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Guest post: What’s the Story Behind ATF “Banning” 5.56mm Ammo?

If you’ve been following this blog very long, you know that I have literally never featured a guest post before. However, when Glenn Bellamy sent this to my email box the other day, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to shed a little light on an important issue that’s been confusing for a lot of people.

For those who wonder why Cornered Cat would ever talk about political issues related to guns, please [click here.] That should explain things (the short version is, I’m all about teaching women how to protect themselves using guns, and sometimes that means that we need to learn something about how to protect the guns we use to protect ourselves). And if, after reading this excellent article from Glenn Bellamy, you feel motivated to write to your representatives — please do!

What’s the Story Behind ATF “Banning” 5.56mm Ammo?

(. . . and what can you do about it?)

 By Glenn D. Bellamy, Armorer-at-Law®

March 5, 2015

There’s been no shortage of misinformation and hyperbole about an ATF memo released on February 13th reported to “ban AR15 ammo.”  The memo describes a “framework” by which ATF proposes it would consider requests for “sporting purpose” exemptions under the federal statute banning the manufacture, importation or sale (but not possession) of “armor piercing” projectiles.  I’ve searched and research the law and the facts behind it with passion over the last two weeks. I’m tempted to write a legal brief in opposition, or at least to give it a thorough fisking.  But that would bore you and be wasted on the ATF at this point.

Instead, I’ll give you the skinny on what’s going on and the most effective thing(s) you can do about it.

 The Skinny

 Back in 1986, Congress debated — and passed — a law purported to protect law enforcement officers from evil “cop killer” bullets (the Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act).  Since virtually every rifle round will penetrate the soft body armor worn by police, the law became focused on ammunition designed for handguns.  Rather than define what would be prohibited by performance (whether it could penetrate body armor), they compromised on a definition based on the projectile or projectile core being “constructed entirely (excluding the presence of traces of other substances) from one or a combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium.”  Certain ammunition was expressly excluded from the ban, including lead-free shot pellets and any projectile “which the Attorney General finds is primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes.” Later, the law was amended to add a second category: full jacketed projectiles larger than .22 caliber “designed and intended for use in a handgun” and whose jacket has a weight of more than 25 percent of the total weight.

ammo-diagram M855 “ball” ammo (and its NATO counterpart, designated SS109), sometimes called “green tip,” uses a copper-jacketed projectile with a core made in part from steel and part from lead.  Since its core is not made “entirely” from steel and its jacket is less than 25% of the total weight, it does not fall within the scope of either definition of “armor piercing” ammo in the law.  Nevertheless, as soon as the law was passed in 1986, ATF “granted” an unnecessary “sporting purposes” exemption for M855 ammo.  In the “Framework” memo, ATF (erroneously) says “AR-type handguns were not commercially available when the armor piercing ammunition exemption was granted in 1986.” If that were true, then no exemption would have been necessary. The statute only applies to handgun ammo. Now, citing the proliferation of AR-platform handguns and glossing over the fact that its projectile core is not made “entirely” of steel, ATF singled out M855 as a specific example of ammo that would fail the criteria of its new “framework” and is withdrawing its prior “exemption.”

ATF is blatantly misreading the language of the federal law.  The statute says:

. . . a projectile or projectile core being which may be used in a handgun and which is constructed entirely (excluding the presence of traces of other substances) from one or a combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium.  (Emphasis added)

Although not explained in the memo, ATF issued a “Special Advisory” dated February 27, 2015, revealing their distortion of the law:

It is important to note that the limitation on “armor piercing ammunition” in the GCA does not apply to projectiles manufactured exclusively from non-restricted materials such as copper and lead; it only applies to projectiles that include the specifically restricted materials, and can be used in a handgun.

See the difference? This is a perversion of the clear language of the law and cannot be tolerated.

 What To Do?

 This “framework” has been a couple of years in the making, but both the political left and right recognize it as an implementation of the President’s promise to the anti-gun lobby to use every administrative means possible to make up for their legislative failures. For a very insightful article (with only a few factual errors), see this Huffington Post blog. So, while the action taken by ATF isn’t a “ban of all AR15 ammo,” it does require a response.  The question is: How do we respond effectively?

Two ways: 1) Send your comments to ATF and 2) write to your Senators and Representatives asking them to sign on to Congressional letters to ATF and to support proposed legislation that would curb ATF’s abuses in this area.

When ATF published its proposed “framework,” it invited public comments for 30 days (ending March 16, 2015). As a starting point, ATF skirted the official procedure for creating regulations that implement federal laws. (See instructions for submitting comments on page 17 of the ATF memo.)

