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Punch in the Gut

This one hit me right in the gut.  It happened about an hour up the road from my house. A young man was cleaning — or getting ready to clean — his AR while his even younger wife was sitting at the computer. For whatever reason, he pointed the “unloaded” rifle at her head and pulled the trigger. She’s dead, he’s in jail. 19 and 20 years old. Same age as my kids.

The thing that gets me about this kind of thing is that it’s so senseless. If only he hadn’t been steeped in the military culture that says we’ll just keep the guns unloaded and ammunition out of the way, and as long as there’s no ammunition around we can do whatever we want with the gun … maybe his wife would still be alive right now.

Everyone always wants to blame tragedies like this on “not checking” the gun’s loaded or unloaded status. If only he’d checked more carefully, we think! If only the gun wasn’t loaded! If only he’d followed Rule One!

But the other three rules matter too.

She would still be alive today if he had not pointed the gun at someone he wasn’t willing to kill.

She would still be alive today if he refused to touch the trigger until he had consciously picked out a safe place for the bullet to land, just in case there was a bullet in the chamber.

She would still be alive if he had checked and double-checked that he was okay with the bullet going where it ultimately went.

He didn’t do any of those things, and yet people hearing this story will almost always stop with, “Well, he should have checked it…”

  1.  All guns are always loaded. (Treat them so!)
  2.  Never point the gun at anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3.  Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you have made the decision to shoot.
  4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

If only this poor guy had stubbornly created a solid, no excuses, built-in habit of always treating the “unloaded” gun with exactly the same respect and caution he’d give a loaded one… but he didn’t.

And his life is ruined and hers is over. 1

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Footnotes


  1. Initial report

    Arrested and in court

    As always, all I know is what I read in the papers; more information may come out as the investigation goes forward. My blog post is based on the news articles linked above which reflects information available to me on 10/19/2014, not on anything that may come to light in the future.

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“But *I* am really advanced–!”

Yesterday’s blog post apparently struck a few nerves among the unsafe-but-macho crowd. Here are some of the responses people posted on the Cornered Cat Facebook page.

“…once you get to certain levels, it’s unavoidable and not a big issue anymore.

and

I actually think, under certain circumstances, it’s OK to dry fire at each other. When I got my training, we were doing this constantly.

and

Train as you fight. 1

For all these guys, the bedrock principles of gun safety are — negotiable. They’re for other people, people who aren’t as well-trained or smart or advanced in their gun handling skills. Certainly the rules can’t be for experienced, serious shooters… could they?

Well, yes.

Here’s a death that happened as a direct result of that kind of thinking. Tara Drummond, age 23, died on Sept. 13, 2006, at the North Central Georgia Law Enforcement Academy in Austell. She was killed by Sergeant Al Jackson, a man who had been a certified law enforcement firearms trainer for more than a decade at the time he killed Drummond. According to the Cobb County Sheriff’s official investigation synopsis [pdf link], Sergeant Al Jackson had “extensive training in the use and instruction of firearms.” Perhaps he felt that he was advanced enough that basic rules no longer applied to him.

In any case, during the class he taught, Sergeant Jackson pointed a functional but supposed-to-be unloaded gun directly at Tara Drummond’s chest. Then he pulled the trigger. And she died, 23 years old, bleeding out on the floor of the classroom surrounded by friends and fellow students.

“During the course of follow up interviews at the academy, several students expressed concern for Sergeant Jackson’s conduct prior to the shooting. Sergeant Jackson instructed the students to point their weapons at each other while doing drills facing another student. The students stated they were pointing their weapons at the wall to avoid direct aim at their classmates. Sergeant Jackson stated that the students needed to experience pointing their weapon at another person. Students were verbally and physically moved into this face to face position by Sergeant Jackson.”

The report concludes: “Sergeant Al Jackson … was properly trained in firearms safety and instruction. He deviated from the basic fundamentals of firearms safety which resulted in this tragedy.”

