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Just a joke…

Always amazed at the things I see online. Here’s one that showed up in my feed the other day: “Due to the price increase on ammo, do not expect a warning shot!”

This kind of thinking does not go to a place I ever want my heart to go.

It’s just a joke, and I get that. It has to be a joke, because a good person would not really believe that the cost of a round of ammunition is of less value than a human life, nor would we ever kill someone just to save fifty cents if that’s all it would cost to warn them away so they wouldn’t get hurt or killed.

Warning shots aren’t smart, for a whole lot of very solid reasons — but the heart-cold callousness that says something like this and then laughs about it … well, that’s not something I’d want said of where my heart was if I ever faced the heartbreaking choice to save an innocent life at the cost of a criminal’s life. In the best of all possible worlds, such a choice would never be needed.

So I can’t laugh at that callousness here either.

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After the shooting…

Okay, so the worst has happened and you needed to defend yourself from a violent attacker. He 1 is down and apparently unconscious. Now what?

That’s a complete conversation I am happy to have with card-carrying good people in class. It’s not one I’m willing to have with the internet at large because there’s just too much room for misunderstanding and foolishness, not to mention criminal misbehavior. However, I can tell you what not to do next.


1 – Assume it’s over too soon. The immediate physical threat is not over until the cops have taken over the scene. The legal threat won’t be over for a long time to come. Maybe even a very long time. Even though you may feel shaky and adrenalized, or hyped up and talkative, or exhausted and ready to shut out the world, or some weird combination of all of these at once, now is not the time to quit. Stay aware of what’s happening around you. Do not relax your physical vigilance until law enforcement takes control of the situation, and don’t relax your personal vigilance until you can turn your legal worries over to a lawyer in private.

2 – Mess with the evidence. Don’t “drag the body back inside.” Don’t “put a knife in his hand.” Don’t rearrange the scene in any way you can avoid. That’s a crime and a stupid one.

3 – Fail to call the cops. If the violent crime being committed against you was serious enough that you needed to pull your gun, it was serious enough that you need to call the cops to report it. What, you think there were no witnesses? Don’t count on that. More likely someone caught the whole thing on video and it’ll be on YouTube before you get home. Besides which, you’re on the side of the angels. You’re the good guy. Act like it and be willing to testify against your attacker.

4 – Leave the scene except to get to a safer location where you can immediately call the cops.

5 – Point a gun at the cops when they arrive. (Hint: this means maybe you should position yourself where you’ll see them arriving and won’t be startled into turning around with a gun in your hand.)

6 - Lie. About anything.

7 – Trust your brain. Be aware that the influence of adrenalin on your mental processing abilities means that you Do. Not. Know. (really, truly, literally do not know) the answer to any question involving distance, timing, or even the sequence of events. Your adrenalized brain will lie to you about what you know, and you may even feel quite confident about it, but that’s not the same thing as really knowing. Which means that you will literally be making stuff up if you answer questions like, “How far away was he when you fired?” or “How much time did this take?” Whether you mean to do it or not, making stuff up is one way to end up in a whole lot of legal trouble. So don’t trust your brain’s ability to answer questions immediately after a shooting.


  1. Or she — attackers come in both sexes and all ages.
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Shape shifting

Starting almost three years ago now, I lost 70 pounds over the course of a single year. I did this by simply exercising regularly, not by “going on a diet” but just by changing my activity levels. 1 My idealized goal was to exercise at least 30 minutes every single day, and my achieved average worked out to be a little more than 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. Yay, Team Me!

Well-known internet fact: Serious firearms instructors always have epic beards.

Well-known internet fact: Serious firearms instructors always have epic beards.

When I lost that weight, according to the NIH, I became merely “overweight” instead of “obese.” Also according to the NIH, if I lose another 40 pounds (which would put me at a weight I haven’t touched since I was 11 years old and four inches shorter than I am now), my weight would then become “normal” … the heavy end of normal.

Well, rats. So much for Team Me.

What does this have to do with the usual topic of this blog, firearms and self-defense? I’ll tell you: Right now, there’s a current in the training industry that says you can’t be a good firearms instructor unless you happen to be (wait for it) in peak physical condition.

The thinking is that you cannot possibly be serious about self defense if you don’t look the part of a warrior. Unless you are fit enough to lead a team of Special Forces, you can’t be fit enough to lead ordinary people toward knowing how to use their firearms effectively in self defense. You can’t know anything about how to protect yourself from violent crime unless you know how to protect yourself from too many cupcakes.

And don’t even get me started on the beard thing.

Of course, on a personal level this offends me. Despite that big weight loss, I’m still “overweight,” remember? To be honest, even though I will continue to eat consciously and exercise regularly for the rest of my life, there really isn’t much chance I’ll ever get down to allegedly-normal weight. It won’t happen because my skeletal frame really is not inclined that direction. 2

Still, given that I’ve spent the past few years being relentlessly faithful with a daily exercise routine, it’s safe to say that I obviously I agree that most of us are better off when we’re in better shape. Quite apart from the long term health benefits, when you’re less hefty it’s easier to find cute clothes that fit, the airline seats feel less cramped, and you’ve got a better chance of keeping up with your kids as they ricochet around the playground.

