The Cornered Cat
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Instructor Development notes

Really enjoyed meeting a long-time internet acquaintance, Hsoi, for the first time last week. It’s always an adventure, meeting someone for the first time after you’ve known them for years. Really enjoyed getting to know him in person and wish we’d met sooner.

Hsoi attended the Instructor Development class I taught down in Texas at Karl Rehn’s facility (KR Training), which isn’t surprising since he has worked as Karl’s lead assistant for a number of years. In fact, he had asked Karl to bring me in after he read either Tamara’s or Melody‘s review of the class last June. So for that I owe him a vote of gratitude. (Thanks, Hsoi!)

As for our host, I’ll freely admit that Karl Rehn has long been one of my favorite people in the gun world. He’s  a quietly competent presence who might be easy to overlook in a day of flashy YouTube celebrities and overnight “experts”. Not just a nice guy (although he is that!), Karl is also a USPSA Grandmaster and a deeply thoughtful, highly experienced instructor who has been teaching for longer than I’ve been shooting.

When I met Karl face to face for the first time a few years back, I was at that time working as the editor for a national magazine about concealed carry. To this day, Karl remains the only person who ever fully, spontaneously understood the direction and scope of the work I’d been doing as the editor there. And I know that he did, because as we sat across from each other over dinner that night, he described it to me from his perspective as a reader and sometimes-contributor. To say that I was deeply impressed would be understating the case; I was blown away by the acuity of his vision, and a little humbled that he had seen my editorial choices so clearly.

Speaking of being a little humbled, having Karl in the class as a student was another type of adventure for me as an instructor. That’s partly because I know how very selective he is about the traveling instructors he invites to teach at his facility, and in this case, several of his staff would also be joining us so all the more reason that my own work had better be up to snuff. More than that, I’ve long deeply respected Karl as one of the strong pillars of the training community. He has built a solid school and kept it going for decades. What could I possibly have, to teach him or his people?

Thinking about that, I decided to embrace my inner imposter, and taught the class anyway. Glad I did, because it was full of very good people — everyone from brand-new instructors and people who were just considering becoming instructors, up through people who’d been doing it awhile and who were very accomplished and skilled at it. I like to think we gave full value to everyone there, no matter what their experience level when they arrived.

Anyway, Hsoi wrote up a very nice AAR of the Cornered Cat Instructor Development class in Texas. You should go read it, especially the part that involves spattered fly parts.

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Hey…

Instead of copying & pasting half the articles from my website, printing them out and saving them to highlight and re-read …

Why not just buy the book!?

(This post brought to you courtesy of a walk through the gun forums. I’m flattered that so many people like my writing, and I’m happy to provide good info as a public service. But … )

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Wrong

It’s nearly impossible to get a right answer when the question itself is wrong.

“Which home defense gun would the best choice for someone who dislikes guns and does not believe in using violence under any circumstances?” is one example of such a question.

Defense guns don’t belong in the hands of those who don’t want them and aren’t willing to use them. This may be heartbreaking, but it’s the simple truth.

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Instructor Development Qualifications

Getting ready to teach several classes on Instructor Development this year — the soonest one is coming up fast! That class will be held at KR Training in TX and I’m very excited about it.

During a longer conversation on Fb, I had just recommended several awesome, non-NRA instructor development classes from various schools and trainers when someone asked me:

“… ultimately, what qualifies them and you to teach instructors or instructor development?”

That’s what we call a Darn Good Question. It’s easy enough to look at someone’s credentials to teach defensive handgun courses, but what qualifies them to teach instructor development classes? What qualifies them to train the trainers?

In my case, any prospective student can see my training resume on this website on the “About” page — although it’s a little bit out of date right now, as it does not make any recent updates to the number of hours I’ve spent learning from others over the past couple of years. Over the past few months alone, I’ve added several NRA credentials and a 2 day private class from John and Vicki Farnam, and will have a weeklong Gunsite course under my belt by mid-April.

In addition to spending some 16 years of continuous study under some of the best instructors in the business, I also have put myself out there in writing. Potential students who wonder about my background can read an extensive, informative website where I have written in sometimes-exhaustive detail about my training philosophies, preferred techniques, mindset, and ideas about defensive firearms use. Or they can read one or both of the two books I’ve written (soon to be joined by a third), or the archives of Concealed Carry Magazine, where I served as editor for more than four years.