That’s probably no comfort to the dead woman’s family.

I don’t care who you are or what you think you’re doing when you pick up the gun. Never point a functional firearm — loaded or not, checked or not, inside a classroom or not — at someone you aren’t willing to kill.

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Footnotes

  1. For the “train as you fight” guy: We fight with loaded guns, not unloaded ones. The concepts here may be a little too advanced for bumper-sticker slogans, but if you’re not willing to do the drill with a fully loaded gun, you should not be doing it with a functional but allegedly-unloaded one either.
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“But it’s unloaded…”

So… I’ve spent the last 15 years telling people that if they want to carry a gun to protect themselves and the people they love, they need to get some professional training.

But I’m starting to re-think that.

Oh, not the general idea, of course! People do need training. Untaught people are likely to think themselves skilled enough, in exactly the same way that drunk people usually think they’re sober enough. Fact is, my incident files are full of news reports about otherwise intelligent, non-stupid people who shot themselves in the hand or foot or leg, or who killed a loved one, or who did something illegal and indefensible that they absolutely would not have done if they’d known any better. Good training stops a lot of that stuff from happening, because when people know better, they often do better.

But telling people to get trained isn’t enough. That’s the part I need to rethink. Because my own experience in training classes from excellent instructors has been so uniformly positive, it’s been easy for me to overlook the minefields out there. No more. I can’t be a blind cheerleader for the entire training industry anymore, because the training world is simply too full of stupid, stupid crap like the stuff you see happening in the picture above.

The picture was posted on the Facebook page of a training company I’m not otherwise familiar with (although I do like their reaction to this nonsense, and would like to know more about them). In case you can’t read the writing in the screenshot, here’s what their post said:

“One of our instructors attended a course last weekend in Oklahoma. One of the drills entailed unloading your gun then pointing it at one of the class instructors and dry firing. This was to get you used to pointing your gun at a real person. Please notice the loaded mags still on the belt. I’m pretty sure this violates one or more of the four Golden Rules of gun safety. Our guy DID NOT participate in this portion of the class. What do you guys think?”

Smart firearms instructors do not break the Four Rules when they handle firearms, and they don’t make excuses that let students break even one of those rules during class. Smart gun owners don’t throw out the Other Three Rules every time they think they’ve unloaded the gun. They don’t break the rules just because they think they have something more important to do with the gun than not shooting innocent people. There’s always a plausible-sounding excuse to break the rules, especially those other three rules. But too often those excuses lead to tragedy.

And by “tragedy,” I mean killing innocent people stone-cold dead. 

Breaking the safety rules happens in a lot of different ways, and not always inadvertently. Some people do it on purpose. Some people make a virtue of doing it on purpose… because they think there’s something cool about following “big boy rules.” Or because they think it’s “too hard” or “too impractical” to set up their teaching environment in a safer way.

Excuses are easy to make. It might be taking functional guns into a beginners’ classroom and allowing them to point willy-nilly at walls that won’t stop bullets. (“But there’s no ammunition here! So it’s ok! We can wave the guns around in here, because we checked them first!”) Or it might be imbecilic false macho craziness like the photo shows, stuff that happens with allegedly-unloaded guns in warrior fantasy camp tactical classes. (“Don’t worry! I know what I’m doing — I used to be in the military!”)

Whatever the excuse and whatever the setting, treating functional firearms with casual disregard is dangerously stupid, and stupidly dangerous. Even when it seems cool, or edgy, or super-tactical, or like it’s something the real experts would do, it’s really not. Disregard for basic safety concepts is actually the mark of the amateur. To quote defensive firearms expert Massad Ayoob (who himself is quoting NRA Director Mike Baker), “Seemingly obsessive concern with firearms safety is the mark of the firearms professional.”

People don’t just need training. They need good training, from people humble enough to follow basic safety protocols. They need instructors dedicated to keeping their students safe while they’re learning.

