-Have a means to get your baby off of you as quickly as possible.
This will have a lot to do with your type of chosen baby carrier. Buckle carriers are quicker to get in and out of than wraps, so given the choice between the two you might want to choose the one that is easier to get out of.

Safety Cutter on the Benchmade Triage

Make no mistake about it, in an immediate, violent attack on your life you are not going to have time to remove your baby from your person. However, immediately after or if in a lull or in other emergency situations, you might need to get your baby off you and quickly. Carrying items like safety cutters or seatbelt cutters for straps or wraps may be an advisable option. Be sure to carry them in a location they can be quickly accessed.

-Decrease the clutter you carry.
If you babywear, it's imperative that all other loads be kept to a minimum. Any additional bag will be that much more of a hindrance. Keep your on-body carry to your baby,  pepper spray, your gun, your safety cutter and/or knife, money, identification and carry permit (if required), and phone. Avoid putting your gun in any off-body carry system, and if you must have another bag for diapers and baby gear keep that gear to a minimum and be ready to ditch the bag.

-Increase your personal boundaries.
It's not easy to keep people away from you. We live in a world where people will encroach upon your personal space and it's unrealistic to think you will be able to keep a ten foot radius of empty space around you at all times. That being the case, it's still important to be aware of who gets within your space and control it as best you are able.

Move away from people if you can, be alert and aware of those who are around you and tell people to stop and back up who make you uncomfortable. Most people who do not intend harm, but may also think you are a little nutso, will respect your request for distance. Those who do not are of more concern and may lead to my next point...

-Carry a less-than-lethal option.
This is not a suggestion as much as a command. Go! Do! Get pepper spray and carry it! Period.

Not everyone who is a threatening presence deserves to be, or can legally be, shot. But they might deserve a good dose of pepper spray. As an individual who should now be able to articulate the reasons why you cannot fight or escape with a baby strapped to your body, you may be able to explain why you preempted by pepper spraying someone who was escalating and making you feel threatened.

This absolutely does not mean that you get to go around pepper spraying people who make you feel uncomfortable. It is, however, an advisable alternative to going hands-on or escalating immediately to lethal force.

-Practice your defensive options with your chosen babywearing options.
Go to the range with your wrap or baby carrier and a weighted baby-doll or bag of kitty litter. Practice drawing and shooting, moving, magazine changes, and single-handed shooting. If you find errors in your carry system work them out now.

Babywearing and carrying a gun may not be the best tactical practice but that doesn't mean it can't or shouldn't be done. If you choose to do it, make sure you do it as wisely as possible. Take some practical steps to ensure both you and your baby are as safe and secure as possible.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Cold Weather Carry

I live in Iowa. I grew up in Wisconsin. I'm also 100 lbs of skin and bones. I'm also one of those unfortunate people who can freeze an Eskimo out of an igloo with her feet even if I wear socks and slippers.

In short, I know cold.

That's a lot of layers.
In the winter I wear more layers than my grandmother's rainbow jello. Because of this I've discovered that getting to a concealed carry firearm under all those layers can be difficult.

It all started at IDPA last year. It was cold. Really cold. I was wearing enough layers to keep me comfortable but I noticed an interesting trend. Even though all shots had to be taken from concealment, right before shooters came to the firing line they would unzip their coats, take off their gloves or additional sweaters and otherwise get themselves in the most favorable position to draw from concealment. Make no mistake about it. I was doing it myself. It is a game and everyone wants the best chances of winning. Even with all that prep the cold weather gear still slowed plenty of people down.

Once the stage was over you would see people putting gloves and sweaters back on, putting on their gloves and zipping their coats back up while they waited for the next stage.

Most people aren't standing on ranges for several hours in the freezing cold. Lots of people do run around with their coats unzipped, no gloves or multiple layers to fight with. But that's not always the case. If it's particularly cold people wear gloves and zip coats. They wear layers and many don't consider what that means for drawing their firearms.

So, I set out to find a good way to deal with cold weather attire and carry.

The Pocket Gun
The hands-down fastest and most practical means of cold weather carry is the pocket gun carried in your coat pocket. You have almost immediate access and can even walk around with your hand on your gun. Coat pockets are usually larger and can accommodate a variety of guns and give you time to access your primary carry gun if you choose to carry both.