Substantive rules of this kind are supposed to have a 90-day comment period and other steps before going into effect.  Here, ATF characterized their rule change as a “framework” by which they will consider requests for exemptions for ammo that otherwise would be prohibited under the “primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes” exception and published it simply as a “notice” to the industry.

Make no mistake, ATF doesn’t care how you “feel” about their latest action, and rants about how everything they do is unconstitutional and evil will be ignored and discarded as off-topic. The only comments with any potential to influence ATF are those explaining why the proposed action exceeds or violates the agency’s statutory authority, internal conflicts or inconsistencies in what is being proposed, and unintended consequences they have overlooked. Feel free to borrow liberally from my example letter. This option is worth your time, but is unlikely to be effective alone.

Your elected officials should care how you feel — after all, they want your vote to be re-elected. But, more importantly, tell them what you think and what know about this subject (ATF’s misrepresentations in the Proposed Framework and skirting proper rulemaking procedure).  Then ask them to do something specific.

Congress can apply pressure in various ways to curtail rogue agencies.  The topic has picked up some inertia in Washington and even been noticed by the main-stream media outlets. A group of more than 250 (so far) Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have signed this letter to ATF Director B. Todd Jones.  A similar letter is being circulated in the Senate by Chuck Grassley. Specifically ask your Senators and Representative to sign these letters. If the House or Senate Judiciary Committees schedule hearing on this topic, it may be enough to put the brakes on ATF’s plans.

Congress also has the power to change the law so it won’t be misinterpreted, although it’s hard to think of clearer language than “a projectile or projectile core . . . constructed entirely” from a specific list of materials. Articles about proposed bills being drafted can be found here and here. Specifically ask your Senators and Representative to support these efforts.  When a bill is officially introduced, write again asking for support of the bill by name or number.

You can find contact information for your Senators here and your Representative here. Below is a template you can use if you wish.  Please write!

 Dear ______,

 I am writing to you about concerns I have with the recently proposed ATF Framework for Determining Whether Certain Projectiles are “Primarily Intended for Sporting Purposes” Within the Meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(17).  The Proposed Framework relies on several erroneous assumptions of fact and law, which render the entire underlying proposed framework untenable.

 First, it is in direct conflict with the express language of the law. The ammunition known as M855 does not have a core “constructed entirely of . . . steel.” ATF is misinterpreting the law to allow only bullets “manufactured exclusively from non-restricted materials.”  This turns the statute on its head and this kind of regulatory abuse cannot be allowed to continue.  ATF’s “Framework” needlessly removes from commerce one of the most common types of ammunition used in the most common type of rifle in America today.  There is no evidence whatsoever that M855 ammunition has posed a particular threat to the lives of law enforcement personnel in the last 20 years.

 Second, it is an attempt by ATF to skirt the proper rulemaking process under the Administrative Procedures Act (5 U.S.C. 533). ATF is proposing a significant and substantive regulatory change whose flaws would be exposed when subjected to the public scrutiny of a 90-day comment period.

 I ask that you sign the letter to ATF Director B. Todd Jones being circulated among members of the [Senate/House] opposing the agency’s action.  I understand that bills are being drafted and will be introduced soon to curtail ATF’s authority in interpreting the law banning armor piercing handgun ammunition.  Please cosponsor or support such a bill when it is introduced.

                                                                         Thank you,


That was the end of Glenn’s article and this is me again. There’s an important update!

First: ATF is definitely not playing fair, and is breaking its own rules. Yesterday, Katie Pavlich reported that ATF’s new regulation booklet that came out in January — which comes out every ten years and takes months to alter — had already banned the ammunition in question. In other words, the 30-day comment period which began in mid-February and ends March 16 was just for show, all along.

Then, this morning, the ATF issued a “Notice of Publishing Error.” Translation: oops, we got caught. Pay no attention to the man behind that curtain.

Contact your politicians. They need to hear from us.

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Bad habits bite

People who’ve taken one of my classes know that we spend a lot of time working on a safe, smooth drawstroke — and just as much time learning how to put the gun safely back into the holster. This is particularly important when it comes to putting the gun away when you’re wearing a cover garment.

Over on YouTube, there’s a short news segment, roughly five minutes long, that first aired about a year ago. It’s making the rounds again, and it made an excellent point, so you should probably go watch it. Sadly and annoyingly, the copyright owners chose to disallow embedding, so you’ll have to go over to YouTube to view the complete video. You can find it at [this link].

There are actually two important lessons in the video, even though the people who made it thought there was only one.

Lesson One (the point the producers intended to make): if you have a jacket with a drawstring toggle, you should either cut the toggle off or pin it out of the way whenever you carry your gun. Otherwise, the toggle can get caught in the trigger guard as you holster and it could fire the gun when you adjust your jacket. 1


Toggles can cause trouble.

Toggles can cause trouble.


