Friday, February 28, 2014

Rangemaster Tactical Conference 2014

Every year Tom Givens puts on a conference in Memphis, TN, at his facility. It is called the Rangemaster Tactical Conference. It consists of three days of instruction by top instructors in the firearms and self defense community. At any given time there can be three to five instructors presenting on any number of topics related to self defense, particularly with a firearm. Most instruction blocks are two hours in length but from time to time and with an important enough topic it's not unheard of to see a whole four-hour block dedicated to one instructor and his information.

After years of hearing great things coming out of the conference we finally made it a priority to attend this year.

The Conference was held on Feb 21-23 and the hardest part was deciding which instruction blocks to attend vs the others.

My schedule started with Shane Gosa, instructor with CQB Services International, talking about The Mental Trigger. This entire two-hour block was largely centered around mindset. Shane had a unique perspective on Jeff Cooper's color codes of awareness, how they were intended to be used and how to apply them to daily life. We did one group visualization technique, discussed mental barriers and the aftermath of violent encounters and finished up with a training exercise on what Shane called, "Accessing State." The exercise is meant to train the mind and body to work together and to limit or completely eliminate the freeze response and allow for a faster and more efficient aggressive, defensive or offensive response. Not only did it address turning the aggression on, immediately, but also turning it off (often the hardest and most damning part of self defense). The lecture concluded with a discussion on winning vs survival, the importance of combat breathing and other tips on getting the most out of training sessions.

Next was Kathy Jackson, author and instructor for Cornered Cat. Her lecture was very bluntly titled "What Women Want" and centered around getting more women to attend professional firearms and self defense training. She opened with statistics about how many women were getting their carry permits and buying guns compared to men (hint, it's a lot more women than you think) and on the high note she dashed us down by showing the number of women who attend regular training past the basic carry class (hint, it's way less women than you'd hope). She drew parallels from other male-dominated fields and how they have fought to retain women. Her discussion on how women often feel in the firearms community (and other male-dominated fields) left my mouth agape in it's accuracy at how I have often felt. She then held back nothing as she talked about some of the common flaws in firearms training that set women up for failure or at least for being undermined in the industry. She slaughtered a few sacred cows (which I was gleeful to see butchered (there were at least two times I literally almost clapped)) and moved on to the best strategies for encouraging women. She was very frank that if you are going to teach women you have to be okay talking about and at least have a working idea of some women's issues like drawing around big breasts, discussing bra or thigh holsters, or even being able to address long fingernails and how it relates to shooting. In short, if you want women to come to your classes, you need to make them feel like they belong in a human space vs feeling like they are guests in a man's house.

After lunch I was off to Jim Higginbotham, a former instructor at Gunsite, from Riposte Training. His lecture was called "Fire for Effect" and entirely centered on how the body reacts to gunfire and how bullets may (or may not) physically stop a determined attacker. He discussed the factors that influence incapacitation, how one should train to maximize the effectiveness of their shots if they are needed and what physically needs to be achieved in order to stop a determined attacker instantly, rapidly or marginally. He addressed head-on the growing concept that it's better to spread your shots around vs making tight groups and how ineffective that can be. He addressed the issue of training scars developed through targets with poorly defined targeting zones and concluded with practice tips on improving ability to make better incapacitating shots.

My last class on Friday was Chuck Haggard, a former SWAT officer and current supervisory officer in Kansas. I had the privilege to meet Chuck at the Rangemaster Instructor Development class in September and we've kept in touch ever since. His block of instruction was on Active Shooters/Terrorist Events. Chuck has been personally involved in two active shooter events and his unique perspective was insightful when going through some of the information. A good majority of the class was going over many of the major active shooter events and discussing the tactics used by law enforcement and what worked and what didn't as far as slowing or stopping the events. He talked about what motivates active shooters and what civilians can do to better prepare for an active shooter event.

Saturday morning started with a four-hour block of instruction by John Hearne; a Rangemaster instructor, federal law enforcement officer and self-proclaimed research geek; called "Performance Under Fire." He gave the four-hour version of an eight-hour class and if I ever get the chance to take it in more depth you will find me there. A long-held belief is that humans are predestined to become quivering masses of unpredictable goo when confronted with traumatic events. John's lecture went over the brain, how it works and functions with other body systems to respond to emergencies, why it is conditioned to do what it does under stress and how it can be optimized to respond better or entirely differently. He explained the difference between the neocortex and limbic system and their roles in traumatic events and how to keep the neocortex in control. He defined what it meant to be untrained, to have learned a skill and what was an overlearned skill. My favorite part of his lecture was what he called the "Sacred Cow Slaughterhouse" that took on the concepts of heart-rate being a key factor in performance, the idea that a "natural" response is somehow superior vs an overlearned response, the famed "startle-response" we all train to start from, the supposed innate aversion we are said to have against killing other humans, and whether or not we really do loose our ability to perform fine motor skills and see something as small as a front sight when fighting for our lives. He concluded his lecture with training tips and tips for instructors on how to maximize student learning. All-in-all a very intensive and eye-opening block of instruction.

And from there I stood in line for twenty minutes waiting to attend Craig Douglas' workshop on Managing Unknown Contacts. Craig Douglas is often known through his former screen name "Southnarc." As his handle would suggest, he was an undercover narcotics officer who has since retired and started his own training company called shivworks. The man has a stellar reputation in the training community that is well-deserved. Many of his techniques were developed directly from his own experience interacting on a regular basis with the criminal element. The workshop was based around the simple premise that you are being approached by an unknown individual. You need to decide whether or not this individual is a potential threat with enough time and/or distance to do something about it if it turns out this individual means you harm. We spent most of the instruction block working his three-part interaction system of Verbalizing, Moving and preparing your Hands for action. He then went over four of the most common pre-fight indicators and we practiced identifying them in class. Lastly, we talked about what to do if we are still unsure of the genuine intent of an individual but decide we want to help them vs shutting them down. This was mostly a live-action class worked with other partners and a great exercise in staying relatively safe while deciding if someone is a legitimate threat or not.

My final Saturday class was Skip Gochenour, a retired police investigator who specialized in homicides and helped prepare cases for trial. Skip's lecture was titled "Problem Two: On Trial." In other words, you've survived a lethal encounter (problem one) but now you are being charged with a crime (typically some form of homicide). He opened his lecture with some pretty harsh facts about the law and legal system, the hardest to accept by your average gun-totter being that the truth has absolutely no relevance in a court of law. If a question cannot be clearly answered by the evidence it is what is considered "a jury question" at which point a prosecutor and defense attorney will both make a case on how they interpret the evidence and the jury makes a declaration and what they believe the evidence likely indicates what happened. He went over a lot of history of our legal system and broke down what four main questions a prosecutor will ask in order to determine whether or not someone acted in self defense. He then moved on to what criteria the jury will look at as to whether or not they will convict (or acquit) someone of the various degrees of murder. One of the quotes of the class that particularly resonated with me was, "When you decide you will take on problem one you agree to accept the bill and pay for problem two no matter what the cost." Be that emotional, financial, physical, legal or in prison. A sobering reminder of the responsibilities involved in carrying a firearm.

