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  • “I got back up and saw he was trying to reload his gun. And when that happened, I just ran in the opposite direction and I was out of there as fast as I could.” That’s a quote from one of the students who survived that active killer event at the school near Seattle. The lesson here is, make sure your family members know what an unloaded gun looks like, and what it looks like when someone is trying to reload or clear a malfunction. That’s often the best time to act, either to run away or to fight back.
  • Short video of some guys unintentionally knocking over a tree with a .500 S&W revolver. Watch the muzzle awareness (or lack of it) as the guy runs away from the falling tree. Do you know how to run with a gun in your hand? Have you practiced enough that trigger finger placement and muzzle control would be an automatic, almost reflexive response even if you felt panicked?
  • During the shooting in the Parliament building in Ottowa, some of the members of Parliament armed themselves with snapped-off flagpoles they planned to use as spears if the attacker got into the room where they were hiding. “These guys were up there holding these spears ready to impale anyone who came in,” one source said. Good for them and their determination to survive. Even when you don’t have a gun, you don’t have to curl up and die. You can decide that you will fight back with whatever you have and that you will do whatever it takes to survive.
  • Fascinating thing about human beings. Some of us suffer from a cognitive bias called “functional fixedness,” which limits a person to using an object only the way it is traditionally used. The MPs who armed themselves with flagpole-spears knew better — they saw a long, pointed object instead of just something to hold a flag. That kind of flexible mind can be a lifesaver in bad situations!
  • How can we develop the kind of flexible thinking that avoids functional fixedness and thus helps us survive sticky situations? Here’s an article written by Rory Miller that talks about exactly that.
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Reholster without looking? No.

This blog entry was sparked by something Rory Miller wrote the other day. Actually, it’s a rabbit hole down a sidetrack that might be (but probably isn’t) a true disagreement, which means at most it’s only a minor quibble on an unrelated point, which is why I’m not just posting this as a comment over there. Anyway, in the midst of an awesome post about other things, Rory quotes a Deputy Marshall who said, “Holstering without looking is useful, because it allows you to watch for threats.”

That’s absolutely true, in the law enforcement world. But is it true for us?

Risk versus benefit

I’m a big fan of looking at everything we do in training as a balance between risk and benefit. And for people who are not law enforcement officers (LEOs), I just don’t see a lot of value in holstering without looking, compared to the small but nonzero risk of doing so.

As far as the risk goes, LEOs have an extremely low level of risk when they put the service sized gun back into an uncovered holster without looking.

But the risk of a deadly fumble increases when the holster hides under layers of clothing, and increases still more for those who wear their guns in a deep concealment location such as in a pocket, bra, belly band, or inside a collapsible holster. That higher risk should create an equally high level of caution every time we put the gun away.

When do you holster?

LEOs often must reholster in order to get cuffs onto the unrestrained suspect. That’s why holstering with eyes on the threat is such a critical law enforcement skill.

For regular citizens, we should put the gun down only when the threat is completely gone or the authorities have arrived. 1 If the scene is still so dangerous that we don’t dare glance down or away from the primary threat even for a brief moment, it’s still far too dangerous for us to put the gun away at all — with or without looking.

Unlike LEOs, we should not go near the suspect or put hands on them if we can possibly avoid it. Our only job is to stay alive and we aren’t required to do anything else.

Bottom line

There’s still a minor value in learning the skill, since nothing’s 100%. It’s nice to be so familiar with your equipment that you know where everything is, and to trust yourself and your gear so much that you can move confidently with it. But with the above factors in mind, holstering without looking just isn’t that important for people who aren’t in law enforcement, and in view of the risks it should not rate very high on the training priorities list.

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Footnotes

  1. If the situation is serious enough that you need to draw your gun, it is serious enough that you need to call the cops.
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Sweet Daisy Defense

Here’s another review that’s been sitting on my desk for awhile. As everyone who reads this website probably knows by now, I’m a big proponent of on-body carry for women — and I also believe that every woman who carries a gun on body should have a backup plan that includes a holstered purse (in case of wardrobe malfunctions or an appointment with the scale in the doctor’s office). Lots more to say about that particular topic, which you can find under the “articles” link to your left. Meanwhile… here’s a review.

