The Cornered Cat
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Holsters Are Like Shoes

The question seemed fairly simple:

“What is the best conceal carry for anywhere on your body? … Also, where can I find holsters for any part of body?”

The answer isn’t what you think.

First off, I get it, I really do. Flexibility is good! Being tied down is hard! Boo for lack of choices! Yay for more choices!

That’s one reason so many of us find it hard to ‘pack light’ for a weekend trip.

Me, standing over the suitcase: “Well, I don’t know what the weather will be like that morning, and what if I don’t feel like wearing blue that day? Okay, so I’ll add the green shirt, just in case that’s what I feel like wearing, hmmm, gotta have an undershirt for that one, here we go, oh it needs a scarf too — but what if I want to wear a skirt instead of pants? Better put the skirt in, plus the other pair of shoes, and you know what, I really like the tan shirt with that skirt too so have to add that…”

… and pretty soon I discover I’ve packed six pairs of shoes, and the suitcase weighs 73 pounds, and I’m wondering why my makeup bag doesn’t fit. I want to be prepared for everything that might possibly happen, including the remote but seems-reasonable-in-the-moment possibility that I will suddenly feel the urge to don a skirt I honestly haven’t worn since 2014.

So. Holsters. Holsters are like shoes.

If you’re looking for one holster that will fit every possible clothing choice you might make for the rest of your life, remember that holsters are like shoes. You would not hope to find one pair of shoes that would work with every outfit you will ever wear. You would use a different strategy entirely, and for good reason.

So before going too far down the single-holster-forever road, I would recommend you think about the 80/20 principle. That is the rule of thumb that says that 80% of the value usually comes from 20% of the thing. Think about your closet and the clothes in it. If your closet is ten feet long, the chances are that most of the time, the clothes you wear will come from just two feet of that space. The rest of the space is taken up by special events clothes and clothes that you don’t wear as often.

What does this have to do with holsters? Everything!

When looking for that first holster, we’re often tempted to search for one that will work for absolutely every conceivable situation — just like I too often do when overpacking a suitcase. I want to be prepared for every possible eventuality!

But that’s not the most efficient or smartest way to do this thing.

Here’s a better plan:

Instead of trying to find one holster that will work for 100% of your clothing including outfits you don’t even own right now, do this. Look for one holster that will work for the 20% of the clothing that you wear most often. Make sure that one works very, very well, and that you can use it for the outfits you wear most often and feel most comfortable in.

Then carry, every time you can and every place you can.

As you get more comfortable with concealed carry through daily experience, you will find that the ‘limited’ holster you chose will actually get you through a lot more situations than you really thought it would at first. You will also become more realistic about the marginal and alternative options you’ll be looking at to fill in when you’re wearing specialty clothing.

Some of those alternative options will look a lot less attractive after you’ve experienced comfortable and secure carry with a good holster, while others will look more attractive once you’ve experienced the challenges built into carrying the gun on  a regular basis. In either case, you’ll have a much more realistic way of looking at things after you have some carry experience under your belt.

Keep an eye on the 80/20 principle as you choose your first holster. Look for something that will work with the clothes you wear most often, and then carry your gun whenever you can in those clothes. As situations come up where you’re struggling to wear the gun because you’re wearing different clothes than the ones you wear most often, you can take note of what you actually need in order to make those clothes work for concealed carry. And then you can fill in those holes with other purchases, as and when you need them.

Remember that holsters are a lot like shoes. It is much easier to find a practical pair of every day shoes than it is to find a single pair of shoes that will work for every outfit in your closet! (Do they even make such a thing?) Specialty shoes go for specialty outfits. You don’t expect your everyday shoes to work with your fanciest clothes, and you know your fanciest shoes aren’t practical for everyday wear. Holsters are the same. It is much easier to find a practical every day holster than it is to find a holster that will work for every outfit in your closet. But you can — and should — fill in with specialty products for special occasions once you have the daily footwear problem solved.

Be sure that every holster or carry option you choose:

1) Holds the gun securely. By securely, I mean that the gun will not slip out if the holster is tipped upside down and shaken gently.  This makes it possible to use the bathroom without significant risk of the gun falling out and landing on the floor.