So there’s that. But still…

What’s your take? Does someone have to be in peak physical shape in order to teach other people how to effectively use firearms for self-defense?


  1. I did find that regular exercise changed my appetite, reducing it significantly and giving me a distaste for overly-sweet foods and foods high in processed carbs. But in the beginning that was a side effect, not a conscious effort.
  2. Yup. I just used “I’m big-boned” as one reason for being the weight I am. Haters can bite me.
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Get your learning on

Pssst! Want to learn something new today? Try one of these links …

  • “I got back up and saw he was trying to reload his gun. And when that happened, I just ran in the opposite direction and I was out of there as fast as I could.” That’s a quote from one of the students who survived that active killer event at the school near Seattle. The lesson here is, make sure your family members know what an unloaded gun looks like, and what it looks like when someone is trying to reload or clear a malfunction. That’s often the best time to act, either to run away or to fight back.
  • Short video of some guys unintentionally knocking over a tree with a .500 S&W revolver. Watch the muzzle awareness (or lack of it) as the guy runs away from the falling tree. Do you know how to run with a gun in your hand? Have you practiced enough that trigger finger placement and muzzle control would be an automatic, almost reflexive response even if you felt panicked?
  • During the shooting in the Parliament building in Ottowa, some of the members of Parliament armed themselves with snapped-off flagpoles they planned to use as spears if the attacker got into the room where they were hiding. “These guys were up there holding these spears ready to impale anyone who came in,” one source said. Good for them and their determination to survive. Even when you don’t have a gun, you don’t have to curl up and die. You can decide that you will fight back with whatever you have and that you will do whatever it takes to survive.
  • Fascinating thing about human beings. Some of us suffer from a cognitive bias called “functional fixedness,” which limits a person to using an object only the way it is traditionally used. The MPs who armed themselves with flagpole-spears knew better — they saw a long, pointed object instead of just something to hold a flag. That kind of flexible mind can be a lifesaver in bad situations!
  • How can we develop the kind of flexible thinking that avoids functional fixedness and thus helps us survive sticky situations? Here’s an article written by Rory Miller that talks about exactly that.
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Reholster without looking? No.

This blog entry was sparked by something Rory Miller wrote the other day. Actually, it’s a rabbit hole down a sidetrack that might be (but probably isn’t) a true disagreement, which means at most it’s only a minor quibble on an unrelated point, which is why I’m not just posting this as a comment over there. Anyway, in the midst of an awesome post about other things, Rory quotes a Deputy Marshall who said, “Holstering without looking is useful, because it allows you to watch for threats.”

That’s absolutely true, in the law enforcement world. But is it true for us?

Risk versus benefit

I’m a big fan of looking at everything we do in training as a balance between risk and benefit. And for people who are not law enforcement officers (LEOs), I just don’t see a lot of value in holstering without looking, compared to the small but nonzero risk of doing so.

As far as the risk goes, LEOs have an extremely low level of risk when they put the service sized gun back into an uncovered holster without looking.

But the risk of a deadly fumble increases when the holster hides under layers of clothing, and increases still more for those who wear their guns in a deep concealment location such as in a pocket, bra, belly band, or inside a collapsible holster. That higher risk should create an equally high level of caution every time we put the gun away.

When do you holster?

LEOs often must reholster in order to get cuffs onto the unrestrained suspect. That’s why holstering with eyes on the threat is such a critical law enforcement skill.

For regular citizens, we should put the gun down only when the threat is completely gone or the authorities have arrived. 1 If the scene is still so dangerous that we don’t dare glance down or away from the primary threat even for a brief moment, it’s still far too dangerous for us to put the gun away at all — with or without looking.

Unlike LEOs, we should not go near the suspect or put hands on them if we can possibly avoid it. Our only job is to stay alive and we aren’t required to do anything else.

Bottom line

There’s still a minor value in learning the skill, since nothing’s 100%. It’s nice to be so familiar with your equipment that you know where everything is, and to trust yourself and your gear so much that you can move confidently with it. But with the above factors in mind, holstering without looking just isn’t that important for people who aren’t in law enforcement, and in view of the risks it should not rate very high on the training priorities list.


  1. If the situation is serious enough that you need to draw your gun, it is serious enough that you need to call the cops.
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Sweet Daisy Defense

Here’s another review that’s been sitting on my desk for awhile. As everyone who reads this website probably knows by now, I’m a big proponent of on-body carry for women — and I also believe that every woman who carries a gun on body should have a backup plan that includes a holstered purse (in case of wardrobe malfunctions or an appointment with the scale in the doctor’s office). Lots more to say about that particular topic, which you can find under the “articles” link to your left. Meanwhile… here’s a review.

Sweet Daisy Designs holster purse

This is a cute fabric purse with a dedicated holster pocket for the gun. Absolutely love the basic design, which works well and is (to my eye, anyway) very attractive. The holster compartment is large enough to hold at least a mid-size gun without problem, and the opening is just wide enough that I can get my hand out with the gun held properly.

