The Cornered Cat
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Work in Progress (It’s Okay…)

“We walk a fine line in acknowledging that perfection in equipment and training are not and should not be required, and encouraging the pursuit of the ideal. We don’t want to support spraying wild bullets everywhere on the one hand, but we also don’t want to suggest that only the mostly highly trained elite are the only ones who should be privileged on the other.” – Annette Evans

This is deeply true. It is amazingly hard to explain to people that it’s okay to be in process, okay to not have guns and gear worth a bajillion dollars, okay to be learning and okay to not want to do this stuff every weekend … but also at the same time, to also help them understand that the concealed carry lifestyle is an investment, that it may take time and money and work at first, and that they will be both safer and better able to protect the people they love when they put more into it.

So on the one hand:

Bad gear is not better than good gear.
Bad training or no training is not better than good training.
Unsafe equipment is unsafe, no matter who promotes it.
Incompetence is not better than competence.

But on the other hand:

The important thing is to have a gun – not which brand you have.
An ugly but secure holster is better than no holster.
Some training is better than no training.
Competence is not an absolute – it’s relative.

And on the gripping hand:

After the initial investment, it does not have to be that hard. Honestly, it does not. It does not have to become a geeky, all-absorbing, eats all your time & money obsession (unless that’s what you want & that’s okay too).

It’s okay to love your life and love your family.

Once you have invested in good gear and good training, carrying the gun on a daily basis is almost a walkaway. A fix-it and forget-it type thing, like getting a good lock for your front door and using it every time you enter or leave the house. There’s a little ongoing work — you have to use the lock and keep track of your keys and maybe sometimes put some lube on the lock or something, just as you have to tote the gun and sometimes practice with it — but mostly it’s a walkway.

With good gear, you can carry the gun every day and not usually think any more about that than you do about your wallet or your cell phone or anything else you usually have with you.

With a good baseline of skills, you can practice on a comfortable schedule that fits into your life, and — as long as we are talking about weeks or months rather than years — the skills will mostly still be there for you to use the gun safely and with reasonable efficiency when you need to. Depending how much time passes between practice sessions, you may lose your edge and losing that edge might mean you want to practice more so you don’t lose that edge. But also, once you have a good baseline skill set, you will not forget how to run the gun or handle it safely as long as you refresh your skills occasionally.

Note that this only happens once you have done the work to reach a decent level of skill to begin with, equivalent to being able to drive a car without thinking about which pedal to use to make it stop. You can’t really improve your skills on a casual, get-to-the-range-when-I-feel-like it basis. But once the skills are in place, you can maintain them with surprisingly little ongoing effort.

(And that’s yet another reason I am such a strong advocate of truly excellent training from the very beginning — because it is often far less work in the long run.)

It’s okay to be in process.

It’s okay to not make this way of living a life-consuming chore.

It’s okay to love your life and love your family and want to protect them, while still living your life and spending time with your family at places other than the gun range.

It’s okay. <3

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Potty Training

David Yamane, of Gun Culture 2.0, tagged me in a Fb post last week. He wrote:

“I just spoke with a reporter about people leaving guns in bathrooms, including 2 recently at UT-Austin. I have to confess in my mind I was picturing guys. Interesting that in both of these cases the guns showed up in WOMEN’S restrooms. Which makes me wonder: WWJKS? What Would Kathy Jackson Say?”

Well, with a flattering intro like that, who could resist!?  🙂

First, here’s an excerpt from the news article [link] that tells the story Yamane mentioned:

A holstered pistol left Tuesday in a women’s bathroom at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business has been claimed by a student who has a license to carry a handgun, according to UT police.

Meanwhile, the police said Wednesday that they received another report of a pistol found unattended in a women’s bathroom, this time at the Commons Learning Center on UT’s Pickle Research Campus, about 9 miles north of the main campus.

This type of news report isn’t anything new, although it is a surprisingly rare event given the number of people with concealed handgun permits (more than 16 million, at last count, according to researcher John Lott). With that many people walking around with firearms, it would be shocking if we didn’t see mistakes like this happening from time to time.

