The Cornered Cat
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Feelings

In the aftermath of tragedy, we are often treated to a spate of political articles and news stories chiding firearms owners for putting our right to own and carry firearms above the desire of other people to “feel safe.”

Yet “feeling safe” isn’t a right that belongs only to non-gun owners. If a particular feeling can be a “right” at all (a questionable premise, but let’s run with it) — and it’s a right that belongs to any of us, it would be a right that belongs to all of us.

One person may “feel safe” when unarmed; that’s insane to me but somehow it makes sense to that person. And in a free society, that’s their choice.

Other people feel safer when armed. Or when around trusted companions who are armed.

The real question is: why should the fact that that person “feels safe” when helpless trump the fact that you and I “feel safe” when we are armed, trained, and prepared to respond effectively to stop criminal violence in its tracks?

If we are going to pass laws based on personal feelings, let us at least insist that our feelings are equally as valid as anyone else’s.

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Take a second, save a leg

“The fast and/or emphatic reholster is an awesome way to shoot yourself.” – Chuck Haggard

We often see people practicing for a faster draw from the holster, and as they speed up each draw they also start SLAMMING the gun quickly back into the holster on every repetition. That’s a very predictable result of getting a little adrenalin going. “Faster! Go faster!” is the chant in your head, after all, so it’s no surprise that your body reacts to it by going faster.

Even when it shouldn’t.

This pattern creates one of the most common ways that people shoot themselves, as we discussed yesterday. Among experienced and otherwise well-trained gun owners, a habit of jamming the gun into the holster very quickly and without thinking accounts for a huge number of close calls. And for far too many serious injuries.

As Karl Rehn, one of the best and most experienced instructors in the business, says: “The two scariest moments I’ve had occur in classes both were [negligent discharges] while re-holstering.” Pull aside any professional trainer who has been in business for a significant time, and you’ll likely hear similar stories.

This is an error that happens to experienced shooters more often than it happens to utter newbies. And it happens because we naturally pay more attention to the draw than we do to the reholstering procedure.

What to do instead

Here’s the key point:

Practice putting the gun away slowly, smoothly, and with full awareness every time you have drawn the gun.

Slowly. Smoothly. With full awareness.

Do this even when you are drawing and shooting as fast as you can go. Do this even when “only” practicing in dry fire at home. Do this even when your buddies roll their eyes at your caution.

And especially, do this when you are just putting the gun in the holster as the normal start to your day. Build a habit of putting the gun away slowly, smoothly, and with full awareness no matter what else you have been doing and no matter what you are intending to do next.

That’s the key.

“Full awareness” means that we think about what we are doing when we reholster — not about the target, not about the timer, not about the person next to us or behind us.

It means we pay attention …

  • to the trigger finger: is it off the trigger, outside the trigger guard, and away from the side of the gun?
  • to the non-shooting hand: is it anchored in a spot well away from the holster and well away from the muzzle of the gun?
  • to the clothing: is everything away from the mouth of the holster so there’s room for the gun to enter?
  • to the signals we get from our bodies: does everything look and feel ‘right’?

Put the gun into the holster slowly, smoothly, and with full awareness. Every time.

Why is this necessary?

This slow, smooth, full-awareness thing is needed because stopping a preplanned action (such as the motion of putting the gun into the holster) takes time, especially when unexpected new information comes in. Whenever we holster, we want to be sure we have enough time to stop if we need it. And we want to be sure we are paying attention to the signals that might tell us we need to stop.

Here is an excerpt from Motor Control and Learning, by human performance researchers Richard A. Schmidt and Timothy D. Lee:

“Apparently, once the [person] has committed to action, the movement occurs even when some signal is presented in the environment indicating that the action should not be performed. As mentioned in chapter 4, inhibiting preplanned actions requires time and attention…”

The book goes on to explain the factors that can increase or decrease the amount of time it takes a person to process the new information and either change or stop their movement altogether. One key factor: how familiar the motion already is. So if it’s something we’ve practiced doing a lot, it will be harder for us to stop in the middle of that motion than it would be if it were something we were just learning how to do.

That’s one of the reasons people who are very familiar with holster use are not immune to this type of injury. And it’s why experienced shooters should reholster just as slowly and with just as much awareness as they did when they were beginners.

What unexpected information?