Sunday morning opened with Cecil Burch, a career martial artist and instructor. His block of instruction was titled Immediate Action in Extreme Close Quarters. In short, you've just been taken by surprise in a violent attack and you can't get to or don't have a gun. What do you do? This was another live-action workshop and we spent much of it on our feet working with partners to protect our most vital area (the head) and work on switching from a defensive posture to an offensive one and gaining ground to either fight, access tools or flee.

Next I attended Tom Givens' Active Shooter lecture. His lecture differed from Chuck's in that he did not spend a lot of time discussing individual cases but rather patterns across many active shooter events. He went over a lot of information that is already known in the community such as the fact that most active shooter events happen in gun-free zones, a large portion of them being schools, and that the shooters tend to be lone, white males with one gun. He went over the phases of an active shooter from fantasy all the way to the shooting and how the best time to stop an active shooting is in the planning or preparation stage. He discussed the difference in outcomes with civilian's have responded to active shooters vs law enforcement with the results being in favor of a civilian response. Lastly, he talked about what to do if caught up in an active shooter event and wrapped it up with an admonition to be armed and fight for abolition of gun-free zones.

After lunch was William Aprill's lecture titled, "Fatal Choices." William Aprill is a psychologist who works with criminals in a law enforcement capacity and a brilliant speaker. His lecture was primarily about what makes a criminal pick a particular individual to victimize. His initial task was to distinguish between those who are targeted and those who are victimized. Anyone can be targeted but only a portion of those are actually chosen to be victimized and that comes down to a criminal deciding whether or not that target is a "go" or "no go." How does he make the decision? William went into depth about what is called "thin-slicing" and it's connection to the intuitive mind that allows us to make instant and more-often accurate decisions about people based on very limited, external data. Facial expressions, gait, appearance, even the amount of multi-tasking we seem to be taking on in a particular moment, can all be factors in what makes a criminal decide whether or not to victimize a particular target. He talked about what we can do to lower our chances of being targeted in the first place or even "deselected" as a "go." Of all of the presentations at the conference, it was William's that fascinated me the most and has made me want to research much more into the topics of thin-slicing and how it relates to criminal choice.

Finally, when I thought I could cram no more into my little brain I sat down in Greg Ellifritz's "Armed Citizen Response to Terrorist Bombings." Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time has seen Greg's name before. He's one of my favorite instructors and this is my third class with him. He's the author and lead instructor for Active Response Training. He holds more instructor certifications than I care to list at the moment and his topic of the day was bombs. He went over what they are, how they work, how we might be able to identify them and how they are being used by terrorists and active shooters. After pretty much letting us all in on the terrifying reality that there's not much you can do about a bomb he dampened the mood even further by alerting us to the fact that most active shooter/terrorist bombs are homemade and unstable and it's not even a safe bet to try to shoot someone, even if you are 100% sure he has a bomb. If you choose to do so you're doing so with the expectation that you're going to die and generally not going to stop the bomb from going off anyway given the instability of the device, handlers who will set it off anyway, timers, or a hit to the device that triggers it early. He did try to end it on an upbeat note by assuming if we were involved in a bombing we were far enough away or able to get to cover quickly enough to survive. He talked about steps to take to identify secondary devices, how to manage other survivors of the blast and then talked about relative safe distances and cover from certain sizes of devices (which can vary depending on device).

On that happy note we piled in our car, went for some good bbq and just about crashed in an information-overload coma.

These were only the classes I was able to attend. There were so many more I missed and am disappointed for it.

I got to meet some of my heroes and other top-name instructors, got to network with some great people and trainers, meet some of the people who have followed me for years and generally rub shoulders with some great, like-minded individuals.

In addition to the instruction, there is an ongoing pistol match which I shot on Saturday night and learned later that out of 129 shooters I came in 22. To say I was pleased would be an understatement.

I'm not done processing the information from the conference and I fully expect to write more in depth thoughts on several of the training blocks I attended, but for now, I'll leave you all with the admonition that if you can even remotely conceive of going to a Tactical Conference you should do so!

I plan on returning often! I hope to see you there!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Looking For Nails

There's an old saying in the gun training industry that says, "If all you carry is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." The implication being that if your only option for self defense is a gun you will start to see shooting solutions to no-shoot problems. 

When I started out on my self-defense journey I had no clear idea of what a lethal force situation looked like. Yeah, I could make an educated guess that someone who was raping me or stabbing or shooting me was probably worth shooting but when we got into discussions of disparity of force and the legalities of using lethal force against someone or multiple someones who were unarmed I was a bit confused. As it was better explained to me I was actually surprised that lethal force may be used in many "weaponless" or bare-handed situations.

One could argue whether or not anyone gets a true grasp of all the dynamics involved in a true lethal force situation. I continue to study it regularly but don't claim to have any mastery of the topic. There are those who seem to understand it better than others but for the most part we all can grasp the general principles of deadly force and how that relates to reasonable suspicion of death or great bodily harm.

As scenarios are presented to students they start to try to evaluate whether or not lethal force is justified based on those principles and understanding.

All of a sudden, the man getting beaten may have a legitimate claim for use of deadly force if there's a sudden change in disparity of force. The woman being chased; the big, burly guy getting cornered by two other big, burly guys; the older man with a cane getting robbed by the younger, stronger man; the untrained civilian being decimated by the boxing champion all might find themselves in real and dangerous lethal force scenarios.

These students start to identify the legitimate nails that need hammering. And before they know it they are chiming in on discussions of nails, critiquing this nail vs that nail and the best hammers to apply to certain nails and how many times those nails should be hit, where they should be hit, at what angle they should be hit, etc.

Over the last weekend I attended the Rangemaster Tactical Conference. I was set to swim through a veritable sea of the most relevant and up-to-date information one can hope to obtain in the training, shooting and self defense industry. I also had the unique privilege to talk to and sit under some of the top names in the business. These people have dedicated their lives to training, self defense, the legalities and psychology surrounding it and have the experience, skill and expertise to not only have an opinion but to pass on their vast knowledge to the rest of us.

A reoccurring theme that popped up in discussion with many of these instructors was the fact that people are identifying way too many nails. They are practically obsessed with nails.

These people aren't emphasizing or practicing deselection techniques (if they are aware they exist). They aren't practicing good avoidance. They know nothing or seek out almost no knowledge on deescalation, social and verbal dynamics of dealing with potentially dangerous people and have no (or do not seek out) hand-to-hand or less-than-lethal skills and options. They know nothing about articulation and the actual legalities surrounding defensive shootings (outside of the basics) or the true cost of what the lack of all of those things might mean.

