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Hold the criminal at gunpoint?

On the video embedded below, you’ll hear a statement from a law enforcement agency about an officer-involved shooting that happened during a traffic stop and you will see the dashcam recording of the events that led up to the shooting. As ordinary citizens, it would be tempting to think that such things could not possibly apply to us, or that there’s no information we could gather here that would be useful for us to know.

That would be incorrect.

First, the video. If you’re in a hurry, you may want to start it playing at around the 2-minute mark.



Now, the food for thought:

  • Have you ever pictured yourself holding someone at gunpoint? (See here for one recent example of how that could happen; see here for another.)
    • If you have never considered this issue before, what is your plan for dealing with a would-be attacker who throws down his weapon, throws his hands up into the air, and starts apologizing?
    • What is your plan for keeping yourself safe during an ambiguous but potentially life-threatening situation, such as protecting your family from a potentially violent home intruder who is mentally disabled or plainly too drunk to realize where he is?
    • It’s tempting to believe that we would never be put in such a situation, or allow ourselves to be there. But that’s not realistic. Nearly all defensive gun uses do not require the defender to fire the weapon in order to defend herself effectively. This means we can and should know what to do about it if the criminal surrenders before we have pulled the trigger. “I’ll just shoot him!” only works if the elements of Ability, Opportunity, and Jeopardy are all present at the exact moment we pull the trigger.
  • Do you know how to produce — and have you practiced producing — a strong and easily understood command voice? Many of us think of it as “Mom voice,” because it’s the same voice we use to stop a 5-year-old in his tracks when he’s about to run into the street. It’s not hard to do, but it is something that must be practiced.
  • Do you know — and have you practiced using — a series of commands that would lessen the danger of an uninjured criminal being able to attack you?
  • How many pre-attack indicators can you spot on the video?
    • Can you see the physical behaviors that led the shooter to believe his life was in immediate danger?
    • Can you explain the physical behaviors you see, and why they are dangerous?

The officer very likely had, in his mind, a very clear decision tree that included a specific distance that would trigger his decision to fire. There’s a clue there, for us.

There’s no doubt that the officer was able to explain his decision in a way that helped the people involved in the legal system understand why he made the choice he did. More than that, when he made his decision to shoot, he almost certainly leaned heavily on the things he learned in his formal training. He may have even been able to bring in testimony from the expert instructors who taught him how to deal with noncompliant people being held at gunpoint, and what specific behaviors to look for that would indicate life-threatening danger.

Probably a lot more potential lessons for all of us on this video. What do you see?

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Build the building

A real-life attack is not the same thing as training for such an event. Training prepares you for something and by definition cannot be the identical to the real thing. I though that was obvious, but apparently, it isn’t. Especially in the fighting arts, people seem to miss this point. Not so in other sports though.

When was the last time you heard somebody claim line drills in football are useless because nobody plays football in a line like that? – Wim Demeere 1

Whenever I hear people complain about the futility of building basic defensive skills on a “static range,” I think of Wim’s comment.



Everything starts somewhere. The foundation might not look much like the rest of the building, but it’s what holds the whole thing up. You might never even see the framework, but it’s what holds the whole thing together. Those who only look at the outer walls have missed seeing almost everything that makes the building remain solid in the midst of an earthquake.

In the same way, some folks only see the chaotic reality of violent encounters — and miss seeing the foundation that makes a meaningful defense possible, or the framework that holds the shooter together long enough to get the task done.

All practice and all training — every last bit of it — involves some level of unreality. Unless and until we’re actually shooting people who violently resist our attempts to get away and survive, we’re practicing an unreal activity on some level.