I don’t care what your excuse is. If you are teaching a class and in your class, you let students use functional firearms for any other purpose than deliberately launching bullets or dry-firing at safe targets in front of solid, will-definitely-stop-a-bullet backstops… you’re doing it wrong.

Have you ever been in a class where the instructor — on purpose or inadvertently — allowed students to use functional but “unloaded” guns in ways that would absolutely have been unsafe had the guns been loaded? What happened and what did you do?

 

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11-year-old Saves Friend’s Life

So here’s an excellent, upbeat story about a young girl saving her friend’s life.

What’s this got to do with self-defense? Glad you asked!

First, self defense isn’t just about guns. It’s about mindset — the mindset that says, life is good and worth protecting. When you believe life is worth protecting, you become willing to learn what you need to learn in order to do that. Whether it’s something as simple as basic first aid or CPR, or something more complex like how to be a lifeguard or put out a fire or use a firearm to save lives during a criminal event, just a little bit of knowledge goes a long way in helping you keep yourself and others safe.

Second, calling 9-1-1 can save lives. But NOT immediately! It takes time to find the phone and dial it, time to explain the situation, time for the responders to get in the rig and leave the station, time for them to find your location. If this child hadn’t started CPR right away, a lot more time would have passed before any oxygen got to her friend’s brain. And the outcome would very likely not have been nearly so upbeat and positive.

Because it takes time for others to get to the scene, calling 9-1-1 should never, ever take the place of immediate action. It should only supplement that action, as we see here, with one person calling, and another taking physical action. Both things were needed in order to save the drowning child’s life.

Finally, when you know what to do, you can be a lot calmer when trouble strikes than when you don’t. If you’re serious about being able to protect yourself and the people you love, that’s a big deal.

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Staying Alive

In Ohio this week, a woman defended herself from an attempted abduction by two men — one of them armed with a baseball bat. You can read the whole story here, or watch the video below.

Lots of lessons in this one. Here are a few things you might consider.

1) While many dog owners rely on their animals to keep dangerous people at bay, that doesn’t always happen. In this case, the woman had a big dog — it looks like a chocolate lab in the video — and yet the criminals still approached her. Some criminals aren’t afraid of dogs, which means smart dog owners always have a back up plan for personal safety.

2) Walking paths in urban and suburban locations are often “fringe areas.” This means it’s someplace relatively private, but also has a steady trickle of potential victims for criminals to choose from. Whenever you’re in a fringe area, you should work to remain especially alert to changes in your surroundings and the behavior of other people you see while there.

3) Many potential attackers will flee at the first sign of effective resistance. In this case, drawing the firearm and saying, ‘I have this and I’m not afraid to use it’ was enough to make the criminals run off. Simply drawing the gun was apparently not enough; she also had to verbalize her willingness to use the gun if she needed to.

4) From the article, I can’t tell whether she called police right away. She definitely should have called 9-1-1 just as soon as the incident was over and she was in a safe place. If a situation is serious enough that you need to take your gun out of your holster, it’s also serious enough that you need to take your phone out of your pocket to report it. It’s not just more defensible if there’s a question later, it’s also the right thing to do for the sake of your community. To keep your corner of the world safer, always report crimes committed against you as soon as it’s safe for you to do so.

And here’s the big one:

5) THIS IS A WIN!! No mess, no fuss, no paperwork — and the good person went home unharmed. She did exactly as much as she needed to do in order to go home safe to the people she loves. That’s a win.

That last point is a difficult one to accept. Emotionally, we want self-defense to be about justice. About fairness. About taking out a less-than-human monster who “has it coming to them.” We want it to be about someone who “needed killing.” But it is not.

It’s just about staying alive. It’s about staying on your feet and able to breathe. That’s it, that’s all, end of story.

That can be hard to accept on an emotional level. But on the level where laws interact with the practical world, you cannot lawfully shoot someone unless you are literally in extreme danger of dying. It’s better to avoid putting yourself into that much danger.