The purse uses a velcro opening into the gun compartment, which I think is wonderful. And before you ask: yes, of course opening the velcro makes noise! But it just sounds like you’re getting into your purse for your keys or something. Hardly a big deal.

The basic layout of this purse is very intuitive and very flexible, and because the compartment is lined with velcro, you’ll be able to choose exactly which holster you want to put in there. Speaking of flexible, the purse can easily be set up for either left- or right-handed access, which I think is really important.

When I first started handling this bag, I was concerned that durability might be an issue, especially around the edges of the entry points into the gun compartment. Mentioned this to the maker, and she tells me they’ve added extra stitching to that and other stress points within the bag. Yay!

Don’t plan to use this purse for concealed carry until you’ve gotten a holster to hold the gun securely inside the compartment. I recommend going with a velcro-based design (such as the UH1 from Condor Outdoors or the Universal CCW Holster from Maxpedition). Even though you can instead use a clip-based belt holster, that tends to be a bit more bulky and harder to access.

Thumbs up, with all the usual purse caveats.


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Alien Gear Holster

I’m notoriously slow at writing up holster and gear reviews, but I do generally get around to it. Here’s one that’s on my desk right now:

Alien Gear Cloak Tuck Holster

This is a hybrid-style holster made entirely of synthetic materials with a soft, flexible back and a rigid front.

The holster attaches to the belt using plasic loops that are open at the bottom, which gives me some concern for long term durability, though so far it has held up well. The clips appear easy to replace if that becomes an issue.

The design is tuckable and allows you to adjust the angle that the holster rides on your belt. Like all two-attachment holsters of this type, it takes up a lot of real estate on the belt. This one works best behind the hip and I would not recommend it for appendix carry.

Of course there are many other holsters of this basic design on the market. The all-synthetic materials set this one apart, and it’s surprisingly comfortable to wear.

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From my email box:

“Always treat every gun as loaded.  What do you do when you’re cleaning your guns?  I try to follow this rule too but I’d admit I’ve broken it to look down the barrel of a gun, etc in the cleaning process.  Now I always check and double check to make sure I’m not looking down the barrel of a loaded gun and there’s no finger on the trigger but it still makes me nervous to do it.  But sometimes it’s necessary.  So how do you handle that?”

This is still a gun, and must be treated with cautious respect.

This is still a gun, and must be treated with cautious respect.

As the letter writer points out, one of the most important questions raised by the safety rules is, “What’s a gun?” We don’t point a gun at things we’re not willing to shoot. We don’t put thoughtless fingers on the trigger of a gun. We choose a safe direction whenever we handle a gun. And on and on. So this becomes a critical question: What is a gun? More important, what isn’t a gun?

The definition I use, and which has stood me well for many years, is simply this: A gun is anything that can launch a bullet. If it cannot launch a bullet, it isn’t a gun. Please note that this definition has nothing to do with whether or not a bullet is present. It has to do with the thing itself. If the thing can fire a round of ammunition, it’s a gun. If it can’t, it isn’t.

Using this definition, a disassembled gun is not a gun. It is simply a collection of parts that can, with time and care, be put together to create a gun.

This is not a gun, and it's okay to handle it like the collection of parts that it is.

This is not a gun, and it’s okay to handle it like the collection of parts that it is.

For the well-trained shooter, it takes neither much time nor special care to fire a round from an unloaded gun or from a gun with its action locked open. We see that every time we practice our reloads for competition or for self defense. For this reason, the simple act of unloading the gun, or of locking the action open, is not sufficient to turn the working firearm into “not a gun” for safety-rules purposes.

Breaking it down

With that background definition in mind, the thorny question about how to handle guns while cleaning becomes much more simple. It practically answers itself! Until the gun has been broken down to the point where it can no longer launch a bullet, I continue to treat it with the cautious respect I’d give a loaded weapon. But once the slide or cylinder has been removed, or the gun otherwise taken apart and disabled, I can treat the pile of gun parts with a much more relaxed attitude. If I need to look down the barrel to be sure it’s really clean, that’s no big deal — because when it’s not attached to the rest of the gun’s parts, that barrel is nothing more than a piece of metal that could never launch a bullet.

If I wanted to clean guns with my students in the classroom, I would have a bucket full of sand or a Safe Direction pad or a clearing barrel set up to provide a true, solid backstop. Then I would allow the students, one at a time, to break each gun into its major components while keeping the muzzle pointed pointed only at that safe backstop. If each student brought a shoebox or small plastic box over to the backstop station, they could easily drop the disassembled pieces into that box and then take the pieces over to their cleaning areas with no risk to themselves or other students.

When the gun needs to be reassembled and function-tested, it can be partially put together and then returned to the backstop station for the final steps. That means the muzzle will always be pointed in a safe direction as the gun becomes able to launch a bullet, and you won’t have students inadvertently muzzling each other or the walls as guns go into battery.

I’d still keep ammunition out of the classroom environment, of course — just as I keep ammo out of the room while cleaning the gun at home. But that’s the second layer of safety, not the primary one. The primary layer of safety is an ironclad habit of handling the firearm with respect.

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