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Love

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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What does training cost?

I’ve written before about the value of training: here (and here, and here, and lots of other places).

And I’ve talked, in general terms, about its cost: here and here.

For those trying to put together a training budget, though, it’s probably helpful if we simply talk real dollars and hard numbers from time to time. A few weeks ago, doing some research of my own, I went looking for class costs from a variety of places, just to be sure that Cornered Cat’s prices are in the right ballpark. (Answer: they are. For excellent, personalized training from a nationally known trainer, Cornered Cat classes are a bargain!)

Defining our terms

If you’re not already familiar with the firearms training world, some of the prices below may shock you. That’s because there are a million places in America where you can find a shadetree instructor (sometimes with a current certification from a franchise or sponsoring organization, sometimes without one) who’s happy to donate his time or charge very small fees to show people which end of the gun the bullets come out and other basics of gun ownership. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking classes or teaching at this level of instruction. It’s a good place to start.

But it’s also not what we’re talking about, here.

What we’re talking about is roughly two levels up from there. We’re talking about the class(es) that we take after we already know how to pull a trigger and after we’ve taken the brief, state-required course that lets us apply for a carry permit. This type of training, which is optimized for self-defense, is where every person who takes her personal safety seriously should end up.

Yet very few do. And part of the problem is sticker shock.

Sticker shock

Learning which end the bullets come out — in the simplest, lowest level  class — can often be done for free or on the cheap. Sometimes it costs just a $20 donation toward the price of ammunition. Many times, you’ll find that even a formal, well-taught class at this level costs less than $100, or  a bit more than that if the instructor supplies written material.

The class for a carry permit usually costs more than that first class, though not always a ton more. The bulk of the cost of getting a carry permit will usually be found in the paperwork fees that go to the state, not in what we pay the instructor who teaches the state required class. Depending on the state, 1 a simple concealed-carry class rarely costs much more than $100 to $150, and it usually takes less than a full day.

So when we move up to the next level of classes — the ones intended to help us learn how to save our own lives, the cost of those classes can be shocking because it’s often double or more the cost we’ve paid for any previous classes. And (double whammy here) defensive handgun classes often come in 2-, 3-, or 4-day formats, which means they also require a much larger investment of time and other resources.

By the numbers

Ready for some hard numbers? Here they are.

  • DTI (John Farnam) Defensive Handgun – 2 days, 16 hrs, $675 ($337/day)
  • MAG40 (Massad Ayoob) – 4 day, 40 hrs, $800 ($200/day)
  • Firearms Academy of Seattle Defensive Handgun – 2 day, 18 hrs, $385 ($192/day)
  • Rangemaster Combative Pistol – 2 days, 16 hrs, $425 ($212/day)
  • Handgun Combatives (Dave Spaulding) – 2 day, 16 hrs, $400 ($200/day)
  • FPF Training (John Murphy) – CC:Foundation, 1 day, 10 hrs, $175 ($175/day)
  • TDI Ohio – all classes cost $200/day, add $25 fee for classes with night shoots
  • ECQC (SouthNarc) – 3 days, 24 hrs, $500 ($167/day)
  • KR Training (Karl Rehn) – 4 hr segments @$80 each ($160/day)
    KR Training – 4 hr carry permit classes $150 ($300/day)
  • Shootrite (Tiger McKee) Defensive Handgun – 2 day, 16 hrs, $400 ($200/day)
  • Insights General Defensive Handgun – 2 day, 16 hrs, $450 ($225/day)
  • Thunder Ranch 3 day handgun, 24 hrs, $980 ($326/day)
  • Sand Burr Gun Ranch – Basic Compact Handgun (BUG) – 1 day, 8 hr, $185 ($185/day)
  • Claude Werner/Tactical Professor – Basic Threat Management – 3 hr, $150 ($300/day)
  • Greg Ellifritz Close Quarters Gunfighting – 1 day, 8 hrs, $175 ($175/day)
  • Gabby Franco – 1 day, 6 hrs, $225 ($225/day)
  • Babes with Bullets (competition shooting for women) – 2 1/2 days, $775 ($310/day)
  • Cornered Cat (Kathy Jackson) – 2 day, 16 hrs, $400 ($200/day)

Of course, there are many other schools and franchises that offer this type of training. It sure isn’t an exhaustive list, just a sampling. The numbers above were pulled at random as I wandered around the web thinking of names to check. They aren’t in any particular order and I’m neither endorsing nor failing to endorse any name on the list.