And ultimately: civilization is better than barbarism. It’s better to live in a place where criminal offenders end up in court where calmer heads can decide what to do about their offenses, than it is to live somewhere where anyone can shoot anyone else for any reason at any time.

 

 

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Illuminating

Walked into the hardware store yesterday to pick up a few items for the house. There on the shelf, I spotted a big display of little LED flashlights – about the length of a hand palm, about the width of a tube of lipstick. Activated by a simple tailcap clicky, on/off. No bells or whistles, just functional little lights. At 55 lumens, they weren’t as “super bright” as the packaging declared, but they were certainly bright enough for most tasks and had decent throw. Since they only cost $4 apiece, I picked up a few to toss into my camping gear and one for my range bag.

Ah, nostalgia…

Almost a decade ago, I was chomping the bit to attend SHOT Show. Problem: didn’t have a dime to my name. Travel is tough when you have no funds. Determined to get there one way or the other, I teamed up with Doug Ritter of Equipped to Survive. (Doug still does ETS, but he’s better known these days for his excellent and highly recommended work at Knife Rights.) Doug was looking for a writer willing to write product reviews in exchange for some help with travel expenses, and that sounded like a match made in heaven to me. We shook hands on the deal – virtually, anyway, as we hadn’t yet met in person – and I set about gathering details. ETS built its reputation on thorough, technical reviews of survival gear, and they needed someone to write about flashlights.

My assignment: find every new LED light introduced at the SHOT Show. Measure each one, talk to the designer about the tech specs, and write it up. Given the size of the show and the time constraints, that was a big task ten years ago, and probably impossible for one person now.

Before we left for the show, I spent some time talking to my friends in the firearms training world. The consensus back then was that LED lights would be handy for defensive use if only they could be made bright enough. Companies were right on the cusp of getting enough brightness and throw from LEDs to make them worthwhile to carry for that use, and there was a lot of experimentation with weird lens shapes, specialized collimators, and fancy wiring to drive the LEDs just a little brighter. Of course, innovation costs money and LED lights were no exception. Only a few, high-end LEDs could be expected to reach the 65-lumen range most defense experts considered necessary at that time, and those often cost multiple hundreds of dollars.

Given those prices, LED lights were really a rich man’s toy. Most cops and defense-minded citizens carried halogen-based flashlights, or ones that used traditional bulbs. These had some significant drawbacks, the worst of which was that you could shatter a bulb if you dropped the flashlight. Not really ideal for someone who might want to use the light in active, scary, violent circumstances.

So I traipsed off to Las Vegas, and ran my feet to blisters getting to every booth. Talked myself hoarse asking questions about throw and battery life, brightness and durability, wiring and construction details. Came home from the show with an amazing little light someone had handed me as a sample. That was an LED flashlight bright enough and with enough throw to actually illuminate the top of the big pine tree in my yard, at least 30 yards from where I was standing! Astonishing! Of course it retailed for more than the trip to Vegas had cost me in total expenditures, making it far outside my means. On my own, I’d never be able to afford such a marvel.

Yesterday, I walked into a hardware store and picked up a handful of 55-lumen, $4 LED flashlights for my camping gear. Of course when I got home, I had to light up the top of the pine tree with one of them, just because I could. Those little lights reminded me how good it is to live in a capitalist society, where rich people drive the innovations that the rest of us benefit from just a few years down the road.

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Summer Reading

Just updated one of my articles, titled Good Books. Why not pick one book from that list and get it read before summer’s over?

 

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Strength and Weakness

On Facebook, one of my friends linked to Larry Correia’s blog post about the Miss Nevada controversy. As you might recall, Miss Nevada (now Miss USA) is the beauty pageant contestant who suggested that women might want to learn self-defense as she replied to a question about college sexual assault.