Some people expressed surprise that both of these incidents involved women’s restrooms. That doesn’t surprise me. Although men are more likely to carry firearms in the first place (around 36% of concealed carry permit holders are women), biological differences mean that women who do carry concealed will need to deal with sitting on the toilet more often than men will. To be clear, dealing safely with bathroom issues is something everyone who carries a gun needs to learn how to do, but it’s also true that handling the gun more often means you have more opportunities to make a mistake.

All the same, responsible citizens like us should not be making this type of mistake. Fortunately, this one is relatively easy to avoid with just a little work.

How to avoid making this type of dangerous mistake? Here are a few tips that should help.

1 – The safest place for a loaded firearm is inside a secure holster attached to the user’s body. This remains true even when someone needs to use a toilet. So, leave the gun in the holster.

Tip test

Tip test: using a three-times-checked unloaded gun or (better) a dummy gun, gently tip the holster upside down over a soft surface and give it a shake. If the gun falls out, throw the holster away.

2 – Every holster should pass The Tip Test. This is important! One main job that a holster does is to hold the gun securely with the trigger protected. A “holster” that fails to hold the gun securely is not a holster — no matter what the label says, no matter who promotes it, and no matter how much it sells for. Every holster that attaches to belt or clothing should allow the user to tip it upside down and gently shake it, without the gun falling out. This assures that the trigger will remain protected and the gun will stay where it needs to stay while the user takes care of business, even if there’s a slight bobble along the way. 1 With a secure holster that passes the tip test, you can safely leave the gun in your holster.

3 – Keep your pants off the floor. It always surprises me when people talk about the gun “landing on the floor” when they use the facilities. That’s really icky, and sometimes it’s not very discreet, so don’t do that. Instead, put your palm over the grip of the firearm and then wrap your fingers around the bottom edge of your belt to maintain full control of the holstered gun as you lower your pants to just below your knees. That’s as far as you need them to go. Then you can double your belt back through a loop, or rebuckle your belt loosely, or just spread your knees wide so you can hold tension on your pants while you do your business. There’s no need to drop trou clear to the floor, and this lets you leave the gun in your holster.

4 – Practice at home. It’s a good idea to wear your firearm around the house, especially when first learning how to conceal carry, and this is one reason: it gives you a chance to practice things like this before you need to do them in public. You can easily practice this skill set at home so that when you are in public you can leave the gun in your holster.

5 – Leave the gun in the holster. Leave the gun in the holster. Leave the gun in the holster! If you really, truly have to get the gun off your belt for a moment, leave the gun securely inside its holster with the trigger protected. Leave the gun in your holster as you take the holster off your belt. You can put the holstered gun into your purse, or balance it on your underwear (ick), or tuck the whole thing into your bra, or for crying out loud  take off one shoe and put the holstered gun into your doggone shoe if you have to… or in other words do whatever it takes to be absopositiveolutely sure you won’t leave the gun behind when you leave the bathroom. Don’t rely on your memory, because human memories suck. Put it somewhere completely un-avoidable, not just un-forgettable (because human forgetters work better than human memories). Do whatever adjusting you need to do while the trigger remains well-protected and the holstered gun is in a place where you cannot possibly under any circumstances leave it behind. When you are done, put the holstered gun back onto your belt.

Oh, did I mention? Leave the gun in the holster.

Stay safe.

Notes:

  1. Do I need to point out that there are reasonably safe ways to do a tip test and also not-so-safe, not-so-smart ways to do it? Never perform a tip test with a loaded gun or allow an ‘unloaded’ gun to point at yourself at any time during the test.
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Overreacting and Fear

“When you aren’t skilled and confident, you get scared and you over react.” — Greg Ellifritz

My take: In context, Greg was talking to law enforcement officers, but this applies to ordinary people just as much as it does to anyone else.