Be sure you are following all of the rules of pocket carry such as getting a pocket holster, making sure the pocket is empty of any and all other debris before putting the gun in the pocket and making sure your pocket gun is snag free.

Not everyone can carry in a coat pocket, however. Some coats don't have pockets (ridiculous, I know), some pockets (particularly pockets on women's coats) can be too small or people may only have one gun that won't fit in a pocket. Whatever your reason, if you can't pocket carry be aware that cold weather gear is likely going to slow down your access to your gun but there are ways to maximize access and still stay warm.

Concealment Isn't the Problem
A benefit of cold weather carry is that the larger coats, shirts and sweaters allow for better concealment of a larger variety of guns. The only problems can be if you go somewhere hot and want to shed layers or if you put on so many layers you significantly down your access to that gun.

Before you leave the house make sure you can be comfortable at room temperatures so you're not the odd man out sweating in a heavy jacket because you carried a gun you couldn't conceal without it. If you choose to pocket carry make sure you have a plan for stowing that gun or transitioning it to your body if you are going to end up putting your coat in an unsecured closet, etc.
Coat and Vest: Dressed for the Range

Waistband Carry
Second to pocket carry, waistband carry seems to give the best access and speed.

To test this theory I met my good friend, fellow training junkie and Krav instructor, Dave, at the shooting range. We ran a total of eight very simple scenarios. With a shot timer we timed how long it took to draw and put one good hit on target about four yards away from concealment with a coat on.

The scenarios were as follows:
  • Draw and shoot (D/S) from Appendix Inside the WaistBand (AIWB) with coat on and zipped.
  • D/S from AIWB with coat on and unzipped but concealed under shirt. 
  • D/S from strong-side Outside the WaistBand (OWB) holster with coat on and zipped.
  • D/S from strong-side OWB with coat on and unzipped.
  • D/S from OWB positioned under an additional layer of clothing under a coat (zipped and unzipped).
  • D/S from OWB positioned over an additional layer of clothing under a coat (zipped and unzipped).
  • D/S from the flashbang bra holster under a shirt and coat (zipped and unzipped). No, my Krav instructor did not do the Flashbang portion of these scenarios. And because he didn't have an additional cover garment his shooting OWB was included in "OWB over an additional layer" since he didn't have to get under two cover garments.

We also had very different coats. His was more of a cotton jacket with a zipper that came down a little lower than his waist. My coat was an insulated Columbia coat that came down to below my hip. When zipped mine was considerably tighter on me than his was around him. Even accounting for the differences in coat styles it was still slower to draw from his zipped coat than unzipped or my zipped vs unzipped coat and the numbers seemed to represent that between the both of us and our averages.

It's also important to note that I've spent eight years drawing and shooting from behind my hip and only about two weeks and four range days (max) drawing and shooting from AIWB. I've spent many more days drawing from the flashbang than AIWB. Conversely, Dave spends almost no time shooting OWB from behind the hip or strong-side and the majority of his practice and training is from AIWB. We hoped that mixing the data would cancel out any biases for any one particular form of carry.

We also performed each scenario without any practice sessions to keep the data in its rawest form. This is the beginning of our cold weather season. We were both pretty slow while adjusting to our cover garments. Our times improved as we continued to draw and shoot but we limited ourselves to 5 shots per scenario.

Here are the results:

The fastest draw with shot on target was with an OWB holster over a vest (or in Dave's case, over shirt) and drawn from behind the strong-side hip (2.319 seconds) with the coat unzipped. It was a half second (0.669) faster than the next fastest method which was AIWB with the coat unzipped (2.988). Concealment was still a requirement for AIWB, however. I used an insulated vest as my cover garment. Dave used his t-shirt.

When the coat was zipped more than a second (1.379) was added to the OWB draw and less than half a second (0.416) was added to AIWB for a total average draw time of 3.404 seconds.