Note that the fixed-facility classes generally cost a little less than what the traveling instructors must charge. There are exceptions.

So that’s what training costs.

As for its value, allow me to quote Melody Lauer in an excellent post she wrote earlier this week: “… I’m investing in my ability to effectively defend myself in a time of need. That’s something I must do. The stakes are too high. And because I must do it I will find a way to pay for it.”

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Footnotes

  1. There are exceptions!
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Road maps, being cute, and Facebook rants

Something I posted on Facebook yesterday:

I’m not a superstar. But by golly — if any woman new to the gun world has looked online for information about women’s concealed carry, she has almost certainly seen my website. The old school gun culture doesn’t know who I am, but women new to shooting do know me.

I’m not flashy, but I am competent. I talk only about stuff I directly know or have completely researched. If I haven’t researched it, I won’t write about it.

My website features my own original writing, not thinly-disguised reworked material stolen from others and rebranded as my own. If you see writing elsewhere online that looks like mine, it probably *is* mine — or at least it was mine, before the thieves sanded off the serial numbers and called it theirs.

I’m not a childless person pushing my overnight expertise about kids and guns out to the world just because that’s what the market wants right now. I’m a mom, and my husband and I raised five sons in a house with firearms in it. Issues surrounding children and firearms are dear to my heart and it makes me crazy when a non-parent pretends to any level of parental expertise. It’s every bit as offensive as when a non-gun owner pretends to having expertise about owning firearms or storing them at home.

I have carried almost every day of my life for more than 15 years and have a deep suspicion of “defensive shooting instructors” who don’t even carry a gun on a daily basis. If you can’t figure out how to discreetly carry a gun for yourself, or don’t think it’s important enough to bother — well, what *else* are you telling your students to do, that you’re not willing to do yourself?

I refuse to do “reviews” that are little more than product endorsements or fangirl squees. I write reviews only of products I’ve actually used, and used hard enough to have found the potential failure points. In the case of holsters, I write only about ones I’ve worn daily for an extended period of time. I don’t understand the popularity of YouTube “gun reviews” that consist of little more than opening the box and describing its contents to the camera.

I’m not another chirpy young thing pretending to expertise I don’t have, while wearing exhibitionist clothing that would shame my mother. I’m a serious professional instructor who has worked at my craft for more than a dozen years and learned a few things along the way. Sexy I am not.

It makes me crazy when some upstart brands herself as an instructor while she’s still scary-new to shooting, when she doesn’t yet know what she’s talking about or even understand just how much she doesn’t yet know. Truth, here: the less people actually know about a given subject, the less they think there *is* to know about that subject. If you think the defensive handgun world isn’t a big field with lots of things in it that you still need to learn, that’s a huge red flag that you’re actually still just an untaught child pretending to know stuff you don’t yet know.

It makes my heart hurt when a half-taught ‘instructor’ gets a ton of attention and glory from people who don’t know what competence looks like, but who do know what sexy looks like. I don’t resent that theoretical upstart’s youth or her use of sexual energy to sell her brand … but I deeply, deeply resent that, with no malice whatsoever in her heart, a charismatic but badly trained ‘instructor’ can cheerfully lead people to their deaths simply because she’s sexy, untrained, unskilled, incompetent, and unaware of her own incompetence.

If any of that sounds cranky, I regret the emotional impact and wish it were otherwise. There’s no road map for a lot of this stuff.

You want to be an instructor? You recognize yourself in any of the above? Again, I regret the emotional impact. Now: Pay your dues, do your homework, learn and grow. Those of us who’ve been in the field awhile are desperate for more colleagues that we can respect.

Backlash?

Not going to walk back even one word of that, because I meant every single word of it. I did think, briefly, about not posting it at all because of the potential of being misunderstood. I was afraid that people would hear me saying something I don’t believe, something like “don’t trust anyone else,” when that’s a very far cry from what I do believe and wanted to convey.

But I posted it anyway, because it needed to be said.

