The Cornered Cat
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Which body parts…?

Key point 1: Injuries from loaded guns nearly always arise from longstanding bad habits with unloaded ones.

Key point 2: Being aware of how injuries happen helps people better understand what they need to do in order to stay safe.

Did you ever wonder — and yes, I know this is a little morbid, but bear with me — about the ways that people shoot themselves unintentionally? Or about the type of injuries they are most likely to get?

Not talking here about people who inadvertently or even recklessly shoot someone else. Or about someone who shoots themselves or someone else on purpose. I’m talking about good people, people like us, who simply make a terrible mistake. These are people who are stone-cold sober and possibly even supervised at the range, but who fire a round without meaning to and somehow shoot themselves when they do.

Did you ever wonder which body parts they were most likely to hit, and why?

Body parts at risk

There are two body parts most at risk for an unintentional self-inflicted gunshot.

Assuming a right-handed shooter, 1 the two body parts most at risk are the left hand, and the right leg.

Racking the slide with the hand forward of the ejection port can lead to serious injuries.

The left hand

Injuries to the left hand can happen when a person gets the non-dominant hand out in front of the muzzle while shooting (often during the draw).

They also happen when someone habitually puts the pinkie and ring fingers on or just forward of the muzzle while racking the slide.

A person can also suffer a detonation injury when yanking the slide back with a palm over the ejection port, especially on the unlucky chance that the ejector pierces the primer when the slide moves.

A left-hand injury can happen when a shooter has a poorly-fitting holster or floppy belt, and so holds onto the holster with the left hand while putting the gun back into the holster with the right. This motion puts the left hand directly in the line of fire in case of a noisy mistake.

Left-hand injuries also happen in gun shops and gunsmitheries, where (for reasons I have never figured out), we sometimes see a shopper point the muzzle into their own left hand while pressing the trigger.

Sometimes these injuries happen at home when a person getting ready to clean a Glock presses the palm of their hand firmly into the muzzle while pulling on the takedown lever. [Read more about this type of gun-cleaning injury and how to prevent it here: How Gauche.]

The other body part most at risk is the right leg.

The right leg

Almost universally, injuries to the right leg happen either during the draw, or during the reholster process. With few exceptions, mistakes made while drawing or reholstering create the bulk of serious injuries that happen to experienced shooters.

While these injuries usually track straight down the outer side of the right leg, and can be relatively minor, they can also cause very serious and even life-threatening injuries to one or both legs. They can also injure the shooter’s left hand at the same time, as discussed above. They can destroy the knee or the ankle joint so severely that the person becomes crippled or semi-crippled for the rest of their life.

And this type of injury can kill, especially when the bullet strikes an artery or does a lot of damage to other structures in the leg.

Holster-related injuries

Putting the handgun into the holster is the single most dangerous thing most concealed carry people ever do with firearms.

Far too many concealed carry people do not realize this, and do not take steps to prevent this type of injury from happening to them. They don’t know to keep the left hand anchored well out of the way during the draw and reholster process. They don’t know to move the finger away from the side of the gun as they reholster. They haven’t thought about how injuries can happen, so they don’t realize what they need to do in order to stay safe.

Not only this, but one of the most common holstering behaviors of all is also extremely dangerous — and most people who do this behavior do not even realize they are doing it. A few people even do it on purpose, thinking that it’s a good thing.

This common habit leads, directly or indirectly, to nearly all injuries that happen to people while reholstering.

Tune in tomorrow to find out what that one most-dangerous habit is, how to avoid it, and what to do instead.

Stay safe.

Notes:

  1. Reverse the injuries for lefties: right hand, left leg. Same basic patterns, same bad habits.
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10 Worst Holsters for Women

Gosh, I dunno about you, but I’m tired of seeing the same three articles written “for women” that we see over and over again in the firearms press. One of my friends, a well known writer who I’ll leave anonymous here because reasons, gripes that she has repeatedly been asked to write that article — you know, the one about best concealed carry guns “for women”, as if these mechanical objects magically function differently for us than they do for anyone else. Every female writer in the business has gotten the same request from her editors, believe me. And it’s annoying.

Same thing with holsters, really.

You want to know the best holster “for women”? I’ll tell you. It’s whatever fits your firearm and your budget that meets the following three criteria:

  • protects the trigger reliably,
  • holds the gun securely, and
  • allows the user to access the gun at the very moment they need it.

These are the non-negotiable, bare minimum things a holster must do. A holster or carry product that does not do these things is not a good holster, no matter how much it costs or who recommends it. Yep, even if it has lace on the outside and works with leggings.

So. Ten worst holsters for women.