But by-golly you will find them at the range practicing their draw-stroke every Saturday. They are training at every known shooting school they can attend and the top competitors in pistol matches. They can do a sub-second magazine reloads one-handed. They will practice that 10 yard head-shot on that hostage target until they can't miss. They will argue until they are blue in the face about how justified they were at using their hammer in any number of self-defense situations and are top commentators on seven different pistol forums and facebook discussion groups.

I used to think it wasn't bad or that maybe I was missing something. I used to think that most people, given other options, would choose wisely. When someone would ask me to chime in on a self-defense scenario, I'd read all the "just shoot him" comments and cringe. Another would send me an article about this questionable "self-defense" shooting or that one or another or another and I would wonder what made those individuals think the gun was the best option.

I thought that this was was the fringe element. Surely, most of us can see a nail as needing a hammer and a screw as needing a screwdriver, right (not to mention identifying a flat-head from a phillips)?

Then I saw the results from Craig Douglas' force-on-force (FOF) scenario. I didn't even participate and the information frightened me. The scenario had a no-shoot solution and yet a gun was fired 10 out of 12 times and it was reported to me that those results were "about average." I've been in FOF scenarios before and understand how difficult they can be to think through. And the reason we do FOF is to construct a safe place to make mistakes. I can't say I would have fared any better. But if you aren't at least concerned by this data than I'm even more worried.

Later I visited a self-defense focused facebook page and commented on a scenario taken from a surveillance video of an altercation between one man and other that resulted in the first being hit a number of times (he never lost consciousness, they exchanged a few words throughout the course of the fight and both individuals eventually walked away). I said didn't think the scenario as it was warranted lethal force. I could have been wrong, I'm okay with that. But I was told my "attitude was what is wrong with society."

Over and over again in self-defense related discussions it is becoming more and more acceptable to proclaim lethal force as an only, early or at least earlier option. And those who are standing up to say it's not are being accused as fools.

After reading those results of the FOF scenario and seeing the trend in discussion groups I started  talking to other instructors about the importance of FOF training. I wondered if it might be time to start training people to identify no-shoot scenarios instead of having them identify shoot scenarios.

One of the responses I got was, "That sounds about right. Otherwise we are training them to look for the nail."

That statement had a huge impact on me as both a civilian carrying a gun and as an instructor teaching individuals to use a gun. Have I been trained to look for nails? Have I been training people to look for nails? Given certain scenarios am I able to identify other options quick enough to avoid having to go to the gun? Do I have the skill to use those other options effectively? Am I communicating to my students the importance--no, the NECESSITY--of having other options besides the gun?
Don't get me wrong. As someone who has experienced a violent crime I am an advocate for lethal force. People should shoot when there is a need. They should be able to recognize that need and be able to articulate it. They should have the right to defend themselves with lethal force and be able to delivery it swiftly and aggressively. They should be skilled in the use of deadly force and ready and able to use it effectively.

But they should also be able to identify when it is not needed.

As my Krav instructor once said, "The hard part isn't teaching people how to turn the aggression on. It's teaching them how to turn if off."

Yes, we need to teach people and/or learn to identify those nails. But after that it might be time to start learning how to identify screws and wires, paint and thread and the appropriate tools for those jobs.

Maybe instead of asking, "Would you shoot in this scenario?" we should be asking, "What would you do to keep from having to shoot in this scenario?"

Maybe instead of constructing all of our FOF scenarios to have gun solutions, we should be constructing far more of them to have no-shoot solutions.

Instead of lauding good shoot news articles on our facebook pages we should be praising scenarios that ended with no shots fired or less-than-lethal force.

Maybe as students of self-defense we should put more time into seeking out no-shoot solutions instead of concentrating so much on the shooting part.

The gun is a good tool. It's the best option in many encounters. But it's just a gun. It's not the only option, nor should it be.

Be able to identify a nail for what it is. But stop looking for them.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Child Trauma Kit

A commercial tourniquet on five year-old's arm.
Too big!
Thankfully, major trauma to children is not common. Even less common is major trauma to children due to violence.

However, since we are in the interest of being prepared for the eventuality of all disasters, we might as well cover the horrid reality of violent trauma to your child.

In my Realities and Legalities of Child Snatching series I touched on the possibility of your child being injured in an altercation between a parent and a kidnapper and that commercial trauma kits do not often account for the size differences and special needs of children.

First, in the interest of brevity I'm going to skip talking about trauma kits, what is in them and how to use them. For the purpose of this blog I'm going to assume you have one and have been trained in its use. If you don't have one and don't know how to use it I highly recommend you seek out a combat medicine class.

I want to talk specifically about children and at what ages your trauma kit and skills might need a little adjusting.

Soon after children hit puberty, while they are technically and legally still children, their bodies develop quickly into adult capabilities. While medical dosing and treatment might be different, for trauma management your average junior to senior high school students may not need any specialized equipment. That may not be the case for every child so assess your own child and what you might need for him or her but for the most part you can use a standard trauma kit on post-pubescent children with adequate results.

Prepubescent and adolescent children (called pediatrics in the medical community), on the other hand, are not miniature adults. They can handle some traumas well but not others and their bodies are often not able to compensate for injuries like an adults.

They have different blood pressures, pulses and breathing rates. They cannot take the blood loss an adult can and their lungs often give out far faster than an adult's. Depending on the age, their lungs also cannot handle aggressive positive pressure from artificial ventilation like an adult. When children suffer major traumas they need specialized care and quickly.

The number one cause of heart failure in a child is respiratory distress (they cannot breathe). So a child that is struggling to breathe can deteriorate quickly into a child who's heart is not beating.

Taking those things into consideration let's consider an absolutely worst case scenario:

Your child has been shot. Be this an active shooter event, a shooting at a school function, etc, you are now the sole provider for your child until paramedics arrive.

You have your trauma kit. A lot of the products in that kit such as gauze, surgical sponges, duck tape, occlusive dressings, will directly apply to trauma in children but let's talk about what may not and what you might want to keep an eye out for and add for your child.

Make sure your fingers at least touch
around a child's extremity for best results.
Many people who carry trauma kits buy them prefabricated off the internet. These kits often come with easy-one-hand-use tourniquets such as the CAT or SWAT-T. While many of them may be adjustable down to pediatric sizes some are not and you may spend too much time trying to adjust the tourniquet that you could be spending getting the bleeding under control.

Your hand.

An adult's hand is often the perfect tourniquet for a young child. Encompass the fingers 1-2 inches above the wound and squeeze while applying pressure on the wound with the palm or heel of the hand. The combination of pressure and squeezing off blood flow can get bleeding under control quickly or buy you time to adjust your other tools or direct someone in adjusting your equipment or improving a tourniquet. To see if your hands are big enough, try to encompass your child's arms or legs at their thickest points (the thigh and the upper arm). If your fingers don't touch at the back, know that you may need to improvise a tourniquet for that extremity.

