The Cornered Cat
<— Older Posts Newer Posts —>
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.


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.


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.


  1. This combination of competence and bravery does not happen often; cherish such people!
1 Comment
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.


  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.
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.

1 Comment
Work in Progress (It’s Okay…)

“We walk a fine line in acknowledging that perfection in equipment and training are not and should not be required, and encouraging the pursuit of the ideal. We don’t want to support spraying wild bullets everywhere on the one hand, but we also don’t want to suggest that only the mostly highly trained elite are the only ones who should be privileged on the other.” – Annette Evans

This is deeply true. It is amazingly hard to explain to people that it’s okay to be in process, okay to not have guns and gear worth a bajillion dollars, okay to be learning and okay to not want to do this stuff every weekend … but also at the same time, to also help them understand that the concealed carry lifestyle is an investment, that it may take time and money and work at first, and that they will be both safer and better able to protect the people they love when they put more into it.

So on the one hand:

Bad gear is not better than good gear.
Bad training or no training is not better than good training.
Unsafe equipment is unsafe, no matter who promotes it.
Incompetence is not better than competence.

But on the other hand:

The important thing is to have a gun – not which brand you have.
An ugly but secure holster is better than no holster.
Some training is better than no training.
Competence is not an absolute – it’s relative.

And on the gripping hand:

After the initial investment, it does not have to be that hard. Honestly, it does not. It does not have to become a geeky, all-absorbing, eats all your time & money obsession (unless that’s what you want & that’s okay too).

It’s okay to love your life and love your family.

Once you have invested in good gear and good training, carrying the gun on a daily basis is almost a walkaway. A fix-it and forget-it type thing, like getting a good lock for your front door and using it every time you enter or leave the house. There’s a little ongoing work — you have to use the lock and keep track of your keys and maybe sometimes put some lube on the lock or something, just as you have to tote the gun and sometimes practice with it — but mostly it’s a walkway.

With good gear, you can carry the gun every day and not usually think any more about that than you do about your wallet or your cell phone or anything else you usually have with you.

With a good baseline of skills, you can practice on a comfortable schedule that fits into your life, and — as long as we are talking about weeks or months rather than years — the skills will mostly still be there for you to use the gun safely and with reasonable efficiency when you need to. Depending how much time passes between practice sessions, you may lose your edge and losing that edge might mean you want to practice more so you don’t lose that edge. But also, once you have a good baseline skill set, you will not forget how to run the gun or handle it safely as long as you refresh your skills occasionally.

Note that this only happens once you have done the work to reach a decent level of skill to begin with, equivalent to being able to drive a car without thinking about which pedal to use to make it stop. You can’t really improve your skills on a casual, get-to-the-range-when-I-feel-like it basis. But once the skills are in place, you can maintain them with surprisingly little ongoing effort.

(And that’s yet another reason I am such a strong advocate of truly excellent training from the very beginning — because it is often far less work in the long run.)

It’s okay to be in process.

It’s okay to not make this way of living a life-consuming chore.

It’s okay to love your life and love your family and want to protect them, while still living your life and spending time with your family at places other than the gun range.

It’s okay. <3

Leave a comment
Potty Training

David Yamane, of Gun Culture 2.0, tagged me in a Fb post last week. He wrote:

“I just spoke with a reporter about people leaving guns in bathrooms, including 2 recently at UT-Austin. I have to confess in my mind I was picturing guys. Interesting that in both of these cases the guns showed up in WOMEN’S restrooms. Which makes me wonder: WWJKS? What Would Kathy Jackson Say?”

Well, with a flattering intro like that, who could resist!?  🙂

First, here’s an excerpt from the news article [link] that tells the story Yamane mentioned:

A holstered pistol left Tuesday in a women’s bathroom at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business has been claimed by a student who has a license to carry a handgun, according to UT police.

Meanwhile, the police said Wednesday that they received another report of a pistol found unattended in a women’s bathroom, this time at the Commons Learning Center on UT’s Pickle Research Campus, about 9 miles north of the main campus.

This type of news report isn’t anything new, although it is a surprisingly rare event given the number of people with concealed handgun permits (more than 16 million, at last count, according to researcher John Lott). With that many people walking around with firearms, it would be shocking if we didn’t see mistakes like this happening from time to time.

Some people expressed surprise that both of these incidents involved women’s restrooms. That doesn’t surprise me. Although men are more likely to carry firearms in the first place (around 36% of concealed carry permit holders are women), biological differences mean that women who do carry concealed will need to deal with sitting on the toilet more often than men will. To be clear, dealing safely with bathroom issues is something everyone who carries a gun needs to learn how to do, but it’s also true that handling the gun more often means you have more opportunities to make a mistake.

All the same, responsible citizens like us should not be making this type of mistake. Fortunately, this one is relatively easy to avoid with just a little work.

How to avoid making this type of dangerous mistake? Here are a few tips that should help.

1 – The safest place for a loaded firearm is inside a secure holster attached to the user’s body. This remains true even when someone needs to use a toilet. So, leave the gun in the holster.

Tip test

Tip test: using a three-times-checked unloaded gun or (better) a dummy gun, gently tip the holster upside down over a soft surface and give it a shake. If the gun falls out, throw the holster away.

2 – Every holster should pass The Tip Test. This is important! One main job that a holster does is to hold the gun securely with the trigger protected. A “holster” that fails to hold the gun securely is not a holster — no matter what the label says, no matter who promotes it, and no matter how much it sells for. Every holster that attaches to belt or clothing should allow the user to tip it upside down and gently shake it, without the gun falling out. This assures that the trigger will remain protected and the gun will stay where it needs to stay while the user takes care of business, even if there’s a slight bobble along the way. 1 With a secure holster that passes the tip test, you can safely leave the gun in your holster.