Lethal Lace. Hands down, this is the worst concealed carry product I have ever seen. No exceptions. If you own one, I’m sorry. Throw it away and get something safer and more reliable. If you can’t bear to throw it away, give it to your toddler as a play toy. Use it as a baby sling (no, wait, it probably won’t hold a baby any more securely than it holds a gun, so scratch that idea). Wrap it around the back of a kitchen chair and call it home decor. Use it as a scarf or some kind of fashion statement. Wave it from a flagpole in front of your house if you like. But whatever you do, don’t put a loaded gun in it.

Repeat ten times and there’s the list.

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Belts and Business

From an anonymous Fb friend who builds wonderful holsters, belts, and other leatherwork:

I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut online, well and in person;) But for instance, I was over on a forum I frequent and someone posts about a ‘new gunbelt’ which is single layer 12oz hide. Nothing wrong with that, but dual layer cross grain laminated, preferably with a stiffener will make a longer lasting better gunbelt. This belt isn’t bad, it isn’t badly made with poor materials or workmanship. It’s just not really well designed for carrying a firearm. It’s a fine belt for holding up your pants and in a pinch will carry a firearm well at first and less well over time as the hide breaks down.

“Now I could post all of that, but a lot of people would say something or think something to the effect of ‘he just wants to sell his belts’, and sure I don’t mind building belts for guys. But I’ve learned a fair bit over the years of why things are built a certain way. Sometimes long standing traditions are wrong, sometimes there is wisdom in the way things have been done. But not being able to really share that information when it’s important to the conversation without bringing my business into the equation is frustrating.”

My friend is right. Closer to  home for me, it is exquisitely frustrating for an instructor to get involved in an online conversation with people giving truly horrible advice to each other about how to improve their shooting. Often, it would take just a few minutes of working with the guy or gal in person to figure out what’s happening and how to correct it — but boy howdy does it bring out the crazies when a firearms instructor suggests that the best solution would be to go take a class from a qualified teacher who can diagnose the problem in person.

It’s even more weird when you give that advice to someone clear on the other side of the country, someone who will never ever give you a dime anyway because you’re not in their market and don’t intend to travel there anytime soon, but somehow the fact that you get paid (by other people) to teach (other people) means that suggesting to them that they should maybe take a class means you’re just trying to make money off them.

As if “I do this thing so well that people pay me to do it” is actually a recommendation against listening to what a person has to say on a  subject. It’s very weird.

Back to belts. On that subject, my friend added:

“Also little known fact the thickness of the hide has very little to do with the cost per foot. IE I could make a ‘gunbelt’ as thick as I want without really effecting my cost to build it much if any. So the choice to use say two layers instead of one is purely for function rather than ‘cost savings’ by using two layers of thinner hide. The reality is two layers nearly doubles the cost of leather in the belt, and the time involved in laminating the two layers together and stitching costs significantly more time and material than a single layer belt. I could probably make oh maybe 10 or 20 single layer belts in the time it takes to make a good gunbelt, of course if they weren’t stitched.”

So there you have it. Buy a good belt and don’t buy hype.

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Passivity and young people

Good article here: The lesson from 9/11 that millennials have yet to learn

Fave quote: “Girls and boys and men and women need to think seriously about what to do in the event of unexpected violence, and how to act. It would be nice if we never had to think of this again, but these situations will not stop.”

Sadly true.

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“Fight like a cornered cat”

As most people who read this blog know by now, one of my taglines is, “If you have to fight, fight like a cornered cat.”

When people hear me say that, they tend to assume that I mean that you might have to fight really, really hard in order to defend yourself. And that’s true — you might.

But that’s not the heart of the issue.

The thing about a cornered cat is, it fights with a specific goal in mind. That goal is to escape and get to safety. That’s it and that’s all. Whatever damage happens to the attacker on the cat’s way out the door simply Does. Not. Matter. to the cat, and especially not when it is compared to the overwhelmingly important goal of getting away from danger and into a place of safety.

With that goal of getting to safety in mind, a good and reasonable person can use any degree of force — up to and including deadly force — and almost always be on the right side of the law even without ever thinking about the law at all. They’ll be on the right side of the law, not because there’s something magical about being “a good person”, but because the laws are written specifically to allow necessary self-defense and specifically to dis-allow fighting (or killing people) over things like ego, property, pride, aggressiveness, insults and disrespect … and the list goes on.

It is only legitimate and necessary defense of innocent life that is protected by self-defense laws, not any of that other stuff.