A little bit to my surprise, the overall reaction to my rant was very, very positive. Most people seemed to understand what I was saying, and why. They understood that the rantish parts of that post were not aimed at any one person or school. A few of them may have even recognized my ongoing theme about the Parade of the Dancing Bears, and most definitely understood that I wasn’t telling people to sit down and shut up: I was telling them to keep going, work hard, learn their material, and take their ethical responsibilities toward their students very seriously indeed.

Sadly, I did receive some push back behind the scenes. Not a lot, but some. So I’m going to add a few things here that I believe also need to be said.

We need more instructors.

Some people apparently suspected that I was trying to keep new instructors out of this field. That’s nonsense. I’m a big fan of new trainers and a big part of what I do is help new instructors get the tools they need to do their jobs well.

There are approximately 11.1 million people with concealed carry permits in the United States, of which approximately 1.7 million are women. If every single permit holder wanted to take just one class from existing firearms trainers, some of them would still be in line for their class 450 years from now. Think about that for a long moment.

This means that whenever I see low-level instructors squabbling with each other over what they perceive as a limited pool of students, it just makes me kind of sad and weary. The truth is, we in the defensive handgun training community have not even begun to touch the pool of potential students who so desperately need the skills and mindsets we have to offer. Once we do begin to change that part of our culture, we will have nowhere near enough qualified trainers to meet the crushing need.

We need more instructors.

We need more women instructors.

At least one person suspected that I was trying to keep other women out of the training community. Again, no.

As I’ve written many times before, there’s a strong need for many more women-specific firearms training classes taught by competent and qualified instructors.

We do need more women in this field… lots of them. The industry has suffered, and suffered badly, from the lack of female participation in years past. That lack has too often shortchanged female students, and, in the past, it scared away or crushed the excitement out of a certain number of women who should have become today’s leaders but who went off and did other things instead. To avoid repeating the firearms training industry’s past mistakes, we need more women in this field.

A big part of what I do is help other women get the skills and training they need to turn around and help others. It’s the part of my job I’m most proud of and excited about. That’s because

… more than that, we need more competent people in this field. People who are willing to take themselves and their training seriously. People who feel the full weight of an instructor’s responsibility to her students, and who willingly shoulder that burden because it needs to be borne. Honest people who never pretend to be more than they are or to know more than they do. People who will do the hard work that it takes to get where they want to go. People who will not cheat new shooters who happen to be female, by being too afraid of their wimpy female nature to teach them what they need to know. People who take the job, and their students, seriously.

We need more competent women teaching firearms classes.

“Skinny shamer!”

That was the accusation: that I was shaming other women for their body types. Again, not my thing even though on the reread, I can understand how — in this American culture where every female body type gets equally shamed by different groups — even the mere mention of different body shapes might lead someone to believe that I’d intended an insult on that score.

Let me be very, very clear here: I’m a big fan of beauty in all its forms. As I’ve said before,

Would the world be as beautiful, if it weren’t so varied?

And wouldn’t it be awful if every beautiful place you’d ever loved, actually hated its looks and wished to look like some other place?

What does all this have to do with self defense? I’ll tell you: a big part of my job involves watching body language while people learn to shoot. I watch body language to help people stay safe, so I can anticipate what they’re going to do next, so I can figure out what questions they might be about to ask, or whether part of my message to them didn’t make it through.

You can’t make a study of body language without becoming aware of bodies. How many different shapes and sizes and colors they come in. And how utterly beautiful most people are, when they let themselves relax and just be.

Because I try to be a good teacher, I’m usually watching what people say with their bodies when I tell them that they are worth it. That their lives are beautiful, valuable, worth defending. And it breaks my heart, every time, when I see a beautiful woman who wishes she had another woman’s type of beauty, or who thinks herself ugly because she doesn’t meet someone else’s standard for what pretty “should” look like. It breaks my heart when I see someone shake her head in denial (“Not me!”) when I tell the class that every one of them deserves to live, deserves to stay safe, deserves to go home to the people who love her.

But it’s still true.

You are beautiful, just the way you are.

Your life is worth defending.

No, really: Skinny shamer!

