The Cornered Cat
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The Spellcheck Problem (Explained Discreetly)

This is really about firearms, but let’s start by discussing the spellcheck problem.

“Dew knot trussed yore spill chick two fined awl yore missed aches.”

Some people do not recognize the word discreetly when it is spelled and used correctly. These people often default to using discretely — which is a different word entirely, with a separate (and dare I say, discrete) meaning from the first word.

This is the type of error that the spellcheck program will not catch. The person used a valid word even though it is not the one the person intended to use. Spellcheck can’t help with that. Grammar check rarely catches this type of error either.

But that’s not the real problem.

Here’s the real problem: People rarely, if ever, spot our own errors of this type. We can’t! Telling us to proofread our work, or to check our spelling, will not help us find this type of confident mistake. We cannot see the error because we don’t realize it is an error. If we knew the right word, we would probably have used it in the first place. So we cannot see the error when we proofread what we wrote, either. We see only that the document says exactly what we intended to write. Must not be any mistakes here!

While we accurately see the word, we simply cannot see the mistake in its use.

A discreet check of the dictionary would show us the error in our thinking. But when someone has made a mistake of this type, we never think to check the dictionary, because we don’t feel any insecurity in our word choice. We may even discreetly try to “correct” another person’s spelling, because we are so very confident in how we spelled the word and the spellcheck never told us otherwise.

The spellcheck problem is a different one than a simple typo. A typo is usually just fumbly fingers — typing teh instead of the, or well instead of we’ll. The first type of mistake can be caught by spellcheck, and the second is usually caught on the re-read, because most of us can easily see the difference between the word we intended to use and the word that appears on the screen.

But a person who uses the wrong word or phrase because they are fully convinced they are using the right one, cannot be helped by spellcheck. And they cannot find the mistake when they read the work themselves, either.

What we “know” gets in the way of what we need to see.

And … Firearms?

This is an exact analogy to asking people who don’t know about gun safety to check each other for safe gunhandling on the range. Very few people actually intend to put themselves or anyone else at risk with the way they handle a gun. Instead, most people who handle guns unsafely do so because they don’t realize they’re doing it, and also because they don’t know how to not do it.

This is also why so many bad gunhandlers get offended when someone else makes a comment about how they handled the gun. They honestly don’t believe they have done anything wrong. If they knew they were endangering themselves and others, they most likely would not have done it. You have just accused them of doing something they know they would never do, because they’re not the kind of person who would or could kill someone else without meaning to.

They pointed the muzzle at you, or at themselves. Maybe they had their finger on the trigger when it should not have been. But they did not know that they had done that. Or (perhaps worse) they did not realize that doing things that way could be a problem.

What bad gunhandling habit do you see in this still from a surveillance video?

People don’t notice when the dude at the gun shop points the gun at his own left hand, because they don’t know to look for it. Or because they think it’s no big deal as long as the gun is unloaded.

They don’t notice when someone points the gun into their body core as they reholster, because they don’t realize that’s a problem in the first place. Or they know it could be a problem, but they don’t realize they’ve done it themselves because it does not feel as dangerous as it looks when someone else does it.

People don’t realize they are using the decocker incorrectly, or failing to use the thumb safety at the appropriate times, or sweeping everyone to the left of them as they put the gun into their range bag.

Sometimes, they have a sense that maybe they need to do something differently — so they move more quickly as they do all of these things!

This is why even experienced shooters should attend a good class from time to time. We cannot spot the errors we make with full confidence. Just as we confidently type discretely when we mean discreetly, and never even feel the impulse to look it up since we “know” the word we used, the shooting mistakes we’ve been making with full confidence will never be corrected, unless we voluntarily ask a skilled and competent observer to help us find and fix them.

The confident-mistake problem applies just as much to shooting and gunhandling skills as it does to basic safety behavior. It isn’t only a beginner problem, but it applies to all of us at different times.

