So a few days ago, I met up with Rory Miller, Don Stahlnecker, and a few mutual friends to discuss handgun retention and disarm techniques. These are the skills that allow you to maintain control of your own firearm or to take control of someone else’s gun. We discussed physical and philosophical answers to questions such as, How do you hold onto your firearm when someone is trying to take it away from you? Why would you need the skills to do so? When wouldn’t you just shoot the dude who was grabbing for your gun? What are the most critical gun-retention skills for people who carry weapons, and what are the most efficient ways to teach those skills?
We compared the techniques we have been using and teaching against the ones others were teaching and using. Which techniques held up best? What were the strengths and weaknesses of each one? Could we improve the body mechanics in any way, or make any of the technique easier to teach or learn? Was every single technique as simple, as realistic, and as robust as we could manage?
I’m still processing a lot of the things I learned while we worked and talked. Some of it may turn out to be world-shaking. Most of our research simply confirmed or reinforced things I already knew about holding onto a firearm in close quarters: it’s difficult, risky, and hugely important. The most critical skills aren’t intuitive and all require some practice to master.
While we worked—and this will sound familiar to those who have taken one of my classes—we refined the list of reasons why retentions and disarms even matter. To begin with, when someone tries to grab the gun away, our very first, preferred technique is to “pull the felon repulsion lever.” So why not use this simple, intuitive action—of pulling the trigger and shooting the person trying to disarm us—as our only technique for maintaining control of our own firearm?
The short answer is, because pulling the trigger doesn’t always solve the problem by itself. Perhaps the gun jammed when the bad guy grabbed for it, as often happens when other hands are on the gun. Perhaps the bad guy has managed to hold the slide out of battery, or he’s preventing the cylinder from turning, so you can’t fire the gun. Or perhaps his grab successfully blocked your finger from reaching the trigger. Perhaps you fired and missed. Or fired and hit, but that failed to stop the attack; you really only get the one guaranteed shot because jams happen so often in close quarters when you’re rassling over the gun. Maybe the person reaching for the gun isn’t a bad guy at all, and isn’t someone you need to shoot—someone like drunk Uncle Joe who “just wants to see that there gun of yours,” or like a young child who reaches for the gun without permission. Perhaps it isn’t safe to shoot because a loved one would be in the line of fire. For all these reasons, you may need a gun retention skillset that extends beyond simply knowing how to pull the trigger.
What about disarms, the skills we use to get a gun out of the hand of someone else?
At the beginning of the day, Rory told me that he’s skeptical of disarm skills in general, because they can be used only in such very narrow and rare circumstances. For these skills to come into play, the bad guy has to have you at gunpoint. You have to be within close arm’s reach. If he intended to kill you right then, you’d be dead already, so he cannot have decided to kill you yet, which means there’s something he wants from you first. You have to believe that he will kill you whether or not you comply with his demands (otherwise, why not just give him what he wants, like handing him your wallet), and you have to fully commit to fighting back, knowing that a half-hearted response from you may actually trigger the shot you’re trying to prevent.
This list of scenario-based requirements means women, especially young women, are more likely to need these skills than men are. Think about it! Rapists, kidnappers, and serial killers typically find their victims in one place, and move them to another place, often at gunpoint. This would be a scenario where the intended victim is being held at gunpoint, at extremely close ranges, by a criminal who definitely intends to kill her but who does not want to kill her yet. We all know—or we should all know!—that we never, ever, ever let the criminal move us to the “secondary crime scene.” Since we know that, wouldn’t it be good to have the physical skills to effectively resist that move, even if the bad guy already has his gun out and aimed at you? I think so. I think it’s critical, and too rarely taught or learned.
We also discussed techniques for instructors to take control of a student’s gun when needed. If you have a panicky student and there’s an immediate, life-threatening safety concern, how do you get the gun out of that student’s hand with the least amount of danger to yourself or others?
Fortunately, there are solutions for all of these problems, solutions that help you maintain control of your own gun or remove the gun from the criminal’s control. Unfortunately, the solutions don’t come intuitively. They need to be taught. More than that, they need to be taught in person—not because they’re secret woo-woo ninja moves, but because (like most physical skills) they require instant, personalized feedback during the learning process. Once you’ve learned the skills, you can practice them on your own with likeminded others and spread the word around. But you can’t grab these skills out of a book or off a video and expect to do well with them, not any more than you could expect to learn how to waterski from watching a video or reading a book.