If you want to reduce the risk of overreacting in a sketchy situation, it pays to get enough training that you are truly confident in your ability to handle whatever comes your way.

Developing your confidence may include working with the firearm until it’s pretty much just another tool you use, like a kitchen knife or the  steering wheel of your car. It means getting to the point where you can think only about the things happening in front of you and around you instead of having to concentrate on how to hold the gun and make it work. A big part of personal confidence is knowing — not hoping, but truly knowing — that you are able to effectively use whatever tools you have on hand.

This type of confidence also means having a realistic understanding of what you yourself are able to do without the firearm. For those inclined to say, “Nothing! That’s why I carry a gun,” I’d like to point out that many fully-grown humans think twice before even reaching toward an angry cat that weighs less than a loaf of bread. No matter who you are, you do have some physical abilities — and if you don’t think you have any at all, you are incorrect and at a higher risk of being that person who overreacts.

And it’s not just physical skills. How confident are you in your ability to talk to people without offending them? To calm someone who’s angry or to safely, effectively end a conversation with someone who appears to be building up toward violence? To get away from a creep without escalating … anything … that’s going on in his or her head? That’s a huge and important skill set. It can be learned, but most people never even realize it’s something we can study and get better at.

Developing this type of confidence includes learning enough about violent crime and how it develops that you become realistically confident in your ability to recognize the danger signs early enough to walk away from most developing situations.

It also means becoming realistically confident in your ability to recognize a situation that isn’t headed that direction. Maybe learning to recognize, for example, when an encounter with a panhandler is just a normal and everyday encounter with a panhandler. A person who is confident and aware should be able to deal with a panhandler without getting all OMG DANGER LOOK OUT BIG ADRENALIN DUMP HERE!!!-ish about what’s really a very everyday and commonplace situation.

Does this mean there’s never any physical danger from panhandlers? Nope. It simply means that once you know what a normal interaction looks like, and know how to deal with that very normal interaction with confident skill, you’re a lot better prepared to deal with the abnormal because you will recognize the signs that something abnormal is going on.

Key point: To a person who doesn’t have a confident knowledge of what normal looks like and how to deal with it, everything is abnormal and therefore scary.

Obviously, we aren’t just talking about panhandlers, here. That’s just one illustration of the principle: learning the signs of impending danger and knowing how to deal with them tends to reduce unnecessary fear and therefore also reduces the risk of a fear-based overreaction.

Ask any dog trainer and they will tell you that “fear biting” is a thing. And while we don’t usually leave teeth marks on our prey, humans do it too. But we don’t have to.

Stay safe.

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Existential Crisis

“We may assume the attacker will be obviously bad, yet that may not be true. They may only be bad in and for that single moment you have to react. There was a church shooting were the perpetrator was member of prayer group and waited to the end to do his evil… In another case a worship leader mentally broke down… Could you deal with someone you have been praying side by side with for weeks or just led the whole church in worship? Defense is defense, it knows no demographic line.” – Warren Abbot of Armoured One Tactical

My take: Planning for self defense in a realistic way means counting the cost — looking at the possible moral, emotional, spiritual, practical, legal, relational, financial impacts of self-defense choices — before deciding to carry a deadly weapon.

These are not easy questions. Only necessary ones.

The middle of a gunfight is no time to be facing an existential crisis. Get that stuff squared away in your head first, and then live the rest of your life with the quiet confidence of someone who knows what choices they are willing to make, and why.

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Feelings

In the aftermath of tragedy, we are often treated to a spate of political articles and news stories chiding firearms owners for putting our right to own and carry firearms above the desire of other people to “feel safe.”

Yet “feeling safe” isn’t a right that belongs only to non-gun owners. If a particular feeling can be a “right” at all (a questionable premise, but let’s run with it) — and it’s a right that belongs to any of us, it would be a right that belongs to all of us.

One person may “feel safe” when unarmed; that’s insane to me but somehow it makes sense to that person. And in a free society, that’s their choice.