The type of unexpected information we might get when holstering could include the body’s feedback system telling us:

  • “Hey! Your finger is still on the trigger!”
  • “Uh, there’s something blocking your holster.”
  • “Your drawstring just entered the trigger guard… That’s not good.”

… or any number of other things.

We weren’t expecting something to be not-right, so this message is (in human reaction jargon) an “unexpected stimulus.” And it takes time for our  brains to process that unexpected information and react by telling the body to stop the motion.

In every case, when this dangerous, unexpected information presents itself, a smart person who does not want an extra hole in their leg will STOP putting the gun into the holster. But it takes a little time for the unexpected signal from the nerves to get up to the brain, and a little more time for the brain to decide what to do about it (oh, yeah, we should STOP moving now), and then still more time for the STOP signal to get back down to the hand that’s already moving.

We won’t have the time we must have in order to STOP before a loud noise happens, if we are slamming the gun into the holster instead of easing it in gently.

A Key Point

Have you ever gone to throw a set of keys to a friend, then noticed they weren’t looking, tried to stop yourself … and then thrown the keys anyway, even though you tried to stop that motion?

Same thing. Your body was moving faster than your brain could stop the motion after you got the information that your friend wasn’t ready for you to throw the keys.

But the consequence of moving faster than you can stop a trigger press is much more serious than a set of thrown keys.

How slowly is “slowly”?

By now, you’re probably wondering how slow is slow enough. Are we talking about the speed of a three-toed sloth, or just a slow loris type speed?

Are we talking about the speed of a three-toed sloth, or just a slow loris type speed? (Photo by David Haring / Duke Lemur Center)

Generally (very generally!) speaking, the human reaction time to a known and expected stimulus begins at around a quarter of a second (0.25 seconds) for most people. That’s the moment when we first begin to respond to a stimulus. However, this number varies from one person to another. And it changes based on a whole bunch of other factors, too, especially including how we measure it. 1

Now for the tricky part: we are not talking about an expected stimulus, but about a stimulus that we don’t expect. That it’s unexpected and also probably an unfamiliar feeling could add at least another half to three-quarters of a second, and often more — up to around 1.5 seconds, according to most of the literature on this subject.

We can probably cut the time back down a little bit by cultivating the mental habit of expecting to feel resistance or expecting a need to stop moving every time we put the gun into the holster. But human nature being what it is, that’s a mental trick with a limited shelf life. Most of us will lapse back into expecting what happens most often — no STOP signal from the nerves to the brain, and a completion of the holstering movement. So I wouldn’t put a lot of eggs in that particular basket.

So… how slow is slow enough? I’d suggest that from the moment the muzzle of the gun nears the mouth of the holster, to the moment the gun is fully seated and secure inside the holster, should take around one second or a little more.

Please notice that I am only talking about the final moments of the holstering process — from muzzle touch to being fully seated. You can bring the gun back to your ready position as quickly as you like, and even move quickly toward the holster if you need to. But that last little bit, as the gun actually enters the holster and gets put solidly into its place, that is the part that needs to take at least a second of your time and all your attention.

One second. From holster mouth to fully seated.

That sounds fast — it’s just a second, after all! But compared to what most people do most of the time, it’s glacially slow.

Try it and see.

What to do about all this?

Simply this: Put the gun away slowly, smoothly, and with full awarenessEVERY TIME.

Take your time. Every time.

Be present in the moment. Every time.

Every time you holster, make sure your finger is out of the trigger guard and away from the side of the gun. Every time, make sure your non-shooting hand is well away from the holster and anchored in a safe spot. Every time, make sure your clothes are away from the mouth of the holster. And every time, ease the gun gently into the holster while giving your full attention to what you are doing.

Take a second.

Commit yourself to practice a carefully aware reholster with every bit as much diligence as you practice your smooth and efficient draw.

Stay safe.

Notes:

  1. Human reaction time is a complex  subject with a bajillion little variables to define and track. Because it is complex, a short summary such as I’ve provided here cannot do it justice — but hopefully as a practical field guide, this short explanation may be enough to explain why we should holster more slowly than we generally do. See [this link] for an easy to read overview of other things you might want to know about human reaction times.
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Which body parts…?

Key point 1: Injuries from loaded guns nearly always arise from longstanding bad habits with unloaded ones.

Key point 2: Being aware of how injuries happen helps people better understand what they need to do in order to stay safe.