No matter what the setting, the deliberately-induced flaws that we endure for practice almost always include (but are certainly not limited to!) the following:

  • Shooting cardboard, paper, or steel instead of human bodies;
  • No social interaction with potential targets;
  • Shooting immobile targets, or targets that move only in very predictable and rhythmic ways;
  • The 180 rule, or similar constraints dictated by the surroundings;
  • No expectation of interference from bystanders;
  • Being able to check that the gun is loaded and our mag pouches positioned just so before we start the string;
  • Every drill is a shooting situation;
  • Clearly-measured results that will be known within seconds after the dust settles.

Instead of practicing pure shooting skills (which obviously involve most if not all of the above possible unrealities), we might choose to be “more realistic” by scripting slightly more interactive drills in shooting bays that allow us to move around a bit. But no matter how much physical movement we do as shooters, we’re still dealing with fake targets, meaningless shoot/no shoot signals, and no life-threatening stress.

We might choose to eliminate the fake targets entirely, and decide that we need to practice working with other humans at the other end of the gun. That means that unless we’re utter fools, we’re going to use fake guns. In force on force and scenario based training, the unrealities include — but are not limited to! — the following:

  • Actors with varying levels of skill;
  • Scripts that limit potential outcomes;
  • Scripts that may or may not be well-considered;
  • Narrow contexts;
  • Mindsets that can in no way approach the out-of-the-blue, wasn’t-expecting-this!! reactions that would be normal in everyday life;
  • Fake weapons that produce unrealistic levels of accuracy, recoil, noise, etc;
  • Most scenarios will be shooting scenarios;
  • Levels of fear that in no way approach life threatening.

The challenge for us is to be aware of each one of those potential factors. No matter which type of practice or training we’re involved with, the temptation is to gloss over and dismiss the fakeness that we’re necessarily working with.

Instead of handwaving dismissals, we should be able to clearly identify which type(s) of unrealism we’re working with in a given drill. The real trick is to never become so in love with our own preferred type of training that we stop being aware of the unrealism it always contains.


  1. Wim runs an awesome blog at The exact quote can be found here.
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Moving targets at 25 yards — FAS Level 4 Handgun (part 2)

Here’s a video that we recorded during the Level 4 Handgun class at the Firearms Academy of Seattle last weekend. It’s a montage of several different strings of fire, a sequence that led students through the following activities:

  • Draw and get good, A-zone hits on stationary targets (in compressed time frames) at 7 yards
  • Draw and get good, A-zone hits on moving targets while standing in the open at 7 yards
  • Draw and get good hits on moving targets at 25 yards
  • Get behind cover, draw, and get good hits on moving targets at 25 yards
  • Run 25 yards (to get everyone’s heart rates up) and deal with lots of screaming and shouting while getting behind cover, drawing and getting good hits on moving targets at 25 yards.

All too many shooters feel very accomplished when they can manage just the first or second set of skills. But real life may demand more than that — and indeed, it’s a little silly to lay down a good foundation if we’re never going to build the building.




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Think while you shoot – FAS Level 4 Handgun (part 1)

Spent the weekend playing in the new iteration of the Level 4 Handgun class at the Firearms Academy of Seattle. Orignally signed up to shoot in the class as a student, but had an issue that kept me from shooting (rats!) so instead I enjoyed watching and participating from behind the line. As I watched, I found many learning points to think about.

First things first: Level 4 Handgun is an advanced class that combines elements of pure shooting, gunhandling, and practical skills alongside decision-making and role playing exercises. It’s a hybrid class that takes students through three solid days of hard work, and it’s also a boatload of fun.

Days 1 and 2 of the class comprise the bulk of the shooting instruction and skills refinement, while students enjoy role plays and scenario exercises on Day 3. The third day of the class also offers students an opportunity to pass the very tough Handgun Master Test, a skills assessment that has been part of FAS in various forms since the early 1990s. FAS director Marty Hayes considers that this test provides a brief but reasonably complete overview of a student’s skill with the pistol, and says it is analogous to passing a black belt test in other martial arts. He’s quick to point out that the test is “somewhat arbitrary” in its details, and that there are many other valid ways to test one’s skill with the defensive handgun. The test checks students’ draw speed, accuracy, one-handed skills, reloads, multiple target transitions, low light skills, and ability to hit moving targets. Distances range from 4 yards (for one-hand skills) out to 15 yards (for accuracy), with a majority of the work taking place at car length distances.