You want to know what I really think about thin, cute, young women  getting involved in this industry and becoming prominent in it? Let me tell you about three specific friends of mine. There are many (many!) more women out there who fit this general mold, including several that I’m quite close to, but here are three that came  immediately to mind as I thought about people I respect in this community.

Annette Evans blogs at Beauty Behind the Blast, where she sometimes talks about the hard work she has done and is doing as a competition shooter who’s also interested in self defense. Annette  competes as a member of Team SIG SAUER, along with having landed sponsorships from several other companies. She brings hard work and fierce determination to the table, and helps her sponsors succeed in their goals too.

She’s also little and cute and physically attractive, and I’m sure there are those who think she’s gotten her sponsorship slots for those features rather than for her shooting. But this woman has hand callouses and sometimes blisters from her dry fire routine, for crying out loud. Every day, Annette Does. The. Work. of being a serious competitive shooter.

Shelley Giddings is another woman I respect deeply for her work ethic and commitment to excellence in the things she does. She’s a tiny, vivacious redhead who looks like a high school cheerleader. She’s also a determinedly competent person and an excellent editor for the gun magazines she’s headed up. Every day she works in the firearms industry, she has to prove her competence over and over again, just because she’s unbelievably cute in a button-nosed, all-American kind of way. She might be able to get put on a pedestal for her looks, but she Does. The. Work. anyway, every single day. More power to her for it.

Then there’s Melody Lauer. Known online as Limatunes, she’s happily married and the mom to three little ones. She’s also well on her way to being a well-grounded, well-rounded firearms trainer — someone to watch in the next few years for her practical style, down to earth approach, and determination to really test everything she teaches before she teaches it. She’s invested a lot in her training 1 and her skills, and that shows.

As for her physical size and attractiveness? Let’s just say that Melody literally weighs half of what I weighed a few years ago, and comes in about three inches shorter than my own shorter-than-average height. Good things come in small packages. Again, she Does. The. Work.

One of the reasons I deeply respect all three of these women is because all of them have the genetics and lifestyles and ages that would let them coast by without doing the work, if that’s what they  wanted to do. But they’re doing the work anyway. They’re shooting and writing and editing and teaching, every day — and every single day, each of them strives to learn more and do better. That’s impressive.

It takes a lot of good character to do, when people are willing to put you on a pedestal just for being.

Road Map

For those who want to teach and are excited about showing others the path to defensive handgun use, there are many ways to become a competent and skilled instructor. You can find the one I recommend right here, in an article I wrote some time ago.

No matter where we are on that path — at the beginning or further along the trail — what I wrote then still applies today. And here’s the bottom line:

If you want to teach others how to protect themselves, take your own training seriously and never skimp on it.

When you become a defensive firearms instructor, you’re literally asking students to bet their lives on the quality of your material and on your ability to help them learn that material. You owe it to them to learn as much as you reasonably can, and to keep learning to be sure your knowledge is always up to date.

For defensive firearms trainers, human lives are on the line every time we teach a class. People expect us to have the skills to keep them safe as they learn. They expect us to clearly explain what we know. They expect us to have the knowledge to teach relevant material and the wisdom to avoid wasting their time or bogging them down with irrelevant nonsense. And they expect us to teach them how to stay safe some dark night when the skills we give them will literally stand between them and their worst nightmare.

If that weight of responsiblity doesn’t scare us down to our toenails every time we step up to teach, we’re in the wrong business.

Do. The. Work.

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Footnotes

  1. Go read that link. If you read nothing else here, read that one!
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AG&AG Conference 2015

Whew, finally home again after a couple of weeks on the road. Might as well admit it: Texas hill country with the bluebonnets and other wildflowers in full bloom is a thing to behold. Yet another instance of finding beauty everywhere — only more so. Lovely part of the world this time of year.

Worked with a lot of beautiful people over the almost-a-week at the 3rd Annual A Girl and A Gun training conference. That gave me an opportunity to work alongside some wonderful teachers and shooters as we all did our best to provide a wide variety of excellent learning opportunities for the 250 women who attended.

During the pre-conference events, I had the lovely opportunity to spend some time with the facilitators and leadership team. On the range with the newest facilitators, my teaching topic was “How to run a safe firing line.” We discussed the logistics of teaching large-ish groups of students on outdoor ranges, and ran through some practical exercises to help everyone develop their teaching skills in that situation. In the classroom, I gave them a road map to personal improvement as instructors.