This is also why potential students should look very suspiciously at any program that has novices-watching-novices as a part of the safety protocols. People cannot see whole categories of our own mistakes, and naive observers are also unlikely to catch those same mistakes when others make them. Because of this, setting novices to watch novices may help the observers learn to see the errors, but it does little or nothing for safety among those who are handling the guns at the moment.

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Unintentional Discharges Project – Part 3

Several of my gun-owning friends have asked me about the (sigh) political side of the “Unintended” project. Have I thought about the risks and dangers of collecting and talking openly about these events? Do I realize that this work could be used against us, politically? Shouldn’t we just … you know … kind of keep quiet about these types of incidents?

Short answers: yes, yes, and NO.

Let’s talk about that.

Not too long after a highly-publicized mass murder awhile back, one of my old friends contacted me. This friend is essentially against firearms ownership for ordinary people, and is very much in favor of laws that make it much harder for people with low incomes to afford owning them. But she is still my friend, and I am still her friend. 1

While we talked, my friend claimed (and boy, did she sound frustrated!) that I should agree with her about making guns more difficult to own. After all, she said, on this website, I talk all the time about the dangers of handling firearms carelessly or irresponsibly. She said that I constantly encourage people who own guns to learn more about them, to become more skilled at handling them safely. She pointed out that I often tell people about the dangers of bad gun-related products, such as “holsters” that do not hold the gun securely or protect the trigger in a solid and reliable way. And, my friend told me, every time I talk about how people can hurt themselves or others by not using their guns responsibly, I am giving more energy to her ideas about keeping guns away from people who want to own them.

This makes sense … on the surface. But look a little deeper: my friend was saying that gun owners’ voluntary (and sometimes expensive) efforts to be responsible and careful with their firearms is really evidence — catch this! — that gun owners cannot be trusted to be either responsible or careful with their firearms.

That’s nuts.

We should say so, often and loudly. That is an extremely weird and non-rational way to think!

While I am extremely sensitive to all the different ways the anti-rights people can use our attempts to educate each other against us, I’m also not a fan of the type of thinking that would point to this type of conversation as an argument that ordinary people can’t be trusted with tools to protect themselves and the people they love. That’s just not sane thinking there.

More to the point.

My reference files are full of links to news stories about unintentional, accidental, and negligent discharges that happen in public, sometimes with disastrous results. (Did you see the one last week, about the gun that fell out of a guy’s pocket while he was sitting on a couch at Ikea, and a child found it and fired it?) The news stories about situations  where people got hurt, or got charged with a crime, are not exactly hard to find and anyone who’s looking for those can easily find them.

At the same time, stories found only in the news are not all that useful for educational purposes, except in very broad terms that may-or-may-not have anything to do with the event as it actually happened.

Clue: when a “news” report starts off with a reference to a “Glock revolver” or somesuch, you know there’s not going to be anything in the details of that story you can trust. And that’s even assuming that the article offers any real information about what actually happened, which generally they do not. They’ll report what the gun owner has been charged with, or how the neighbors felt, or what the police spokesperson said … but the brief sentence (if that) about what actually happened to kick off all those reactions and feelings will be buried well down toward the bottom of the article, as an afterthought, if it’s there at all. And the details in that part of the story are usually about as trustworthy as a wall full of termites.

So if we want to educate ourselves and each other, we have to be willing to talk about our own learning points, and learn from the mistakes others talk about.

By the way, with at least 50 million households in America having guns in them, and more than 16 million people with concealed carry permits, it would be absolutely shocking if we did not see some of these mistakes happening from time to time. In absolute numbers, these are common events. But as a percentage value, for how often they happen vs how many people own guns and handle them on a daily basis, unintentional discharges are extraordinarily rare. It’s easy to get a skewed understanding of how often such mistakes happen just because the stories are so memorable and heart-stopping when they do happen. But they are extremely uncommon.

So people with a political or public policy agenda can easily find headlines to bolster their cause, but the details (that aren’t reported) are where we as gun owners can learn the lessons we need to learn in order to avoid making new headlines. We can learn a lot from these events, but only as long as we’re willing to actually talk about them.

What happened? How did it happen? What factors do the people who were there think are important?