As students read the things I’ve written, if they are paying attention, they will soon realize that I have extensively studied the dynamics of violent crime, criminal mindset, how deadly events happen, use of force law, social patterns of behavior, human body language, teaching skills, public speaking skills, the history and use of concealed carry holsters, and a host of other subjects of interest to the armed citizen. I’m not shy about telling people what material I’ve drawn from in my writing — both of my books, and my website, are heavily footnoted — and I encourage others to study the source material as I have. I’m also (sometimes bitterly!) aware of all I don’t know and haven’t yet learned, so I’m constantly driven to learn more. That, too, shows through in my writing.

There’s also the little matter of serving as a staff instructor at one of the most highly-regarded schools in the country for more than thirteen years now, beginning as an apprentice and continuing on to become one of the lead instructors at that school. Or that over the past five years (still on staff at FAS, still teaching there when I’m home) I’ve also been running my own training company, teaching both co-ed and women-only defensive handgun classes throughout the country at many different facilities.

During my time at FAS, in addition to studying under Marty and Gila Hayes (who both have solid, nationally-recognized reputations), I have also worked alongside many highly-experienced and competent firearms instructors, and have learned from them at every opportunity. FAS hosts many of the best trainers in the industry, and so (in addition to the classes formally recorded on my resume) I’ve often had a “fly on the wall” view of these trainers when I’ve worked as an assistant in their classes. That has given me a tremendous opportunity to concentrate not just on the what of their classes’ content (as students do), but to really focus on how these master instructors present their material and run their ranges — and I’ve kept extensive notes on that over the years.

I can also point to students I have worked with, who review and recommend the classes they have taken from me. They say things like:

  • “If you’re looking to build your own curriculum, run it safely and effectively while minimizing risks to yourself and your students, this is a class you should take.” — Melody Lauer
  • “For anyone interested in improving their performance as an instructor, I highly recommend this class. It distills a lot of the tribal knowledge that has been developed over the years at FAS, Gunsite, and other ranges and presents it in an organized package that is a boon to any instructor. Bring an open mind and an empty notebook, because you’ll fill them both up with knowledge.” — Tamara Keel, writing in Shooting Illustrated.

So what we have there is a mix of education, training, and practice in the art and science of teaching students how to use guns to defend their own lives. Over the past decade and a half, I’ve had many good models and I’ve studied those models with a great deal of care. And I have freely shared what I have learned, and where I have learned it, so that prospective instructors can easily discover my background.

For the others I mentioned (Marty & Gila Hayes of FAS, John & Vicki Farnam of DTI, Tom & Lynn Givens of Rangemaster, Massad Ayoob of MAG), you’d have to ask them what qualifies them to train others how to teach. But I will tell you right now that most of their training and teaching resumes far outshine my own, either because nearly all of them started a decade or more before I did, or because they began with a vocational or experiental background that I lack. These are people I deeply respect and admire.  But I am in no way ashamed of my own experience or ability to teach.

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Gear check!

Here’s a little secret that’s a surprise to a lot of people: carry gear wears out.

This is true no matter what kind of holster we use, whether it’s leather or Kydex or hybrid or elastic or nylon or anything else. It’s true no matter how spendy or cheap the products were, and it’s true no matter how well made they are.

Flexible holsters (the ones made of fabric or elastic) tend to wear out much faster than those made of Kydex or leather. Not always, but it’s the way to bet. In my experience, soft holster products tend to last around a year before they wear out. When they do, they stop holding the gun as well, stop protecting the trigger as well, and stop fitting your body as well. The bit about not protecting the trigger as well is hugely important! If the material was just barely stiff enough when new to prevent trigger movement, it may not prevent trigger movement when well-worn.

Velcro just dies. It quits sticking. I used to have a holster (a good holster that I loved) that attached to my belt with a Velcro tab, so that nothing would show on the belt line. It was an awesome holster, but the Velcro was destined to stop working far too soon — and it did. My wake up call came one day at the range, when I drew my holster along with my gun as I was practicing.

Good leather will likely last several years, and gradually stretch to get looser and looser over that time. That’s why the best custom-made leather holsters always hold the gun too snugly when they are new. Eventually, no matter how well-made, the leather will become so loose that the holster fails the Tip Test, and then it should be thrown away.

Cheap leather doesn’t last as long as good leather. The wearing-out process looks about the same as it does on good leather, but goes a lot faster. Plus, it will tend to get softer and more pliant as time goes on, which means the holster is more likely to squish shut where it was rigid originally.