A triangular bandage is quickly applied to
this tiny 2 year-old's arm.
Triangular bandage.

A triangular bandage can make a great tourniquet and can often be applied faster than some commercial products. I recommend carrying at least two or three triangular bandages in case you need more than one tourniquet (think Boston Bombing) and they come in handy for many other purposes. You can buy boxes of twelve off of Amazon for less than $10.

Pressure Bandages:
As with tourniquets, pressure bandages often come in trauma kits and can be too big for some little bodies or take too much time to apply with all the excess material.

A fantastic alternative to a commercial pressure bandages is gauze and Coflex or Self-Adherent Stretch Sensi-Wrap. It can be torn to size and provides very good pressure (even to tourniquet tightness if you wrap it tight enough). It comes in different widths and is a fantastic thing to throw in any trauma bag even for adult trauma.

Things to Consider Adding:

A nasal and/or oral airway kit.

As I said before, the number one reason for cardiac arrest in children is respiratory distress and children's lungs often give our faster than an adults. After you've controlled bleeding, if the child is quiet, gasping for air or seems to not be breathing well you may have to preform CPR on that child and breathe for him or her at any moment. Take time to consider the normal breathing rate for your child so that you can better gauge what it is too fast or too slow. Children's airways are small and while an oral or nasal airway is not as good as intubation, it will at least keep the tongue out of the back of the throat and keep the mouth slightly open while you preform breaths for the child.

A good tip to remember is if a child is crying, he's breathing. The sounds of your child screaming in such a situation should be music to your ears. A quiet child that is injured is one you need to watch very carefully for respiratory distress and heart failure.

Pediatric airway adjuncts are not big but they do take up space. Many people who carry them prefer to carry the whole kit in case they need to help others. If you are strapped for space, however, you can pick out the airways that will fit your children and put those in your kit. Whether you carry the whole kit or not, it's still a good idea to measure out the airways for your children so that you don't have to take time measuring them under duress.

Click this link for step-by-step instructions on measuring and inserting an oral or nasal airway and when to use one vs the other.

Things to Tell 911:
When you call 911 be sure to specify that there is a pediatric child on scene. If someone else is making the call be sure tell them to specify "Pediatric" or "Child." Give the age, weight and injuries and what you are doing to help that child. Specifying the weight will allow paramedics to start calculating possibly needed doses for medications they may have to give on scene. If CPR is in progress be sure that is made very clear to dispatch.

Some ambulances have separate pediatric bags and med boxes they need to grab and they often will not grab that bag or box unless they know a pediatric patient is on scene. If it's a mass casualty scene they may have a larger jump kit with pediatric tools included but don't count on it. Knowing there is a pediatric on scene in advance will save time from someone having to run back to an ambulance and get the correct med box or bag.

Training You Need:
If you have a child you should know CPR. This is a must. Given choking hazards and other medical emergencies, CPR should have been something you already have been trained in. If not, get it.

If your CPR class does not include practice on inserting oral and nasal airways, ask them if they have them available to try on the dummies. Many places that teach CPR will at least have them on hand and might be willing to allow you to practice and critique your technique.

Organize your kit:
My supplies for my children are in a separate MOLLE pouch on the side of my bag vs buried with all of the other trauma stuff in the main compartments. It gives me peace of mind knowing exactly where they are and that they are easily accessible. Even if you can't make separate kits for your kids vs yourself, have them accessible and well labeled. You might not be the one using them or you might have to direct someone else in their use if you are too injured to do it yourself.

Again, thankfully, traumatic injuries to children due to violence are rare but it's better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. That goes for tools AND skills.


Tourniquet with hand.
1. We're going to assume the blue X on this five year-old's arm is an aggressive hemorrhage.
2. Cover it with a dressing.
3. Place the heel of the hand on the dressing and apply pressure while you wrap your fingers around the arm about 1 - 2 inches above the wound. Make sure your fingers touch to stop all blood flow and squeeze.
4. If bleeding is stopped I can apply a pressure bandage with Coflex self-adhesive tape or a triangular bandage.
The smaller size Coflex might work better for such a small arm.

Tourniquet with triangular bandage.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What Is Proficiency

We hear about it all the time: proficiency.

You need to be proficient with your firearm.

But what does that mean? How does one ever know he or she is proficient? Is there a set number of rounds one has to shoot before he or she is considered proficient? A number of times each week they must practice? Is there a proficiency standard? And if there is a standard, who has set it and why? How proficient is proficient enough? And enough for what?

So that no one gets confused about what I mean when I pull out the word "proficient" let's start with the Webster definition:
"Competent or skilled in doing something or using something"
And competent means having the necessary skill, knowledge or ability to do something successfully.

You want to know if you have the necessary skill, knowledge and ability to use and shoot a firearm, if you are proficient enough to move on to an intermediate class or maybe to a shooting sport like IDPA. There are lots of levels of proficiency that are stated as requirements for certain intermediate or advanced classes and if you cannot meet those requirements then obviously you are not skilled enough for those classes but many brand new shooter do not even know when they are ready to take the next baby step unless expressly told to take it by instructors or pushed there by the natural progression of certain shooting courses.

For a very basic level shooter I break proficiency down into two parts: gun handling and shooting.

While they are directly related to one another I do not consider them the same thing. One can have outstanding gun handling but not be able to hit a fraction of their targets. Likewise, one can be a very good shot but have terrible gun handling. One must be proficient in both in order to progress. And progression is the goal. Right?

Gun handling is considered any necessary handling of a firearm up to and including firing it. This includes drawing from the holster, returning the firearm to the holster, the general attitude when holding the firearm, trigger finger discipline, the ability to abide by safety rules and administrative handling.

Shooting is the act of firing rounds at a specific target and the steps included therein--stance, grip, sight alignment, trigger press, follow through.

Many people think that the shooting part is most important. It isn't. The shooting part is relatively easy compared to gun handling. Where new shooters often struggle is gaining proficiency in gun handling and I have been known to stall entire classes until I see all of my students exhibiting proficient gun handling before allowing them to progress with their shooting. I see no point in continuing allowing my students to fire shots downrange when they cannot holster their firearm safely or keep their finger off the trigger when not shooting or keep their firearm pointed in a safe direction during magazine changes.

How do you know you have proficient gun handling?