The class isn’t about the test, though. The test is simply one component of a well-rounded package of shooting and gunhandling skills. These skills, when mastered, form the backbone of being prepared to think about other things while using the gun quickly and effectively.

It’s the “thinking about other things” that matters, you see. For people interested in self-defense, that’s where all shooting instruction and practice in smooth gunhandling is supposed to lead: being able to solve the problem without worrying about whether you’d be able to physically do the skill that solving the problem might require. Being able to solve it without consciously thinking about the tool itself or how to use it, because your mind needs to focus on other things.

Instead of using up all our brain cells in remembering how to draw the gun efficiently, hold it safely, see the sights appropriately and manipulate the trigger effectively, we could be using those same brain cells to think about the appropriateness of using the gun to solve the problem:

  • Is there another way to solve this problem that does not involve gunfire? If so, what is it and how can I implement it?
  • Do I have to shoot? Do I have to shoot right now?

We could be thinking about the people around us:

  • Where are my loved ones? Are they out of the line of fire?
  • Can I or should I move in order to change the angles and reduce the risk to other innocents? If so, which direction should I move?
  • Does the attacker have an accomplice? If so, where?

We could be thinking about the surroundings:

  • Where is a position of advantage that I could move to? Do I have time to create distance or get behind cover? Can I do so without increasing my exposure and risk?
  • Is there somewhere a second attacker could be hiding? What can I do to reduce my risk from that direction?

New and untrained shooters often must use every bit of spare brain power just to remember how to hold the gun without getting a thumb awkwardly behind the slide, or how to get the gun out of the holster without fumbling and dropping it, or how to be sure that the gun is ready to fire with external safeties in the appropriate position. Even those who are well-practiced in calm conditions on the range may find themselves suddenly needing to think their way through these actions when they’re in a hurry and under stress.

Fortunately, students who have invested in themselves and in their families’ safety by attending professional training classes such as the FAS program will have much more leeway in tough situations. They’re better prepared to make good decisions and shoot effectively, because they’ve engrained both their shooting and their gunhandling skills to the point of automaticity.

Just as a beginning driver might find herself thinking about nothing else other than the mechanics of driving the car, a beginning shooter often has little attention to spare for tasks other than simply running the gun. This can be a problem for both when a crisis looms.

Lots more to say about this excellent class, but this post is already too long. More tomorrow!

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Gotta fight for your right to potty…

Today’s Fb post apparently struck a nerve. Over 100 Likes and more than 30 comments in less than one hour. The post?

“When I talk to women about their shooting experiences on outdoor ranges, the subject of disgusting, horrible, cramped, crowded, smelly, and did I mention disgusting porta potties almost always gets a mention. If you are a member of a range that wants more female shooters, or a member of a club that is trying to increase its female membership, the single best thing that your club or range can do to increase female participation is to improve the potty situation.”

Several people commented that putting in flush toilets may not be environmentally or financially feasible for some ranges. That’s true — but improving the potty situation does not have to involve running water. It can be as simple as:

  • Cleaning the facilities more often.
  • Keeping the facilities in good repair: no cracked seats, no broken toilet paper holders, no broken latches.
  • Cleaning the facilities on Fridays (immediately before the weekend rush) as well as on Mondays (immediately after the weekend rush).
  • Providing handicap-sized stalls instead of standard ones, so that users have enough elbow room to deal with multiple layers of clothing and gear without bumping into wet urinals.
  • Providing a nearby safe area, with a good backstop, for those who need to remove some of their gear before they use the facilities.
  • Putting a trash can inside the same building as the toilet (see “handicap-sized stalls,” above). There are few things more annoying than trying to deal with a used sanitary pad when there’s no place to throw it away discreetly, and no place to even set it down for a moment when you need to pull up your pants with both hands so that your holsters and mag pouches and other gear doesn’t slide into the slime on the floor.