Not only this, but the law allows the use of force to protect your life only to the extent — in both time and severity — that it is truly necessary. And that’s another thing that a person with the “fight like a cornered cat” mentality will have in place. Because the goal is always and ever to survive and get to safety, a person with this mindset will not get entangled in proving a point. They will tread softly when necessary and treat other people with kind respect. They will apologize when an apology is called for, and, should it come to a physical defense, they will stop when it is time to stop. They won’t fire shots at a car thief as he drives away, or shoot an unconscious assailant again and again to make sure he’s dead, or do anything that prolongs the encounter.

They will do whatever they need to do in order to survive and no more than that.

Going into an encounter with the mindset that you will do whatever it takes to get to safety — no more and no less — protects you from this aspect of the law.

But it’s not only about the law, of course. It is also about personal survival. Over the past 18 years, I have taken many classes in both armed and unarmed use of force. Nearly all of those classes billed themselves as “Self Defense Class” of one flavor or another.

One thing that I discovered in many of the empty hand classes that I’ve taken is that there is a huge, remarkable, amazing difference in the physical mechanics of effectiveness when a person’s goal changes.

When the goal is “to win” or “to humiliate the assailant”, the physical mechanics of doing that are much different — and much more difficult to perform effectively! — than the mechanics of fighting to survive and get away. Sometimes, of course, fighting to survive and get away will include disabling or even killing the attacker. The attacker’s goal and attack method might make that necessary. But also sometimes, a good person completely misses their opening to escape and survive because they get completely fixated on humiliating their opponent and winning the physical fight. The mechanics of survival fail them because they didn’t have the right goal in mind during the fight.

So it turns out that fighting with the goal in mind — the goal of doing whatever it takes to survive and get to safety — keeps a person safer both legally and physically.

It’s worth thinking about.

If you have to fight, fight like a cornered cat.

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I blame MacGyver

This is something I’ve thought about a bit. And the conclusion I’ve come to (for now) is something like this: it is one thing to use whatever you have, however you can, to save your own life in the heat of the moment.

But it is another thing entirely to plan to use something known to be less than ideal.

This holds true with holsters and carry guns, with safety protocols, with medical supplies, and with a whole lot of other things.

***

Improvising isn’t a plan.

It’s what you do when you’ve failed to plan.

***

Examples? Sure.

Holster: Even though a gun could be carried without a modern holster, just by jamming it into the waistband or dropping it uncovered into a pocket, that’s not a great thing to do. It leaves the trigger exposed, and the waistband trick exposes the user to the risk of the gun slithering down the pants leg and escaping into the wild. There are better ways to carry a gun. So even though a person might do something like that in an emergency, it surely isn’t something we’d plan to do.

Safety Protocols: In the heat of a life-threatening emergency a person might inadvertently (or even deliberately) allow the gun to point at an interior wall that wouldn’t stop a bullet. But a smart person surely wouldn’t plan to do that in a classroom where they knew they’d be handling guns. Even unloaded ones. Instead, if a person were planning to handle guns in that environment, they would set it up so that they  could trust that they had a genuine safe direction that would definitely stop an unexpected bullet.

Medical Gear: A tampon is not designed to stop blood flow, although it does make the blood less likely to pour out onto the floor. What does stop bleeding? Direct pressure. And a tampon is not designed to administer direct pressure, either. (It is rather explicitly designed not to put a lot of pressure on surrounding tissues, in fact.) Packing the wound with gauze designed for the task, and covering it with a compression bandage, works a lot better. If you’re going to carry something with you to stop bleeding, carry a thing that works.

Same thing with tourniquets. Someone did a study not too long ago and found that an improvised tourniquet without a windlass failed to stop the bleeding 99% of the time. Even with an windlass of some sort, improvised tourniquets failed 31% of the time — and are considerably slower to apply. Fortunately, a person can easily carry a true tourniquet on their belt (the PHLster Flatpack is a great product that I can recommend). And true tourniquets save lives. Ankle carriers for tourniquets are available, and range bags and car kits can easily carry one. A person can plan ahead so they don’t have to improvise this crucial piece of lifesaving gear.

I could go on, but perhaps you’ve gotten my point by now. Improvising isn’t a plan. It’s what we do when we’ve failed to plan.

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Right to Remain Silent

In 2013, the US Supreme Court ruled (in Salinas v. Texas) that in a police investigation a person must specifically invoke their Constitutional right to remain silent. Otherwise the very fact that they said nothing in response to questioning may be used against them later in court.

Here are two sentences I recommend all upstanding citizens memorize and occasionally practice saying in role play:

“Officer, I am invoking my right to remain silent. Please let me contact my lawyer now.”

This would be the final step in Ayoob’s five-point checklist. It should be repeated as often as necessary, word for word, until it has the desired effect.

