“Tools for the Toolbox”– Another way to look at the metaphor

One of the most overused cliché’s in the training industry is “another tool for the toolbox” when referring to a tactic or technique and its viability. Usually you hear it when an instructor is trying to explain why they teach a certain thing without being able to justify it in a meaningful way. As such, it is usually just a cop-out on important questions about the tactic or technique and really shouldn’t be accepted as a real answer in an intellectual discussion. However, I feel that the saying itself warrants some further dissection as to the relevance of the metaphor and its usage as related to training since it is something that comes up so frequently.

The reason we have tools and toolboxes is that different tasks require different tools. If you need to tighten up a hexagonal bolt, a Phillips head screwdriver isn’t going to do you any good. When we translate that to a metaphor for training, the tool is the technique and the task is the context. The tactic or technique (tool) needed is dependent on the context of use. For instance, if I am on a SEAL team, I am going to require different tactics and techniques to accomplish my mission than a civilian would for personal defense. If I am a civilian and I spend time filling up my “toolbox” with tools that only door-kickers need, I may have a sexy-looking toolbox; but it’s going to be filled with tools that I don’t need.

The more an individual shooter values training, the more likely they are to accumulate multiple tools and even amass multiple toolboxes. I can remember my grandpa having an entire workshop full of every sort of tool you can think of that he had amassed over a long life of building and/or fixing things. Some of those tools he may have only needed once or twice but yet they still remained somewhere in his storage shed. As someone who takes training seriously, you may have trained with several different trainers, with several different backgrounds, who may have taught you tactics or techniques that work for several different contexts. If that is the case and you have amassed many “tools for your toolbox”, you will have an important decision to make: what tools to put on your tool-belt.

Your tool-belt should contain tools that you are proficient with that you know you might need at a moment’s notice for the most probable task at hand. Your tool-belt goes with you in your work truck and is always on your person at the job site. Sometimes the contents may change depending on what you expect to encounter, but they should stay pretty consistent. You want those tools to be efficient, practical, and versatile based on what your daily routine consists of. You don’t want to have a tool-belt that is overly bulky, and you don’t want to have any wasted space. When you look at your training in this way, you want to make sure that even if you have 10 different classes with 10 different methodologies in your “toolbox”; that you have chosen only the tactics and techniques (tools) that are the most practical and efficient for your “tool-belt”. It would make no sense for an electrician to carry a hatchet on his tool-belt; just as it would make no sense for a civilian concealed carrier to carry 5 man room-clearing techniques on his. An electrician may know how to use that hatchet, just as you may know how to clear a room on a 5 man stack; but it isn’t something that is going to warrant carrying around or dedicating much practice time to.

Yes, it is good to take classes and to get as much knowledge as you can. There is much to be gained by training with different instructors and learning new things. In doing this, you may in fact amass a large set of “tools for your toolbox”. Just make sure you are very careful about which of those tools go on your tool-belt when you go to the range to practice and when you live your daily life. Choose only those tools that apply to your most probable context of use and leave the rest at home in the shed.

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“Fixing” the Gun Culture’s Training Deficit

I got a great question from a student during the debrief for my one day Defensive Focus Shooting class this past weekend. The question was: how can we fix the training deficit that exists in the gun culture? This question came right after I had told the class that I believe state-mandated training should be abolished because it gives most people a false sense of security. I believe that when the state gives people a score and tells them that they are “certified”, it has a tendency to make most of them believe that they have met their training responsibility and don’t need to do anything else. I believe that responsible armed citizens will seek out quality training on their own, without prodding from the bureaucracy. Furthermore, I have seen that more people seem to find their way into real training if they aren’t forced to take a lowest common denominator class in order to exercise their rights. The student who asked the question made the point that he wouldn’t have known about my Defensive Focus Shooting class had he not gone through the licensing process with me. While that was certainly true for him, I don’t believe that most people are getting good follow-on training resources from their CHL instructors. I wish that were the case, and though some of my peers in the local CHL instructor community are advocates for follow-on training; I believe that is more the exception than the rule. The fact of the matter is that the best thing we can do to “fix” the training deficit in the gun culture is to become training evangelists.