My private goal (shhhhh, don’t tell anyone) is to turn every female instructor I know into a training junkie — but with this group of women, that’s almost a redundant goal. They are moving out into the wider world of shooting and getting lots of good instruction as they go. It’s awesome to watch that happen!

During the conference proper, I taught segments that included shooting fundamentals for beginners, shooting from downed positions, holster selection and secrets of concealed carry, and purse draw. I also had an opportunity to work with a group of women who had some specific physical challenges and help them problem-solve on the range. That was enjoyable and eye opening.

My enjoyment of the week wasn’t hindered at all by getting an opportunity to shoot a rifle from the back seat of a helicopter. That was a blast, and now I can recommend the Heli Gunner gang as being safe, competent, and fun to work with. 1

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Footnotes

  1. Is shooting while hanging out the door of a helicopter a practical skill for my own world? Nope, not so much, since I’m not a hunter and also don’t live in a part of the country where feral hogs are a challenge for property owners to solve. But did I mention that it was fun? Here, let me mention it again: it was fun!
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All fall down

What’s Cornered Cat doing this weekend, you ask?

Well… Against the Odds is the name of the main class I’ll be teaching. It’s a two-day exploration of handgun retention and downed defender topics, designed to answer the question, “How do I defend myself when the odds are not in my favor?” It’s especially designed for ordinary people, especially those who might face physical challenges defending themselves if they lose control of the gun or get knocked off their feet during a criminal event.

As I put the finishing touches on the outline, I was struck again by how good and necessary and fun this material really is. Really looking forward to teaching the folks who’ve signed up to take the class, which is happening in the Philadelphia area.

Friday night seminar

Before the main event, we’ll kick off the weekend with a Friday night ‘Secrets of Purse Carry’ seminar. Even though the title says “purse carry,” it’s really about purses, packs, bags, and every other type of carry device that’s not a traditional holster worn on the body.

Friday night’s seminar is co-ed and open to everyone, not just people attending the main class. It includes a bunch of hands-on stuff so people aren’t just sitting in their seats listening to a lecture the whole time.

Love teaching this program because it’s amazing how many people carry in these types of devices, and yet have never had a chance to compare different products or do any kind of hands-on work with them. We’ll run through a bunch of design features and discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each. Then everyone will have a chance try out their ideas with blue guns in timed drills, mini-scenarios and scripted role plays. Should be a lot of fun. There’s a metric ton of good info packed into this relatively short program.

Saturday

For the two-day class, we’ll start in the classroom with blue guns, building some solid foundations for everything that comes next. The handgun retention framework we use is very simple, easy to understand and execute in a variety of situations, and lends itself very nicely to plugging in more advanced skills as the student grows in ability. And because it’s intended for regular people, we teach it in a very low-key and intuitive way that students understand almost at a gut level from the beginning.

After we’ve run through our core handgun retention material using dummy guns, we’ll gear up for range work. On the range, we will build and refine a universal drawstroke that we can use from a variety of carry methods and locations. We will draw and shoot from retention on single and multiple targets, making the transition into and out of our retention shooting position as distances change. We’ll shoot one handed, including strong hand only and weak hand only work.

Sunday

On day two, we’ll use the blue guns to work on advanced retention skills and disarms. We’ll practice several applications of one simple principle that makes all disarms work. We’ll also discuss (and practice!) drawing the gun from everyday holsters and specialized carry devices while in compromised positions: jammed against a wall or close into an opponent, lying on the floor, curled up under a desk.

Then we’ll go out to the range with live guns, and practice shooting from downed positions: prone, supine, and fetal positions that each include shooting with two hands, right hand only, and left hand only. The body of knowledge I prefer to use for this came to me through the late, great Jim Cirillo, though many people have done similar work over the years.

Why do we do this?

All in all, I think it’s an excellent program. I’m especially excited to be bringing it to regular people — not ninjas, not tactical warrior wannabes, but ordinary people who might have physical limitations that stop them from being able to run away or that make it more likely that they’ll end up on the ground.