1. You respect a firearm as a deadly weapon and treat it as such.
If you pick up a firearm it is for a purpose and if you don't have a purpose for touching it you leave it alone. You do not play games with firearms that do not involve purposeful shooting.
2. You take responsibility for every action you take with a firearm.
If handed a firearm you know how to check it and do so safely. You do not allow outside pressures to influence you to do something you know to be negligent or unsafe.
3. You know and can follow the four rules of gun safety.
No one has to tell you to keep your finger off the trigger or to watch your muzzle (especially during reloads, holstering, drawing, etc).
4. You know the parts of your firearm and can use the functions with relative ease.
You know the difference between your safety (if your firearm is equipped with one) and your slide stop and you don't confuse the two. You know what the take-down levels are for and how to use them.
5. You can maintain your own firearm.
You can take it apart and clean it adequately.

If you still aren't sure if you are a proficient gun handler, have someone (preferably an instructor) watch you shoot. If he or she has to tell you to watch your muzzle or your trigger finger or be careful about where you point your firearm during reloads or to be more careful with the way you hold your gun when you reholster, then no, you are not a proficient gun handler yet. Don't disparage. Keep practicing and get better!

How do you know you are a proficient shooter?

This one is simple and here it is:

1. You can hit what you're aiming at consistently and in a timely manner.
It's that simple. If you can align the sights of your firearm, press the trigger and know where the bullet is going to impact and see an impact there (while exhibiting good gun handling) you are on your way. A proficient shooter is not surprised when he or she hits his or her intended target. Additionally, many times he or she is not surprised when a shot is thrown. A proficient shooter can generally feel a bad shot and predict where the impact will be without even looking at the target.

That being said, it's entirely understandable when new shooters get excited by accurate shots. It is exciting to do something new and to do it well. But when new shooters throw a shots and are asked, "Okay, what did you do different that time?" and they says, "I don't know," they are demonstrating their lack of proficiency. A proficient shooter will tell you, "I jerked the trigger... I flinched... I forgot my follow-through." A proficient shooter knows the fundamentals and how to apply them as well as when they forgot them.

That doesn't mean those fundamentals are perfectly mastered and that there are no errors or work to be done, but the fundamentals are there. It doesn't mean one is never confused about an error that suddenly pops up that they can't immediately diagnose, especially as they attempt new distances and speeds or switch to a new firearm.

This picture was taken exactly one month after my 21st birthday. It's one of my first targets
before I took any additional gun classes past the basics class. Note the self-diagnostic note to myself.
There is no magical round count that makes a shooter proficient. There is no magical number of range visits or classes. I have had proficient basic shooters in as little as one hour. As one of my students put it, "I don't see what all the fuss is about. You just aim and press the trigger." In as little as a few magazines she could tell me how to shoot well and could tell when she messed up and why. I've also seen individuals shoot daily for months and never gain in accuracy or be able to tell me what he's doing right or wrong. Each individual is different and learns at a different pace.

If you aren't there yet, that's okay! Take a class with someone who is good at teaching beginners and diagnosing shooting errors. If you're struggling with gun handling, do dry fire practice in a safe place being exceptionally conscious of muzzle and trigger finger awareness. If you're having a recurring issue, seek help. Very few shooting issues are are solved by simply throwing ammo at them. It often takes reworking of the basics and feeling what is working and what is not.

Some will disagree with me and say that my standard of proficiency is far too low. When I started looking at what I would base my standard on I started seeing that while lots of people will opine about what makes one proficient in this venue or at that task does not tell someone they are ready to even attempt those skills. So I thought about what I would consider an a minimum baseline of firearms proficiency.

Now allow me to remind you that this is proficiency at an extremely basic level. This is what I would expect to see from a student coming out of a basic pistol class or enrolling in an intermediate class with no specified requirement of proficiency.

This does not mean you are proficient in gun fighting and the laws thereof. This does not mean you are proficient in combat. This does not mean you are proficient at moving and shooting. This does not mean you are proficient in extreme close quarters gun fighting or partner tactics, or shooting from unusual positions, or shooting one handed or shooting moving targets, or shooting moving targets while moving, or room clearing, or shooting from or at vehicles, articulating why you chose to do what you did, etc, etc, etc.

In other words, this does not automatically make you a gunfighter. (Here's a secret for you. I don't consider myself a gunfighter, either.)

Don't get ahead of yourself. Just because you passed a basic safety course doesn't mean you know all there is to know about shooting, particularly defensive shooting. But don't get too discouraged either. The first step is often the hardest and once you've become proficient at gun handling and basic shooting, the other skills can be added, sometimes quite quickly.

If you wonder if you're ready to advance, take a look at your gun handling and shooting. Take a look at the classes you are looking forward to attending and see if any of them have minimum requirements for enrollment. If the minimum requirement is that you be able to consistently hit a man-sized target at 25 yards or be able to do a 5x5 drill (five shots in a five-inch circle at five yards in five seconds from the holster) and you can't do it or have never tried it, then instead of being discouraged, consider it an opportunity to work towards a new level of proficiency!

And if you want to test how you are progressing, here is a great list of drills you can attempt on your own to challenge you:
Pistol Training Drills

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Realities and Legalities of Child Snatching: Part 3

Note: Throughout this blog I refer to some legal code and legal issues. All codes quoted are for the state of Iowa. Check for differences in your own state code. I am not a lawyer and all opinions are from a layman's perspective.

In Part One, we discussed the legalities of determining whether or not your could reasonably use lethal force against someone who snatched your child from you, what kidnapping is and what it is not.

In Part Two, we discussed using less-than-lethal force against someone holding your child, whether or not it is necessary and the types of force one can employ.

In this segment we are going to discuss using lethal force against someone holding your child and the realities of what that might entail if it is, indeed, necessary.


The scenario we opened with in the beginning of this series was a woman who snatches a child from a mother who is attempting to put the child into a carrier. The woman believes the carry method is unsafe and holds the child, neither threatening the child nor the mother but does not return the child to the parent.

In Part One and Two the woman doing the snatching never implied any harm to the child or the parent.

In this segment we are going to take all ambiguity out of it and up the stakes.

The child is snatched, the woman refused to return the child and has produced a weapon and stated she intends to do the child harm and lethal force is justified.

I know many parents who have stated they would rather have their child die in front of them from a bullet they fired than have their child taken, tortured, molested or assaulted and never found or found mutilated days, months or years later. I'm inclined to agree but I think every one of us would do our best to minimize the chances of that happening. The problem is that not many parents know how to minimize those risks. Without the proper information, training and practice their skills set them up for potentially killing the very person they are trying desperately to defend.

First, let's talk about guns. For the sake of brevity I'm going to assume you are armed, your firearm is in good working order and accessible. I'm also going to assume that you can access this firearm without having to neutralize an attack first. You are set to take the shot.

1. Shooting The Hostage Taker (Distance Shots)
Deciding when to shoot is the question of the ages. There is a delicate balance of timing, distance, threat and more and when you put a child--YOUR child--between yourself and the bad guy you are upping the stakes considerably, especially if your child is being threatened with death or serious bodily harm, or worse, in the process of being harmed.

