The Cornered Cat
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“But did you die?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

Stay safe!

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Complacency Kills

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

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

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

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

What can we learn here?

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

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

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

Kids

A lesson in what guns can do.

A lesson in what guns can do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go read the whole thing, and think about it.

“But I carry a …”

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

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

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

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

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

“But the kids can’t …”

How much trouble could these guys get into?

How much trouble could these guys get into?

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

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

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

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

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

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“Made by a woman for women!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From your lips to God’s ears, Cerisse.

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Repetition and habit

Repetition builds and reinforces neural pathways. It makes routine actions basically automatic, requiring very little concious effort. This is a good thing!

When we do an action that we’ve already repeated many times before — think about grabbing the gear shift on your car as an example — we can easily be thinking about other stuff while we do that thing. You don’t have to consciously, carefully look for the gear shift and then consider how to get the car into gear. Instead, when you get into the car, you just pop it into the correct gear and off you go. Easy peasy.

There are two places where repetition can trip us up.

1) When something changes, either with our gear or our environment, so those earlier repetitions don’t match the new situation. For example, if your car’s gear shift is on the steering column, but you borrow your spouse’s car that has the gear shift between the seats, there’s a chance that your well-practiced, repeated action of popping the car into gear from a lever on the steering column will instead turn into an embarrassing situation with the windshield wipers.

2) When we practice doing the wrong things, or practice doing them in the wrong way. Repetition works just as well to reinforce bad behavior as it does to reinforce good behavior. It works just as powerfully to build ineffecient or unsafe habits as it does to build solid, safe habits. This is why it’s so important to get good training from experienced, qualified sources and then practice the things we learned.

Practice always builds habits that last — good or bad.

Not long ago, I saw a guy at a gun store take an “unloaded” gun and absent-mindedly press its muzzle against his own left palm as he pressed the trigger while he was talking to the clerk. I have no idea what he thought he was doing. But what he was actually doing was reinforcing a dangerous habit of not paying attention to or caring about where the gun was pointed.

That habit could (and very likely will!) reach up and bite him some day — and when it does, he will also likely join the ranks of many, many people who say stuff like, “Well if you just check to be sure it’s unloaded…” But the problem isn’t the loaded or unloaded status of the gun. It’s the deeply built-in bad habit that was caused by repeatedly doing something dangerous with the gun until that motion became something the shooter did without conscious thought. It became a habit.

The “unloaded” status of the gun is the final layer of safety, not the first or only one. The first layer of safety is the shooter’s own good habits.

  • Learn safe, efficient ways to handle the gun.
  • Practice those actions often, so they become good habits.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings so you notice when the situation has changed enough that your built-in habits need your conscious attention.
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SHOT Show 2016

Over the next few days, I’ll be posting more often than usual on my Cornered Cat Facebook page, with pictures and descriptions of products that catch my eye. As always, these are not reviews or recommendations, just a quick snapshot of things that might interest you. (When I write a review, you can trust that I have used and worn the product for a significant time — daily carry for two weeks is my baseline for holster reviews — because I’m committed to being honest with you. Anything less than that would be dishonest.)

In other notes, it’s probably time to revisit the Holster Safety and the Four Rules article and the related piece on How to Choose a Safe Holster, both of which are worth a read if you haven’t seen them before. It’s amazing how many unsafe and downright foolish product designs are out there, so today’s a good day to think about that if you’re following me on Facebook.

More soon!

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Mass shooting survival

After an event, there’s always a lot of coulda-woulda-shoulda from both people who were there and from people who were not. It’s very easy to get caught up in the idea that we know what would have happened if this or if that. But we really don’t. Hindsight is every bit as limited as foresight. It only does (and only can!) tell us what actually happened, not what would have happened if things had been different.

But even with that, we can figure out some very broad principles based on what has happened at multiple events. For example, we know that most of the time, the attacker will quit (often killing themselves) at the first sign of effective resistance. We also know that this is not always true — and that when it is untrue, it can result in the death of the would-be hero who has rushed in to save the day.

We know that hesitation kills or sometimes cripples the would be good guy. (See here for one example.)

We know that sometimes, heroes — even unarmed heroes — save lives. (See here for one example.)

We know that a well-trained person who is armed only with a handgun can sometimes stop multiple, determined attackers who have long guns. (See here for one example.)

We know that most survivors of any mass event are the ones who simply left at the first sign of trouble. They didn’t wait around to indulge their curiosity. They didn’t wait to meet up with friends or family. They may have grabbed others on their way to safety but they didn’t stay to argue if others wouldn’t come. They simply left.

We know that many survivors hide from trouble and don’t get found. We know that some “play dead” so the attacker will shoot other, living people and leave them alone. We know that sometimes this strategy works.

We know that would-be survivors who are hiding and are found are often sitting ducks for the attacker. We also know that sometimes, attackers repeatedly shoot the fallen bodies of their victims, to make sure they are really dead. We know that “playing dead” sometimes turns into real death and that when it does, the victims literally have no chance to change their minds about the strategy they chose.

We know that most experts recommend: Run. Hide. Fight. — in that order. There’s a reason for that.

We know that it makes sense to set up a tactical ambush, so you are prepared to fight from your hiding place.

We also know that in open areas such as shopping malls and large stores, the victims may be able to see the killer actively murdering people from a long way away.

For me, I’ll take the “run, hide, fight” thing. The best thing I can do to survive and help others survive is to get out of the area and deny the killer a chance at more victims. But I’ll also carry a weapon that I absolutely know I can use effectively at up to 100 yards, to hit a man-sized target at that distance. And yes, I’m talking about my everyday carry gun, my little Glock 26 — because it’s not about the guns we carry. It’s about the skills we have to use those guns.

