The Cornered Cat
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Lessons from the Headlines: Abduction Attempt

In Florida a few days ago, a young teenager was shopping at a dollar store with her mom when this happened.



That’s an abduction attempt. Broad daylight, as far as I can tell. Not an empty back alleyway in the middle of the night. Just inside a dollar store in Florida, with other people around.

Stranger tries to grab a 13 year old and drag her out of the store. The girl’s mom reacts quickly and fights back, eventually throwing her own body on top of her daughter to thwart the assailant, who fled for the exit.

The fleeing criminal was stopped by a good guy with a gun. An off duty cop happened to be pulling up outside the store. He blocked the assailant’s car in the parking lot and held the assailant at gun point until law enforcement arrived to arrest the guy and take him into custody.

Several people have asked me what I thought the mother “should have” done. My answer: exactly what she did! She used the tools and skills she had available to her, without any hesitation at all. Her immediate and full commitment to action almost certainly saved her daughter’s life.

Legal questions

Others have asked a different question: if one of us were in the same situation, would it be legal to shoot the attacker? Is it legal to shoot an assailant who’s trying to kidnap your child, and who appears to be succeeding? Let’s look at that.

In this case, I think we could easily articulate ability, opportunity, jeopardy — which are three elements that must be present for a use of deadly force to be legally justified throughout the United States. (Various courts use different words to approach the same concepts; however, the concepts themselves are a constant.)

Quick overview:

1 – ABILITY. Ability answers the question, “Does the attacker have the power to kill or cripple the person he/she is attacking?” In this case, the answer would be a definite *YES*, because an adult male has the power to kill or cripple a young teenage girl, whether or not he has a weapon in his hand. He could (and does) easily overpower her.

2 – OPPORTUNITY. Opportunity answers the question, “Do the circumstances allow the attacker to use his/her ability against the intended victim?” In this case, again, that’s a definite *YES,* because he is physically close enough to overpower her and has already done so. As he drags her out of the store, she has no way to save herself from what’s happening to her.

3 – JEOPARDY. Jeopardy answers the question, “Would a reasonable person look at the complete situation and conclude that the attacker intended to use his/her ability and take the opportunity to kill or cripple the person being attacked?” Again, that’s a *YES,* because nobody in their right mind can watch this video without having chills run up and down their spine for what was clearly about to happen. Anyone think he was just grabbing the girl so he could take her to an ice cream store and make her happy?

At this point, it’s likely that some folks reading this are thinking, “Wait… those are the answers from the 13-year-old girl’s perspective. But would the mom (or other bystanders) be legally  justified in shooting the assailant?”

That’s almost certainly a *YES*, too. That’s because the person being attacked would easily be justified in using deadly force to save her own life, which means in most (not all) US jurisdictions, every bystander who saw what was happening would -also- be justified in using deadly force to save the little girl’s life. There are potential nuances we could discuss, but I can’t see any of those nuances making a problem here.

Practical questions

Note that none of this talks about the physical difficulty of accessing your gun and using it while you are on the ground, fighting with an assailant and trying hard to hang onto your child at the same time.

  • If you carry in your purse: would you be able to get your gun out of your purse in this situation? Probably not. Especially not if you make a habit of setting it in the cart as you shop. Even if you had the purse attached to your body, that’s a very complex situation and it’s very likely everything would be too tangled for accessing the gun.
  • If you carry on-body: would you be able to get your gun out of the holster during this violent and chaotic situation? Maybe not. Especially if you prefer to carry in a soft, squishy holster under several layers of clothes, or if you use one that has a complex retention strap.

This is one reason I strongly recommend learning to draw the gun under the watchful eye of a good instructor. More than that, I also recommend taking the kind of classes where you can learn how to draw the gun when everything isn’t calm and squared away in advance. That’s also why I offer the Against the Odds class, where people can learn to get to their guns under adverse conditions, and begin to understand different ways they can protect themselves when they aren’t standing calmly 7 yards away from a target that doesn’t move.

Regardless of how you carry: have you practiced any kind of close quarters engagement, either with empty hands or with dummy guns? Even though there are many opportunities we can spot on the video where one of us might have been able to shoot if we were the mom in this situation, seeing those opportunities from the outside is a different thing than feeling or seeing them from the inside.