Sweet Daisy Designs holster purse

This is a cute fabric purse with a dedicated holster pocket for the gun. Absolutely love the basic design, which works well and is (to my eye, anyway) very attractive. The holster compartment is large enough to hold at least a mid-size gun without problem, and the opening is just wide enough that I can get my hand out with the gun held properly.

The purse uses a velcro opening into the gun compartment, which I think is wonderful. And before you ask: yes, of course opening the velcro makes noise! But it just sounds like you’re getting into your purse for your keys or something. Hardly a big deal.

The basic layout of this purse is very intuitive and very flexible, and because the compartment is lined with velcro, you’ll be able to choose exactly which holster you want to put in there. Speaking of flexible, the purse can easily be set up for either left- or right-handed access, which I think is really important.

When I first started handling this bag, I was concerned that durability might be an issue, especially around the edges of the entry points into the gun compartment. Mentioned this to the maker, and she tells me they’ve added extra stitching to that and other stress points within the bag. Yay!

Don’t plan to use this purse for concealed carry until you’ve gotten a holster to hold the gun securely inside the compartment. I recommend going with a velcro-based design (such as the UH1 from Condor Outdoors or the Universal CCW Holster from Maxpedition). Even though you can instead use a clip-based belt holster, that tends to be a bit more bulky and harder to access.

Thumbs up, with all the usual purse caveats.

 

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Alien Gear Holster

I’m notoriously slow at writing up holster and gear reviews, but I do generally get around to it. Here’s one that’s on my desk right now:

Alien Gear Cloak Tuck Holster

This is a hybrid-style holster made entirely of synthetic materials with a soft, flexible back and a rigid front.

The holster attaches to the belt using plasic loops that are open at the bottom, which gives me some concern for long term durability, though so far it has held up well. The clips appear easy to replace if that becomes an issue.

The design is tuckable and allows you to adjust the angle that the holster rides on your belt. Like all two-attachment holsters of this type, it takes up a lot of real estate on the belt. This one works best behind the hip and I would not recommend it for appendix carry.

Of course there are many other holsters of this basic design on the market. The all-synthetic materials set this one apart, and it’s surprisingly comfortable to wear.

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Disassemble

From my email box:

“Always treat every gun as loaded.  What do you do when you’re cleaning your guns?  I try to follow this rule too but I’d admit I’ve broken it to look down the barrel of a gun, etc in the cleaning process.  Now I always check and double check to make sure I’m not looking down the barrel of a loaded gun and there’s no finger on the trigger but it still makes me nervous to do it.  But sometimes it’s necessary.  So how do you handle that?”

This is still a gun, and must be treated with cautious respect.

This is still a gun, and must be treated with cautious respect.

As the letter writer points out, one of the most important questions raised by the safety rules is, “What’s a gun?” We don’t point a gun at things we’re not willing to shoot. We don’t put thoughtless fingers on the trigger of a gun. We choose a safe direction whenever we handle a gun. And on and on. So this becomes a critical question: What is a gun? More important, what isn’t a gun?

The definition I use, and which has stood me well for many years, is simply this: A gun is anything that can launch a bullet. If it cannot launch a bullet, it isn’t a gun. Please note that this definition has nothing to do with whether or not a bullet is present. It has to do with the thing itself. If the thing can fire a round of ammunition, it’s a gun. If it can’t, it isn’t.

Using this definition, a disassembled gun is not a gun. It is simply a collection of parts that can, with time and care, be put together to create a gun.

This is not a gun, and it's okay to handle it like the collection of parts that it is.

This is not a gun, and it’s okay to handle it like the collection of parts that it is.

For the well-trained shooter, it takes neither much time nor special care to fire a round from an unloaded gun or from a gun with its action locked open. We see that every time we practice our reloads for competition or for self defense. For this reason, the simple act of unloading the gun, or of locking the action open, is not sufficient to turn the working firearm into “not a gun” for safety-rules purposes.

Breaking it down

With that background definition in mind, the thorny question about how to handle guns while cleaning becomes much more simple. It practically answers itself! Until the gun has been broken down to the point where it can no longer launch a bullet, I continue to treat it with the cautious respect I’d give a loaded weapon. But once the slide or cylinder has been removed, or the gun otherwise taken apart and disabled, I can treat the pile of gun parts with a much more relaxed attitude. If I need to look down the barrel to be sure it’s really clean, that’s no big deal — because when it’s not attached to the rest of the gun’s parts, that barrel is nothing more than a piece of metal that could never launch a bullet.