It hurts my heart that so many concealed carry people don’t take classes like this, since they are skills you cannot practice on ordinary ranges, that you won’t learn by competing in shooting sports, and that form a very critical backbone for self defense. The skills are not complicated, but they do need to be taught by someone who knows how to teach them — especially by someone who knows how to keep people safe as they learn.

I’m a big believer in the idea that even when someone has a physical limitation such as a bad knee or a generally unathletic build, they should still be able to learn important skills like these in a friendly, low key, supportive environment. That’s what we’re doing this weekend.

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Point of contact

Had a heartbreaking conversation with a friend a few days ago. She teaches entry-level to intermediate classes in another part of the country, and offers personal firearms coaching as well.

One of her newest clients was a woman who had an immediate, serious need: her violently abusive ex-boyfriend was slated to get out of prison the next day, years ahead of time, and she knew he’d be coming after her. She was terrified. And she’d never owned a gun in her life, nor shot one.

So she went to her local gun store, told them her story, and bought the gun that the guy behind the counter recommended for her. Then she called my friend for some one-on-one instruction. My friend gave her a rough rundown of the basics, using a dummy gun for illustrative purposes.

When they pulled out the new gun that the gun shop had recommended for a terrified new shooter who had an immediate self defense need, they found that this woman literally could not pull the heavy trigger on her brand new gun. She just did not have the hand strength to do it.

This kind of stupidity and thoughtlessness at the point of sale — for someone in crisis! — is enough to make an angel weep.

My ideal local gun shop would

  • encourage their salespeople to sample-shoot various types of guns (in all sizes and weights and in as many different calibers as possible), for the same reasons that good restaurants encourage their waitstaff to sample the entire menu: so they’ll be able to make informed recommendations to customers;
  • teach every person who works the counter how to assess hand/gun fit for pistol shooters, including the all-important question of whether the customer would be able to move the trigger (and never sell a gun to anyone who cannot reach critical controls or who cannot move the trigger all the way back using only the index finger);
  • have a knowledgeable, good instructor on speed dial — someone fully qualified to take a frightened new shooter and give them a fast track to building the most critical survival skills in the shortest possible time — and recommend that every new shooter contact that instructor or someone from a short list of recommended others just as soon as they reasonably can; and
  • Never, ever, ever, EVER push a new shooter into buying a DAO snub-nosed revolver (not even a new shooter who happens to be a woman), unless there’s literally no other choice that the new shooter will accept. 1  Snubbies are experts’ guns, not great for beginners and especially ungood for women with limited hand strength.

As the first point of contact between new gun owners and the rest of the shooting community, people working the counters in local gun stores play a critical role in how people choose their firearms, and an even more critical role in what new shooters do next.

Based on that initial experience, does the new shooter decide to learn more about guns, and become a safe, serious, responsible gun owner who can carry the torch for the next generation? Or do they instead have a negative experience, and decide that gun ownership isn’t for them — or worse, that they will own guns but never really learn how to use them safely and well?

Does the new shooter meet someone behind the counter who welcomes them into the community of gun owners as a fellow traveler and helps them choose the firearm that’s right for them? Or do they meet someone who’s just trying to make a sale?

Do they meet someone who cares about the end user and can help them meet their needs? Or do they meet a callously misinformed salesperson who would rather repeat old myths than learn something new?

Does the new shooter always meet someone who knows what they’re doing behind that counter? If not, why not?

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Footnotes

  1. Of course, if that’s what the buyer comes into the store wanting to buy, that’s an entirely different kettle of fish.  Someone asking for a recommendation or advice should get good, helpful, on-target advice that will lead to a sale, while someone asking to buy a specific type of gun should get fast, friendly service that leads to a sale. I’m certainly not suggesting that gun store employees get in the habit of insulting their customers or arguing with their customers’ choices!
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“Am I Paranoid?”

“Am I paranoid?”

The student stands on one foot, with one leg nervously twisted around the other, waiting to hear my verdict. Is she? Or isn’t she?

She’s just finished telling me how she likes to pay attention to the world around her, and how she always has a plan to cope if something goes wrong. In restaurants, she prefers to sit where she can see the door; while stopped at a red light while driving, she always keeps her eyes on the world outside her car; at home, she locks her doors before she relaxes and she has a clear plan for what she would do if an intruder broke in.