Other people feel safer when armed. Or when around trusted companions who are armed.

The real question is: why should the fact that that person “feels safe” when helpless trump the fact that you and I “feel safe” when we are armed, trained, and prepared to respond effectively to stop criminal violence in its tracks?

If we are going to pass laws based on personal feelings, let us at least insist that our feelings are equally as valid as anyone else’s.

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Take a second, save a leg

“The fast and/or emphatic reholster is an awesome way to shoot yourself.” – Chuck Haggard

We often see people practicing for a faster draw from the holster, and as they speed up each draw they also start SLAMMING the gun quickly back into the holster on every repetition. That’s a very predictable result of getting a little adrenalin going. “Faster! Go faster!” is the chant in your head, after all, so it’s no surprise that your body reacts to it by going faster.

Even when it shouldn’t.

This pattern creates one of the most common ways that people shoot themselves, as we discussed yesterday. Among experienced and otherwise well-trained gun owners, a habit of jamming the gun into the holster very quickly and without thinking accounts for a huge number of close calls. And for far too many serious injuries.

As Karl Rehn, one of the best and most experienced instructors in the business, says: “The two scariest moments I’ve had occur in classes both were [negligent discharges] while re-holstering.” Pull aside any professional trainer who has been in business for a significant time, and you’ll likely hear similar stories.

This is an error that happens to experienced shooters more often than it happens to utter newbies. And it happens because we naturally pay more attention to the draw than we do to the reholstering procedure.

What to do instead

Here’s the key point:

Practice putting the gun away slowly, smoothly, and with full awareness every time you have drawn the gun.

Slowly. Smoothly. With full awareness.

Do this even when you are drawing and shooting as fast as you can go. Do this even when “only” practicing in dry fire at home. Do this even when your buddies roll their eyes at your caution.

And especially, do this when you are just putting the gun in the holster as the normal start to your day. Build a habit of putting the gun away slowly, smoothly, and with full awareness no matter what else you have been doing and no matter what you are intending to do next.

That’s the key.

“Full awareness” means that we think about what we are doing when we reholster — not about the target, not about the timer, not about the person next to us or behind us.

It means we pay attention …

  • to the trigger finger: is it off the trigger, outside the trigger guard, and away from the side of the gun?
  • to the non-shooting hand: is it anchored in a spot well away from the holster and well away from the muzzle of the gun?
  • to the clothing: is everything away from the mouth of the holster so there’s room for the gun to enter?
  • to the signals we get from our bodies: does everything look and feel ‘right’?

Put the gun into the holster slowly, smoothly, and with full awareness. Every time.

Why is this necessary?

This slow, smooth, full-awareness thing is needed because stopping a preplanned action (such as the motion of putting the gun into the holster) takes time, especially when unexpected new information comes in. Whenever we holster, we want to be sure we have enough time to stop if we need it. And we want to be sure we are paying attention to the signals that might tell us we need to stop.

Here is an excerpt from Motor Control and Learning, by human performance researchers Richard A. Schmidt and Timothy D. Lee:

“Apparently, once the [person] has committed to action, the movement occurs even when some signal is presented in the environment indicating that the action should not be performed. As mentioned in chapter 4, inhibiting preplanned actions requires time and attention…”

The book goes on to explain the factors that can increase or decrease the amount of time it takes a person to process the new information and either change or stop their movement altogether. One key factor: how familiar the motion already is. So if it’s something we’ve practiced doing a lot, it will be harder for us to stop in the middle of that motion than it would be if it were something we were just learning how to do.

That’s one of the reasons people who are very familiar with holster use are not immune to this type of injury. And it’s why experienced shooters should reholster just as slowly and with just as much awareness as they did when they were beginners.

What unexpected information?

The type of unexpected information we might get when holstering could include the body’s feedback system telling us:

  • “Hey! Your finger is still on the trigger!”
  • “Uh, there’s something blocking your holster.”
  • “Your drawstring just entered the trigger guard… That’s not good.”