If I wanted to clean guns with my students in the classroom, I would have a bucket full of sand or a Safe Direction pad or a clearing barrel set up to provide a true, solid backstop. Then I would allow the students, one at a time, to break each gun into its major components while keeping the muzzle pointed pointed only at that safe backstop. If each student brought a shoebox or small plastic box over to the backstop station, they could easily drop the disassembled pieces into that box and then take the pieces over to their cleaning areas with no risk to themselves or other students.

When the gun needs to be reassembled and function-tested, it can be partially put together and then returned to the backstop station for the final steps. That means the muzzle will always be pointed in a safe direction as the gun becomes able to launch a bullet, and you won’t have students inadvertently muzzling each other or the walls as guns go into battery.

I’d still keep ammunition out of the classroom environment, of course — just as I keep ammo out of the room while cleaning the gun at home. But that’s the second layer of safety, not the primary one. The primary layer of safety is an ironclad habit of handling the firearm with respect.

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Dry Fire and Rule One

Came across this again: someone complaining about the universal rules of gun safety.

Here’s what he wrote:

“There are no absolutes, even the ‘4 Rules’. One of them that a majority of gun owners break is, ‘Never point a firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy.’ I break it everytime I break down a firearm that requires me to dry-fire the weapon. Or for that matter if I’m doing work on a gun and I need to function check it. One of the major function checks is to make sure the trigger actually works and resets. I can point it in the safest of directions but I’m still in a residential area and I never intend to destroy what’s at the business end of my muzzle.”

While at first glance it may seem that this is a sensible objection, it’s mostly a simple misunderstanding of a single word. When you look more closely at that one word, the objection vanishes.

The key here is in the definition of the word willing.

Willing does not always mean eager. Many times, it just means to thoughtfully consent. Inside the context of the Four Rules, being willing to do something means that you knowingly, fully accept the risk of doing it and — after thinking about it! — you agree that you can comfortably live with the results of taking that risk should something go wrong.

To illustrate how this plays out, I absolutely never want to shoot a loaded gun inside my own home. That would be noisy and messy. But even though it’s not something I’m eager to do, after thinking about it carefully, it turns out that I am willing to do exactly that under some conditions.

For me, I have decided that I will freely accept the results of shooting a loaded gun inside my house in only two contexts:

  • If I will die, or if someone I love will die, if I don’t fire, I am willing to accept the consequences of deliberately firing the gun inside my house, even if it means the intruder might die. Would not want to do that and am absolutely not eager to do anything like it, but I am willing to accept that much potential cost in exchange for the benefit of staying alive and keeping my family alive.

-OR-

  • If I know I have an absolutely solid, will-definitely-stop-a-bullet safe backstop, I am willing to accept the consequences of unintentionally shooting a live round at that safe backstop. I’m not eager to deal with the hassle of cleaning up the mess or explaining it to my family. But I am willing to accept that much cost — which would be only minor property damage and nothing more — in exchange for the convenience benefit of handling firearms at home.

As I’ve said before, there are certainly ways to stay within the 4 Rules when you dry fire. So whenever I handle a gun at home, regardless of how often or how well I’ve checked the chamber, I still do the following:

  1. I still treat even the “unloaded” gun with the same cautious respect I’d give it if I knew for sure it was loaded and would fire if I pulled the trigger (Rule 1).
  2. With the gun in my hand, I remain strongly aware of where the muzzle points and do not point it at anything I’m not willing to accept the consequences of shooting (Rule 2).
  3. If I need to dry fire or disassemble the gun, I still refuse to touch the trigger until I’ve consciously picked out a safe place for the bullet to land (Rule 3).
  4. And when I look for that safe place for the bullet to go, I choose only one that I know for sure would actively stop a bullet of the most powerful round my gun is able to fire (Rule 4).

Stay safe!

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Punch in the Gut

This one hit me right in the gut.  It happened about an hour up the road from my house. A young man was cleaning — or getting ready to clean — his AR while his even younger wife was sitting at the computer. For whatever reason, he pointed the “unloaded” rifle at her head and pulled the trigger. She’s dead, he’s in jail. 19 and 20 years old. Same age as my kids.