Whether or not you have a drawstring toggle on your jacket, pay attention whenever you holster your gun. Don’t be thinking about other things while you handle a loaded weapon. Don’t be casual. Do consciously and carefully move your cover garment out of the way, and do stop — instantly! — if you feel anything unusual while you’re holstering. (As you watch the video, notice the man’s casually distracted body language as he holsters the gun. What do you think — was that a contributing factor to this equipment problem?)


If the toggle slips into the trigger guard, it can fire the gun when the shooter adjusts her jacket.

If the toggle slips into the trigger guard, it can fire the gun when the shooter adjusts her jacket.


Now for Lesson Two, the one the producers didn’t realize they were teaching. At 4:47, you hear one of the talking heads explain that the officer involved in this situation also had another unintentional shooting a few years back when he shot himself in the hand “with a gun he thought was unloaded.”

Gosh… I wonder what kind of ongoing bad gunhandling habit this man had, that could have prompted that previous injury? Anyone?


What bad gunhandling habit do you see in this still from a surveillance video?

What bad gunhandling habit do you see in this still captured on a surveillance video?

Stay safe.


  1. Although it’s tempting, don’t fall for the bit of misdirection about the brand of gun involved here. This type of unintentional shooting happens with all types of guns, including revolvers and those with external, manual safeties as well. It’s not a brand problem. It’s a behavior problem.

By now, even parts of Hollywood seem to have gotten the message about keeping your finger off the trigger until you’re in the very act of firing the gun. That’s good. But that’s not all there is to the story.

From Sandusky, Ohio comes the report of a law enforcement officer who slipped on ice and fell as he prepared to enter a home on search warrant. As he fell, his gun fired unintentionally and the bullet struck him in the leg.

Let me repeat here what I’ve often said before: Like Will Rogers, all I know is what I read in the papers. I don’t have inside information about this event and I wasn’t there. For all I know, everything could have happened 180 degrees different from what the news accounts reported.

However, the story does give us a nice little springboard to talk about where, exactly, we put the finger when we take it off the trigger — and why. I’ve often had experienced shooters in class who let go of the trigger and place it alongside the trigger guard, something like this:

A common way self-taught shooters take their fingers off the trigger.

One common way self-taught shooters take their fingers off the trigger.

This way of holding the gun, with the trigger finger alongside the trigger guard and slightly relaxed, does get your finger off the trigger. That’s good. It’s much safer than standing there with your finger resting directly on the trigger, and certainly safer than moving around with your finger on the trigger.

But it’s not best, and here’s why: when someone loses their balance or trips, their hands will naturally clench. That same clenched-hand reflex can also be triggered by other causes, such as a simple sneeze or even just hearing a loud noise when you’re tensed up.

With the finger alongside the trigger guard, it’s very likely that any startle response will force that finger right back onto the trigger — with noisy and embarrassing results. That’s why it’s so unsurprising to see a news article about someone who fired a round as he slipped on the ice while he was holding a gun.

Here’s a much better and safer way to get your finger off the trigger:

Placing the finger high on the gun's frame, at the natural limit of movement, ensures that it won't slip onto the trigger if the shooter slips and falls.

Place the finger high on the gun’s frame, at the natural limit of movement. This makes it less likely for the finger to slip onto the trigger if the shooter slips and falls.

This change in technique, which places the trigger finger high on the gun’s frame, improves your ability to handle the human startle reflex when you have a gun in your hand. Because the finger is already at its natural limit of movement, it reduces the chances that a sudden slip of the foot will put unexpected holes in things that don’t need to be shot.

With this change in behavior, the shooter can also feel the ejection port underneath his finger. That “felt index” of a specific point on the frame provides the shooter with good feedback about where his finger actually is, which helps reduce the risk of oopsies caused by casual unawareness.

One more thing. Putting the finger high on the frame is a habit, which means it’s something you should do every time you handle the gun — not just when you feel you might slip and fall. Practice this finger placement at the range every time you shoot, and at home every time you pick up the gun. When you build an ongoing, solid habit of holding the gun in the safest and most secure way you can, that makes it much more likely that you’ll do it that way when you’re under stress and moving rapidly.

Stay safe.

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Training requirement

From Georgia comes a political news story that many in the gun world find ironic: a state representative who voted against a widened concealed carry bill last year, but then applied for a carry permit this year. When his permit came in the mail, he suddenly realized that he hadn’t had any training. That’s a common process (more about that in a minute), but because this man is a political creature, it didn’t occur to him to just go learn more for himself. Instead…

ATLANTA – Rep. Dexter Sharper didn’t vote to allow guns to be carried in more places in Georgia last year. But when the so-called “guns everywhere” law took effect last summer and permitted firearms in bars, schools, churches and government offices, the legislator from Valdosta found himself applying for a license.