2) Protects the trigger completely.  It is not enough for the trigger to simply be covered – although that is also necessary. What you need is the trigger to be covered by something that will actually protect it from any movement as long as the gun is inside the holster. Usually this means a stiff sided holster, and if you go with a soft sided holster you will need to put something rigid over the trigger guard area.  Also note that the entire trigger area must be covered.

3) Allows quick and reliable access to the gun. A lot of times people wonder why this is on the list, because isn’t it a given? Sadly, no. A lot of people never think of this one at all. They only think about how comfortable and concealed the holster is, and they forget that the whole reason they are carrying the holster is so that they can get to the gun quickly when they need it.

Stay safe.

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What is a “Safe Direction”?

Here is my working definition of a “safe direction” for non-emergency purposes:

A safe direction is a deliberately-chosen relationship between the muzzle of the gun and the surrounding area — one that will reliably bring all projectiles to rest without endangering human lives, even the lives of people we cannot necessarily see at the moment. 1

Note that within the meaning of the safety rules, a safe direction is always deliberately chosen. It does not happen on accident.

Occasionally, we read stories online from people who fired their guns unintentionally or even negligently (usually just before moaning, “I didn’t know the gun was loaded!”). As we read these stories, we find out that the people who fired the gun often must look for the path the bullet took — where did the bullet go once it left the room? Where did it finally stop? Did it hit a neighbor, a friend, a loved one? Did the unintentional shooter just kill his own wife or her own child? These stories often conclude with a sigh of relief: “… turned out the gun was pointed in a safe direction. I was following the safety rules!”

I beg to differ.

It only counts as following the safe-direction rule if the person handling the gun is in fact aware of the direction they’re pointing the muzzle at all times while they handle the gun. How many times have you seen someone in a gun store looking at the side of the gun while turning it this way and that, utterly oblivious to what the muzzle was doing even as other people ducked and moved away to avoid being covered? That person is not keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction, except by the merest good luck. They are not, in that moment, “following the safety rules.”

It also only counts if the person handling the gun is in fact aware of the quality of the backstop in that direction. The person handling the gun should reasonably believe — not just hope or suspect, but reasonably believe, which means they’ve thought about it — that the bullet would come to rest without punching through to hit someone unseen on the other side.

Bullets do punch straight through nearly all interior and most exterior walls of modern construction. Walls do not reliably stop bullets. (Neither do modern television sets, a different topic for another day.)

This means that we cannot simply announce that we have chosen an unreinforced wall as our designated “safe direction” and then forget about it. We can only call that wall a safe direction once we have done something to make sure that even the most unexpected bullet could not punch straight through that wall.

This is especially and particularly true for classroom settings where an instructor can, should, and MUST set up the environment to reliably deal with any unexpected live rounds. 2

It is not enough to have the opinion that there’s (probably) no ammunition in the classroom environment. Or to say that the gun(s) we are handling are unloaded and have been so checked. Of course we believe we have unloaded the guns, and of course we have checked them to be sure!

But even after we have checked the guns, we still don’t ever toss those overlapping, redundant, ridiculously unnecessary safety rules straight out the window. Even though they overlap and are redundant and might even feel unnecessary. Nope. We follow the safety rules. Including the one that says we must keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.

In the heat of the moment, while defending your life from a violent criminal, you may not be able to use the safest-possible of all directions that you would have chosen if you’d had time to think about it or set up the circumstances to suit yourself in some more ideal world. That’s understood.

But what about when you are:

  • Planning to handle the gun in your regular place where you do your dry practice or wherever you usually clean it?
  • Planning to defend yourself inside your own home, where you have lots of time to think about the most likely ways for an assailant to enter, and consider your planned responses to each one?
  • Planning to allow customers to handle guns inside your shop?
  • Or planning to have students handle guns inside your classroom?

Keyword: planning. You betcha it matters then. And there are no excuses for failing to use a reliably safe direction in such circumstances. After all, you. are. planning. 

If ever there was a time when excuses about bad backstops don’t apply, it’s when the person planned to handle the firearm, or planned to encourage others to handle firearms, in that area.