The difference in drawing between AIWB and OWB with a zipped vs unzipped coat makes AIWB a little more consistent across both scenarios. That's important if you live in an area where you may need to zip your coat in order to stay warm. The fastest draw and shoot time from a zipped coat was AIWB at 3.404 seconds.
As you can see, when we timed the flashbang with a coat unzipped the times were within a second (give or take a tenth here or there) even though it was still the longest "unzipped" time of 3.386 seconds. Zipping the coat slowed the down the flashbang draw by nearly two seconds (1.928) for a total of 5.314 seconds. The first couple of draws I did from the flashbang with a zipped coat over top were over six seconds long. By the third draw I figured out that unzipping the coat and drawing was about a second faster and safer and it brought down the average draw time. Taking the time to unzip the coat was not a scenario I found favorable, however.

Gun Between Garments

The other unique scenario we tried was adding an additional garment (one or both used as a concealment garment). Many people wear additional vests or sweaters underneath of coats and jackets and I wanted to see the difference between putting the gun between those garments or underneath of all of them. Drawing and shooting from under two garments with OWB holster with the coat zipped was coming in at 4.288 seconds. It was a half second (0.59) slower than drawing and shooting from the holster under the zipped coat and not under the second garment.

The difference between the jacket being zipped and unzipped was almost a second and a half (1.379) with an average draw and shoot time of 3.166 seconds. 

Towards the end of our five draws both of us were getting around 2 second shoot times with AIWB and OWB carry but when adding the extra cover garment or the flashbang the times stayed solidly in the 3+ second times. I have no doubt that both of us could get those times down with practice but one of the reasons we chose to do it cold was because a lot of people don't practice drawing in different/additional attire and I wanted to reflect that in the data.

Vehicle Carry in the Cold
Where AIWB started to really pull out in front was when drawing from a seated position or in a vehicle while in your cold weather gear. Behind the hip or strong-side carry provided very limited access from a seated, car position with a coat on. Even with the coat unzipped it was a challenge to get to the gun even when I took the seatbelt off.
Behind the hip carry in a vehicle

Seatbelt off, accessing behind the hip

With AIWB, however, I was able to put the gun over a vest and drape my coat over it. Even with the seatbelt on it was far more accessible than behind the hip.

AIWB carry in a vehicle

What It Means
Dave and I are pretty regular folks trying something relatively new to the both of us. We produced our own unique numbers. If you were to run similar scenarios you may get different numbers based on your experience and training. On the surface, if zipping the coat was something that was never required, it would appear that strong-side carry with no additional cover garment was the fastest way to draw and fire from concealment under a coat. However, if the coat ever needs to be zipped then AIWB carry shows a time advantage. If you're looking for the most consistent drawing time with a zipped or unzipped coat AIWB pulls out as being a little faster.

For many reasons people are not able to pull off AIWB carry. If that's the case behind the hip is certainly viable. If carrying behind the hip I would modify my carry in such a way as to attempt to eliminate the need for zipping my coat or try my hardest to find a way to pocket carry. That may mean wearing an insulated vest and making sure the additional garments are securely tucked behind the gun for best access (as seen in the image above). I particularly love the insulated vest because I can shed by coat when getting warm but stay very toasty even with my coat unzipped. It's been a good addition as far as my own personal carry is concerned.

AIWB under vest
If I wear a dark colored shirt I can also get away with keeping the vest unzipped and have an almost as much instant access as open carry even carrying AIWB. It seems to be the best all-around option for me. If that were not an option I would likely go back to IWB behind the hip carry with the same type of cover garment. This type of outfit would also give the most concealment and access for a specialty holster like the flashbang while still attempting to stay fairly warm.

If you do wear a specialty holster, get your coat on and go shooting. Again, with practice you might make something work out but it's worth it to go out to the range with a shot timer and see what happens with your own gun and your own clothing options.

The Other Stuff
Something we didn't test was the addition of gloves, etc. You could go crazy adding additional variables into the mix. It stands to reason, however, that one would do well to do a few practice sessions with gloves on. You'd be surprised how many gloves won't fit into trigger guards or how they might get hung up in some of the controls.

Also, in the interest of having the most access to their guns some people dress lighter than they should for cold weather. If you are constantly in and out of stores or just going from a warm car to a warm office you may be tempted to leave the heavy coat at home. In emergencies extreme temperatures can be deadly. Even if you don't wear the coat all the time at least bring it with you. You're far more likely to get into a cold weather emergency than need a gun. Not having adequate protection from the elements (particularly if you live in the northern states) can be dangerous. You can have the best of both worlds.