Apparently, the idea that adults should be prepared to defend themselves from violence still causes controversy in some corners of the internet, and so it was here; the twitterverse woke up with shrill calls-to-action, and that, in turn, woke the dozing Correia. In his usual Hulk-SMASH! style, Larry Correia wrote:

Let’s take two potential victims, Miss Nevada versus any of the morons yelling at her on Twitter. Both are violently assaulted. Which one do you think has a better chance of surviving the encounter in one piece? The lady who reacts with capable, directed force, or the wishful thinking wuss who demands that this shouldn’t be happening at all? My money is on the woman groin kicking and throat punching the rapist. If criminals wanted to work for a living they’d go get a job.

Now me personally, I’m a fan of guns, because groin kicking and throat punching is hard work, especially when the defender is usually giving up a bunch of weight, muscle mass, and bone density against her assailant.

Can’t really argue with Larry’s sentiment, though my own conversational style tends to be (I hope!) a bit more restrained. Anyway, in the way that Facebook conversations tend to go, someone’s friend of a friend took exception to this. She was upset by it because, she believed, Larry had just said that women are weak and unable to protect themselves without guns. She thought Larry’s words would take away a potential victim’s hope, and sap her will to defend herself. 1 She thought that Larry had just said that women should not even try to fight back unarmed, because men are bigger and stronger than we are.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, because the objector did in fact have a point. And it’s an important one. Here’s what I told her.

I understand what you’re saying in a lot of ways. For self defense instructors (which Larry was, and I am), there’s a very delicate balance as we work with students. The balance is between the student’s confidence and the student’s accurate grasp of the reality of the situation. (See my blog post titled Confidence and False Confidence for more about this. It’s too long to put here, but maybe an interesting side note.)

The physical reality is that women are at a physical disadvantage when fighting against men using only bare hands. On average (with many exceptions!), adult females in the United States are 4% shorter and 8% lighter than the average adult male. On average, women have roughly 40-60% the upper body strength than men do, with proportionately more strength in the lower body – approximately 75% that of the male average. With size, weight, and physical strength all working against us, we do in actual fact have to work harder to achieve the same result. (Charlotte Whitton had it half right, apparently. Where she erred was in assessing the difficulty of the endeavor.) 2

Does that mean we give up, quit and die? Just lie back and enjoy it? OH HELL NO.

It means that we understand the physical reality of the situation for what it is and is likely to be, and work to overcome the difficulties stacked against us. It means that – because humans are tool users – we use tools wherever possible. Yes, including guns if that’s an option for us. It means that we avoid physical fighting wherever possible. 3 And it means that if we have to fight, we’re going to fight like a cornered cat.

Fighting like a cornered cat means fighting all out, ignoring the odds stacked against you and any size disparities you might face. (Ever tried to pick up a feral kitten with your bare hands? I have, and don’t recommend it…. no matter how much bigger and stronger you are than the sweet little kitty, you’re going to draw back a bloody stump where your hand used to be, and probably decide that grabbing that kitty is Not Worth It.) It also means that you’re going to fight with a very specific goal in mind: not “winning”, not “beating the bad guy,” not “teaching him a lesson.” Nope. Your goal is simple and single minded: GET TO SAFETY. That kitty is dangerous because it’s not fighting you. It’s simply doing whatever it takes to get away from you.

Does all of that take away your hope? Tough patooties if so, because that’s the world as it is. In the real world, you’re not bigger, badder, or meaner than the male criminal seeking to dominate and control you. You’re not physically tougher than the rapist, and you will very likely be fighting at an extreme disadvantage – due to surprise, he picks the time and place, due to your relative strength issues, due to any number of very critical social variables. So freaking WHAT?? Do what it takes to get away, get home safe to your family. Avoid, deter, de-escalate, lie, trick, cheat … and if you have to fight, fight like a cornered cat.

Stay safe.

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Footnotes

  1. Never mind what Larry actually said, which is not that; but I think it’s safe to say that Larry is quite capable of fighting his own battles about such things!
  2. “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.” ~ Charlotte Whitton
  3. “Fighting is essentially a masculine idea; a woman’s weapon is her tongue.” ~ Hermione Gingold
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