So as long as you are planning to handle a gun in a given area, plan to follow the safe direction rule, and plan for how you will do that. In fact, plan to follow all of the overlapping and redundant safety rules, every time you touch a firearm. Make it part of your mindset and build it into your habits.

In any environment where a person might have hours, days, weeks — possibly months or even years — to consider this issue before handling the gun there, there’s no excuse for NOT following this basic rule. We can easily plan to keep the gun pointed in a direction that would reliably bring the bullet to a stop without hurting anyone or anything other than its  intended target.

There’s no reason at all to plan to put innocent people in deadly  danger.

If such a direction does not naturally occur in a place where you intend to (or reasonably expect you might have to) handle a gun in the future, you can and should make a safe backstop to use in that area.

Recap:

  • Plan for ways to follow the safe direction rule before  you need to handle the gun.
  • Handle firearms at home or in a classroom only when you can (and will!) keep the gun pointed at something that would reliably stop the bullet.
  • If the area does not naturally include a place that you would trust to reliably stop a bullet, you must provide one or choose a different place to handle your gun — otherwise you are planning to break the safety rules.
  • If there is no reliably safe direction in the area (and it’s not such an urgent case that someone would die-right-now if you did not pick up the gun and use it), refuse to touch that gun there. Refuse to remain in the area if anyone else does, either.

Refuse to become the victim of your own, or anyone else’s, poor choice for a gunhandling environment.

Notes:

  1. For emergency purposes, the definition I use is, “Deliberately chosen as the best place to put a bullet in the immediate environment, and no unacceptable risk to the innocent is immediately apparent.”
  2. Unless the instructor chooses — as many professional instructors do — to not allow any handling of firearms inside the classroom at all.
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The overlapping, redundant, ridiculously unnecessary safety rules

“But it’s unloaded!”

When someone says those words as an argument for not following the basic gunhandling rules, it often means that that they’ve just discovered that the safety rules overlap. And they don’t like it.

Why do the rules overlap, anyway?

Why can’t we “just check” that the gun is unloaded and then do whatever we like with it?

Or if we want to be extra double cautious, why can’t we just double-check that it’s unloaded and then go about our business?

We don’t do it that way because handling deadly weapons is inherently dangerous. And that danger is always present whenever we handle them. We create rules and systems to insulate us from a danger we cannot entirely eliminate. Rules and systems give us a thick layer of insulation that we can think of as a safety cushion.

But our nice, thick safety cushion often turns into a single layer of cheesecloth whenever we feel silly about bundling up.

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Whenever we have only one layer of protection, only one mistake can cause tragedy.

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Like a sand castle on a windy day, human safety protocols face a constant and relentless pressure to erode. We must constantly fight this process, watching for it and rebuilding our safety standards every time we notice them beginning to slip.

When we allow our multiple layers of safety cushion to strip down to become just a single layer, then a single mistake can — and too often, does — result in catastrophic pain, injury, or death.

The thing is, the systems we use to mitigate significant hazards to human life are SUPPOSED TO overlap. That’s the point of the whole thing. That’s why people have created careful systems that help  mitigate the inherent and always-present danger of handling deadly weapons. We call those systems “safety rules” and we wrangle with each other, endlessly, about how to word those rules and how to get the concepts across to newcomers and oldtimers alike.

And still, even though nearly all gun owners can recite at least some mangled version of the rules, every day some of these same people …

      • Thoughtlessly press the muzzle into their own hand at the gun store.
      • Or yank the trigger back without aiming the gun at anything in particular as they slam the gun into the holster because the RO said, “Slideforwardhammerdownholster” as if it were all one word.
      • Or dry fire while pointing the gun at an interior wall that would never stop a bullet.
      • Or worse, “designate” 1 that interior wall — the one that would never stop a bullet — as a “safe direction” so they can then teach other people to point the gun at interior walls without thinking about where the bullet will finally end up.

“But it’s unloaded!” isn’t a reason to ignore the other rules. It simply means that we’ve suddenly discovered how much the rules overlap.

Sometimes one or more rules will feel unnecessary and redundant and extra and superfluous and not really needed.