How do you make cold weather carry work?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Situational Awareness With Children

There's a funny advertisement about how children are time thieves and parents are willing victims. It's a humorous ad that rings with quite a bit of truth. In addition to time, children als
o steal attention, energy, patience, and maybe a little sanity.

Situational awareness has been a hot topic on my facebook page of late. My goal has been to better represent its purpose and limitations. While talking about situational awareness a mother asked whether or not situational awareness was possible with children in tow.

My two oldest being goofballs
My answer, I presume, was not much help to her.

I said, "Yes. No. Maybe."

I promised to clarify and herein is that clarification.

In order to answer the question more thoroughly we must define what situational awareness is. At its core, it is a skill. Like any skill, it must be practiced.

Some people are born gifted with situational awareness, most are not. Training can be acquired to help people interpret what they are seeing and what to do with that data. Like any other skill, however, practice falls to the individual attempting to be more aware of their surroundings.

Can you be situationally aware with children?


That depends a lot on the person attempting to be aware--in this case, the parent.

What kind of situational awareness did that parent have before they had children? Were they the type to walk down stairs or into water fountains or did they have a sense of their surroundings and what was going on? What was the focus of their situational awareness?

People interested in self defense tend to look at their surroundings in a far more critical light of potential danger from violent crime and other environmental hazards.

It makes sense that people are are already alert and aware are easier to guide toward defensive situational awareness. On the other hand, there are the No people who couldn't tell you the color of the car they drive to work every day. They might have a little further to go and must first practice awareness in general before it can be directed to any one area such as self defense. They may be completely overwhelmed when asked to be aware while also caring for a child.

Take an aware individual, train them what to look for and give them children and I say, Yes! They absolutely can be aware with children--although there may be an adjustment period.

Children, especially really little ones, suck attention as easily as they suck milk. If they aren't demanding it with screams to be fed, changed, burped or held we are giving it to them willingly while we lovingly watch them sleep, smile, coo and play. It is easy (or should be easy) to allow your child to get 100% of your attention. A parent (in my opinion) should specifically structure times when they purposefully give their children 100% of their attention. In general, however, that time and place should be of the parents time and choosing as to make sure it is appropriate and you are secure.

One cannot simply kneel down in the middle of the street and give their child 100% attention to look at the pretty penny on the ground when a truck is barreling down on them. It may also not be wise to gaze playfully at your child at the park while overlooking the strange individual stalking you or to put your full attention into your child's temper tantrum and miss exit signs and safe havens for emergency situations like fire and weather.

Before you give your child all of your attention ask yourself these questions:
  1. Are we reasonably safe?
  2. Who is near me?
  3. How do we get out of here?

In the example I gave above, the middle of the street is not a safe place to stop and talk about the joys of copper. Another example might be going to the park. It may be a safe place provided it is well maintained but you may take a moment to mentally catalog the individuals there, who they are with and what they are doing. Other parents with children are to be expected. Make note of people who aren't accompanied by children (male or female). Note any and all escape routes (particularly unconventional ones) and take moments to periodically update that information.

There are times and places where it's far easier to give your child your full, undivided attention because you have far more control of the place and time. At home where the location can be secured, you intimately know the individuals in that location and you have already devised a fairly unchanging escape plan is one of the best places to exchange quality attention time with your kids.

Do you have any situational awareness to speak of? If not, now's the time to start practicing. It's impossible to have perfect situational awareness at all times, so don't get frustrated when you find yourself struggling. There will also be times when your kids will steal your attention unexpectedly. That's okay. Keep working at it.

If you're already situationally aware but not sure how to incorporate your kids, here are some tips that might help:

  • Think of yourself as your child's bodyguard. 
Hired bodyguards don't spend a whole lot of time looking at the person they are guarding because the threat doesn't come from that individual. The threat comes from around you. Be looking around you.

  • When your child is demanding your attention, decide if it's an emergency or something that can wait until you are in a better location.
A child who has fallen and broken his arm is having an emergency. He needs to be dealt with. A child who is screaming because you aren't allowing him to have a candy bar can be dealt with somewhere else (even if you have to drag him there).