I’d hate to be in a place where I could see murders happening at a distance, but couldn’t trust myself and my equipment to take that shot if necessary.

I’m not going to run to the sound of the guns; I’m going to leave if I can. But if I’m there, if I can’t leave, and if I can see what’s happening well enough to gamble everything I own and everything I am on getting it right — I will do whatever it takes to stop that threat before it gets close enough to kill me and the people I love.

***

Edited to add: Some folks have expressed skepticism about pistol shots at 100 yards. It’s doable, with appropriate training and good practice; and it can be trusted, with appropriate training and good practice. But I was wrong to use a specific distance, especially a distance that seems so unlikely to so many shooters, because the point really wasn’t about the specific distance nor was it about what I personally can do. It was about knowing — absolutely knowing, not believing, not hoping, but knowing — what we can do with the equipment we carry. Whether it’s 2 yards or 10 yards or 27 yards or far more than that, doesn’t matter nearly as much as knowing what we can trust ourselves to do.

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“Why are you breaking my kayak?”

Every once in awhile, I run across a video that beautifully illustrates an important self-defense concept. This one has the virtue of being kind of hilarious, too.

For the best laughs, be sure to watch the entire thing.

Lately, I’ve been playing with the difference between social violence and non-social (or asocial) violence. The difference between these two types of violence is one thing this video illustrates in an annoyingly hilarious way.

Social tactics … ftw?

Note how the woman tried to solve her problem with the bear by using tactics that would appeal to the bear’s sense of social fairness and good manners.

  • Placation: “Thank you for not eating my kayak.”
  • Threats: “I’m going to pepper spray you in the face. That’s what I’m going to do to you.”
  • Complaints: “You’re breaking it! You’re breaking my kayak!”
  • Questions: “Why are you doing that? Why are you breaking my kayak? What am I gonna do?”
  • Ineffectual Demands: “Bear! Stop that! Stop that, bear!”
  • Pleading: “Pleeeeeease! Please stop! Aaaah, why are you doing that? Please stop! Bear, please stop, bear!”
  • Recrimination: “It’s the end of September. Why are you here? You’re supposed to be asleep!”
  • More Pleading: “Bear, stop that. Please stop that, bear. Please stop that. Please stop that, bear. Please stop. Bear, please stop…”
  • Appeal to Justice: “Please stop breaking my things. Please stop breaking my things, bear.”
  • Appeal to Logic: “It’s not even food! It doesn’t even taste good! It’s just plastic!”
  • More Threats: “I’m gonna bear spray you. Please stop!”

Her attacker wasn’t in a socially-compatible place, and thus all her appeals to his sense of justice, fairness, and logic fell flat. Social strategies were not going to solve this problem.

Here’s the lesson.

Some criminals attack their victims for social reasons: ego, status, fear. Or to educate and correct perceived ‘misbehavior’ from others.

Other criminals attack for non-social reasons: because they enjoy the process of harming and humiliating their victims, or because they view their victims as little more than a walking ATM where they can grab some quick cash.

Like bears, criminals who attack for non-social reasons are generally immune to social pressure. The problem can be solved, but it won’t be solved by whiny appeals to justice, logic, and the attacker’s sense of fair play.

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Irresponsible Gadgets

But let’s face it, once you’ve grown bad-ass enough that you can take out a guy with your car keys and a rubber chew toy, you can pretty much use whatever happens to be laying around and don’t need to make a special purchase. – Rodion Medvedev in “The 13 Most Irresponsible Self Defense Gadgets Money Can Buy

This, right here, is why I get upset when people peddle silly little keychain doodads as ideal self-defense tools ‘for women’. It’s not that the gadgets don’t work, or can’t be made to work. It’s that they require so much skill to use effectively that it amounts to criminal dishonesty to hand that type of tool to an untrained person and tell the untrained person that simply having this thing will keep them safe.

Having a tool that we don’t know how to effectively use might make us feel safer, but it won’t actually make us any safer than we are right now without it. This is key.

I love, love, LOVE the idea of having lots of self defense options, especially including lower levels of force. Every tool and technique, from every single part of the force spectrum, comes with benefits and drawbacks. Every one of them has things they require from their users and things their owners need to know about using them safely and effectively. No exceptions!

That’s why it’s so very important to be honest with ourselves, and with each other, when we suggest people arm themselves with any tool, deadly or not so deadly. We always need to how what this particular tool requires of the user — in terms of physical skill, commitment to act, personal awareness, safe handling, and so on. Those are important things to know!

The particular challenge with contact tools is that people may — without good training beforehand, almost certainly will — use them to remain engaged with the assailant in circumstances where remaining engaged would be the very worst possible response. In other words, it’s not just the tool itself that we need to know how to work. It’s everything surrounding its use: good awareness, smart tactics, legal and practical understanding, de-escalation and disengagement skills, and on and on. Selling people on the idea that we can shortcut that process is … problematic. No matter which tools we’re talking about. (And before you ask: yes, that absolutely includes firearms!)

If someone tries to sell you a defensive tool that they say doesn’t require any work or learning on your part, or a tool that can be used safely by you as the defender but that can never be used against you by the attacker — they are LYING. They may mean well, but they are not telling the truth. You might decide to buy the product, if it fits your goals and plans and commitment to act. But don’t buy that story, because it’s a lie.

The rule of thumb is this: the simpler and less potentially damaging the defensive tool is, the more work it takes to learn how to use it effectively. Put another way, force multipliers really only work well when there is already some force to multiply. Learning to generate that force takes work, and that’s before we even include all the surrounding skill sets and knowledge bases.

Buyers beware…

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