Good Kydex lasts longer than cheap Kydex, and both last a lot longer than basic plastic. All three types break suddenly, most often at stress points where they attach to the belt or at wear points that retain the gun. If you’re lucky, they won’t break in the middle of the grocery store, spilling your gun to the floor. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

Everything wears out. No exceptions! When a holster wears out or breaks after a reasonable amount of daily use, that’s not a fault in the product. It’s just the way things go. Unless the holster wears out much faster than one would expect given its core materials, or breaks prematurely because of a design flaw, the fact that something can wear out is no reason to recommend against its use when new.

But. Pay attention here…

It’s important to regularly check your carry gear to be sure it’s still in good shape. If you get in the habit of checking for holster wear whenever you clean your gun, your holster can’t surprise you in a dangerous way when it wears out. You’ll have enough warning to replace the product before it becomes untrustworthy.

Stay safe!

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“But did you die?”

Lots of good responses to yesterday’s post about kids and gun safety.  But on one of the private groups I frequent online, there was some pushback from parents who did not want to keep their guns either on-body, or locked up in a secure fast-access gun safe. They said things like:

  • “We [keep our gun] in the top dresser drawer ready to go… My [daughters] know it’s not a toy.”
  • “Top of the closet, loaded. Our children are educated on gun safety.”
  • “Ours is bullet in chamber above our bed in a cabinet she can’t reach.”
  • “We have taught them gun safety and it’s never been a mystery to them. I grew up with unsecured guns and knew better.”

I don’t — honestly, truly don’t! — understand the resistance to using a secure, fast-access safe or keeping the gun on-body at home. Typing “fast access gun safe” into the search bar on Amazon brings up dozens of easy to use lockboxes that will store the gun securely and allow parents to quickly arm themselves without any chance of a child getting the gun when they shouldn’t. Many of them cost less than a meal in a nice restaurant with the family.

Let me put this in a little perspective, especially for those who grew up with unsecured guns and thus may not understand what the fuss is all about.

Although I truly hate to mention this, I’m over 40 years old (47 to be exact … where do the years go?). Like many other people who grew up around unsecured guns, I also grew up not wearing a seat belt.

Just for nostalgia’s sake, here’s what a child car seat looked like when I was a little girl.

 

Once upon a time, this was the safest place for a child to ride in the car.

Once upon a time, this was the safest place for a baby to ride in the car.

 

We had one that looked a lot like this, but most of the time my parents didn’t use it. They often let me ride on someone’s lap (my favorite: sitting on daddy’s lap, “helping” him drive). I can remember riding in the back of the family station wagon, playing cards with my brother in the cargo space. Or lying stretched out in a sleeping bag on the floor of the van, or letting the wind blow through my hair as we rode in the open bed of a pickup truck. All of those things were normal when I was a kid — and all of them are pretty much unacceptable parenting practices now.

We might smile when we remember things like that and say, “Oh, we survived those ‘dangerous’ practices, so they must not have been so dangerous after all!”

But when we say that, we’re being very foolish, because you know who we can’t ask? All the children who died before they got to be as old as we are.

 

Childhood deaths in motor vehicle collisions by age, 1975 - 2014. In 1974, approximately 16 percent of American infants rode in car seats. By 2014, that number had risen to over 98 percent. (Source: http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/child-safety/fatalityfacts/child-safety#Trends)

Childhood deaths in motor vehicle collisions by age, 1975 – 2014. In 1974, approximately 16 percent of American infants rode in car seats. By 2014, that number had risen to over 98 percent. (Source: http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/child-safety/fatalityfacts/child-safety#Trends)

 

The change in parenting practice from not using car seats at all to keeping children in very well-designed modern car seats has saved a lot of lives that would have otherwise been lost. This is true even though a lot of us survived riding in cars without car seats, or with the less-safe older styles.

So what does this have to do with locking up your guns where children can’t get them? Quite a lot! Here’s what modern “lock the guns up and educate your kids” firearms practices have accomplished on the child safety front.

 

Changes in parental safety practices -- most notably, locking up the guns rather than hiding them or storing them haphazardly around the house -- have nearly eliminated childhood deaths from gun accidents.

Changes in parental safety practices — most notably, locking up the guns rather than hiding them or storing them haphazardly around the house — have sharply reduced childhood deaths from gun accidents, even while gun ownership and use has continued to rise.

 

So while I’m glad to know that each of us survived our own dangerous childhoods, I’m also glad to know that we can do things more safely for our own children. What a wonderful time to be alive!