Other suggestions?

Carry — where?
  • “Oh, I only carry in bad neighborhoods.”
  • “If I felt I had to carry at home, I’d move!”
  • “I just carry at night or when I’m alone.”
  • “Why would I carry to the grocery store? Or to the hairdressers, for crying out loud!?”
  • “Nothing bad ever happens around here.”

If I had a dime in my savings account for every time I’ve heard people say something like the above, I could probably retire and live off the interest.

Generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of trying to talk people into stuff they don’t feel comfortable doing. If you don’t think owning a gun is right for you, I’m not the person you want to ask about it — because I’ll just agree with you. Guns don’t belong in the hands of people who don’t want them. If you aren’t interested in learning more about self defense, I’m sure not going to argue with you about that. It’s your life and you’re a grownup. Go live the life you want to live, and enjoy it.

But these comments don’t come from non-gun owners. Or from people who don’t care about their personal safety. They come from people who do intend to protect themselves in the face of violence, but who also honestly, truly believe that bad things literally cannot happen in places where they personally feel safe.

“Is this true? And is it okay that I feel that way?”

Sometimes, people ask me what I think about what they just said: “Is this true? And is it okay that I feel this way about not carrying my gun all the time?”

Let me get the second question out of the way first: Yes. It is okay that you feel however you feel. Although it mystifies me that anyone would need my permission to live their own life, of course you can choose your own actions! Go ahead, do what you want to do, based on whichever of your feelings you choose to embrace. It’s your firearm and your life and you get to live with the consequences of whatever you choose to do with those things. I’m certainly not going to judge you for making your own decisions about your own life. Live  however you want, and be happy.  :)

But the first question… that bugs me. It bugs me a lot. Because I’m not going to lie to you, and I don’t like it that you asked me to do so. Bad things do happen in good neighborhoods. They do happen in places where we don’t really expect them to happen. Violent crime absolutely can — and does — hit good people when and where they least expect it.

Unexpected paradox

There’s no way around this paradox:

The only possible way we can be prepared to deal with an unexpected threat is to be prepared even when we don’t expect a threat.

Here’s the news story that got me thinking about this. It was (apparently) an attempted mass murder in — of all places! – a craft store. Police say a man started shooting inside the store and then officers shot him. The witnesses were reportedly “terrified after what should’ve been a normal shopping day.” Well, yes. Because who really expects trouble while they’re just buying a hot glue gun and some ribbon?

Bad things can happen in a craft store, though, as the story shows. They can also happen in a beauty salon. (And how many of us would feel ridiculous carrying a gun to get our hair done?) They can happen at home, even in broad daylight, even in good neighborhoods. They can happen at the grocery store and at the pharmacy. You know, we might run into any one of these places while running normal errands on a normal day during a normal everyday life.

In fact: last week, one of our sons asked for a ride to the drug store to fill a prescription. As we pulled into the store’s parking lot, we spotted a dozen police cars parked haphazardly at odd angles all around the front of the building. Think something bad might have been happening, inside? So did we, and thus went elsewhere.

So to sum up:

  • Bad things do happen even to good people, even in good neighborhoods, even during broad daylight and even on otherwise normal days.

Do whatever you like with this truth, except deny it.

Holsters and danger

On a firearms discussion board, a new participant asked for instructions how to draw a gun. During the discussion that developed, one of the more clueful participants pointed out that a simple drawstroke, when done wrong, could result in shooting one’s own hand.

Skeptically, someone asked, “Did people shoot their hands off before [the drawstroke] began to be taught?”

Putting a hand in front of the muzzle during the drawstroke feels fast and natural. It's also very dangerous.

Putting a hand in front of the muzzle during the drawstroke feels fast and natural. It’s also very dangerous.