Not only that, but it wouldn’t be an easy shot even though it’s so close that we’re tempted to think marksmanship wouldn’t be an issue. Because everything happens so fast and everyone is moving so much, there’s a strong possibility that a gunshot would hit either the daughter or one of the other customers.

Best bet would probably be to jam the gun into the assailant for a contact shot, though even with that there’s still a significant danger of the round going through the assailant to hit the daughter or someone else. So you’d still need to be very aware of your angles and everything else. And many people who haven’t practiced this type of skill will unintentionally create a malfunction by shoving the gun too aggressively into the assailant. (This can knock the slide out of battery and stop the gun from firing.) It’s doable, but again, it’s a skill that must be taught and practiced.

Taken away and used against you? That’s one of my least-favorite phrases, but I think here it could be a valid concern. Would you, with the skills you have right now, really be able to hold onto your gun in this situation if you couldn’t shoot immediately, while being in close contact with a determined assailant? What have you done to acquire or test those skills?

Bottom line

The mom in this case did the right thing and saved her daughter’s life with the tools she had — her own empty hands.

The assailant was stopped and eventually arrested because a bystander had a gun and was willing to act in defense of others.

We can use incidents like these that are caught on video, not to second-guess the people who were there, but to prepare our own minds to do what it takes to protect ourselves and the people we love. As always, there are many lessons we can learn from incidents that happen to others — once we know how to watch a crime video.

Stay safe.


Q: How many legs would this kitty cat have if we called the tail a leg?

How many legs would this cat have if we called his tail a leg?

 A: Four. Calling the tail a leg does not make it a leg.

What does this have to do with Cornered Cat’s usual subjects, you ask? Simple — I keep running across instructors and would-be instructors who think calling a classroom wall a “safe direction” will actually make it a safe direction.

ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.” — NRA training materials.

A “safe direction” is one that will reliably stop a bullet from the most powerful cartridge that will feed into the gun you’re handling.

Most interior and exterior walls in modern buildings won’t do that. This means they are not safe directions for purposes of dry fire or gun handling.

Does this mean guns should never be handled inside a classroom? Not at all! Any teaching environment can be made safe with some forethought. A big cardboard box full of books and papers makes a fine backstop and costs almost nothing, for example. It just takes some creativity — and a stubborn commitment to keeping students safe — to figure out how to make safety protocols work in different settings.

Unfortunately, too many people are not willing to do that work. They get complacent, or handle the problem with a shrug: “Well, it’s difficult to find a true safe direction, so we’ll just pretend that wall will be okay. That’s good enough for me. No ammo in the classroom anyway, so…”
This tears down the safety rules at the very place where we should be most careful about instilling them. It breeds complacency where we should be building caution and respect. It stops people from thinking clearly at the level where people actually live with the gun, and it wordlessly tells them they should only follow good gun handling rules as long as it’s easy to do so. It models the kind of thinking that says it’s too hard to find practical ways to stay safe in everyday settings. It leads people to only pretend to follow critical safety protocols that are intended to stop them from unintentionally killing other people.

Stay safe. Keep your people safe. Never ‘designate’ a safe direction in a firearms classroom. Find a true safe direction or make one.

Don’t call that tail a leg.  😉

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Lots of new instructors (and some very experienced ones) suffer from imposter syndrome. What’s that?

Impostor syndrome describes a situation where a fully qualified and well-trained individual feels like an impostor or fraud because they think that they have duped the people around them. They have a fear that some day, they will be “outed” as not being as smart or as prepared to do their jobs as others perceive them to be.

(I should add — and this is important! — that sometimes, people feel as though they don’t belong in the job they’re doing pretty much because they don’t. Our industry is flooded with people who really want to teach things they have not bothered to learn. This is a real problem, but a different one than what I’m talking about here.)

Imposter syndrome does not always feel good, but that doesn’t mean it always has to be a bad thing. Embraced and used properly, it can become a strong driver for excellence and continued improvement. In many cases, it’s actually the source of expertise.

Think about this: It’s hard for someone to learn anything when they already know everything. Once someone has decided they don’t need to learn more, they often stop learning. Adult people rarely look for ways to do better tying their own shoes. There’s no need; they already know how. They’re already experts at that. So why bother looking for ways to improve their skills at it? They stop learning because they feel they already know everything.

That’s the experts’ trap.