That’s what we need to know. 2

Notes:

  1. Which is a good thing. The idea that people can (or worse, should) only be friends with people who agree with them on everything is … harmful. And if you don’t agree, I guess that means you and I can’t be friends, hm? So maybe there’s no point in disagreeing with me about this one.  😉
  2. I am still collecting stories about unintended, accidental, and negligent discharges (and close calls). If you’d like to help, please send your story with as many details as you remember and are willing to share to pax at cornered cat dot com. Unless you prefer otherwise and clearly let me know, your contribution will be anonymous. Thanks!
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Unintentional Discharges Project – Part 2

Awhile back, I got interested in how firearms mishaps occur — especially mishaps that involve experienced shooters who should know better. What leads up to them? What mistakes are frequently made and why are those mistakes made? When a gun “just goes off,” what common factors might be involved? 1

My interest was not sparked by any serious mishap of my own (thank goodness, knock on wood), but by listening to people, especially newcomers, on the range as they discussed how to stay safe around firearms. It seems to me that studying how people have endangered themselves might help the rest of us avoid making similar mistakes.

One question I have constantly thought about while doing this study: Are the Four Rules actually enough to prevent negligent shots, or should firearms handling be hedged about with additional safety precautions over and above the Four Rules?

For reference, here are the Four Rules:

  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 muzzle is on target and you have made the decision to shoot.
  4. Be sure of your target and what’s around it.

Not one of these four universal safety rules, by itself, will prevent an unintentional shot. Rather, they are intended to overlap and provide redundant layers of protection from injuries.

Further, even all four of the rules together do not entirely prevent all unexpected or unintentional shots. We see this in a number of incidents where people fired more quickly than expected, even while carefully following every single one of the safety rules on the range. So even all the rules working together do not always stop an unexpected round. The overlapping rules do, however, make it almost impossible for a normal moment of inattention to injure or kill someone.

This what we see, over and over again, as we look at these types of events. Keep this in mind, because it turns out that many — the vast majority! — of close calls happen when people are in fact doing their reasonable best to handle guns safely under the normal pressures of everyday life.

The overlapping rules are based upon two universal truths:

  1. All human beings make mistakes.
  2. All mechanical devices can fail.

These safety protocols overlap. This is by design! The overlapping nature of these rules serves to reduce the number of bad outcomes from the mistakes that humans will sometimes make. The rules do not prevent mistakes, but they do make it less likely that  normal human mistakes will turn into unbearable tragedies. They also function as redundant systems to help protect human lives when a mechanical device fails.

It is important to understand that a shooter can break every single one of the rules and still avoid injury or tragedy through sheer luck.

The gun that you expect to be empty might really be empty.

The unexpectedly-fired bullet might be stopped by a solid 2×4 stud in the wall instead of passing through sheetrock and empty space to hit the child sleeping on the other side.

The noise in the brush that the excited hunter shoots at might actually be a deer instead of another hunter.

Luck happens.

***

Luck happens.
But we never, ever count on luck.

***

Nor is luck the only factor. Because the basic rules are designed to work together and function as an interlocking safety net, even when a shooter breaks one rule, very often a different rule – or a remnant of one – can save that shooter’s bacon.

For instance, a person handling a gun might sometimes pull the trigger without first pointing the muzzle at a specific target with a solid backstop. This would, of course, break Rule Three. Perhaps they never realized that this rule applies to gunhandling at home as well as on the range. Maybe they “only” meant to take the gun apart or to check the trigger after they cleaned it, and did not think of Rule Three at all. In any case, the person did not choose a specific place for a bullet to land before they touched the trigger, which means they definitely broke Rule Three.

But the person who did this might still avoid an unintentional discharge because they did double-check the gun to be sure that it was truly empty (one possible implication of Rule One, although not the most important aspect of that rule).

Or they might unexpectedly fire the gun, but still avoid injury because they at least kept their own body parts away from the muzzle while they were handling it (a weakened form of Rule Two).

This means that even a single poorly-understood or poorly-followed rule can help prevent a tragedy. That’s the way the interlocking safety rules are designed to work.