… or any number of other things.

We weren’t expecting something to be not-right, so this message is (in human reaction jargon) an “unexpected stimulus.” And it takes time for our  brains to process that unexpected information and react by telling the body to stop the motion.

In every case, when this dangerous, unexpected information presents itself, a smart person who does not want an extra hole in their leg will STOP putting the gun into the holster. But it takes a little time for the unexpected signal from the nerves to get up to the brain, and a little more time for the brain to decide what to do about it (oh, yeah, we should STOP moving now), and then still more time for the STOP signal to get back down to the hand that’s already moving.

We won’t have the time we must have in order to STOP before a loud noise happens, if we are slamming the gun into the holster instead of easing it in gently.

A Key Point

Have you ever gone to throw a set of keys to a friend, then noticed they weren’t looking, tried to stop yourself … and then thrown the keys anyway, even though you tried to stop that motion?

Same thing. Your body was moving faster than your brain could stop the motion after you got the information that your friend wasn’t ready for you to throw the keys.

But the consequence of moving faster than you can stop a trigger press is much more serious than a set of thrown keys.

How slowly is “slowly”?

By now, you’re probably wondering how slow is slow enough. Are we talking about the speed of a three-toed sloth, or just a slow loris type speed?

Are we talking about the speed of a three-toed sloth, or just a slow loris type speed? (Photo by David Haring / Duke Lemur Center)

Generally (very generally!) speaking, the human reaction time to a known and expected stimulus begins at around a quarter of a second (0.25 seconds) for most people. That’s the moment when we first begin to respond to a stimulus. However, this number varies from one person to another. And it changes based on a whole bunch of other factors, too, especially including how we measure it. 1

Now for the tricky part: we are not talking about an expected stimulus, but about a stimulus that we don’t expect. That it’s unexpected and also probably an unfamiliar feeling could add at least another half to three-quarters of a second, and often more — up to around 1.5 seconds, according to most of the literature on this subject.

We can probably cut the time back down a little bit by cultivating the mental habit of expecting to feel resistance or expecting a need to stop moving every time we put the gun into the holster. But human nature being what it is, that’s a mental trick with a limited shelf life. Most of us will lapse back into expecting what happens most often — no STOP signal from the nerves to the brain, and a completion of the holstering movement. So I wouldn’t put a lot of eggs in that particular basket.

So… how slow is slow enough? I’d suggest that from the moment the muzzle of the gun nears the mouth of the holster, to the moment the gun is fully seated and secure inside the holster, should take around one second or a little more.

Please notice that I am only talking about the final moments of the holstering process — from muzzle touch to being fully seated. You can bring the gun back to your ready position as quickly as you like, and even move quickly toward the holster if you need to. But that last little bit, as the gun actually enters the holster and gets put solidly into its place, that is the part that needs to take at least a second of your time and all your attention.

One second. From holster mouth to fully seated.

That sounds fast — it’s just a second, after all! But compared to what most people do most of the time, it’s glacially slow.

Try it and see.

What to do about all this?

Simply this: Put the gun away slowly, smoothly, and with full awarenessEVERY TIME.

Take your time. Every time.

Be present in the moment. Every time.

Every time you holster, make sure your finger is out of the trigger guard and away from the side of the gun. Every time, make sure your non-shooting hand is well away from the holster and anchored in a safe spot. Every time, make sure your clothes are away from the mouth of the holster. And every time, ease the gun gently into the holster while giving your full attention to what you are doing.

Take a second.

Commit yourself to practice a carefully aware reholster with every bit as much diligence as you practice your smooth and efficient draw.

Stay safe.

Notes:

  1. Human reaction time is a complex  subject with a bajillion little variables to define and track. Because it is complex, a short summary such as I’ve provided here cannot do it justice — but hopefully as a practical field guide, this short explanation may be enough to explain why we should holster more slowly than we generally do. See [this link] for an easy to read overview of other things you might want to know about human reaction times.
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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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