… he said he now realizes that his pistol is of little use without guidance as to what to do with it. He suspects other inexperienced, gun-toting Georgians know too little about the state’s gun laws, or how to safely use and store firearms, as well.

Sharper is proposing that those who get a license to carry firearms be required to take a gun safety class.

[Read the whole thing]

That’s the way it often works in states without a training requirement: people apply for the license, receive it, and then get to thinking… “Oh my gosh, they gave this thing to me and I haven’t learned a thing about carrying a gun! I’d better go get some training.” And many of them do. 1 This self-driven training process produces eager, motivated learners who often continue training to the advanced levels (where every person who carries a gun should eventually end up). Whether or not they end up at the advanced level, each student in such states does end up with a level of training that meets their own needs within their unique set of personal circumstances.

In states where training is required by law, it works differently. The person applies for a license and learns they have to take a class in order to get that license. So being human, they go looking for the cheapest, fastest way to get the paperwork completed. Online? Sure! Shortcut class that barely meets state law? Good! Whatever, just get me that paper. All too many of the applicants don’t much care what will be taught in the class; 2 they’re just looking for a signature on a certificate. They get it and they’re done. Good instructors soon become frustrated and burned out by running diploma mills for unmotivated students, 3 and as for the students? Well, the state said they have learned enough as soon as that piece of paper is in hand, so why would they ever look for more? They’re done.

I’m always impressed with instructors in training-required states who can take a constant stream of reluctant students who are just looking for a rubber stamp and turn any of them into serious learners. That’s not an easy job.

And that brings us to my bottom line here.

This sometimes surprises people who know what a big fan I am of training, but I am very much against any law that requires people to take a class before they’re allowed to carry a firearm for self defense. There are three reasons for this.

  • Self defense is the most basic of all human rights. As a matter of principle, I oppose any government action that impinges on that right.
  • Laws that make it harder for ordinary people to carry necessary tools for self defense have a disproportionate impact on the poor. As a matter of ethics, I oppose any government act that makes staying alive harder for people who already face an uphill struggle doing that.
  • Laws that require training often function paradoxically: they force people to take minimal training while making it less likely that they will pursue good training. As a practical matter, I oppose training-required laws because I’m a fan of ongoing, personally-motivated training that encourages each individual to reach the highest level they are able to achieve given their own unique set of needs and circumstances.

h/t SayUncle

[edited to fix a typo]


  1. Not all, of course. But many. The most common category of non-trained people with carry permits in these states seems to be, people who don’t carry and never intended to. That’s because in many states, there are advantages to having the permit that have nothing at all to do with carrying the gun, such as a shortened or non-existent wait time for gun purchases or an easier set of rules for transporting your guns to the range.
  2. Some do and good for them! Yay for personal motivation wherever it strikes.
  3. With an occasional, refreshing gem of an eager student who makes the grind worthwhile. Again, hooray for that person!
Teach your children well

The post was titled, “Why certain people should NOT own guns.” It caught my eye because I figured it would be a funny (or not-so-funny) story about someone doing something foolish on a public range.

It wasn’t.

It was actually the story of a man having a conversation with his own stepmother, whom he believed was anti-gun because she was always giving him grief about his hobbies. Here’s the money quote:

I told her “Look, I like to shoot. I like paintball and airsoft…” … There was a short exchange about how if you don’t like guns, don’t own one, I don’t bring mine around here because it obviously offends you, etc.

OUT OF THE BLUE she goes “I actually own a gun, I keep it loaded for home protection! I don’t know where it’s at, but I have one…”

I was appalled.

My TODDLERS play in the closets and bedrooms of their house, and you’re telling me that you don’t have a clue where your LOADED 9mm is!??!??!?!


Want some lessons from this post? Sure! Here they are.

1) Don’t assume that your children will never see a loaded gun, just because you lock your guns up. Yes, if you own a gun, you should lock it up whenever it’s not under the immediate control of a responsible adult. And so should every responsible gun owner! But don’t fool yourself: not everyone has gotten that memo.

That brings us to the next point.

2) Don’t assume that people who hate guns don’t own them. Sometimes they do. Sometimes you’ve misunderstood someone’s “hatred” of guns and it’s really something else entirely — a distaste for a political position, a distrust of the people listening to the conversation, some kind of rhetorical point or just a little misdirection so they won’t have to deal with a touchy subject. Sometimes the people you least expect to own guns, do. And (see point #1) sometimes, those people store their guns in incredibly stupid ways.