***

Even a poorly-understood or poorly-followed rule
can help prevent a tragedy
.

***

This does not mean it is a smart idea to ignore any one of the rules simply because we intend to follow at least one of the others. It only means that people who try to follow the rules often avoid injury because the rules are so very redundant.

Understood completely and used properly, the gunhandling rules work together to create a strong safety net. Habitually breaking one of the rules means that the shooter’s safety net has a gaping hole in that particular spot. It means the shooter has decided to gamble that he will never make a single mistake within the area formerly covered by that rule.

Is this a safe gamble? I don’t think so!

As one of the shooters in my files admits, “In spite of having years of experience handling firearms, all it took was one moment of distraction for a near tragedy to occur.” In many of these cases, a single moment of distraction caused – or nearly caused – a tragedy simply because the person had in the past avoided the same unfortunate outcome only by repeated good luck.

When used as intended, the redundant and interlocking rules make it impossible for a single moment of inattention to cause any lasting harm. So as you will see in the collected stories when they are published, injuries and close calls happen most often when someone violates more than one of the rules.

This is why it is important to follow each rule, every time, even though they overlap. Even in circumstances where it might feel overly cautious to follow all of the rules all the time, the rules overlap for good reason.

When a person regularly breaks one rule, but has long avoided serious consequence by consciously and carefully following one of the other rules, this is the circumstance where a single moment of distraction can cause danger, injury, or death – because this is the exact condition under which the interlocking rules are no longer redundant and no longer protect against that single moment of inattention.

This is why “but it’s unloaded!” is the most foolish response of all, when someone calls out careless gunhandling for what it is: dangerous.

In the near future, I will be releasing an e-book that contains many of these incidents, along with some observations about what we can learn from the experiences of others. I hope it will be useful to you!

Notes:

  1. I am still collecting these stories. If you would like to help, please send your story — along with as many details as you can recall and feel comfortable sharing — to pax at cornered cat dot com. Unless you prefer otherwise and clearly let me know, your contribution will be anonymous.
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Unintentional Discharges Project – Part 1

Still busily working away on the ND / AD / UD project.

Do you wonder how it’s coming along?

Well… here’s the bottom line, right up front.

***

Unintentional discharges happen when people handle firearms …

  • while distracted or physically stressed;
  • while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including prescription drugs;
  • while ignorant of, or apathetic toward, fundamental aspects of firearm function and/or safe gunhandling;
  • while unfamiliar with a specific gun type;
  • while mixing functional guns with dummy guns, or while handling guns presumed to be “unloaded” alongside guns known to be loaded;
  • while mechanically lowering an external hammer;
  • while using a decocking lever or closing the action (this factor is not limited to guns in poor repair);
  • while using equipment — guns and holsters — in poor repair;
  • while using holsters that are poorly designed, or while using a holster carelessly;
  • while relying upon personal attention to detail rather than proven and redundantly overlapping gunhandling systems; and
  • while believing ‘it can never happen to me’.

Injurious unintentional discharges – ones that maim or kill someone  – tend to happen most often when the gun handler mistakenly believes that the gun is unloaded. Many of these injuries happen when the user deliberately pulls the trigger.

 

More to follow …

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Unintentional and unexpected discharges — ND, AD, and other

Right now, I’m looking for people who have either experienced or personally witnessed an unexpected, accidental or negligent discharge who are willing to tell their stories anonymously. These would be used in an upcoming book project.

If this describes you, please send your story — with as many details as you clearly remember and are willing to share — to pax AT cornered cat dot com. I will protect your privacy while using your story to help others stay safe.

***

Firearms instructors: I would especially & particularly like to hear from you about close calls and near misses during classes, especially ones where you learned something important about teaching or running a range.

Thanks!

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What is “Training”?

Words mean things. For example, the word “training” does not mean the same thing as the word “education.” In the same way, the word “practice” does not mean the same thing as “training”, and neither one is the same as “testing.”

Education, training, practice, and testing are all needed for robust physical skills development. But none of these words means the same thing as any other.