As armed citizens who take training for personal defense seriously, you have “seen the light” so to speak. Most people don’t tend to make it to that point purely by coincidence or stumbling around on the internet. Most people find out about training classes from people they know. I myself would still be lost in the sauce had someone I met at the range not invited me to a class. Out of all the marketing methods I have tried, the most effective is just plain old word of mouth. If you go to a class and learn things, you should tell your friends and family who own guns for personal defense about that class and why they should attend. Additionally, you should be doing the things you learn in that class on the range when you practice, which will cause people to ask you questions; thereby giving you further opportunities to evangelize. Most people who are part of the gun culture spend some amount of time on the range; and they may even be doing what they view as “practicing” with their defensive handguns. When you share a shooting bay with these people and they see you practicing in the way that you learned in class, it will likely be radically different from what they are doing. When they ask questions, this gives you the opportunity to point them to the resources they need.

One of the most satisfying things in the world to me as an instructor is seeing former students training in context at the range; and I’m not the only one who sees that. We can “fix” the gun culture training deficit one conversation at a time. Go to the range, have conversations, and spread the good word!

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Gun Safety PSA: Minimize the administrative handling of your firearm

A recent news story in Midland detailed an incident where a man took his firearm out in his vehicle and had a negligent discharge, which injured him with a minor gunshot wound. The initial reports indicated that he was carrying the firearm in his pocket without a holster (a bad idea), though I cannot confirm that this was the case. Regardless, the incident brings to mind a safety issue that a lot of people take for granted: you should minimize the administrative handling of your firearm. Administrative handing is any handling of your firearm that is not consistent with presenting it from the holster in a self-defense situation or in training. Any time you are loading, unloading, holstering, or un-holstering outside of training or an actual worst-case-scenario; that is administrative handling of the firearm. This administrative handling should be limited to cleaning and other maintenance-related activities; but should not be something that happens several times throughout the day and especially not in the public space.

Negligent discharges on modern handguns are caused by a negligent action that inadvertently actuates the firing mechanism, causing a round to be fired. Firearms do not just “go off” on their own under any but extreme circumstances involving disrepair or extreme heating of the barrel. When someone claims that a firearm “just went off”; it usually means that they are trying to protect their ego, typically out of sheer embarrassment. The fact is that you have to be doing something that you ought not to be doing in order to have a gun fire when you do not intend for it to do so.

In my experience, it is usually not novice gun owners who experience negligent discharges. Novice gun owners usually have a heightened level of respect and sometimes even a level of fear in regard to handling their firearm, simply due to their limited experience with it. This causes them to be extra tentative and cautious in most cases when handling the firearm. On the contrary, it is typically “experienced” gun owners who have negligent discharges. This phenomenon can be summed up with one word: complacency. When the gun becomes such an ingrained part of your lifestyle that you forget about the lethal potential it possesses, you will start to treat it like other inanimate objects in your life. You don’t worry about taking your cell phone or keys out of your pocket and setting them down places, because they are not dangerous and pose no risk to anyone if mishandled. For a lot of folks in the gun culture, a gun can have a tendency to become a mere accessory if we aren’t careful and disciplined. It’s usually when that complacent attitude, unconscious though it may be, becomes a reality that bad things like negligent discharges happen.

In order to avoid this complacency and minimize the opportunity for human nature to take over, we should limit our administrative handling of our firearms. Once the gun goes into the holster for the day, it should stay in the holster until it comes off and goes back into a quick access safe or wherever it goes to be secured for the night. If you need to remove your firearm for some reason, such as before moving into a non-permissive environment; remove the entire holster and secure it while it is still in the holster. It is a bad idea to constantly un-holster and re-holster throughout the day. Every time you remove the firearm from the holster administratively, you are giving yourself an opportunity to make a mistake. This is especially true if you are doing so in a vehicle, a bathroom stall, or some other random place that isn’t where you normally secure or stage your firearms. This is why we hear stories like the one in Midland earlier this week, or instances where people have destroyed innocent toilet bowls in public restrooms.