Thank goodness for modern quick-access safes, that allow parents to keep self-defense guns ready for quick use but out of the reach of children.

Thank goodness for modern concealed carry laws that allow responsible adults to keep firearms safely holstered on their bodies without fear of breaking the law by simply stepping past their own property line.

And thank goodness for parents smart enough and dedicated enough to teach their children how to safely handle and use firearms, even from very young ages.

 

 

Stay safe!

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Complacency Kills

By now, you’ve probably seen something about the 2nd Amendment activist in Florida who got shot by her own 4-year-old son while she was driving. The news stories say she was in the driver’s seat of a pickup truck pulling a trailer when her son, who was sitting in the back seat of the four-door truck, got access to her .45 caliber 1911 handgun. He fired one shot, which went through the back of her seat and hit her in the back.

How does this make you feel? Does it make you angry? Maybe a little smug, because we know better and would never do anything like this? Sad? Worried about the legal and political backlash for other gun owners?

She’s of course getting torn to pieces by commenters on her own page — or was, the last time I looked. Might be down by now. It’s easy to rant and condemn and of course the violently-minded antigun people are having a field day. But …

The only thing worse than a tragedy is a tragedy nobody learns from. So we should keep our focus on learning, not condemning.

What can we learn here?

It’s so easy to think of a situation like this as a sin so we can burn the heretic at the stake and feel smug about our own righteousness. But maybe it’s better to use this as an eye opener for our own habits — mine included.

As I type this, there’s a loaded gun sitting in a holster on my desk, near my right elbow. It’s there because I was lazy and pulled it off my belt earlier this morning. It’s fine, no problems, because I’m the only one in the house right now. But it’s also maybe a safety concern that I should stop doing, because you know and I know that at some point I’m going to get up from the computer and walk into the other room (to get a drink, to use the toilet, whatever) and I might forget to take the gun with me. I’ve done that before. And if it’s not with me, there’s just the off chance that I’ll forget that it’s there entirely when someone stops by the house — and that would not be okay. So this habit I’ve developed, maybe I should look at it more closely and change something.

Where have potentially-unsafe habits crept into your life? Anything you could or should improve? Think about it…

Kids

A lesson in what guns can do.

A lesson in what guns can do.

Three of our sons came across a (loaded? unloaded?) gun in a range bag on the back seat of a car one day, years ago. We were fortunate, because they did not touch it. They told us about it instead (YAY! for kids who do the right thing). But it’s often left me with cold chills, thinking about What Might Have Been.

It’s one of the reasons I’m such a fan of on-body carry. Guns in purses, packs, and bags are more likely to end up in the hands of children than guns in holsters are. That’s not a condemnation; it’s just a fact.

It’s also one of the reasons I’m a fan of teaching kids what to do when they see a gun, and disarming their curiosity by letting them handle guns under carefully controlled adult supervision. As we see here, though, that’s not a guarantee. Kids make mistakes sometimes. Even kids who know the right thing to do don’t always do it. (This is news?)

Still, for anyone who hasn’t gotten the memo, here’s what every parent should teach their children to do when they see a gun:

  • Stop.
  • Don’t touch!
  • Leave the area.
  • Tell an adult.

There’s more to kids and gun safety than that, though. For instance, Dr. LateBloomer of the BoosterShots blog writes this:

… parents tend to under-estimate their child’s physical abilities when it comes to hazards. They think that Johnny is a genius, but that he can’t open the pool gate. They think that Susie will grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, but that she can’t find a way to reach the top of the refrigerator where grandpa keeps his “bang-bang”. They think that Bobby can’t work the zipper on grandma’s purse to get to her heart medication “candy”, and they think that Janie isn’t strong enough to pull the trigger on mommy’s purse gun. The ER, and the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, and the county coroner all will tell you how tragically wrong those assumptions are.

Go read the whole thing, and think about it.

“But I carry a …”

Had an interaction with some people online who felt this type of thing could never happen to them or to their families, because they used guns that

  • had an external safety.
  • had no round in the chamber, just in the magazine.
  • had a long, heavy trigger pull.

Any of these ideas might sound comforting, but really? Think it through: the first and most important rule of gun safety is that we always treat every gun with the same cautious respect we’d give it if we knew for sure the gun was loaded and would fire if we press the trigger. Having the mindset that we’re willing to treat a gun with less concern simply because it’s “on safe” — or because it’s not really loaded, or because it has a stiff trigger — is a step backward in the safety department.