The word “training”, in particular, has so often been abused by shooters that it has all but lost its actual meaning. This is too bad, as it expresses a really important concept.

What is “training”?

Let’s look at the word’s meaning in other domains:

Driver education happens in a classroom. It is followed by driver training. Driver training happens on the road, with a teacher watching carefully from the passenger seat as you perform the skills you discussed in class.

College education also happens in classrooms. It is often followed by on-the-job training, which is supposed to involve a qualified other showing you the practical realities of doing the job you studied in school. The observer should look at the work you do and give you feedback on how you are performing the skills the job requires you to perform.

So …

Firearms education can happen in a classroom. It can and often does also happen by reading books, watching videos, and studying other material either alone or with others. And of course it often also happens on the range during a class as the instructor provides new information for students to absorb before encouraging them to try a new physical skill.

As with other types of training, firearms training happens when a qualified other watches as you perform a skill, and then provides competent feedback about what you did and how you can improve your performance of that skill. Training in this sense happens only when there is a qualified other who watches you perform the skills and also gives you meaningful feedback about how you can improve your performance of those skills.

In the firearms world, training typically (not always) happens during classes on the range. It typically does not happen in casual shooting sessions with friends, although it can do so if your friends are competent shooters and skilled observers who do in actual fact watch you shoot — not just look at your targets, but actually watch you shoot — and who are also willing to give you useful and meaningful feedback about how you can improve. 1

Is practice, training? Is training, practice?

By definition, training never happens in solo practice sessions. Solo practice is not training, because there’s no one around to observe and give feedback. That’s okay; solo sessions are good and necessary too. But they are not training. They are practice.

Practice is where you take the skills you learned (or refined) during training, and make them your own. This is generally a private thing between a shooter and the target, whether or not friends are with you at the range. This is where you perform the skill so many times that it becomes natural for you to do it the way you learned to do it during your education and training.

Testing

Education, training, and practice should be followed by testing. How well have you learned to perform the skills you were taught? Are those skills robust enough to hold up under pressure? Are the techniques you learned sturdy enough to outperform other ways people might try to do the same basic things?

In the firearms world, testing typically happens during a competitive game. Such a competition may be built into a class, such as during a man-on-man shoot off or a timed qualification or even a rolling thunder drill performed as a race between two groups of students. It may be informal, such as when you challenge the person next to you to get a smaller group than your own within a set amount of time, or to knock down a number of steel targets in less time than you can. It may be formal, such as sanctioned USPSA or IDPA competitions run by shooting clubs.

Education, training, practice, and competition are all needed for robust skills development in the defensive shooting world. But they are not the same thing.

Notes:

  1. This combination of competence and bravery does not happen often; cherish such people!
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Thumb, Finger, Anchor … H-o-l-s-t-e-r

The title of this post should give most of my former students flashbacks. Chant it with me, everyone!  🙂

Moving the finger away from the side of the gun makes room for the holster to fit around the gun.

“Thumb. Finger. Anchor. … Holster.”

That’s the mantra we repeat as we put the gun into the holster. It means check the position of your thumb, check the position of your trigger finger, use your non-shooting hand to anchor any loose clothing well away from the holster area, and then — deliberately, consciously, while paying attention to what you’re doing — slowly ease the gun into the holster.

I hope by now it isn’t necessary to remind everyone why we pay attention when we use a holster. Or why we take a second to holster.

On guns equipped with a grip safety, moving the thumb to the back of the slide also gets your hand off the grip safety.

The trigger finger should be away from the side of the gun during this process. This makes room for the holster to snug itself around the gun without bumping into your finger or dislodging it onto the trigger.

We anchor the non-shooting hand so that it will definitely stay out of the way and will not drift in front of the muzzle either while we draw the gun or while we’re putting it away. And of course we will use that hand to hold onto any loose clothing, so it can’t getting into the holster along with the gun and foul us up.

But what’s this bit about the thumb?

With a 1911 pattern pistol, moving the thumb upwards lets you check the position of the thumb safety (up is on) and sense or prevent any hammer movement.