Which brings us to the most important point of all:

3) Your kids need to know what to do if they find a gun. This is true even if you never intend to take your children to the range with you, even if you hate guns, even if you think that nobody in your life will ever expose your kids to guns, even if your kids are small and irresponsible little people. You might even think it’s awful that you have to teach your kids how stay safe around firearms. But that does not change the world around you even one tiny bit. It doesn’t change your neighbors, your relatives, or your friends. More than half the homes in America have guns in them and I guarantee you that the gun ownership in every single one of those homes is a surprise to somebody.

Don’t know where to start? Start here: Teach your kids what to do if they find a gun.

As I’ve said many times before, if you want to protect yourself and the people you love, you must work with the world where you actually live, not the world you wish you lived in.

If you see a gun, STOP!
Don’t touch it.
Leave the area.
Tell an adult.

Hard to watch

In the video below, you’ll see an incredible event: a machete-wielding attacker literally hacks his way through a locked apartment door. The resident does what he needs to do to protect himself and others in the home. It’s like a scene out of a horror movie — but most directors wouldn’t use the footage, because what audience would believe that a door could be so flimsy? Or that someone with a machete would hack his way through it? Nevertheless, this really happened. 1

What you’ll hear in the first few moments is the sound of the upstairs neighbor going crazy and breaking windows in his own apartment, and the residents deciding how to protect themselves from the threat of violence.

There are a lot of potential lessons here. We could talk about:

  • The smart strategic choice the residents made when they decided to stay behind that locked door until the intruder entered. Not only was it physically safer for everyone involved, it was also legally and morally safer. The authorities, the witnesses, and the shooter himself each could have no doubt that the shooter did what he had to do in order to survive. That one smart choice sidesteps some very ugly potential pitfalls a shooter might otherwise need to face after the incident.
  • The speed of the police response. On the video, you can hear one person say that the police had already been called before the attacker got through the door. Sometimes, you will hear people who don’t understand how fast criminal events can happen. They’ll say something like, “You should just call the police and let them deal with it.” The problem is, the police don’t have a teleporter and they won’t be at your door instantly! Even if you do have time to call them, you may not have time to wait for them to arrive. Being prepared to defend yourself is not at odds with calling the police to protect you. In the real world, these two ideas actually work hand in hand. They aren’t opposites.
  • After the shooting. It won’t be easy, but you’ll want to listen to the entire recording, including the conversations that happen after the shooting. It’s not graphic — the screen will black out — but the voices will send a chill up your spine. Listen anyway. This is what the aftermath of a shooting sounds like.

After the shooting, you can hear the painful sound of the intruder’s response to getting shot — loud groans and labored breathing.

You hear the stress in the shooter’s voice when he says, “I didn’t want to do that!” at 1:50-1:59.

This isn’t about an inhuman monster shooting another inhuman monster, as some political commenters might claim. It’s about an ordinary man facing an extraordinary threat against himself and his loved ones, and doing what he absolutely had to do in order to save innocent lives. After the incident, the shooter is not cheering the downfall of a “goblin.” He’s mourning the fact that he had to shoot another human being.

This is as real as it gets.

You hear the exact reason why the shooter pulled the trigger beginning around 3:55.

Intruder: Ah, you’ve killed me.

Shooter: You were going to kill me!

Intruder: Yeah, I was.

The intruder survived and is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence. The shooter faced no charges.

h/t Tim at Gun Nuts Media.


  1. “As we’ve mentioned a few times before, the real world occasionally gives rise to murderers so terrifyingly crazy that if we saw them in a horror film, we would instantly write them off as utterly ridiculous B-movie cheese.” — E. Reid Ross and Ivan Farkas in Cracked
Tab Clearing

So many things to talk about and learn! Check out some of these links for a good dose of brain food today.

Ammo advice from the internet’s queen of snark: “If you are a regular shooter, you should know roughly what your monthly ammunition consumption is. If you keep that amount of ammo times six on hand, and replace it as it gets used, then ammo panics are non-events for you unless they run longer than six months.”


Valkyries and Valhalla might seem fantastic and unrelated to ordinary people living ordinary lives, but they’re not. You’ll want to read everything at the link, but it seems only right to give you a quote to get you started. Here’s what John Mosby has to say about accepting the things you can’t control — and the things you can:

When the bell tolls for you, and you are in a gunfight, you have exactly zero control of the outcome. You have zero control over who you will be fighting. You have zero control over what training he has had. You have zero control over his speed and accuracy. You have zero control over whether he moves at the moment you break your shot, causing you to miss. You are not in control over anything that you are not in control of. Accept it. Embrace it. Accept responsibility for what you are responsible for.

So, what are you responsible for, that will make a difference? Why bother training, if we don’t have control anyway?

You are responsible for you. You are responsible for your actions. You do have control over who your enemy will be fighting. You have control over the training you will have had. You have control over what speed and accuracy you will be able to achieve. You have control over whether you are fit enough to move, fast enough. You are in control of everything that you are in control of. Accept that responsibility.