  • If you can't look at your children, touch them or have them touch you.
Hold hands. If you only have two hands and more than three children or want a hand or both hands free have your children hold your bag, the stroller, a cart or your clothes.

  • Incorporate your children into your awareness.
Play awareness games like ISpy. Have the older children tell you everything they see behind you while you strap the younger ones into seats or load groceries. Make games out of finding all of the exit signs, fire extinguishers and AEDs. Ask them to count how many people are in the room or cars in a parking lot. Ask them where they might hide if there was a bad guy, etc.

  • Trust your child's instincts and teach your children to trust them as well. 
When your child shies away from an individual or tells you they don't like a certain circumstance, as much as possible, err on the side of following the child's lead. They have a strong sense about people.

  • Make yourself known.
If you live in or frequent the same areas and see the same people over and over again introduce yourself and your children. If there's an emergency they can be helpful in reconnecting you with your children or feel more comfortable alerting you to strange things happening. They will also be able to better identify strangers around your children.

  • Know your children and plan for their needs.
I have a 5 month-old a 2 year-old and a 5 year-old. My youngest is not mobile. If I want him to move I have to move him or give him to someone who can move him for me. My little girl is independent and opinionated but still requires contact with her mom or dad in public to feel safe. She will not run away from me or her father if she feels threatened. I will need to carry her with me, give her to someone who can carry her or leave her to draw attention away from her if need be. My oldest is able to understand the concepts of danger. If given specific commands I trust him to be able to run, hide or escape on command. As my children get older their roles in their own defense and that of their siblings may change. Determining their levels of understanding and response takes constant evaluation on my part in addition to mock drills. Your child may be old enough to understand making emergency calls or be trusted with getting his or her siblings to safety or they might be handicapped and need more assistance. Take those things into account and plan for them.

  • Strategically place yourself.
Sit where you can see entrances and exits. Sit closer to exits (particularly ones that are not also entrances). Park where you have the best views of both the store and blind spots.

  • Be mindful of what you carry.
Parents (especially parents with kids still in diapers) tend to carry a lot of stuff. As much as possible, try to limit what you carry with you to limit what you are needing to juggle in a time of need or what might potentially attract the attention of someone looking to victimize you.

Depending on the type of emergency of violence coming against you it is important to note that the safest place for your child might not be with you. In order to increase their chance of survival you might have to give them to a stranger or push them away while you draw violence toward yourself and away from them. Start thinking of scenarios where leaving your children might be the best option for their survival and when it might not.

  • Decide if your exit plan will accommodate strollers and baby carriers.
When you enter a building, immediately start thinking about how you and your children might make a hasty exit and whether or not you will be able to do that with the gear you may have brought in. If you have three children or more it might be easier to pile them all on a stroller and run them out. On the other hand, if you need to escape through a narrow or unconventional place that a stroller won't fit through you might have to ditch the stroller. It may mean pushing them so far and carrying the rest of the way, but consider circumstances where you might have to ditch the baby gear.

Situational awareness with children is possible if you can build off of existing awareness and tailor it to fit your needs as a family.

How might you increase awareness while out and about with your children?

A special thank you to Kathy Jackson for all her good advice over the years.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Situational Awareness: The New Talisman

I posted something on Facebook that looked a lot like this:

Situational Awareness
Okay, so it's a phrase, not a word. You get the point.
People got all bent out of shape,  jumping to the conclusion that I am against situational awareness. I challenge anyone to find evidence of me recommending people walk around with their heads firmly planted up their butts.

It's not that I don't like situational awareness. In fact, I love it! It sparks interesting conversations. It allows you to enjoy your environment. It keeps you engaged. It can even save your life.

Situational awareness is a really good thing. It's just being mishandled. Or misrepresented. A lot of weight is being put on its shoulders. Instead of being another great tool, it's becoming something of a talisman that people are pulling out and using as an excuse to berate, to not train, to have sloppy carry methods, etc.

Situational awareness is the ability to scan an environment for items or actions that could be potentially dangerous. It allows us to alert to those items and behaviors and activate one's capacity to make intelligent decisions and actions in regards to that data based on one's training and experience.

Situational awareness does not make the untrained and unprepared better at responding to that data.