She’s not the only person who’s ever asked that question.

The question comes up from time to time — sometimes in my email box, sometimes on Facebook, sometimes in a class. And the worry behind it is real. It’s often sparked by judgemental attitudes from friends and family who don’t always understand what’s happening when a person begins her own journey into an armed lifestyle, a lifestyle that includes personal alertness.

Feeling judged by someone outside herself, a new traveler on this road often seeks absolution from someone outside herself. She needs to hear someone — someone outside her own head — tell her that she’s not alone, not an outcast, not a weirdo.

So I do.

“No, you’re not paranoid,” I say. “You’re prepared.”

It’s what’s on the inside that counts

But … the value and meaning of our awareness depends far more on who we are and how we see it, from inside, than it does on what our friends might think about what we’re doing. My opinion isn’t the one that matters, here. Neither is the opinion of anyone’s friends.

All that matters is what’s on the inside. How does the world look from where we live?

Ugly people often have ugly suspicions about what our awareness might mean, but we don’t have to live out those suspicions. If our friends sometimes think it’s ugly or scary for us to notice things or be prepared to cope with all that life has to offer, that doesn’t say a thing about us.

That’s just sad for them.

While we live, let us live!

Personally, I think a lifestyle of awareness isn’t about fear. Not in any way. It’s about being fully alive. It’s about smelling the roses, cherishing the daffodils, and never stepping on the bee that’s hiding in the clover. Being prepared to notice that bee and sidestep it isn’t about the bee. Avoiding that stinger is just a very useful side effect of noticing the bee in the first place.

A lifestyle of awareness lets us be fully present, fully alive, fully aware of every golden moment of every day.

Sure, some of us might always look around because we’re living in fear or because we truly believe there’s a bogeyman hiding behind every blade of grass. We might even do it because we’re a miserable person living in a horrible world.

But more likely, that’s not what’s going on at all. It certainly isn’t for me, and I hope it isn’t for you.

Joyful awareness

Once we get started on seeing the world around us as it really is, we do it for joy. We do it because we think people make the most fascinating show in the universe. We do it because we can no longer imagine living any other way.

When we commit ourselves to see what’s happening around us, something wonderful happens: we see what’s happening around us!

When our eyes are open and our senses alert, we see what people do near the door of a restaurant. We see the young mom admonishing her little ones as she shepherds them into the building (“Now remember, guys, inside voices only…”). We see the old man hold the door for his wife, and then pat his wife’s fanny when he thinks no one is looking as she passes through it. We see the nervous young guy swipe his hands on his pants before he comes inside to meet his date.

Those moments are pure gold, and nobody sees them except the people who watch for them.

That’s not all we see, though. We also see the group discussion happening just outside the door; apparently, they’re trying to decide whether to come inside or go somewhere else. We see the couple who were having a heated argument — in whispers! — before the hostess greeted them. We see the thoughtfully appraising look a single guy throws at the receptionist’s backside as she shows him to his table. Good, bad, or indifferent, we notice.

When we pay attention, we see and cherish the moments of joy that happen all around us every day of our lives, and we’re better prepared to avoid trouble because we’re more likely to see it coming.

We notice what’s happening outside our cars when we’re stuck in traffic. We see the young guy lip-syncing to the radio (and is that an air guitar?) as he rocks out behind the wheel in the car next to us. We notice the young couple holding hands as they wait to cross the street. We see businesspeople and shoppers and street hustlers and homeless people, too — and we might even see the too-casual loiterer who’s waiting to make a sale, or the streetwalker he’s looking after on the opposite corner. Hmmm…

We see.

What did you see?

Huh. Look at that. We just noticed that it’s not the best neighborhood we’re driving through. Better make sure those car doors are locked, and that there’s enough cushion in front of the front bumper so we can easily get the car moving should we need to get away. We’re not looking for trouble.

Sure, keeping your eyes open and your radar on makes you more likely to notice trouble before it starts — but it also helps you love life and live it to the full. We might see trouble, but we’re not looking for it or any of its relatives. We’re looking for joy.

When that’s where your mind and your heart is, who could possibly call you paranoid?

So… are you paranoid?

Is your world negative and ugly, frightening and scary, full of fears and dark thoughts and places you dare not send even your thoughts? Are there people and places you’re so afraid to see that you cannot even admit they exist?