What does refund fraud have to do with self defense? Quite a lot! Defensive firearms Greg Ellifritz explains: “If your grocery store has a gift card-for-cash machine, it WILL attract a criminal element that wouldn’t otherwise frequent the store. If the criminals are there while you shop, you are more likely to be victimized. These criminals are the same people who will also steal from a person like you if given the opportunity.”


Love to hear accounts of good people winning. In this case, a convicted sex offender tried to break into a home in South Texas while the female homeowner was there alone. She did what she needed to do, then called the police. The intruder was dead on the scene, and Sheriff Michael Lindsey Ray had this to say about the incident: “Presently, as the result of underfunding and inadequate staffing at the Van Zandt County Sheriff’s Office, homeowners need to take appropriate precautions to protect their families. I will continue to support the law abiding citizens of our community when they are forced to take actions to protect their lives, liberty and property.”

The only thing I would add is that the need to protect yourself and your loved ones does not rely on government funding. But you knew that!


This is what determination looks like. (Please note that I have no information about this incident other than what’s in the linked report, which obviously may be incorrect and is certainly incomplete.) According to reporters from KRNV-DT, the driver of a Toyota forced an Audi off the road. Here’s what happened next:

When the victim came out of his Audi, the suspect — identified as Cesar Romero — exited his Toyota brandishing a handgun. 

Romero fired one round striking the victim in the chest area. 

Officials say the victim fought with Romero and took the gun away from him. The victim then struck Romero with his own gun about the head area. The victim’s brother then came to the victim’s aid and helped fight with Romero. Romero fled on foot to a residence in the area, according to police. 

The victim sustained a gunshot wound to his chest. The victim’s vehicle was reportedly disabled, so he took Romero’s vehicle and drove himself to the Northern Nevada Medical Center so that he could be treated. The victim was transferred to Renown for the treatment of non-life threatening wounds.

The guy got shot in the chest, wrestled the gun away from the attacker, and then took the attacker’s car so that he could drive himself to get medical care. He did not just give up when attacked — he fought and he kept going until he got the help he needed.

If you’re alive enough to know you were hit, you’re alive enough to choose survival. Don’t quit. Don’t ever quit.


Realistic scenarios make a difference. In this case, a Ferguson protester was invited to try out the training simulator used by local police. He was shocked to discover that incidents of sudden violence may force a deadly response even against unarmed suspects.

During his first scenario, Robinson was forced to shoot at a man who rushed at him with a knife.

“I tried to approach the situation very calm and he immediately got defensive and pulled his knife out,” Robinson said. “I had to respond, either respond or be killed.”

In that scenario, Robinson shooting the suspect was determined to be justified, but other scenarios were not so clear. Other scenarios led Robinson to shoot unarmed suspects, even firing the training weapon, instead of the taser, on a man running at him with what Robinson believed to be a knife — which turned out to be the suspect’s fist and not a weapon.

Ultimately, Robinson only used his taser in one out of nine scenarios, but shot unarmed suspects in at least three cases.

“It was an amazing experience, I would even say a life-changing experience,” said Robinson.

My usual readers may be thinking, “What does any of that have to do with us? We’re not cops.” And that’s true — we’re not. But many of the same issues that come into play during law enforcement shootings will very likely be present if you ever need to use your gun for self defense.

Even regular citizens may need to shoot an unarmed attacker, or may fire a shot that hits the assailant in the back, or may find themselves embroiled in a politically volatile crisis after defending themselves from an attacker. The better that we (and our friends and neighbors) understand the practical realities of using force, the better prepared we will be to act quickly and appropriately during the criminal encounter. The goal is to survive the event and then weather its aftermath in good legal, practical, emotional, and financial shape. Having a clear picture of what criminal violence looks like can help.


Heartbreaking mug shot. That’s the grieving face of a 20-year veteran officer who killed one of his own students during a training session.

Schroeter-mug-shotThe presentment states on Oct. 20 Schroeter, with an attorney present, gave a statement to law enforcement investigators. Schroeter told investigators that before the training session he removed the magazine of the department issued Sig Sauer while it was still holstered. He then said he emptied all of the bullets from the magazine.

He allegedly told investigators he did not perform a safety check of the firearm during the training session.

Thinking the weapon was not loaded, Schroeter said he squeezed the trigger and heard a bang. He reportedly saw the action slide on the firearm and saw Kedra grab onto his side after he heard the noise.

Schroeter told investigators he was “one hundred percent certain” his firearm was empty and there was not a round in the chamber.

Ballistics later confirmed the bullet that killed Kedra came from Schroeter’s gun.

People, no matter how unloaded you think your gun is, no matter how certain you are that it’s really unloaded — please do not break the other three rules. Even in a classroom, even with all ammunition removed from the area, even with an unloaded gun, even if you are a really experienced shooter.