I have done lots of hostage-taker shooting, both with actual hostage targets in shoot houses and in IDPA-type matches where no-shoot targets are overlaid on hostile targets. The most challenging (and dare I say, realistic) are when either the no-shoot or the hostile targets also move.

It's not easy.

As accurate as a bullet has potential to be, it is only as accurate as you are and I have seen MANY bullet holes in hostages or no-shoot targets. I have put some of them there.

Finding little data for civilians shooting hostage-takers, I asked a trainer friend of mine who routinely puts concealed carry pistol students through live-fire shoot houses with a variety of hostage targets if he would estimate how many of the students shoot the hostage and this was his response:
"I'd guess 50%. Others miss everything. Others make a very poor shot on bad guy and very very few actually make a stopping hit on bad guy. I've learned. Never be a hostage...."
Keep in mind. Most of these targets do not move. They are static targets and the hostage is hit as often as 50% of the time. Now imagine that hostage is your child.

For individuals advocating "just shooting" the man (or woman) who took your child. Could you reasonably expect to hit the bad guy vs your own child? What practice or training have you done to make you more confident in your abilities? If the individual is running with your child do you know if you need to lead the target or how to lead the target and at what distances you would need to increase that lead with your particular caliber or gun? Can you do that under duress? When's the last time you practiced such skills?

Sometimes a distance shot is the only option. Can you physically make that shot? What if you could attempt a contact shot?

2. Shooting The Hostage Taker (Contact Distance)
I like contact shots and in a hostage situation involving my child where there was clear intent to do my child harm or to kill him I would hope for the opportunity to make a contact shot vs a distance shot.

Why? Because there's less chance of my child being hit or injured and I might even be able to take temporary control of my child in order to make a better shot.

One of the many parts of the Partner Tactics class I attended that was enlightening to me (and again in Extreme Close Quarters) was the concepts of "Partner Rescue." Or, in this case, child-hostage rescue.

In order to understand how dangerous it is to shoot at two people--one of which you have a vested interest is NOT injuring--you must understand that shooting a gun is not instantaneous. It's fast, but many times it's not fast enough.

In the time between deciding to shoot and the bullet impacting the intended target, your intended target could very well have moved or been moved. This is why follow-through is so important to accurate shooting and why moving individuals who you don't intend to shoot get shot.

How do you keep that from happening?

You need to buy yourself time through control.

In other words, you need to get yourself into the mix.

For an adult partner we practiced doing this by grabbing onto your partner and moving with him or her, finding a free space on the attacker that would ideally be incapacitating (more on that later), contacting it with the muzzle of the firearm, finding an angle that will not allow any pass-through bullets to hit one's self or the partner, backing off the muzzle so that it was not forced out of battery (in the case of a semi-auto) and taking the shot.

Yes, it's a lot. It may mean getting beat up a bit as the three of you wrestle around and sometimes there are no perfect angles. But it beats the heck out of trying to make a distance shot on a moving target with your child in arms even if that distance is mere feet.

For a child, I would ideally find a way to wrap my arm around the child and pull him or her to myself or myself into him and the individual holding him. If possible I might even try to tear the child away from the individual holding him or her. Might I injure the child in the process? Yes. But I'd rather a broken or twisted arm than a bullet hole. This might change if the child is an infant and violent movement could result in coup-countercoup (whiplash) or similar injuries. The rest of the steps would be identical.

The only potential good thing about shooting an adult holding a child is that children are very small shields. You may have more available targeting areas and less worry about pass through striking the child. A grown adult male holding an infant leaves most of his head, abdomen and lower extremities completely exposed.

3. Targeting
When it comes to shooting someone who is threatening the life or limb of your child, dare I say there is no "bad" shot but there are better shots.

Bones of the Skull
Many people like head shots and for good reason. There's a lot of really vital stuff up there and a good head shot gives you a pretty good chance of complete incapacitation vs something like an abdomen or extremity shot where the fight can continue for even extended periods of time.

But even head shots are not guaranteed show stoppers. Heads are exceptionally well fortified with bone. Bullets have been known to bounce off or fail to penetrate said bone, particularly the frontal, jaw (mandible), occipital and parietal bones. Some ricochets have even been fatal to those nearby. You certainly wouldn't want your ricocheted head shot to be the thing that killed your child. 

Though the facial bones and the side bones (the temporal and sphenoid) are not as thick or strong they still provide plenty of opportunity for deflection. Good head shots are considered shots within the inverted triangle of the tip of the nose to the brow-line.

Greg Ellifritz wrote a very good and short write up on head shots and within that article and his Extreme Close Quarters class he advocates that if the head is available to shoot, usually the neck is also available. There's a lot of very vital stuff in the neck (airway, nerves, major blood vessels and cervical spine) that can lead to incapacitation very quickly. It's also a decent opening to the thoracic cavity if you if you shoot down from the clavicle towards the heart and lungs.

If the head and neck are not available, the thoracic cavity containing the lungs and heart is another good target. It's large and not as well protected as the head. It also contains two of the most vital structures to life (the lungs and heart). Be aware that even direct hits to the heart and lungs do not always produce immediate stops.

The lesser vital organs of the body are tucked into the lower abdomen. Though they are not considered optimal targets they will do.

The pelvis is very vascular. That is to say it has a lot of major blood vessels running through it. There are also some major structures there that, if damaged, could make it impossible for an attacker to continue standing or use one or both legs.

Finally, extremity (arm and leg) shots are considered least ideal but, again, I would not hesitate to take the shot if it was the only one I could reasonably get while in extreme close quarters with an attacker and fighting for mine and my child's lives.

This is all being mindful of trajectory should the bullet pass through the intended target. If the bullet followed a straight path (sometimes it doesn't) would it exit the bad guy and enter your child or a part of you?

4. Knives and Other Lethal Tools
Some people prefer knives or other lethal tools in extreme close quarters if their state will allow them to carry them. Sometimes, if in a state that does not allow firearm carry a knife or other tool may be all that is available. Do you know how to target with a knife? Do you have any training in using a knife to incapacitate? What would you do to ensure you did not cut your child? If using another object as a lethal object such as a baton, are you confident you could hit the attacker and not your child? Are there be less optimal targeting areas with less risk to your child?

Now I'm going to add a few more monkeys to the pile. What if the attacker is holding a gun or knife to your child? What are you going to do? Is it possible to make a fight-stopping shot before he can pull the trigger or stab your child? If you are able to close distance and make contact, how are you going to ensure you and/or your child don't get shot or cut in the process? What is your priority, getting to his weapon or getting to your own weapon?