Did you ever wonder — and yes, I know this is a little morbid, but bear with me — about the ways that people shoot themselves unintentionally? Or about the type of injuries they are most likely to get?

Not talking here about people who inadvertently or even recklessly shoot someone else. Or about someone who shoots themselves or someone else on purpose. I’m talking about good people, people like us, who simply make a terrible mistake. These are people who are stone-cold sober and possibly even supervised at the range, but who fire a round without meaning to and somehow shoot themselves when they do.

Did you ever wonder which body parts they were most likely to hit, and why?

Body parts at risk

There are two body parts most at risk for an unintentional self-inflicted gunshot.

Assuming a right-handed shooter, 1 the two body parts most at risk are the left hand, and the right leg.

Racking the slide with the hand forward of the ejection port can lead to serious injuries.

The left hand

Injuries to the left hand can happen when a person gets the non-dominant hand out in front of the muzzle while shooting (often during the draw).

They also happen when someone habitually puts the pinkie and ring fingers on or just forward of the muzzle while racking the slide.

A person can also suffer a detonation injury when yanking the slide back with a palm over the ejection port, especially on the unlucky chance that the ejector pierces the primer when the slide moves.

A left-hand injury can happen when a shooter has a poorly-fitting holster or floppy belt, and so holds onto the holster with the left hand while putting the gun back into the holster with the right. This motion puts the left hand directly in the line of fire in case of a noisy mistake.

Left-hand injuries also happen in gun shops and gunsmitheries, where (for reasons I have never figured out), we sometimes see a shopper point the muzzle into their own left hand while pressing the trigger.

Sometimes these injuries happen at home when a person getting ready to clean a Glock presses the palm of their hand firmly into the muzzle while pulling on the takedown lever. [Read more about this type of gun-cleaning injury and how to prevent it here: How Gauche.]

The other body part most at risk is the right leg.

The right leg

Almost universally, injuries to the right leg happen either during the draw, or during the reholster process. With few exceptions, mistakes made while drawing or reholstering create the bulk of serious injuries that happen to experienced shooters.

While these injuries usually track straight down the outer side of the right leg, and can be relatively minor, they can also cause very serious and even life-threatening injuries to one or both legs. They can also injure the shooter’s left hand at the same time, as discussed above. They can destroy the knee or the ankle joint so severely that the person becomes crippled or semi-crippled for the rest of their life.

And this type of injury can kill, especially when the bullet strikes an artery or does a lot of damage to other structures in the leg.

Holster-related injuries

Putting the handgun into the holster is the single most dangerous thing most concealed carry people ever do with firearms.

Far too many concealed carry people do not realize this, and do not take steps to prevent this type of injury from happening to them. They don’t know to keep the left hand anchored well out of the way during the draw and reholster process. They don’t know to move the finger away from the side of the gun as they reholster. They haven’t thought about how injuries can happen, so they don’t realize what they need to do in order to stay safe.

Not only this, but one of the most common holstering behaviors of all is also extremely dangerous — and most people who do this behavior do not even realize they are doing it. A few people even do it on purpose, thinking that it’s a good thing.

This common habit leads, directly or indirectly, to nearly all injuries that happen to people while reholstering.

Tune in tomorrow to find out what that one most-dangerous habit is, how to avoid it, and what to do instead.

Stay safe.

Notes:

  1. Reverse the injuries for lefties: right hand, left leg. Same basic patterns, same bad habits.
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10 Worst Holsters for Women

Gosh, I dunno about you, but I’m tired of seeing the same three articles written “for women” that we see over and over again in the firearms press. One of my friends, a well known writer who I’ll leave anonymous here because reasons, gripes that she has repeatedly been asked to write that article — you know, the one about best concealed carry guns “for women”, as if these mechanical objects magically function differently for us than they do for anyone else. Every female writer in the business has gotten the same request from her editors, believe me. And it’s annoying.

Same thing with holsters, really.

You want to know the best holster “for women”? I’ll tell you. It’s whatever fits your firearm and your budget that meets the following three criteria:

  • protects the trigger reliably,
  • holds the gun securely, and
  • allows the user to access the gun at the very moment they need it.

These are the non-negotiable, bare minimum things a holster must do. A holster or carry product that does not do these things is not a good holster, no matter how much it costs or who recommends it. Yep, even if it has lace on the outside and works with leggings.

So. Ten worst holsters for women.