You never want that face to be your own.

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How gauche

Injuries from loaded guns usually arise from longstanding bad habits with unloaded ones.

Here’s a case in point, a severe hand injury posted by user hunterrwill on Instagram. 1 (Link possibly NSFW for gory pictures. You can see the same pictures in the screenshot below the jump at the bottom of this post.)

Before digging into the meat of what we need to talk about here, let me first take care of an important human issue. I’ve never met the person who posted these pictures, and know absolutely nothing about him other than what he says about himself in this one post. But even though that’s all I know about him, there’s one thing I can say about him, personally: he’s brave. He did something foolish and painful, and then instead of hiding it or not telling anyone about it, he put his story out there so that the rest of us could learn from what he did. That takes guts. Full kudos to him for that.

Since this ugly event cost him so much and since he put it out there so that others can learn, the least we can do is learn from it. So let’s get started.

What happened?

Here’s how the shooter describes the painful incident:

I had just made it home from work and was gonna oil my gun and put my new grip pin and trigger pins in the gun. It was loaded with gold dot +Ps and I dropped the mag racked the slide and was pulling the trigger to take the slide off and had my palm in front of the muzzle to pull the tabs down like I would with any unloaded glock. I shot through my hand and out my wrist.

I did everything correctly as far as mechanically unloading the gun but the bullet didn’t eject. It’s been a good learning experience for me, even though it sucks to have to learn the hard way to triple check, it’s worth it in the end. 2

When the gun fired, this shooter won his Bullet Surprise, finding a round (the hard way) inside a gun after he had unloaded it. Most noisy mistakes of this nature happen when someone does things in the wrong order or when they skip a step entirely as they’re unloading the gun — that is, they rack the slide and then drop the magazine, or they forget to drop the magazine at all. But in this case, the shooter did go through the motions in the right order: mag first, then slide. 3

To understand how the round could have stayed in the chamber even though the shooter removed the magazine and racked the slide, please read the Bullet Surprise article. But to understand what happened in the human behavior sense, we need to dig a little deeper.

When we jump into human behavior questions, it’s easy to think that we’re making things too personal — like we’re just bashing or hating on this poor guy who was brave enough to share his story. That’s not the point. What happened to him could happen to any one of us, if the same factors come together for us. The point here is to stop those factors from coming together for anyone else. That’s it and that’s all.

In the comments section of this and similar stories from others, people often point out the one, big, obvious lesson: when you unload a gun, you should always check to see that the gun is really unloaded before you do anything else with it. And that’s important, as we’ll see below.

But it’s not the only lesson we can take away from this one. And it’s far from the most important.

Why did this happen?

Look again at the shooter’s description of what happened. He reported that he:

  • Dropped the magazine,
  • racked the slide,
  • put his left hand in front of the muzzle, and
  • pulled the trigger.

Wait, what? He put his left hand in front of the muzzle? Why in the world would he do that?

The answer boils down to one word: habit. In the shooter’s own words, he put his palm in front of the muzzle “like I would with any unloaded Glock.” Pointing the gun at himself during the disassembly process was a longstanding, built-in habit. It was something this shooter did all the time, every time he disassembled his Glock.

Don’t do it this way

To show how this bad habit happens — and how to prevent it happening to you — I talked a friend of mine into modeling some unsafe behavior in front of the camera.

The gun is a Glock 19. To make the gun safe for these pictures, we took it apart and removed its barrel. Then we replaced the real barrel with a bright yellow Training Barrel from Blade Tech. This simple piece of plastic makes it impossible to load or fire any type of ammunition from the gun.

In order to safely show some unsafe behavior, we're using a Training Barrel from Blade Tech to disable the gun. With this piece of yellow plastic replacing the gun's barrel, the gun could never hold (let alone launch) a live round.

To safely show unsafe behavior, we used a Training Barrel to disable a Glock 19. With this bright yellow piece of solid plastic replacing the original barrel, the gun cannot hold or fire a live round.

Many people apparently believe that the correct way to disassemble a Glock for cleaning looks something like this:

"Push the unloaded gun into the palm of your left hand while you press the trigger."

“Push the gun into the palm of your left hand while you press the trigger.”

Uh, no.

The rest of that incorrect process looks something like this:

"Wrap your left hand around the muzzle while you pull down on the takedown levers with your finger on the trigger."

“Wrap your left hand around the muzzle while you pull down on the takedown levers with your finger on the trigger.”

And then this:

"Smother the muzzle with your left hand, being sure that your pinkie and ring finger will be in the line of fire, as you remove the slide."

“Smother the front end of the gun with your left hand, being sure that your pinkie and ring finger will be in the line of fire, as you remove the slide.”