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5 Facts You Don’t Know About AR-15 Rifles

When you opened this, I bet you thought it would be yet another article explaining that AR stands for ARmalite (the original manufacturer) and not ‘assault rifle’. Guess again. Today we’re simply going to talk about how AR-15 rifles work and how people in America use them. My goal is to avoid the duck vagina problem.

1) They are less powerful than your grandpa’s deer rifle.

They are used for deer hunting in some states, but forbidden for deer hunting in others because they are considered too weak for an ethical, clean harvest.

To be clear, the AR platform is a very flexible design and — like Glock pistols — these rifles can be configured to shoot many different calibers. For the AR, this includes 7.62X39, 6.5 Creedmore, 6.8 SPC, .243 .300 Whisper, .50 Beowulf, .458 SOCOM and more. You can even find AR rifles chambered in common handgun calibers such as 9mm and .45ACP.

But the standard AR-15 fires only .223 Remington or 5.56 NATO ammunition. Both of these rounds fire a small bullet that most commonly weighs around 55 to 90 grains (compare this to a standard .45ACP pistol bullet of 230 grains). 1 The bullets have a diameter just barely larger than that of the .22LR, although both rounds use more energy than the .22 does.

All of this means that the most common AR-15 rifle uses small and light bullets that have lower penetration and lower energy than most hunting calibers, so they are often not suitable for big hunting opportunities. The light bullet does not work well in high winds or across long distances, nor does it do as much damage as a larger bullet usually does. This is why the minimum deer hunting caliber in many states (including Washington and Colorado) is 6mm — a round that is larger and more powerful than either .223 or 5.56.

Bottom line: AR-15 rifles have limited hunting utility not because they are uniquely powerful or destructive to game animals, but because they are considered small and underpowered for many hunting tasks.

2) They can be built from scratch using simple tools.

An AR receiver isn’t complicated to make. In fact, it is one of the easiest gun parts to manufacture using simple tools. In the past week, my Fb feed has served up pictures of AR receivers carved out of wood, or bolted together using different widths of aluminum sheeting from a hardware store. A higher-tech option for those with access to a 3D printer: it’s easy to find online blueprints to simply print that piece. And of course anyone with access to a machine shop who has basic mechanical knowledge could make a receiver in less than an afternoon.

Because the AR-15 is a modular design, many of the parts can be interchanged. The serialized part — the crucial central piece that gets tracked as the core of the firearm under federal law — is called the lower receiver or simply the lower. The other parts of the gun include an upper (or upper receiver), a stock, and a barrel. People who talk about “building” an AR-15 mean that they have chosen a specific set of parts to go with the receiver they purchased. Many people have multiple parts to go with a single receiver, so they can swap out the type of barrel their gun uses or choose a different configuration for the sighting system by changing the gun’s upper.

There are many thousands of AR-15 accessory parts available online, from hundreds of different manufacturers. Many gun owners also have dozens of AR parts just lying around in a closet or garage somewhere, waiting for the owner to get around to putting them together on a rifle.

3) There are an estimated 15 million AR-15 rifles owned by regular people in America.

From NBC News: “Today, one of out of every five firearms purchased in this country is an AR-style rifle, according to a NSSF estimate. Americans now own an estimated 15 million AR-15s, gun groups say. New AR-15 style guns range widely in price, from about $500 to more than $2,000.”

Why so many? The AR-15 platform is — as we noticed above — very easy to personalize for the user. With an adjustable stock, the rifle can fit nearly every shooter in the family, from a petite young teen to a very large adult male. This makes it a surprisingly economical choice for family shooting fun. As we also noticed above, the .223 round is lightweight, which means it produces very little recoil, so a lot of people (especially those sensitive to recoil issues) find it both fun and easy to shoot.

In addition to the fun factor, many people use AR-15 rifles in competition. The action shooting sport of 3-Gun is perhaps the fastest growing competitive shooting sport in America, and part of what drives that growth is the flexibility of the AR-15 design. The light weight and easy versatility of the design make it ideal for such competitions.

For serious defensive use, let me quote Massad Ayoob: “The cops are the experts on the current criminal trends. If they have determined that a ‘high capacity’ semiautomatic pistol and a .223 semiautomatic rifle with 30-round magazines are the best firearms for them to use to protect people like me and my family, they are obviously the best things for us to use to protect ourselves and our families.”

So these guns are very popular for many good reasons.