If he'd had better situational awareness, that wouldn't have happened.
News flash: people get hurt. They get victimized. Sometimes there's nothing that can be done to stop it.

Yes, there are legitimate cases where having better situational awareness could have at least let someone be aware that danger was close. In regards to people who walk into traffic, down flights of stairs or into fountains because they weren't paying attention, there's not much lacking but situational awareness. It doesn't take a lot of sense and training to walk around a fountain instead of into it. 

In the realm of self defense, however, seeing the potential attack does not mean the outcome would be different.

If you see the truck or the rapist of the burglar or the axe-wielding maniac and you don't have any capacity to do anything with that data and change your situation you'll still get ran over, raped, burglarized or chopped to pieces.

Situational awareness is only as good as it's ability to alert you in addition to activating your capacity to do something with that information.

I use situational awareness. I don't need to keep one in the chamber (or carry a gun, or know hand-to-hand skills, etc) because I'll always have time because I'll always see it coming.
We've discussed what situational awareness is and what it isn't and what its limits are. Now we have to admit to ourselves that situational awareness is not infallible.

We will not (cannot) always see it coming. We do not have eyes on the backs of our heads. Our eyes are only capable of focusing on one thing at a time. We also are capable of misreading any number of situations. Even when we recognize those situations as being dangerous we don't always allow that data to activate our capacity to do anything about it via a nifty little trick I like to call DENIAL.

Let's go back to capacity, however. Let's say you see the danger but don't have the capacity to respond to it. That capacity might be because of mechanics--your arm is pinned, shot, broken, protecting your head and you cannot physically put a round in the chamber; your gun is stuffed so far down your pants in ubber-deep concealment to the point it is inaccessible; you are getting your head pounded into the pavement because you tried to go for your gun and got punched in the face and your draw stuffed and now have no idea how to get out of that situation and the lights are dimming.

That capacity might also be because of time--it takes you 2.5 seconds to draw, rack and fire but the guy who's fighting you is going to kill you in 2 seconds.

You don't always see the danger coming. Even if you do, if you lack capacity, you may be no better off with that knowledge.

In short, situational awareness is not a substitute. It is not a substitute for good equipment. It's not a substitute for common sense and it's certainly not a substitute for good training and practice.

Use good situational awareness! But give it substance to fall back on.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Self Evaluation and Goals

It's not quite the end of the year but that's not stopping me from starting to highlight my road map for the future.

I decided about a year ago that I have no greater passion (as far as a vocation is concerned) than that of self-defense, be it armed or unarmed. I also have no greater passion than to share that with others, be that through writing or via instructing. I have made it a goal of mine to become an advanced firearms instructor.

Some life destinations are easier to map out than others. If I wanted to be a doctor I know which degrees I would have to get, the system is pretty well set up. Firearms instructing is a little more fluid. There's no set standard to what makes someone advanced, nor is there clear agreement on what it means to be advanced. Is it high shooting scores in competition? Is it a training resume a mile long? And where do I fit into it all? How far have I come so I might be able to find out how far I need to go?

People have a tendency to over estimate their own skills and abilities and rank in the scheme of things. I'm a regular person. But I'm not a dumb regular person. So, to more accurately gauge my own standing and becomes I'm a very visual person, I made this graph:

I figure myself to be somewhere on the precipice between beginner and intermediate, feeling much safer to assume myself lower in skill than above. Probably because lower is exactly where I am.

Why am I not further along? Because I haven't practiced the lessons I've learned.

I have a lot of head knowledge that is serving me very well in theory but I've not gotten out there and worked the work enough for it to be recalled as "second nature."

A perfect example was my Extreme Close Quarters class. One year ago this month I took that class fully expecting to be able to glean the knowledge, take it home and work it until I couldn't get it wrong. I was in a perfect place to do so as well. Both my husband and my martial arts instructor took the class with me. We could all go home and be on the same page. We could all work the skills over and over again until they were ingrained. I was so excited about working the work and taking that work to force-on-force scenarios in classes, and even out into competition.

And the day I got home from that class I found out I was pregnant with our youngest son.

Having to drop out of martial arts and any other aggressive force on force work shortly thereafter hit my retention of that class hard. I have more of the theory still in my head, not a lot of the practice.