That happens because the rules actually are redundant and they are do overlap. Sometimes, one of the rules feels unnecessary because it is not, strictly speaking, necessary in that moment… as long as everything goes right.

Which, because humans are involved, it won’t always.

Think of the layers of safety rules as being something like a stack of swiss cheese, made of many layers so as to prevent one hole from going all the way through the stack. In this analogy, “I unloaded the gun” is just one slice of cheese. And as too many people have discovered to their sorrow, sometimes there’s a hole in that one slice.

Discovering that the rules are redundant sometimes provokes an emotional reaction: this careful behavior is foolish. I know the gun is unloaded. Why am I doing this ‘unnecessary’ thing by being careful with it even when I know it is unloaded?

You are doing that ‘unnecessary’ thing —

      • creating a safe and solid backstop for dry fire so that an unexpected bullet would definitely come to rest in a known place;
      • refusing to touch the trigger unless and until you have carefully aimed the gun at some specific place and are holding it in a manner that wouldn’t hurt if it fired;
      • never sweeping even an empty gun across your own left hand;
      • carefully controlling the gun’s muzzle direction whenever you handle it, so that it never points at any other human being, or at your beloved pet, or at anything you aren’t willing to pay to replace;

— because nearly all unintended discharges that harm an innocent person, happen with an ‘unloaded’ gun. And most of them happened when the person handling the gun deliberately pulled the trigger.

Because they thought the gun was unloaded.

Because they thought that following the other safety rules was … well, a bit silly … since the gun was unloaded.

Because they felt foolish, following safety rules with an unloaded gun.

Because —

BANG.

Encouraging that extra level of caution, that refusal to be casual and thoughtless in the way we handle deadly weapons, is quite literally why the rules exist in the first place.

Don’t throw any of them away.

Notes:

  1. How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.
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Wigging Out

One of the fascinating things about my job is that I often end up listening to 9-1-1 audio recordings while trying to understand what happened during a criminal event. It isn’t always pleasant or easy listening, but this kind of work needs to be done in order to help others learn how to stay safe. 1

Over and over again, I’m struck by how people sound on these tapes. Always frightened. Sometimes frantic. Sometimes garbled, sometimes angry, sometimes shrill. And every once in awhile, you hear a calmly terrified voice that grabs you by the heart and won’t let go.

How does a person get to the point where they can calmly and clearly call for emergency services, when there’s every chance that their emotions are screaming at them just as loudly as some of the injured parties? How does a person learn to behave rationally even when they feel nearly overwhelmed by strong emotions? How can a person learn to make smart choices in the face of fear?

Practice.

If you’re the kind of person who sometimes lets your emotions get the better of you (who isn’t?), practice acknowledging your emotions without letting them take charge of what you do.

  • If you’re afraid of spiders, be the person who regularly sweeps the cobwebs out of the garage or attic.
  • If heights bother you, regularly get the ladder out and clean the gutters.
  • If you’re scared of big dogs, volunteer at the local humane society and force yourself to work with them.
  • If needles wig you out, give blood as often as you can.

Do what it takes to become the kind of person who can keep your rational behavior independent of your emotional reactions.

These little things help build a habit of doing what needs to be done no matter how you feel about it — and that, in turn, makes you safer and more likely to be in conscious control of your actions when trouble strikes.

Notes:

  1. As I’ve said before (see the post titled The Life-Affirming Lessons of Self Defense): To me, the only thing worse than going through a horrible life event would be going through a horrible life event that nobody learned anything from. There’s nothing I can do to make a violent crime not have happened, but I rejoice that through my work I can help others learn how to survive similar events.
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What’s a Holster For?

Came across something the other day that I want to kick around here. To be clear: I would really, really, really welcome thoughtful feedback on this post. Now or in the future. Please do comment and let me know what you think about this.

Here’s the quote. I’m not putting a name on it, so we can more easily discuss the thing it says. It came from someone I deeply respect, who is one of the most thought-filled and thought-provoking instructors working in the defensive handgun community.