Well, I strongly suggest that people put the thumb on the back of the slide or alongside the hammer as they put the gun away. Note that we still keep a good firing grip with the other fingers. We never just “drop” the gun somewhere in the vicinity of the holster mouth and then shove it the rest of the way into place with the heel of the hand! 1 Dropping the gun into the holster, without maintaining a solid grip on the gun, is uncontrolled and thus unsafe, which is why we don’t do it that way.

On any gun with an exposed hammer, the thumb can prevent the hammer from moving if the trigger gets bumped as you holster.

Rather, we move the thumb upwards while maintaining full control of the gun with our other fingers wrapped securely around the gun and the trigger finger away from the side of the gun. This way, we have activated any safeties that need to be activated. The trigger finger is away from the trigger and will not be snagged by the holster. And if we need to, we would be able to quickly bring the gun back up and into play without having lost our good firing grip.

It is tempting to think of this thumb placement as being very gear-specific. It really isn’t. Although it has different benefits depending on the type of gun you use, it is beneficial for nearly every type of gun.

Oh! Please note that we are talking here only about how we hold the gun as we put it into the holster. During the draw is a different subject entirely.

In any case, putting the thumb in this location as the gun goes into the holster can be a very good habit, regardless of the gun type being used.

On a gun with a loaded-chamber indicator, moving the thumb to the back of the slide gives you one more check of the gun’s status as you holster.

Here’s why:

  • For any gun equipped with an external thumb safety, this is your opportunity to double-check that your thumb safety is on as your thumb sweeps up into its resting place.
  • For any gun equipped with an exposed hammer, this allows you to sense movement in (and perhaps stop the falling of) the hammer.
  • For most semi-auto pistols and especially the striker-fired types such as the Glock, this allows you to hold the slide firmly in battery with your thumb as the gun goes into the holster. If the holster is tight this can be the difference between a gun that functions well on the next draw and one that does not.
  • For any gun equipped with a grip safety, this gets the meat of your palm off the grip safety for additional security as the gun enters the holster.
  • For any gun equipped with a loaded chamber indicator on the back of the slide, you can double-check the status of your gun as you put it into the holster.
  • For a Glock equipped with a ‘Gadget’ (aka Striker Control Device) your thumb placed firmly on the slide cover plate allows you to sense and prevent any trigger movement while you holster.

In every case, it’s a fairly simple practice that has no significant downsides and many potential benefits.

Stay safe.

Notes:

  1. Have you ever seen someone do this? Watch other people using their holsters the next time you’re at a range that allows people to use holsters, and you’re almost sure to catch someone doing it that way.
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Underestimated = Superpower

“I have an idea that the phrase ‘weaker sex’ was coined by some woman to disarm the man she was preparing to overwhelm.” – Ogden Nash

My take: The element of surprise is a true advantage for people interested in self-defense. There are a lot of memes in the self-defense world that talk about “looking like a hard target” or “if you look like food, you will be eaten” and other thoughts along those lines.

But while it’s good to avoid looking like easy prey, it’s also good to avoid looking like a walking challenge to someone else’s ego. There’s a balance to be had, there.

And some of us have little choice in this matter. A person with a visible impairment — arm in a sling, using a wheelchair, hobbling from a bad hip, very much smaller or weaker-looking than the average, moving slowly from arthritis or old injuries — simply looks easier for a criminal attacker to handle. Even for these folks, paying attention to what other people are doing can definitely change a few criminal minds (“Ugh, that one’s going to see what I’m up to too soon, I’ll choose someone else…”). But realistically we can never erase this factor entirely.

So for those who “look like food” because of physical factors beyond your control: Don’t give up! You have a superpower that the criminal does not know about. It’s the element of suprise, because being underestimated is a superpower. And it’s a superpower that’s really only available to armed people whose physical attributes aren’t intimidating at all.

Being underestimated is a superpower. And like all superpowers, it must be used wisely.

Pay attention to the world around you. Be present in the moment and open to seeing whatever is actually there. And be prepared to use your superpower for good.

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