The person with imposter feelings doesn’t feel like that. They might feel out of place, foolish and weak and untutored. But they do not feel that they know it all. Despite this (and this is where fears of being seen as an imposter lead to actually becoming an imposter in truth), a person with imposter syndrome might stop learning anyway. They might feel so afraid of others thinking they are ignorant that they refuse to learn more where others can see them. They might hide from learning situations and avoid being put in positions where others might realize that they don’t already know everything. They stop learning because they are afraid to be seen learning.

That’s the imposters’ trap.

Instead of getting caught in either of those traps, a brave person with imposter feelings can use those feelings to drive themselves toward true excellence and expertise. In order to do that, they must not ignore the imposter feelings or try to “overcome” the negative thoughts by sheer willpower, stuffing them back inside or telling themselves to shut up when they feel weak. Instead, they can lean into the feelings like a yachtsman leans into the wind, letting the wind fill the sails that speed the boat across the water. Instead of fighting the feelings head-on, they can use that energy to learn and grow and strengthen their  abilities at every opportunity. They can use the fear of being found unprepared help them become better prepared, and they can use the fear of being seen as weak to help themselves become strong.

When a person embraces the imposter feelings as the allies they are, they can help that person learn more, do better, and achieve more than they ever imagined. And along the way, they will have truly earned the respect they once feared others would not give them.

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Looking Around

My Fb feed at the moment is full of trainers talking about “Checking Your Six” and being “Tactically Aware” and doing “After Action Scans.”

Most of that is garbage.

It is not garbage in the sense of being useless, but garbage in the sense of being clutter. Noise. Added complications. This tactical clutter turns what should be a common sense and practical and ordinary thing into a game of “Let’s Pretend.” Let’s pretend you just shot someone, now let’s pretend to look around. Maybe we’ll even suggest you look around in a complicated, mechanistic way that you cannot even practice on your ordinary range.


Looking around after we shoot should definitely be a thing that we do. But we should not be playing “let’s pretend!” when we do it. We should not be doing it as a “tactical exercise” and we certainly shouldn’t be just going through a complex series of motions just because we think we might need to do something like that “someday.”

We should be looking around after we shoot for a simple, very real reason: because it’s a good idea to look around sometimes. Shooting is a high-concentration exercise, just like programming your next stop on your GPS, or texting a friend, or counting your change. And just like we should remember to look around every time we’re done concentrating on these other activities, so should we remember to look around every time we’re done concentrating on our front sights.

Looking around should be a thing we do simply because it helps us stay safe in the here-and-now. Immediately. Today. Right now and every time we’re at the range practicing with our firearms as part of our normal, everyday lives. Because you know what?

Ranges are NOT 100% crime-free.

There are no utterly safe places in this world. None. This includes wherever you shoot. Bad things can happen there just as they can happen anywhere else.

On the lower end of the scale, valuables get pilfered. Ask anyone who’s ever had a good set of muffs or an entire bag walk off how that feels. You set your stuff on the table at the back of the bay, and go forward to tape your targets. When you return to the back of the bay, some of your stuff is … gone. Where’d it go? Good luck finding out.

On the higher end of the scale, there’s violent crime. It’s rare, but not unheard-of. Those of us who shoot on remote private ranges aren’t immune. In fact, we may be more at risk. The criminals in the 1986 FBI Miami shootout, for example, stole several of the firearms they used in their crimes from people who had been shooting alone on public ranges — shooting or beating those people and leaving them for dead. Within the past few years, similar things have happened to a man shooting alone on an outdoor range in Oklahoma (he recovered) and to another man in Pennsylvania (he died).

It’s not unique to outdoor ranges, of course. Irony-minded criminals have been known to steal guns, at gunpoint, from people leaving indoor ranges — sometimes shooting their victims in the bargain. Which probably goes to show that just owning a gun, or even having it with you, isn’t going to do you much good if you don’t see trouble coming. Or if you’re not prepared to counter it when it does.

So, yeah. Look around when you’re done shooting. Do it every time. But don’t do it because you’re playing a game of “Let’s Pretend.” Instead, look for the answers to these questions:

  • Who is on the range with me?
  • Who has come onto the range or left the range since the last time I looked around?
  • What is everyone doing?
  • Is anyone loitering around my stuff? Or paying more attention to other people’s stuff than seems natural?

It’s not a tactical exercise or a range dance. It’s just, you know, looking around.