“If you go to a class where you draw and reholster the gun dozens of times a day, for multiple days, the deficiencies of [specific type of] holsters become much more apparent. Those that attend and run that type of training have advised against [this type of] holsters for years. Carrying the gun on your belt is not equivalent experience to actually using the holster for its intended function.

It is the last part of the quote that I really want to talk about. What is — actually and truly — “the intended function” of a holster?

For years, I have been saying that concealed-carry holsters have three primary purposes.

  1. To keep the gun safely secure. This includes covering the entire trigger guard area with something sturdy enough to keep the trigger from moving if something brushes against the outside of the holster. It includes holding the gun firmly enough that it will not fall out if the holster gets gently tipped upside down (as it might do when the person wearing it uses the restroom). It also includes holding the gun in a known orientation that does not slip or slide around, so the user always knows which end of the gun is the noisy one.
  2. To keep the gun comfortably concealed. This includes keeping the gun out of sight so that neither nosy neighbors nor official busybodies will spot it before the user intends for it to be seen. It also includes keeping the gun owner comfortable enough that they will bring the firearm with them whenever legally possible, rather than leaving it at home for the sake of either comfort or discretion.
  3. To keep the gun readily accessible. This means the user knows exactly where the gun is at all times — even while they are running, jumping, curled up under a desk, or engaged in vigorous activity of any sort including an entangled violent encounter — and can almost always put their hand directly on the grip of the gun in most circumstances unless someone physically restrains them from doing so. It means the gun rides in a place that the user can reach, under clothing that the user can easily move aside, and it usually means that the user can get the gun out of the holster with either hand alone.

All three of these purposes are important, I think. And maybe each of them is equally important. In a practical sense, the specific weight we put on each point will vary from one person to another. But should it? (That’s a genuine question, not a rhetorical one. What do you think?) Should each of these purposes be given equal weight, or is it sometimes okay for one of them to outweigh the others? If so, which one(s) are okay to lighten up a little, and which one(s) are non-negotiable?

To many instructors’ way of thinking, points 1 & 3 — safely secure and readily accessible — are the “without which not” of holsters. If your holster does not do these two things, you do not have a holster. You just have a product that’s pretending to be a holster. And I tend to agree with that. Most of us who are instructors have come to that place where we realize that students pour a huge amount of money and energy into products that either aren’t that safe (because they don’t hold the gun securely and well) or that aren’t that usable in a pinch. We don’t like that, so we tend to speak up, loudly and often, about those categories of holster purpose.

On the other hand, point 2 is important, too. It really is. If you leave your gun at home and do not carry it because it is uncomfortable to wear and not discreet, you do not have a holster. You just have a product that’s pretending to be a holster. I think a lot of firearm instructors forget that, because we only see holsters on the range and in the class environment. Sometimes we forget how challenging it can be to figure out concealed carry at the beginning. Comfort and concealment issues are completely valid concerns and we should not dismiss either one. The best and most secure product in the world won’t help when a person has a challenge with wearing the gun at all. First things first, right?

All the same, there’s this.

Many people buy their first holster (often an alternative carry device rather than a true holster) based entirely on how concealed and comfortable they think the holster will be. They put exclusive emphasis on point 2. This is a mistake. It’s also both common and understandable. After all, when we live with the holster all day, every day, we notice whether it’s easy to conceal. We notice when it’s comfortable and we really notice when it is not comfortable. The other points are not so easy to assess, especially not as a new shooter. But all of us can tell  when we’re uncomfortable or when the gun isn’t well hidden. So it’s easy to put so much emphasis on this one point that we forget anything else even matters.

In the same way, firearms instructors tend to put so much emphasis on points 1 & 3 because we usually see holsters only in class and on the range. It is easy for us to forget that most of the time, people carry guns in holsters not so they can draw hundreds of times over multiple days, but, you know … just for daily living. They don’t buy holsters just for coming to class (although I honestly think they should; just as the skills from a mid size gun can transfer down to a smaller gun, I do believe that the skills from an ‘easier’ holster that’s designed for heavy use on the range can tranfer over to a ‘harder’ holster that’s maybe more suited for non-class environments — but that’s another blog post entirely, for another day). They are not here to learn the best way to live on the range. They want skills and gear they can take back to their daily lives.