Again, no. That’s not safe behavior — and yet it is behavior that we see, over and over again, from people who really should know better. (Links NSFW because they all have gory pictures.)

Cue the line of cranky old guys saying that this pattern of injury is the Glock’s fault, because “you have to press the trigger in order to disassemble the gun.” It’s true that you do have to press the trigger in order to take this brand of gun apart for cleaning. But there is nothing, in any manual of arms for this gun or any other gun anywhere, that forces you to put your hand in front of the muzzle.

Putting one hand in front of the muzzle every time you disassemble the gun is not the result of a moment’s inattention. It’s a longstanding, dangerous habit. That habit is not the gun’s fault. It’s just what naturally happens when someone doesn’t know a better way to get the gun apart.

But there is a better way.

Better way

Here’s how to take the Glock down without building a bad habit of pointing the gun at yourself during the process.

First, choose a safe direction. Because the light was beautiful outside and because green grass makes a nice picture, we chose to use the yard (which has a safe backstop) for our demonstration. Inside, your safe direction could be a box full of old phone books,  or a bucket full of sand, or a fully packed bookcase, or a solid brick fireplace with something in front of it to discourage bouncebacks. You could even purchase a purpose-made Safe Direction pad. If you are on the ground level of your home, you might choose to use the floor as your safe direction. Just be sure to angle the gun away from you, at about a 45-degree angle, rather than pointing straight down where a bullet could bounce back up at you.

With the gun pointed in your safe direction, unload the gun:

With the gun pointed in a safe direction, remove the magazine.

Remove the magazine.

Rack the slide, hard. Then lock it open.

Lock the slide open.

Lock the slide open.

With the action locked open, double-check that the gun is really empty. First look into the chamber, then feel the chamber. (To answer a common question: when you stick a finger into the chamber, you’re feeling for the hole. If you can’t feel the hole, there may be something important blocking it, such as a round of ammunition.)

Check the chamber by sight, then by feel.

Check the chamber by sight, then by feel.

Now double-check that the magazine really did leave the gun. Again, first look at the magazine well, then feel it to be sure it’s really empty.

Check the magazine well first by sight, then by feel.

Check the magazine well first by sight, then by feel.


Now we’re certain the gun is unloaded, but we will still continue to treat it with the same cautious respect we’d give it if we knew for sure that it was loaded.

With the gun pointed at your safe backstop, press the trigger.


Point the gun in a safe direction and press the trigger.

Here’s the tricky part. I suspect a lot of people push at the slide from the front end because they don’t know this marvelous little trick called a “gunsmith’s hold.” It’s really easy. You only have to budge the slide a smidgen anyway, so:

Wrap your hand over the top rear of the gun.

Wrap your hand over the top rear of the gun.

Basically, all you do is hold the gun from the back, with your fingers wrapped over the top of the gun, then squeeze your hand together until the slide moves. As I said, it doesn’t take much.

Squeeze your fingers together until the slide moves just slightly to the rear.

Squeeze your fingers together until the slide moves just slightly to the rear.

Note that the gun is still pointed in its safe direction.

While you’re holding the slide back slightly with your gunsmith’s hold, bring your left hand up from underneath the gun so that you can reach the takedown levers. Pull down on those levers until you feel the slide release.

With the gun still pointed in a safe direction, pull down on the takedown levers until you feel the slide release.

With the gun still pointed in a safe direction, pull down on the takedown levers until you feel the slide release.

The biggest cause of failure at this point would be pulling the slide too far back, so that the trigger resets before you’ve depressed the levers. If that happens, don’t despair. Just rack the slide and start the process over with a fresh trigger press.


Remove the slide from the frame. Ready to clean!


This post has already gotten far too long, but I wanted to leave you with one last thought. Bad habits kill people. They really do. When I see injuries like these, it really hurts my heart because we know they happen to real people every day. They cost thousands of dollars in medical bills, thousands of hours of lost wages and (sometimes) lost jobs. They lead to permanent disfigurement, ugly scars and lost function. The pain and stress that accompany them result in broken relationships, broken marriages, broken people.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Build good habits. Then — even with unloaded guns! — protect your good habits, so that your good habits can protect you.


Below the jump: graphic pictures of what a longstanding bad habit did to one man’s hand.

 Continue reading 


  1. Definitely owe a “thanks” to someone for this link. But I’m not sure who I need to thank because I truly can’t figure out how I ended up seeing it. It just showed up in my active tabs one afternoon apparently out of the clear blue sky. If you know whom I might thank for it, please drop me a note in the comments.
  2. I added paragraphing to make his post easier to read, but did not otherwise alter his words.
  3. This does not mean that he “did everything correctly” when he unloaded the gun. It just means he went through those particular steps in the correct order.