5. Injuries
Finally, what if your child is injured? Can you treat him or her?

When the body is injured it begins to compensate for the injury as long as can. When the body can no longer compensate for the injury it goes into a state of decompensation, the end of which is often death. Children decompensate faster than adults. Their bodies cannot sustain a compensated state as long. They have less blood volume to lose and their lungs often give out faster than an adult's.

Are you certified in child CPR? Can you stop a hemorrhage in your own child? What do you have on hand to aid you toward that end? If you have purchased a commercial trauma kit will all of the tools within fit a child? What about an infant? Do you know how to improvise things like tourniquets and pressure bandages if the items won't fit your child?

Don't be seduced by the idea that there are simple or easy answers to these questions or that you could "just shoot" someone holding your child. Imagine with me, if you will, the life-time of regret that may come from accidentally killing your child over a less-than-lethal situation or a poorly executed shot or act.

Don't let your passion for your loved one get them killed by your own lack of knowledge, training or skill--or worse, by your own delusion that such a situation is easy (legally, tactically, emotionally or physically).

Part One: Is It Legal
Part Two: Force Against Someone Holding Your Child

Friday, February 7, 2014

Realities and Legalities of Child Snatching: Part Two

Note: Throughout this blog I refer to some legal code and legal issues. All codes quoted are for the state of Iowa. Check for differences in your own state code. I am not a lawyer and all opinions are from a layman's perspective.

In Part One, we discussed the legalities of determining whether or not your could reasonably use lethal force against someone who snatched your child from you.

We discussed when someone snatching your child is kidnapping and when it is not per Iowa state law (I strongly recommend that parents look up the definitions of kidnapping in their own state).

In this segment we're going to discuss using less-than-lethal force against someone holding your child and, in Part 3 we will discuss using lethal force.

The scenario we started with in Part One was a woman snatching a child from a mother and not returning the child to the mother but neither fleeing the scene or showing intent to harm the child.

The goal is to get the child back unharmed and quickly. What level of force do we need to use to accomplish that goal? Do we even need force at all? Do not underestimate the power of a broad smile and a feigned, "Thanks for the suggestion," while you take your baby back.

Use your Verbal Judo. Understand deescalation and ways to calm yourself and other individuals and manipulate them into doing what you want.

Also, do not underestimate the power of drawing attention to the scene. A woman yelling, "She took my baby. Call the police! That woman has my baby," can be quite effective in making the snatcher with no ill-intent return the child for fear he or she will be perceived as a child-abductor. If you choose this method enlist the help of specific individuals on scene. Speaking in generalities to a crowd (if there is a crowd) tends to bring attention but little action. Find one or two specific people you can single out and command their action. "Ma'am!," (point to a specific woman) "Call the police. That woman took my baby. ... Sir!" (again, make it specific) " Help me! That woman has my baby." You are far more likely to get responses out of onlookers.

You don't always have to make it escalate to force if it doesn't have to go there.

But, because this is a blog about force, let's discuss it.


Many people who consider using force against someone holding a loved one do so with little consideration to the fact that the loved one is an intricate part of confrontation.

Even considering hitting, pushing or use of other levels of force means the possibility that the child might also be injured. The age of the child may have a large affect on how much collateral damage the child can take. A newborn who is dropped because you hit or startled the individual holding him can suffer brain damage and more. A toddler might be able to take more but what levels of force are you willing to involve your children in at what age?

What level of force are you comfortable using and how would you use it to minimize damage to your child? What training do you have to make your force effective and targeted that might spare your child involvement? At what point would the potential for damage by your hand be worth the risk of death or greater bodily harm by the perpetrator?

There are several levels of force. From least amount to most:
  • Presence
  • Commanding voice
  • Threat of force 
    • Calling the police
    • A threat to injure, wound or kill
    • Brandishing a weapon 
  • Physical Force
    • Pushing, hitting, the use of less-than-lethal tools
  • Lethal Force
    • The use of open hands to maim or kill (eye gouges and choke holds), knives, batons, guns or the use of any other tool in a manner that can cause serious bodily injury or death.
Presence and Commanding Voice
Many people underestimate presence and a commanding voice. People who actually study inter-human relations based on posture, presence and voice have proven that individuals who act authoritative often receive the respect and deference their presence suggests. This includes confident posturing such as holding the head up, chest broad, hands on hips and feet planted and apart.

This combined with an authoritative voice (low, loud, and demanding) can often result in commands being met.

Men may not have as much difficulty adopting a commanding presence, especially around women who are smaller than they are. A man commanding a woman to give his child back in an authoritative manner would likely have the child immediately returned to him.

Women can find it more difficult to be authoritative due to our small statures and frame or cultural upbringing. Some women mistake volume for pitch and instead of sounding low and loud they sound high-pitched which can sound more panicked instead of commanding.

Many do not consider practicing a commanding, confident presence part of self defense training, however, that skill can end a conflict or even deter one from choosing you as a victim in the first place. Practice authoritative posturing and a commanding voice. Practice it in social environments (getting everyone's attention at a gathering, teaching a class, etc).

Threat of Force
If the simple command of returning my child did not work I would immediately call authorities. It is still a level of threat of force that does not pose any risk to myself and it establishes that the situation has gotten quite serious.

Be aware that the threat of harm can be assault if it is not justified. Also be aware that your threat of force could cause the individual to escalate into threatening harm to your child.

Physical Force
From here out the level of force you choose to use will depend on more factors than we could possibly discuss. Here are some things to consider.

In the scenario, the individual who snatched the child was a woman. Would your level of force be different if it was a man? How old is she or he? Are you comfortable threatening further force realizing that this may escalate the situation or would it be better to wait for authorities provided he or she continues to remain on scene and the implied intent has not changed?

If you choose to escalate are you considering the harm you might be putting your child in? Is your priority to get your child out of the situation or to fight? Have you considered, if you are armed, that if your weapon is discovered in the altercation the snatcher might try to go for it while in the midst of a fight? What would you do do defend both your gun and your child? Has there been any change in implied intent that makes you believe you need to act sooner rather than waiting for authorities? What level of force are you competently trained in? Could you go hands on with a woman or a man? Do you carry a less-than-lethal tool you might be able to use?

If your child is injured, how would you assess and/or treat him or her?

The suggestion of pepper spray was brought up in discussing the opening scenario on Facebook and this was a response that was given:

Consideration is being made for the child being exposed to pepper spray but no consideration is being put into the damage that could be done if the child was hit with a bullet. There's also little consideration going on as to the jump in force from non-lethal to lethal. The assumption seems to be that if you are justified in pepper spraying you are justified in shooting. This is simply not true.

I, for one, would GREATLY prefer washing pepper spray out of my child's face than trying to treat him or her for a gunshot wound. I would do anything I could to avoid bringing a gun into a situation involving my child (or any situation for that matter) and would not hesitate to use a less-than-lethal option if I reasonably believed it would be effective and minimize the potential for harm to my child.