To the extent that our emphasis on choosing holsters that will work very well in class helps people pick gear that holds up to vigorous  range use and also works well for daily living, we are doing well. To the extent that it encourages people to pick gear that they don’t and won’t carry in daily life, and especially if that stops us from talking frankly with our students about how to transfer skills from one type of equipment to another, I think we are headed down the wrong path.

In any case, point 1 — keeping the gun safely secure — speaks to protecting yourself and others from the completely foreseeable danger of a loaded gun being carried in a way that can let the gun fall out or slide around so that the user might grab for it (and inadvertently bump the trigger) without thinking about what they are doing. Safety around loaded guns does matter. It is literally a matter of life and death.

Points 2 & 3 — keeping the gun comfortably concealed and readily accessible — speak to having the gun with you and to being able to use the gun when you need it. Surely having the gun with us and being able to get to it when we need it is the entire reason we’re looking for a holster in the first place. Having the gun with us and being able to easily draw it means we may be able to use it to save our own life or the life of someone we love. That’s kind of important, too. Again, literally a matter of life and death.

So. What do you think? What is the most important intended purpose for a holster? Or are they all equally important?

What’s a holster for, anyway?

  • Is it to carry the gun securely through the bumps and jostles of everyday life, including keeping the trigger well-protected at all times?
  • Is it to keep the gun discreetly concealed in a comfortable way?
  • Is it to carry the gun in a way that lets the user reach it easily during classes and range trips and even during a deadly criminal encounter?

What do you think?

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Age-old wisdom

Eventually (if we live long enough!), we will all get old.

No matter what physical shape we are in right now, the skills, attitudes, and behaviors we are building right now will either help us or hurt us during the very predictable future times when our physical selves aren’t as robust as they once were.

We should therefore work, right now, to get self defense skills that can hold up across a wide variety of physical abilities. We should also look for instructors who understand that not everyone is in great physical shape, and who give their students strategies that will work well even for people who are not especially strong, athletic, or physically fit.

No matter what our physical skill level right now, we can work to improve it. And we should!

But also, no matter what our physical skill level right now, we will likely be worse off at some time in the future. Whether that is the simple process of aging, or something more dire such as getting injured in the middle of a criminal encounter, we will likely need defense skills that work even for people who are not strong and fit. We should plan for that.

Sometimes we just need to be able to play the cards we’re dealt.

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Keep the Muzzle Below the Berm

So this week on Fb I posted a challenge that I knew would annoy many people I care about. Posted it anyway — not because I enjoy annoying people, but because it is an important subject that too many people have not thought about.

Here’s what I said in my opening post.

Discussion today will probably ruffle a few feathers among my friends. So I’m gonna draw your attention to it: I’m calling out the pointing-over-the-berm reload as a fundamentally unsafe practice that should not be permitted on outdoor ranges.

This was sparked by two things. First, there’s the news story of the 8 year old boy struck by a bullet that escaped from a range near where he was picking apples. As that boy and his family could tell us, “I didn’t mean to do that” does not erase the pain and trauma of a gunshot wound that harms an innocent.

More to the point, there’s this. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been reading through the literally hundreds of Unintended Discharges (NDs, ADs, and combined causes) that I have collected over the past few years from gun forums and elsewhere.

There are far more instances where a gun fires upon slide forward (eg, “slam fire”) than I thought, and many instances where people in a hurry or new to the gun suffer a sympathetic squeeze reaction and fire the gun when they intend to either drop a slide or release a magazine. In most of these cases, the only thing that prevented serious injury or death was that the user fortuitously (sometimes deliberately, but more often fortuitously) pointed the gun in a safe direction.

Why are so many instructors and accomplished shooters encouraging people not to keep the gun pointed in the safest possible direction — at the berm — during the reload? What benefit could possibly outweigh the risk of deliberately, repeatedly, and habitually violating one of the fundamental safeguards against death or injury while handling live firearms?

Below, I have added some screenshots captured from random videos. I’ve scribbled out faces because I honestly don’t want this to be about the people. It is simply a question of whether this widely-taught, widely-accepted practice is really a good idea, and want to be clear as to what we’re talking about. Some of these images were captured from match videos, while others came from instructional ones.