The same is true of my room clearing skills. Having worked them only a select number of times I still make errors on my drop outs and use of cover. I also have to take far too long to recognize blind spots and favorable angles for clearing obstructions.

I'm not even going into my team-work.

These are all classes I've taken and learned so much from, but learning without practicing really isn't much of an advancement. It's more of a baby step.

Working those skills combined with simply running the gun as fast, aggressively, accurately and smartly as I can, combined with more education in the legal aspects of self defense, less-than-lethal and empty-hand and I feel like I'll be on my way to something similar to my goal.

Truth be told, my plan-old gun work could use some serious fine tuning from time to time.

What I Don't Know I Don't Know
The other reason I evaluated myself as being somewhere in the bottom is because I still don't know what I don't know. And that can account for a LOT. It's really easy to think you're on your way to some place great but once you achieve your first level of success you realize the mile hike you thought it was going to take to your destination just because a double marathon.

I don't know all of the skills I'm missing. I don't know what kind of experience will help me on my goal aside from the obvious experience in classrooms, competition and more classes and practice. I don't know what I don't know.

And nothing beats experience. Do I have experience teaching? Yep. Quite a bit, but not enough.
Do I have experience competing? Yes. But not enough.
Do I have experience carrying a gun? Oh yes. But many would say it's still not enough.
Do I have experience using the techniques I've learned? Not so much.

One thing I didn't put on that graph that I think is vitally important is evaluation. It's really easy to think you're good in your own eyes compared to no particular standard. It's something else entirely to submit yourself to the evaluation of those you consider to be in authority on the subject.

Over the past few years I've been blessed to have connected with some amazing people in the industry. I've been able to get frank feedback from them and will continue to look to them for guidance and honest evaluation.

I've been grateful for every word of honest feedback and criticism. I want those people to know every word they've said to me has been taken to heart. Some of them have put me through true tests of my skill. Some I have passed, others I have not. But it has given me more goals to strive for.

So, what will 2015 be? We'll see!! I'm optimistic. A lot of it might be repeat.

Finding a way to fit training and parenthood together has never been easy but my hope is that I will be able to return to combatives soon and work hand-to-hand again. I have my first pistol match since Feb coming up this month and then a handgun class in November. I'm hoping that 2015 Feb will see me back at Rangemasters for their conference for more head knowledge and a host of other refreshers as well.

Above all, I'm hoping that 2015 sees me on the mat, with trainer guns in force-on-force scenarios, at the range and competing again.

Another baby step towards my goals.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Men, Come To My Rescue

An article has made it's rounds on my Facebook page via several instructor friends. It's titled Alpha Game: Protect Yourselves, Ladies and attempts to explain why women and children are being targeted more frequently in violent crime and why men are not coming to their aid.

The crux of the article can be summed up in these paragraphs:
"Men have been subjected to forty years of propaganda telling them that those old codes are outdated no longer apply. They have been taught from kindergarten that men and women are exactly the same. So, women shouldn't be surprised when bad men no longer treat them with kid gloves, but prey upon them as mercilessly as they do upon other men.

Nor should they be surprised when good men won't lift a finger or run any risks to defend them."
 After reading the article and feeling a little sad I started reading the comments to the article and even thinking back on my own experiences.

I've spoken against relying on someone else to save you. I've written countless blog posts about standing up for yourself and taking charge of your own self defense. I seek out the training that would allow me to better my chances against all aggressors--male, female, big or small.

But here's a little secret: I welcome help. I welcome protection. I embrace the kindness of a stranger or friend or spouse or family member who would stand up for me and say, "Leave her alone."

I won't wait for it. But I welcome it.

In the world of self defense things can get a little funny. Women train to fight off their most-likely and damaging attacker (a man) and that can often be translated into the idea that women are 100% equal to men or that she now no longer needs the assistance of anyone, even (or especially) a man.

Sometimes, that philosophy alone is what drives women to self defense classes. A woman, through the guise of feminism or equality, or whatever, decides the best way she can prove her superiority is to learn to defeat men in a physical match-up. Sadly, all too often, that drive comes from abuse or negligence at the hands of men.

Abuse at the hands of any man is enough to drive any woman to feel mistrustful of the gender as a whole. Abuse or neglect at the hands of a man that woman is supposed to have trusted to protect her can compound the issue even further.