Lethal Lace. Hands down, this is the worst concealed carry product I have ever seen. No exceptions. If you own one, I’m sorry. Throw it away and get something safer and more reliable. If you can’t bear to throw it away, give it to your toddler as a play toy. Use it as a baby sling (no, wait, it probably won’t hold a baby any more securely than it holds a gun, so scratch that idea). Wrap it around the back of a kitchen chair and call it home decor. Use it as a scarf or some kind of fashion statement. Wave it from a flagpole in front of your house if you like. But whatever you do, don’t put a loaded gun in it.

Repeat ten times and there’s the list.

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Belts and Business

From an anonymous Fb friend who builds wonderful holsters, belts, and other leatherwork:

I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut online, well and in person;) But for instance, I was over on a forum I frequent and someone posts about a ‘new gunbelt’ which is single layer 12oz hide. Nothing wrong with that, but dual layer cross grain laminated, preferably with a stiffener will make a longer lasting better gunbelt. This belt isn’t bad, it isn’t badly made with poor materials or workmanship. It’s just not really well designed for carrying a firearm. It’s a fine belt for holding up your pants and in a pinch will carry a firearm well at first and less well over time as the hide breaks down.

“Now I could post all of that, but a lot of people would say something or think something to the effect of ‘he just wants to sell his belts’, and sure I don’t mind building belts for guys. But I’ve learned a fair bit over the years of why things are built a certain way. Sometimes long standing traditions are wrong, sometimes there is wisdom in the way things have been done. But not being able to really share that information when it’s important to the conversation without bringing my business into the equation is frustrating.”

My friend is right. Closer to  home for me, it is exquisitely frustrating for an instructor to get involved in an online conversation with people giving truly horrible advice to each other about how to improve their shooting. Often, it would take just a few minutes of working with the guy or gal in person to figure out what’s happening and how to correct it — but boy howdy does it bring out the crazies when a firearms instructor suggests that the best solution would be to go take a class from a qualified teacher who can diagnose the problem in person.

It’s even more weird when you give that advice to someone clear on the other side of the country, someone who will never ever give you a dime anyway because you’re not in their market and don’t intend to travel there anytime soon, but somehow the fact that you get paid (by other people) to teach (other people) means that suggesting to them that they should maybe take a class means you’re just trying to make money off them.

As if “I do this thing so well that people pay me to do it” is actually a recommendation against listening to what a person has to say on a  subject. It’s very weird.

Back to belts. On that subject, my friend added:

“Also little known fact the thickness of the hide has very little to do with the cost per foot. IE I could make a ‘gunbelt’ as thick as I want without really effecting my cost to build it much if any. So the choice to use say two layers instead of one is purely for function rather than ‘cost savings’ by using two layers of thinner hide. The reality is two layers nearly doubles the cost of leather in the belt, and the time involved in laminating the two layers together and stitching costs significantly more time and material than a single layer belt. I could probably make oh maybe 10 or 20 single layer belts in the time it takes to make a good gunbelt, of course if they weren’t stitched.”

So there you have it. Buy a good belt and don’t buy hype.

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Passivity and young people

Good article here: The lesson from 9/11 that millennials have yet to learn

Fave quote: “Girls and boys and men and women need to think seriously about what to do in the event of unexpected violence, and how to act. It would be nice if we never had to think of this again, but these situations will not stop.”

Sadly true.

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“Fight like a cornered cat”

As most people who read this blog know by now, one of my taglines is, “If you have to fight, fight like a cornered cat.”

When people hear me say that, they tend to assume that I mean that you might have to fight really, really hard in order to defend yourself. And that’s true — you might.

But that’s not the heart of the issue.

The thing about a cornered cat is, it fights with a specific goal in mind. That goal is to escape and get to safety. That’s it and that’s all. Whatever damage happens to the attacker on the cat’s way out the door simply Does. Not. Matter. to the cat, and especially not when it is compared to the overwhelmingly important goal of getting away from danger and into a place of safety.

With that goal of getting to safety in mind, a good and reasonable person can use any degree of force — up to and including deadly force — and almost always be on the right side of the law even without ever thinking about the law at all. They’ll be on the right side of the law, not because there’s something magical about being “a good person”, but because the laws are written specifically to allow necessary self-defense and specifically to dis-allow fighting (or killing people) over things like ego, property, pride, aggressiveness, insults and disrespect … and the list goes on.