3 – Keep your pants off the floor. It always surprises me when people talk about the gun “landing on the floor” when they use the facilities. That’s really icky, and sometimes it’s not very discreet, so don’t do that. Instead, put your palm over the grip of the firearm and then wrap your fingers around the bottom edge of your belt to maintain full control of the holstered gun as you lower your pants to just below your knees. That’s as far as you need them to go. Then you can double your belt back through a loop, or rebuckle your belt loosely, or just spread your knees wide so you can hold tension on your pants while you do your business. There’s no need to drop trou clear to the floor, and this lets you leave the gun in your holster.

4 – Practice at home. It’s a good idea to wear your firearm around the house, especially when first learning how to conceal carry, and this is one reason: it gives you a chance to practice things like this before you need to do them in public. You can easily practice this skill set at home so that when you are in public you can leave the gun in your holster.

5 – Leave the gun in the holster. Leave the gun in the holster. Leave the gun in the holster! If you really, truly have to get the gun off your belt for a moment, leave the gun securely inside its holster with the trigger protected. Leave the gun in your holster as you take the holster off your belt. You can put the holstered gun into your purse, or balance it on your underwear (ick), or tuck the whole thing into your bra, or for crying out loud  take off one shoe and put the holstered gun into your doggone shoe if you have to… or in other words do whatever it takes to be absopositiveolutely sure you won’t leave the gun behind when you leave the bathroom. Don’t rely on your memory, because human memories suck. Put it somewhere completely un-avoidable, not just un-forgettable (because human forgetters work better than human memories). Do whatever adjusting you need to do while the trigger remains well-protected and the holstered gun is in a place where you cannot possibly under any circumstances leave it behind. When you are done, put the holstered gun back onto your belt.

Oh, did I mention? Leave the gun in the holster.

Stay safe.


  1. Do I need to point out that there are reasonably safe ways to do a tip test and also not-so-safe, not-so-smart ways to do it? Never perform a tip test with a loaded gun or allow an ‘unloaded’ gun to point at yourself at any time during the test.
Overreacting and Fear

“When you aren’t skilled and confident, you get scared and you over react.” — Greg Ellifritz

My take: In context, Greg was talking to law enforcement officers, but this applies to ordinary people just as much as it does to anyone else.

If you want to reduce the risk of overreacting in a sketchy situation, it pays to get enough training that you are truly confident in your ability to handle whatever comes your way.

Developing your confidence may include working with the firearm until it’s pretty much just another tool you use, like a kitchen knife or the  steering wheel of your car. It means getting to the point where you can think only about the things happening in front of you and around you instead of having to concentrate on how to hold the gun and make it work. A big part of personal confidence is knowing — not hoping, but truly knowing — that you are able to effectively use whatever tools you have on hand.

This type of confidence also means having a realistic understanding of what you yourself are able to do without the firearm. For those inclined to say, “Nothing! That’s why I carry a gun,” I’d like to point out that many fully-grown humans think twice before even reaching toward an angry cat that weighs less than a loaf of bread. No matter who you are, you do have some physical abilities — and if you don’t think you have any at all, you are incorrect and at a higher risk of being that person who overreacts.

And it’s not just physical skills. How confident are you in your ability to talk to people without offending them? To calm someone who’s angry or to safely, effectively end a conversation with someone who appears to be building up toward violence? To get away from a creep without escalating … anything … that’s going on in his or her head? That’s a huge and important skill set. It can be learned, but most people never even realize it’s something we can study and get better at.

Developing this type of confidence includes learning enough about violent crime and how it develops that you become realistically confident in your ability to recognize the danger signs early enough to walk away from most developing situations.

It also means becoming realistically confident in your ability to recognize a situation that isn’t headed that direction. Maybe learning to recognize, for example, when an encounter with a panhandler is just a normal and everyday encounter with a panhandler. A person who is confident and aware should be able to deal with a panhandler without getting all OMG DANGER LOOK OUT BIG ADRENALIN DUMP HERE!!!-ish about what’s really a very everyday and commonplace situation.

Does this mean there’s never any physical danger from panhandlers? Nope. It simply means that once you know what a normal interaction looks like, and know how to deal with that very normal interaction with confident skill, you’re a lot better prepared to deal with the abnormal because you will recognize the signs that something abnormal is going on.

Key point: To a person who doesn’t have a confident knowledge of what normal looks like and how to deal with it, everything is abnormal and therefore scary.

Obviously, we aren’t just talking about panhandlers, here. That’s just one illustration of the principle: learning the signs of impending danger and knowing how to deal with them tends to reduce unnecessary fear and therefore also reduces the risk of a fear-based overreaction.

Ask any dog trainer and they will tell you that “fear biting” is a thing. And while we don’t usually leave teeth marks on our prey, humans do it too. But we don’t have to.

Stay safe.

1 Comment
Existential Crisis

“We may assume the attacker will be obviously bad, yet that may not be true. They may only be bad in and for that single moment you have to react. There was a church shooting were the perpetrator was member of prayer group and waited to the end to do his evil… In another case a worship leader mentally broke down… Could you deal with someone you have been praying side by side with for weeks or just led the whole church in worship? Defense is defense, it knows no demographic line.” – Warren Abbot of Armoured One Tactical

My take: Planning for self defense in a realistic way means counting the cost — looking at the possible moral, emotional, spiritual, practical, legal, relational, financial impacts of self-defense choices — before deciding to carry a deadly weapon.

These are not easy questions. Only necessary ones.

The middle of a gunfight is no time to be facing an existential crisis. Get that stuff squared away in your head first, and then live the rest of your life with the quiet confidence of someone who knows what choices they are willing to make, and why.

1 Comment