Complacency is the big danger here. We should be just as worried about our kids having access to ‘unloaded’ or ‘nothing in the chamber’ guns as we are about them accessing loaded ones. If we’re not, the danger isn’t the status of the gun. The danger is our own lack of concern about kids getting to it. Complacency kills.

If you can’t trust yourself to keep the gun where your kids can’t get it, you should not expect the gun to somehow keep itself from being fired. It won’t. It is that simple. Parents who are comforted by half-measures like these tend to be less dedicated to keeping the gun away from their children. That’s a bad thing.

“But the kids can’t …”

How much trouble could these guys get into?

How much trouble could these guys get into?

Kids can almost always do more, sooner, than their parents give them credit for. Some time back, my friend Melody Lauer set out to (safely) prove this with her own children. She found that even her toddlers could easily — I’m talking a matter of seconds here! — get the safety off and press a trigger, without any instructions or intervention from her. She wrote up her results, which she graciously shared with me, and I’m told the article will be published “soon”. For now, please take this as gospel: believing that your kids can’t actually pull the trigger, or take the safety off, or run the slide, is a false comfort. Chances are, they can.

So look around your house. Is there anything you can do to improve your own safety behavior? Anything you can change for the better in the everyday habits you use to keep your children safe?

Is every gun in your home either on your body, or locked up securely enough to keep adults out?

Don’t trust “child-proof” anything. Don’t believe that your kids don’t have the dexterity or strength to manipulate your firearm if they get to it. Don’t leave guns or gun gear lying around for the kids to poke through. Don’t believe that it’s good enough to simply educate your kids.

Stay safe. Keep your kids safe. Think about what you can do to help them stay safer.

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“Made by a woman for women!”

Saw yet another bad concealed carry product the other day. This one was a belly band type. Let me list the ways this product failed:

  • It failed to protect the trigger from outside movement.
  • The ad suggested people should wear the gun directly over the spine, a dangerous location for anything hard.
  • The band had magazine pouches that were open at the bottom (the better to leave a load in your underwear, I guess).
  • It had a two-handed tangle of a retention strap that would be utterly impossible to access if you were wearing pants, because the pants waistband would hold down the part of the strap you’d need to grab and pull to get to the gun.
  • The retention strap was designed to go directly over any grip safety your gun might have, thus disengaging the safety.

We might be tempted to give this soft product points for simply having a retention strap. Most soft products don’t, even though all soft products should have some way to keep the gun inside.  But if we do that, then we should immediately erase those extra points, because the retention strap was so poorly-designed that it’s actually worse than not having one at all.

This means that on almost every measure of safe holster design, this product failed. Miserably.

But this bad holster (and a similar product by the same maker) has gotten a lot of media buzz, because “It’s made by a woman for women!”

Whether it’s a flimsy piece of lace, wrapped around your body like a deadly improvised ace bandage, or a beautifully-patterned gun bucket intended to be dropped into the bottom of a cluttered purse, it’s important to choose a safe holster!

No matter what the product is, it’s not a safe place to put your concealed carry gun unless it does ALL of the following:

  1. Holds the gun securely, in a way that won’t fall out if it’s subjected to the Tip Test.
  2. Covers the trigger completely, with something sturdy enough to protect the trigger from being moved by any force outside the holster.
  3. Allows you to get the gun out with a reasonable amount of safe, predictable smoothness.

The gender of your holstermaker doesn’t matter. All that matters is their competence. Bad products are bad, no matter who makes them. Good products are good, no matter who makes them.

And let’s not even get into the sexism of choosing a holster maker based on her sex. My friend Cerisse Wilson-Bansefay of Soteria Leather writes:

As a female holster maker, I want people to want my product because of the quality and not because I’m a girl. On the same token, occasionally I’ll have to explain to people that just because I’m female, doesn’t mean that I only have to make holsters for women either. I’ve also had a supplier tell me I couldn’t buy a product to use on my holsters because they gave another female the exclusive to use it, even though every male holster maker was allowed to purchase it (but that’s a whole other can of worms)…

As women in a male dominated industry and sport, of course we should celebrate women’s successes, but we shouldn’t have to support something that is bad or unsafe just because it’s made by another female. Ultimately I hope we continue to move in the direction where females are so common in this industry that people won’t describe us as “great female holster makers/shooters/instructors/etc” and instead just say “they’re great shooters/instructors/etc.”

From your lips to God’s ears, Cerisse.

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