Different Domains

Not long ago, I came across an online video from a well-known trainer, someone I respect, who said some very important and true things.

He said that for ordinary people looking for training in firearms-based self defense, there’s little sense in seeking out instructors who have a military background. He pointed out that even though many excellent handgun instructors have been in the military, there’s very little experience in the military that directly applies to the ordinary person who intends to carry a handgun for self-defense.

Regardless of the branch, he said, very few members of the military use handguns at all, and of those that do, they rarely consider a handgun as the primary weapon system. He added that the rules of engagement between military and civilian gun use differ widely, and so do the expected situations where handguns might come into use. This means, he said, that an effective and good military mindset might in fact be a dangerous and perhaps illegal mindset for a civilian who carries a handgun.

So far, so good, I suppose.

Then he went on to say that ordinary citizens who want good defensive handgun training from an experienced source should instead attend classes taught by law enforcement professionals.

And that’s where he lost me.

He lost me because there is as wide a gap between law enforcement experience and ordinary citizen needs, as there is between military experience and ordinary citizen needs. Even though many excellent handgun instructors have spent time in law enforcement, there’s very little experience in law enforcement that directly applies to the needs of the ordinary person who wants to carry a handgun for self defense.

Military, law enforcement, ordinary citizen. These are three different domains, with different potential problems and different rules for solving those problems.

Nothing to Add

“There’s nothing wrong with deciding you are not able to take another person’s life. We all have unique moral principles that guide us. This is why I never proselytize about gun ownership. Having a firearm for protection purposes is a deeply personal decision of the same magnitude as deciding to lose one’s virginity, get married, or have a child. However, someone who cannot bear the thought of taking another’s life in self-defense should not have a firearm as a protection tool.”

– Claude Werner

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Instructor Development notes

Really enjoyed meeting a long-time internet acquaintance, Hsoi, for the first time last week. It’s always an adventure, meeting someone for the first time after you’ve known them for years. Really enjoyed getting to know him in person and wish we’d met sooner.

Hsoi attended the Instructor Development class I taught down in Texas at Karl Rehn’s facility (KR Training), which isn’t surprising since he has worked as Karl’s lead assistant for a number of years. In fact, he had asked Karl to bring me in after he read either Tamara’s or Melody‘s review of the class last June. So for that I owe him a vote of gratitude. (Thanks, Hsoi!)

As for our host, I’ll freely admit that Karl Rehn has long been one of my favorite people in the gun world. He’s  a quietly competent presence who might be easy to overlook in a day of flashy YouTube celebrities and overnight “experts”. Not just a nice guy (although he is that!), Karl is also a USPSA Grandmaster and a deeply thoughtful, highly experienced instructor who has been teaching for longer than I’ve been shooting.

When I met Karl face to face for the first time a few years back, I was at that time working as the editor for a national magazine about concealed carry. To this day, Karl remains the only person who ever fully, spontaneously understood the direction and scope of the work I’d been doing as the editor there. And I know that he did, because as we sat across from each other over dinner that night, he described it to me from his perspective as a reader and sometimes-contributor. To say that I was deeply impressed would be understating the case; I was blown away by the acuity of his vision, and a little humbled that he had seen my editorial choices so clearly.

Speaking of being a little humbled, having Karl in the class as a student was another type of adventure for me as an instructor. That’s partly because I know how very selective he is about the traveling instructors he invites to teach at his facility, and in this case, several of his staff would also be joining us so all the more reason that my own work had better be up to snuff. More than that, I’ve long deeply respected Karl as one of the strong pillars of the training community. He has built a solid school and kept it going for decades. What could I possibly have, to teach him or his people?

Thinking about that, I decided to embrace my inner imposter, and taught the class anyway. Glad I did, because it was full of very good people — everyone from brand-new instructors and people who were just considering becoming instructors, up through people who’d been doing it awhile and who were very accomplished and skilled at it. I like to think we gave full value to everyone there, no matter what their experience level when they arrived.

Anyway, Hsoi wrote up a very nice AAR of the Cornered Cat Instructor Development class in Texas. You should go read it, especially the part that involves spattered fly parts.

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Instead of copying & pasting half the articles from my website, printing them out and saving them to highlight and re-read …

Why not just buy the book!?

(This post brought to you courtesy of a walk through the gun forums. I’m flattered that so many people like my writing, and I’m happy to provide good info as a public service. But … )