Sometimes there is no time to consider less-than-lethal options or to attempt deescalation or verbal judo. The situation is immediate and dire. Action is demanded. But if you have time to consider your options you likely have time to deescalate or use a lesser form of force. If you choose to use force you must be competent in that use of force and decide its appropriateness in the given situation.

Part One: Is It Legal
Part Three: Lethal Force Against Someone Holding Your Child

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Realities and Legalities of Child Snatching: Part One

Note: Throughout this blog I refer to some legal code and legal issues. All codes quoted are for the state of Iowa. Check for differences in your own state code. I am not a lawyer and all opinions are from a layman's perspective.

A scenario came up a few days ago that reminded me of a blog I wrote a few months ago titled: Will Your Passion For Your Loved One Save Them? If you haven't read it already feel free to click over and read. In a very small nutshell the blog is about people (particularly parents) who believe their passion for their loved one or child will provide them with needed skill they haven't learned or practiced.

In this extension of that blog we will talk about a very specific aspect of parental passion and terror: possible kidnappings and/or a potential hostage situation.

The scenario was presented to me on an armed motherhood Facebook page I sometimes pop into. A mother is putting her baby on her back in a baby carrier when another woman, thinking the practice dangerous, grabs the child from the carrier and begins to lecture the mother on safety, refusing to give the child back.

Nothing incites terror in a parent quite like the idea of a stranger snatching their child. Nothing. And it's understandable that a bunch of armed mothers, when presented with said scenario, would consider preparing to pull a gun on such an individual. Several mothers either said they would draw or at least prepare to draw their firearms. Some even admitted that they would outright shoot.


Before we even get into the practicality of shooting someone who is holding your child I think we should talk about the legality. And, as a reminder, I'm no lawyer. The bottom line is that no matter how angry it makes you, someone snatching your child may not be immediate justification for lethal force. One must be able to point out what made him (or her) believe his child was in jeopardy of serious bodily harm or death before lethal force can be used.

I can't think of a single state that does not allow force (up to and including lethal force) to be used to stop a forcible felony (which is what kidnapping is). However, one has to define kidnapping and reasonably believe that such a crime is taking place. Is this kidnapping? Can a woman who snatches a child out of her own concern for the child's well-being, who neither flees the scene nor threatens the child or the parent be reasonably believed to warrant the use of deadly force?

The scenario has a lot of potential to progress many different ways but as the scenario stands is there a legitimate threat to the child's life or limb?

The fact that there could be serious question as to whether or not a crime warranting lethal force is actually being committed should make parents think very carefully about their actions in such a scenario.

There were three main self-defense principles that came to mind when I read the above scenario:

AOJP stands for Ability, Opportunity, Jeopardy and Preclusion. The AOJP must be satisfied in order to justify use of lethal force in self defense (including self defense of another).
A = Does the attacker have the ability to do serious bodily harm or kill the child? Using the scenario above, if we assume the woman is a healthy adult then yes. She likely has ability. 
O = Does the attacker have the opportunity to do serious bodily harm or kill the child? Yes.
J = Is the child in jeopardy or serious bodily harm or death? Let's be honest here, this is a big unknown. Again, arguments could be made with all sorts of speculation but with nothing but the information we have to go on I'm inclined to say no (at this time).
P = Preclusion. Is there anything else that can be done besides lethal force? Or, in other words, is it absolutely necessary to use lethal force in this situation? Again, with the information given, I would have to say no. There are lots of less than lethal options at this point.

2. Intent
Intent is rarely brought up and heavily debated as to where it stands in the use of force continuum. Many proclaim you can never know another individual's intent. And even if one was to state his (or her) intent, how is one to know he is telling the truth?

When intent is clearly stated (especially when there are witnesses) it should not be (and usually isn't) ignored.

Behavior often immediately backs up stated intent or is considered "implied" intent. If the man who said he had a grenade and was going to blow himself up suddenly does fly to pieces, it's safe to say he correctly stated his intent. If an EMT says he's on scene to help and immediately starts to stabilize the C-spine, checks for breathing and pulse, it's safe to say he has correctly stated his intent. But if nothing is said the actions of violence or assisting imply an individual's intent.

In the case of the scenario above, intent is not exactly clearly stated but the woman's actions do not imply harm.

My husband and I had an interesting debate while picking through Iowa code where he plead the case of the parent and I plead the case of the woman doing the snatching. We looked at what, if anything, the woman could be charged with (in Iowa) for snatching the child and the level of force a parent could use in response that would be reasonable and lawful. Let's just say I would hate to be a lawyer, judge and/or jury in that case.

Kidnapping in our state means taking someone with the intent to do harm.

Snatching a child from a parent or legal guardian for the purpose of detaining a child but with no intent to harm by Iowa law is called "Child Stealing" and it's a felony. Not a forcible felony (such as kidnapping), but still a crime. And the witness pool (if there are witnesses) could be split on who they empathize with--a woman's ill-attempt to help a child or a mother.

In the end we both agreed that some sort of physical response could be justified. However, we could not find justification in our own minds for bringing a lethal weapon into the equation for a woman snatching our child and arguing without demonstrating intent to do harm or without being able to articulate why we believed our child was in danger of serious bodily harm or death.

Which brings me to my third point:

3. The Reasonable Man Doctrine (and the principles of reasonable force)
In a nut shell, you have to prove, in a court of law that the actions you took were reasonable given the circumstances and information you had at the time of the incident and that any other reasonable individual would do the same thing if he were in your shoes. Then the jury has to reasonably weigh that evidence and decide whether or not they believe you acted reasonably.

Per Iowa code, reasonable force is defined as follows (look up your own state codes and see if they differ):
"Reasonable force" is that force and no more which a reasonable person, in like circumstances, would judge to be necessary to prevent an injury or loss and can include deadly force if it is reasonable to believe that such force is necessary to avoid injury or risk to one's life or safety or the life or safety of another, or it is reasonable to believe that such force is necessary to resist a like force or threat.
Would pulling a gun be considered reasonable in this case with the information given? What do you think?

And how would you articulate to responding officers, a lawyer, a judge or a jury why you chose that particular course of action?

In this case, I'm inclined to think it would not be reasonable (yet) and I would defer back to the excellent advice or Rory Miller:
"It is better to avoid than to run; better to run than to de-escalate; better to de-escalate than to fight; better to fight than to die. The very essence of self-defense is a thin list of things that might get you out alive when you are already screwed."

Would I grab my child back? Try to deescalate? Use threat of force (calling the police included)? Pepper spray? The options available before getting to the gun are as vast as the imagination. As long as the woman was not attempting to leave the scene or demonstrating intent to harm, I'm inclined to try many different things before going to lethal force or even the threat of lethal force.

Part 2: Force Against Someone Holding Your Child
Part 3: Lethal Force Against Someone Holding Your Child