My answer: Yes. Many of the lessons taught at modern gun schools were written in the blood of good people who were teaching themselves what to do, figuring it out on their own because, “How hard could it be?”

The most common place that people shoot themselves is either in the right leg or the left hand. That would be because many right-handed shooters have no idea how to safely draw the gun, safely reholster it, or safely handle the firearm without getting their left hand in front of the muzzle. 1

As an instructor, I spend a lot of my time pointing these things out to good people who honestly don’t realize what they have just done dangerously. People put their hands in front of the freaking muzzle all the time without realizing it. When someone else points it out, they are often bewildered, and then grateful.

That’s one of the primary benefits of going to a good class: we learn how to not repeat the bad habits of people around us, and we get a trained set of eyes looking at what we  actually do. Our brains don’t always give us an accurate report from the inside, so having well-trained eyes looking at what we’re doing from the outside can become a hugely valuable resource.

The injuries from shooting a hand range from surprisingly mild — a simple through and through of the meat — to lifelong and crippling. “Degloving” is such a wonderfully descriptive word.

Claude Werner addressed this topic some time ago on his Tactical Professor blog. So did I, here and here. In one of those earlier posts, I wrote this:

Putting a loaded gun into a holster is the single most dangerous thing anyone ever does in a professional firearms training class.

It’s also the most dangerous thing most people ever do with their firearms, and all too many of them do it without any understanding of the dangers involved.

For information about this, one could Google for unpleasant images using these keywords:

  • shot myself in hand holster
  • shot myself in leg holster
  • shot myself handgun

Learning to use a holster is perfectly safe when done properly under the eye of a competent observer who knows how to correct problems before they become dangers. Although using a gun safely is not rocket science, a firearm can cause terrible injuries when used incorrectly. 2

Stay safe!


  1. The pattern for left handed shooters is reversed: they shoot themselves in the left leg or the right hand. But those injuries are less common, because only around 5% of shooters shoot lefty. Roughly 12% of people are lefties, but more than half of those choose to shoot right handed for various reasons.
  2. The firearm depicted in this post was disabled using a Training Barrel. It could neither hold a round of ammunition nor launch a bullet.
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In an email to a friend a few days ago, we were discussing ways to develop new firearms instructors via the apprenticeship model. I was talking about my own experience of learning from some of the best defensive handgun trainers in the world after the class was over:

“As much as I’ve learned on the range in formal classes over the years, I’ve learned far more sitting in [my mentors’] living room on weekend nights, chattering over dinner… Listening to the guest instructors explain the nuts and bolts behind their own programs, in a casual setting where they weren’t on stage and were simply talking among friends. Finding out what makes the good ones tick, and beginning to understand what motivates them, and finally coming to see the beating heart of love that drives the truly greats in everything they do, the angry and desperate love that hides behind the gruff exteriors of crabby old men who’ve seen too much death and carnage and never want to see it again.”

It’s love that drives a good instructor — love for the student, and not for himself. The best of the best aren’t the stars of their own movies. They’re humble, down-to-earth, practical people who look for ways to make others shine. They’re driven by a kind of selflessness that strives to protect others and give them the tools to protect themselves. Because of that love for others, they get a lot of their energy from deep wells of frustration and yes, sometimes even rage, at anything that would harm their students or prevent their students from being able to protect themselves.

As a learner on this journey, from watching these men and women I’ve come to realize that for anyone who wants to become a truly excellent firearms instructor, we have to be driven by the same kind of selfless love that fuels them.

It’s love that forces us to do the work that needs to be done.

It’s love that keeps us up late at night making sure our teaching plans are solid and built on good principles, our ranges well prepped for the students, our safety protocols carefully considered and ready to go, our techniques the best we can possibly offer, our shooting skills solid enough for students to imitate… and on, and on, and on.

Anyone can grab an audience without having the heart, but it’s love for the students that separates the good from the truly great.

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