It is only legitimate and necessary defense of innocent life that is protected by self-defense laws, not any of that other stuff.

Not only this, but the law allows the use of force to protect your life only to the extent — in both time and severity — that it is truly necessary. And that’s another thing that a person with the “fight like a cornered cat” mentality will have in place. Because the goal is always and ever to survive and get to safety, a person with this mindset will not get entangled in proving a point. They will tread softly when necessary and treat other people with kind respect. They will apologize when an apology is called for, and, should it come to a physical defense, they will stop when it is time to stop. They won’t fire shots at a car thief as he drives away, or shoot an unconscious assailant again and again to make sure he’s dead, or do anything that prolongs the encounter.

They will do whatever they need to do in order to survive and no more than that.

Going into an encounter with the mindset that you will do whatever it takes to get to safety — no more and no less — protects you from this aspect of the law.

But it’s not only about the law, of course. It is also about personal survival. Over the past 18 years, I have taken many classes in both armed and unarmed use of force. Nearly all of those classes billed themselves as “Self Defense Class” of one flavor or another.

One thing that I discovered in many of the empty hand classes that I’ve taken is that there is a huge, remarkable, amazing difference in the physical mechanics of effectiveness when a person’s goal changes.

When the goal is “to win” or “to humiliate the assailant”, the physical mechanics of doing that are much different — and much more difficult to perform effectively! — than the mechanics of fighting to survive and get away. Sometimes, of course, fighting to survive and get away will include disabling or even killing the attacker. The attacker’s goal and attack method might make that necessary. But also sometimes, a good person completely misses their opening to escape and survive because they get completely fixated on humiliating their opponent and winning the physical fight. The mechanics of survival fail them because they didn’t have the right goal in mind during the fight.

So it turns out that fighting with the goal in mind — the goal of doing whatever it takes to survive and get to safety — keeps a person safer both legally and physically.

It’s worth thinking about.

If you have to fight, fight like a cornered cat.

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I blame MacGyver

This is something I’ve thought about a bit. And the conclusion I’ve come to (for now) is something like this: it is one thing to use whatever you have, however you can, to save your own life in the heat of the moment.

But it is another thing entirely to plan to use something known to be less than ideal.

This holds true with holsters and carry guns, with safety protocols, with medical supplies, and with a whole lot of other things.

***

Improvising isn’t a plan.

It’s what you do when you’ve failed to plan.

***

Examples? Sure.

Holster: Even though a gun could be carried without a modern holster, just by jamming it into the waistband or dropping it uncovered into a pocket, that’s not a great thing to do. It leaves the trigger exposed, and the waistband trick exposes the user to the risk of the gun slithering down the pants leg and escaping into the wild. There are better ways to carry a gun. So even though a person might do something like that in an emergency, it surely isn’t something we’d plan to do.

Safety Protocols: In the heat of a life-threatening emergency a person might inadvertently (or even deliberately) allow the gun to point at an interior wall that wouldn’t stop a bullet. But a smart person surely wouldn’t plan to do that in a classroom where they knew they’d be handling guns. Even unloaded ones. Instead, if a person were planning to handle guns in that environment, they would set it up so that they  could trust that they had a genuine safe direction that would definitely stop an unexpected bullet.

Medical Gear: A tampon is not designed to stop blood flow, although it does make the blood less likely to pour out onto the floor. What does stop bleeding? Direct pressure. And a tampon is not designed to administer direct pressure, either. (It is rather explicitly designed not to put a lot of pressure on surrounding tissues, in fact.) Packing the wound with gauze designed for the task, and covering it with a compression bandage, works a lot better. If you’re going to carry something with you to stop bleeding, carry a thing that works.

Same thing with tourniquets. Someone did a study not too long ago and found that an improvised tourniquet without a windlass failed to stop the bleeding 99% of the time. Even with an windlass of some sort, improvised tourniquets failed 31% of the time — and are considerably slower to apply. Fortunately, a person can easily carry a true tourniquet on their belt (the PHLster Flatpack is a great product that I can recommend). And true tourniquets save lives. Ankle carriers for tourniquets are available, and range bags and car kits can easily carry one. A person can plan ahead so they don’t have to improvise this crucial piece of lifesaving gear.

I could go on, but perhaps you’ve gotten my point by now. Improvising isn’t a plan. It’s what we do when we’ve failed to plan.

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