I'm no stranger to such abuses and it was that abuse that drove me to the doors of self defense.

I made a decision that I was never going to rely on anyone else to save me ever again and if no one was going to help me then I'd help myself.

My drive for self protection was born out of hurt and bitterness, mistrust and anger. Yet the more I learned (the more I healed) the more I realized that my prejudices against men were planted in the shallow, infertile ground of perversion in a few.

Most men are not interested in hurting anyone. Many, in fact, want to be a protector. They want to be needed, relied upon or trusted to solve a problem. As much as men admire strong women there is a part of them that finds it perfectly acceptable for that woman to have her moments of weakness. Those men are okay being that knight in shining armor who comes to the rescue. If given the chance, many men would put forth the finest of efforts to fulfill that role and feel more like men because of it.

And yet, no one is asking them.

We're shoveling women into self defense classes and telling them that they don't need help. Worse, in many classes, women are being taught that the people they should be fearing the most are those they are invested in trusting. The domestic violence statistics are quoted. The rape statistics. The fact that most attacks happen by individuals the woman knows. And then the seed of mistrust is watered with words like, "Would you be ready to do this against your own husband?"

Don't get me wrong. A woman should very well know how to defend herself from anyone, including her spouse, if the need arises. She should be capable of standing up to the most aggressive and unlikely of foes. She should be able to do her best, with whatever tool is at her disposal, to defend herself. But I can't help but fear we're creating a much bigger problem by breeding that kind of mistrust and an attitude that she can always do it and do it best on her own.

We're breeding men who think they are irrelevant to the defense of women. That they don't matter and shouldn't help even if they are in a position to do so.

Worse still is that we may be breeding women who have a higher opinion of their own abilities than reality would dictate.

Women are plowed through self defense classes often paired up with other women or compliant male partners, given reassuring conditioning through defeating other non-skilled females or compliant males, told they are unbeatable, given a certificate of completion and told they are ready for whatever anyone can throw at them. The truth is that we women suffer a huge disadvantage when it comes to real world encounters with violence--particularly violent men--and we may not be able to conquer every foe out there without help.

Yes, many men can be deterred or fought off when encountering the minimum of resistance. Many women have fought off attackers using basic self defense skills. There are also some highly skilled women out there. Those skills should be taught. They should be learned and they should be applied when necessary. They have and will continue to be successful!

But those classes and skills should not be a substitute for an able-bodied, and preferably skilled individual coming to help.

My journey into self defense began on the premise that I never again wanted to rely on someone else to save me. I stand by that decision. I do not want to wait for someone to come to my rescue. But whereas I crossed the start line determined to resist all outside offers to help, I've reached a point of this unending journey with the realization that I don't want to do it all on my own anymore. Not only is it impractical, it's foolish. If the bad guys can embrace the need for assistance in victimizing others, why should I try to stand alone in defending myself? 

So, to those who would question whether or not I would ever want any assistance from a man, the answer is, "yes."

Help me. Save me. Rescue me. Protect me.

Encourage me to learn how to do it myself. Congratulate me when I take the next step in self reliance and self defense. But if you see me in a position of need, please, help me. I will thank you for it. I will appreciate you for it. I will not feel less of a woman because you helped me. I will not feel as though you are undermining me. I may be able to do it on my own but I know I have a better chance with your help. I welcome your help.

For those men who have felt like we women don't want you or need you anymore. I'm sorry. I can't speak for every woman but for my own part in shutting you out of my own defense I apologize.

We women will never be as good at defending ourselves from men like you men are.

For those men who have wanted to help but have been hesitant for fear you'd be seen as undermining us and our strength. I, for one, would like to invite you to jump in and help. Again, I can only speak for myself, but I want you to know I'd appreciate your help.

To those men who have never wondered and never asked but have thrown themselves into the mix on a woman's (or anyone's) behalf. Thank you! You are appreciated. Even if it wasn't by the individual you helped, I appreciate your spirit.

To the women who read this. Good for you for learning how to defend yourself. Keep at it. Don't stop and don't wait for someone to rescue you. But don't discredit the ability and desire that men have to help you and protect you, either.

In the world of self defense, it still counts as a win to be rescued.

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.