Or is your world full of joy? Do you see and celebrate the world around you? Do you resolutely notice what’s happening, whatever is happening, without denying negative possibilities and without shutting your mind to the existence of bad events? Do you focus on the things that are right and good and true?

Are you happy to see everything good in this world, even while you prepare to avoid (or learn how to cope with) the rare spot of trouble?

Never apologize for really seeing what’s around you, good or bad or indifferent. So many people go through life with their eyes half-closed, and you have made the decision to wake up.

That’s a beautiful thing. Don’t ever let anyone shame you out of it.

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Headlines

Here are two headlines and first sentences from different news stations covering the same event. Story one:

Police: Woman shoots boyfriend during roadway argument

HOUSTON (KTRK) — A man was shot in southwest Houston Wednesday and his girlfriend is accused of firing the gun.

When I glance at the headline of this story, as a reader I make some immediate assumptions about what probably happened: a “roadway argument” sounds like both of them agreed to have a fight with each other. Maybe he was in the wrong. Maybe she was. It’s hard to say, isn’t it? Then I read that the police have “accused” her of firing the gun, so there’s probably something very wrong about what she did.

Any casual reader might conclude that this woman should be arrested and taken to trial. After all, we can’t have people shooting each other just because someone got into an argument with her boyfriend.

That’s story one. Here’s story two:

PD: Woman shoots ex-boyfriend outside SW Houston gas station

HOUSTON (KPRC) – Police said a woman shot her ex-boyfriend in self-defense outside a southwest Houston gas station.

Definitely get a different feeling from reading this one. A woman shot her ex-boyfriend. As a reader, do you have some assumptions or feelings that might go along with the prefix “ex-” in a story like this? I sure do. And then we read that the police said she shot her ex in “self-defense”. That sure puts a different spin on things. Why, it’s almost like it’s an entirely different event.

A casual reader might conclude that the woman made a completely correct choice to defend herself from a violently abusive stalker. Instead of being taken to jail, she should get a medal!

And that’s just with two sentences per story.

What really happened?

Although here on Cornered Cat’s Scratching Post blog, we often discuss things we can learn about self defense from reading news stories or watching surveillance videos, we must always understand that news stories provide a very limited view of what happened and why it happened. Even without bias (and everyone is biased, including the very imperfect person writing these words), a short account can never give us an complex, complete reality.

So we use news stories to spark our own thinking. We use videos to help us picture crime in more realistic ways than the ones Hollywood shows us or the images inside our own heads. But we’re also not very surprised when more information later comes to light, when it turns out that a vigilante on “neighborhood patrol” was actually just a guy on his way to the store, or that the sweet-faced prepubescent he shot turns out to be a very large and angry young man who weighed more than he did.

Those twists and turns in the news accounts are often infuriating for people with a political axe to grind, but they’re not really a surprise to us who closely follow such cases. That’s the nature of self-defense cases that make the news: they are complex, they are often controversial, they are reported upon by people who have opinions, and they are always missing key details that might help others understand what happened and why.

What’s a woman to do?

As a woman who is serious about being able to protect myself and the people I love, I’m very much aware that people who actively defend themselves from violent attacks don’t always get a fair shake in the news. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about, and I hope you have, too.

It’s important to think these things through, not because we want to scare ourselves with all the what-if‘s and could-be‘s that might happen in the future, but because thinking these things through really sets them in perspective. It helps us be sure that we’re as mentally prepared as we can be to protect ourselves and our loved ones without hesitation or distracting thoughts.

Of course, we all know that we must be sure that our lives are really in danger whenever we use a deadly weapon such as a gun: are the elements of Ability, Opportunity, and Jeopardy all present? Have we done as much as we could reasonably do to avoid having to shoot? If the answer to all these questions is yes, then we should act immediately to save our lives.

Fears of a nasty headline may slow us down. Wondering what the neighbors will think might cause us to freeze for a critical moment. But when an innocent life is on the line, those factors should fade into the background.

Instead of worrying about headlines or lawsuits, neighbor’s reactions or what the in-laws might say, we must be prepared to act. Because saving an innocent life will always be more important than any of that stuff.

Think it through.

 

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