The thing that gets me about this kind of thing is that it’s so senseless. If only he hadn’t been steeped in the military culture that says we’ll just keep the guns unloaded and ammunition out of the way, and as long as there’s no ammunition around we can do whatever we want with the gun … maybe his wife would still be alive right now.

Everyone always wants to blame tragedies like this on “not checking” the gun’s loaded or unloaded status. If only he’d checked more carefully, we think! If only the gun wasn’t loaded! If only he’d followed Rule One!

But the other three rules matter too.

She would still be alive today if he had not pointed the gun at someone he wasn’t willing to kill.

She would still be alive today if he refused to touch the trigger until he had consciously picked out a safe place for the bullet to land, just in case there was a bullet in the chamber.

She would still be alive if he had checked and double-checked that he was okay with the bullet going where it ultimately went.

He didn’t do any of those things, and yet people hearing this story will almost always stop with, “Well, he should have checked it…”

  1.  All guns are always loaded. (Treat them so!)
  2.  Never point the gun at anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3.  Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you have made the decision to shoot.
  4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

If only this poor guy had stubbornly created a solid, no excuses, built-in habit of always treating the “unloaded” gun with exactly the same respect and caution he’d give a loaded one… but he didn’t.

And his life is ruined and hers is over. 1

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Footnotes


  1. Initial report

    Arrested and in court

    As always, all I know is what I read in the papers; more information may come out as the investigation goes forward. My blog post is based on the news articles linked above which reflects information available to me on 10/19/2014, not on anything that may come to light in the future.

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“But *I* am really advanced–!”

Yesterday’s blog post apparently struck a few nerves among the unsafe-but-macho crowd. Here are some of the responses people posted on the Cornered Cat Facebook page.

“…once you get to certain levels, it’s unavoidable and not a big issue anymore.

and

I actually think, under certain circumstances, it’s OK to dry fire at each other. When I got my training, we were doing this constantly.

and

Train as you fight. 1

For all these guys, the bedrock principles of gun safety are — negotiable. They’re for other people, people who aren’t as well-trained or smart or advanced in their gun handling skills. Certainly the rules can’t be for experienced, serious shooters… could they?

Well, yes.

Here’s a death that happened as a direct result of that kind of thinking. Tara Drummond, age 23, died on Sept. 13, 2006, at the North Central Georgia Law Enforcement Academy in Austell. She was killed by Sergeant Al Jackson, a man who had been a certified law enforcement firearms trainer for more than a decade at the time he killed Drummond. According to the Cobb County Sheriff’s official investigation synopsis [pdf link], Sergeant Al Jackson had “extensive training in the use and instruction of firearms.” Perhaps he felt that he was advanced enough that basic rules no longer applied to him.

In any case, during the class he taught, Sergeant Jackson pointed a functional but supposed-to-be unloaded gun directly at Tara Drummond’s chest. Then he pulled the trigger. And she died, 23 years old, bleeding out on the floor of the classroom surrounded by friends and fellow students.

“During the course of follow up interviews at the academy, several students expressed concern for Sergeant Jackson’s conduct prior to the shooting. Sergeant Jackson instructed the students to point their weapons at each other while doing drills facing another student. The students stated they were pointing their weapons at the wall to avoid direct aim at their classmates. Sergeant Jackson stated that the students needed to experience pointing their weapon at another person. Students were verbally and physically moved into this face to face position by Sergeant Jackson.”

The report concludes: “Sergeant Al Jackson … was properly trained in firearms safety and instruction. He deviated from the basic fundamentals of firearms safety which resulted in this tragedy.”

That’s probably no comfort to the dead woman’s family.

I don’t care who you are or what you think you’re doing when you pick up the gun. Never point a functional firearm — loaded or not, checked or not, inside a classroom or not — at someone you aren’t willing to kill.

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Footnotes

  1. For the “train as you fight” guy: We fight with loaded guns, not unloaded ones. The concepts here may be a little too advanced for bumper-sticker slogans, but if you’re not willing to do the drill with a fully loaded gun, you should not be doing it with a functional but allegedly-unloaded one either.
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