 

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So that’s the technique we’re talking about. And the question is, do the benefits of lifting the muzzle over the range during the reload outweigh the loss of a fundamental safeguard — the safe-direction rule?

Is the risk of using this technique so low that the question of keeping that safeguard in place should never come up?

Are we thinking that “somewhere over the berm” is as safe a direction as “pointed directly at the berm”?

Or … what?

Lots of lively discussion followed this question. Well over 100 comments followed in the subthreads below the post, most of it thoughtful commentary. You should probably go read what everyone said about this subject, especially if you are ever responsible for the safety of others on a range. Lots of different perspectives and really important things to think about when a person chooses a “safe direction” to point their firearm on all different types of ranges.

Here are my concluding thoughts (that I also posted there):

Bear with me, all – this is going to be a bit long, broken into a couple of comments.

First, a very heartfelt and sincere “Thank you!” to everyone who posted a thoughtful comment on this post, whether I agreed with it or not. As long as you provided food for thought and were not insulting of other participants, I really did appreciate hearing from you. Thanks.

I am a strong believer in the type of discussion that draws people to really think, and at the same time I have a private standard for myself when posting something controversial. I ask, “Am I open to being persuaded, here?” If the answer is no, I generally won’t post because that would not lead to an honest discussion on my part. If the answer is yes, my follow up question to myself is, “What evidence (or type of evidence) would convince me to change my mind?”

So this afternoon, I have been thinking about the categories of reasons I might accept versus categories of reasons I would … categorically … reject, for deliberately pointing a handgun muzzle over the berm during a reload….

Categories of reasons that I reject out of hand include “the fundamental safeguards don’t apply to me because I am too smart to make a mistake,” “the danger from an escaped round isn’t that extreme”, and “this is more convenient and/or faster.” I also reject “the rules of my sport do not forbid this” – because that’s begging the central question of whether sport and range rules should forbid the practice.

Categories of reasons I might accept would be arguments based on the fundamental question of what’s the safest direction given the range environment. (So far, I haven’t been convinced by anyone’s specific presentation of that, but it is a category of reason I would entertain and might find convincing.)

I might also accept arguments based on replacing the layer of safeguard provided by the safe-direction rule with some other safeguard. For example, during a revolver reload, the gun points skyward – but that *only* happens once the shooter’s fingers have replaced working parts of the gun with the cylinder open. And once the rounds are in place, the revolver points only at the ground or backstop, *not* over the berm. So the safeguard of muzzle direction is replaced by the shooter’s fingers replacing the cylinder, and by the gun being unable to launch a round at all, during the critical phase.

 With that in mind, I was thinking about whether I might accept, “but the gun is locked open, and the shooter’s finger is off the trigger” as a valid reason to allow the muzzle to point over the berm. The problem is, a walk through actual shooter behavior as recorded via GoPro and posted on YouTube put the kibbosh pretty firmly on that idea!

If anyone would like, I’d be happy to send you a representative link of a shooter moving through an action pistol stage, who puts finger on trigger multiple times during the reload [with his muzzle over the berm in most instances], but never catches a correction by the RO. I am not trying to be coy by not posting the video right here right now. I simply do not want to make this discussion about people and personalities. I want to keep it centered on human behavior factors and risk mitigation related to that.

The thing is, I’m not just talking or thinking about match conditions during this conversation. I am thinking about the full process that includes everyone — from the naive shooter who searches YouTube or elsewhere online to see how to reload, to the low or mid skilled guy or gal looking for info on defensive shooting skills, to the mid to high skilled person wanting to get better at a favorite gun game.

I’m a fan of the ‘layers of safety’ concept. So when I see or think about handling firearms in various situations, I often ask, what layers are in place here? Not just ‘here’ as in what might be shown on any particular video or during any particular match or at any particular range. But ‘here’ as in what we’re teaching people across the spectrum, and then expecting them to do when there is no more-experienced person to watch them do it and correct them if they do it in a completely predictable way that does not have those safety layers in place.