Doing the math here, if a person wanted to suggest a mass government purchase of these rifles at fair market value, it would cost… um… pulling out the scratch pad, lesseee…. hmmmm, let’s lowball the general cost of the rifles, down to $1000 per, just to make the math easier, so we get…

$1000 x 15,000,000 = $15,000,000,000 (compensation)

But of course that would not be the actual cost of the program. An extremely efficient government program would spend around 20% of the money on the payout portion, and around 80% for overhead and administration. So…

$15,000,000,000 x 5 = $75,000,000,000 (admin & overhead)

Add the two parts together and we get…

$15,000,000,000 + $75,000,000,000 = $90,000,000,000 (total program cost)

90. Billion. Dollars.

$90,000,000,000 is rather a lot of money. For comparison only — and not to get into some stupid political argument because really who has time for that? — ‘the wall’ along the southern border proposed by Trump and his supporters would cost, by some estimates, at least $25 billion dollars. And that number is widely agreed to be far out of America’s budgetary reach. 2

Of course, the numbers above assume that all AR-15 owners willingly participate in the program and that there are no unanticipated costs to enforce refusals. For comparison, when the state of New York passed the NY SAFE Act to simply register such rifles, there was a 90% noncompliance rate. Nine out of ten gun owners in that state did not submit to simple registration, and it seems unlikely that a confiscation or buyback effort would gain any higher rate of voluntary compliance. Enforcing compliance against unwilling participants would likely drive the costs (both human and monetary) far higher than most would expect.

4) The military does not use them.

Because AR-15 rifles are not machine guns, because they are not fully automatic or capable of burst fire as explained below, they are not issued to America’s troops. Rather, the military previously issued the M16, which is a full-auto or burst-fire design that looks nearly identical to the AR-15 but does not work the same way. 3 The current issue rifle for many of American troops is the M4 carbine, a smaller and lighter variant of similar design.

What’s the difference? As most of us know by now, a fully-automatic firearm fires many shots with just one press of the trigger. Each trigger press sounds like this: BRRRRPPPPPP! and then the magazine is empty and must be refilled. Some M16 variants will fire the entire magazine all at once like that, while others will fire three shots with each trigger press (burst fire) and then the user needs to press the trigger again to fire more BRRRPPP-y shots. In either case, as Clint Smith of Thunder Ranch says, “Full auto is a great way to turn money into noise.”

A semi-automatic firearm, such as the AR-15 and most carry pistols, fires just one shot with every press of the trigger. Each trigger press sounds like this: BANG. You have to press the trigger again to get a second or third or fourth shot, just as you do with your carry gun. You can get a constant BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG going when you are a fast trigger-puller, but this isn’t the same thing as the BRRRRRPPPP of a full auto.

Also see: Why isn’t a revolver a semi-automatic?

Bottom line: Although there are rifles used in military service that look a lot like AR-15 rifles, they are not the same gun and do not work the same way when the trigger is pressed.

5) Most of the scary-looking ‘military’ parts are actually safety features.

Yes — really! When military procurement specialists look for firearms to purchase and issue to the troops, safety is high on the list of things they look for. So let’s look at the safety features on an AR-15 / M16 style rifle.

Adjustable stocks on a rifle are an exact analog to interchangeable backstraps and grips on a carry pistol. These parts make it possible for one firearm to better fit different sizes of human. A better fit means more controllability, which reduces the risk of errant shots harming innocent bystanders.

Similarly, many people find that a rifle with a pistol grip is more controllable, especially in tight quarters such as a hallway inside the home.

The barrel shroud — that’s the piece of plastic encircling the barrel at the forward end of the gun, sometimes called a handguard — protects the user’s hand from getting burned. (By the way, this is the part that gun owners sometimes gigglingly refer to as “the shoulder thing that goes up.”)

A flash hider or flash reducer does not make the flash invisible. It doesn’t even necessarily obscure the flash from outside observers. What it does do, is make it so the user does not get blinded by a bright flash of burning powder at the end of the barrel when they fire the gun. As a safety idea, being able to reliably see what’s in front of the muzzle might seem pretty important.

***

So there you have it. Five things about AR-15 rifles you probably didn’t know.

Notes:

  1. One pound = 7000 grains.
  2. h/t to Claude Werner for the comparison.
  3. Modern AR-15 rifles are semi-auto and available for purchase by ordinary citizens under the same rules that govern other types of firearms. Modern M16 and M4 rifles are fully automatic and available only to military and law enforcement personnel in line of duty. Twenty years ago and more, there was a full-auto version of the AR-15 used in military service, but the full-auto version of the rifle used in military service then is not identical to the semi-auto version available to civilians now. If this sounds confusing, that’s because it is. And that is one of the reasons the military rifle’s designation was changed to M16 — because so many people were so easily confused as to which configuration was under discussion, the full-auto military version or the semi-auto civilian one.
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