As far as the sport goes, every shooting sport does have at least a few bad ROs in at least some clubs — whether that’s inability to see, or unwillingness to act, or some other cause. So no matter what we choose to put in place as a safety layer, it cannot rely 100% on a range staffer catching and stopping bad behavior. That plan only works in the match environment, and (as we see from match videos) not anywhere near as perfectly as it ought.

Asking shooters to analyze their particular range or location for environmental risks before they choose whether or not to elevate the muzzle is a reasonable thing to do. Asking shooters to comply with local ranges that have done that assessment, and that request muzzles be kept below the berm, is also reasonable. But shooters refusing to engage with ranges that have that requirement is not at all reasonable, given the nature of how lawsuits over escaped rounds typically go for the range owners – and also given the nature of a quick risk assessment from someone who really wants to do a thing, versus a perhaps-more thorough one from a different source that perhaps has more skin in the game for getting it right.

 A few people said, or implied, that we should not expect highly skilled shooters to keep their muzzles below the berm, since (we believe) experienced and highly skilled shooters do have the skill to keep their fingers off the trigger and also not allow the slide to go forward until the muzzle was again below the berm. The problem with that claim is two-fold.

First, as many of my competitive friends are fond of telling me, matches are where we figure out the best, fastest, most reliable shooting and gunhandling techniques. If (since) we claim that the best techniques develop from being tested in competition, we have to see what effect those techniques are having on the average people who copy those techniques for their own defensive use or even just for casual plinking. If those competition-developed techniques cannot be ported into other situations that include use by low or mid skilled shooters, we should be willing to say, “NO, nobody should copy these competition-tested techniques until they’ve reached __ level of skill.” But that would completely negate the argument that the techniques developed in competition are the best techniques for even non-competitive shooters to use.

Second, closely related to this, most of the action shooting sports allow and even encourage speed reloads, not slide lock reloads — which means the gun is not always empty and in slide lock as it lifts over the berm for a reload. Lifting the muzzle of a loaded, in-battery gun over the berm while dropping the magazine does increase the likelihood of the shooter firing a round due to the sympathetic squeeze reflex.

This becomes especially serious when we realize that the same body mechanics used for a simple reload will also come into play when a shooter needs to clear a malfunction.

Several people observed that only broken guns slamfire. That’s not really true (dirty guns do, too). But in any case, the body mechanics a shooter uses for clearing a malfunction are almost always the same ones the shooter uses for a reload. And of course, some malfunctions are cleared by a reload. So now we’re going to have the shooter working with a gun that we know is not functioning as intended, and we’re going to accept that the shooter may point the muzzle over the berm while the shooter clears the malfunction and (perhaps) reloads. Even though the shooter has not yet diagnosed the reason the gun malfunctioned, we know that the gun is not in this moment working the way it ought. And we are going to encourage him or her to point that gun over the berm, accepting that muzzle-direction risk because only a broken gun will slamfire after the shooter inserts a fresh magazine?

So that’s pretty much where I am at right now. I still have not seen anything that will convince me to change my mind on this, but (for the first time), I have heard some arguments that could convince me that reasonable minds could differ on this critical topic. Thanks for whatever part you played in that.

***

One more thing. Shortly after the discussion on my page had mostly wound down, a friend of mine sent me a link to a match video. In that video, we can see a slamfire happen during a match on an indoor range. The shooter had the gun pointed at the backstop (not at the cement floor or the baffled ceiling) so the unexpected round came safely to rest without hurting anyone.

That’s a good thing.

1 Comment
Oh my people…

If you’re advertising your CCW class with a picture of a woman pointing the gun at her own hand as she draws, you’re not as qualified to teach that class as you believe you are.

If you see an advertisement for a CCW class that includes a picture of a guy drawing the gun from a small of back holster with his finger inside the trigger guard, that’s a class to avoid.

Don’t do unsafe things with deadly weapons.

Don’t model unsafe behavior for others.

Don’t excuse dangerous behavior when you see it, even (especially) when it comes from people you like on a personal level. If you really like someone, help them stay safe — and help them avoid inadvertently teaching others to be unsafe.

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