A firearm is a weapon that if used negligently or maliciously can kill or seriously injure its owner or someone else. If we remember this fact, we will minimize how often we handle the gun administratively. This requires a high level of discipline, but discipline is demanded of the responsible gun owner so that we don’t have to learn lessons the hard way. Don’t let yourself get lackadaisical about the handling of your firearm, or you may have to learn a lesson the hard way; and sometimes that ends with you coming away in handcuffs or a body bag.

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Get Your Priorities Straight

One of the things I often hear from people who own guns and know about my classes is that it “sounds cool”, but that they really “can’t afford” to come to class. Without fail, these same people will be super excited to tell me about their most recent gun purchase. While I do not begrudge anyone their right to own as many guns as they want, this phenomenon shows a big problem of prioritization. If you own several guns ostensibly for personal defense (especially if you are carrying these guns or staging them inside the home), but you have not sought out any formal training beyond the state licensing class: you have screwed up priorities and you need to fix yourself.

The average tuition of a defensive handgun training class from a reputable instructor for 2 full days is usually less than $500, and that is for the big name guys who are teaching all over the country. For a regional guy like me, you are going to pay something like half of that for the same type of class. Your average defensive handgun usually runs at least that much depending on the manufacturer and whether it is new or used. This means that the people who are telling me they can’t afford my class are spending sometimes 2 and 3 times what it would cost to come out and train for 1 day to go buy multiple new guns. Like I said, that is all fine and good; but don’t tell me in the same conversation that you take personal defense seriously. You may be a hobbyist or a collector, but you are not serious about personal defense if you are buying new guns but can’t find the motivation to train. The real reason people don’t come to classes isn’t because they can’t afford it; that is just a convenient excuse. They don’t come to class because they don’t think they need to. It’s a problem of motivation and mentality, not finances. I have held free classes with low round counts that people have signed up for and then not showed; so clearly money isn’t the problem for most folks.

In his book Training at the Speed of Life, Ken Murray describes four mental states that people go through prior to and during training: unconscious incompetency, conscious incompetency, conscious competency, and unconscious competency. Most people are in a state of unconscious incompetency when it comes to defensive shooting skills: they don’t know what they don’t know. This usually comes from the fact that they believe that they already possess the skills necessary to use a gun for personal defense because they “learned how to shoot” from their grandpa or whoever. The truth is that they may well have learned to do the mechanical things involved in operating the firearm and putting bullets on target; but they may fail to recognize that this is only one piece of the puzzle. The majority of gun owners will stay in a perpetual state of unconscious incompetency for many different reasons. For some, it has to do with ego: they don’t want to learn that they are not as awesome as they thought they were. Usually this happens to guys with a background whether they are former military, law enforcement, etc. For others it usually has to do with ignorance: they just haven’t come to the realization that training is important. This is usually fueled primarily by state mandated training requirements having given them a false sense of security. A lot of folks will have the idea that because they “qualified” in their licensing class that they have met their responsibility because of the card they now get to put in their wallet. Whatever the cause, it is a prevailing mental state that really has nothing to do with class “affordability” in most cases.

People who are coming to training classes have reached a state of conscious incompetency where they realize that there are things that they don’t know that they probably should know if they intend to carry a gun. These people will feel compelled as responsible armed citizens to seek out additional training above and beyond what they receive in a licensing class. Actually, residents of states with no licensing requirement are usually far more likely to reach this mental state because no official body has given them the aforementioned false sense of security that comes with the card in the wallet. Many guys with experience in military or law enforcement are able to check their egos and come to this point as well, though it may take more effort at times due to the fact that they might train on gun-related tasks as part of their day job. I know I always thought training was a drag when I was in the Army, but that is mostly because it wasn’t really “training” at all. Qualification ranges and other feeders of the power point slide are not really beneficial, and a lot of people who have participated in that sort of “training” are less likely to come to a class because that’s what they think it will be like.

When someone who has reached the state of conscious incompetency and comes to a class; they can usually get to the point during 1 or 2 days of training where they are consciously competent: able to perform the tasks while thinking specifically about them. Here, the problem of prioritization can kick back in because to truly be as well prepared as you can be, you want to be able to do things without having to think about them. You want to reach a state of unconscious competency where you are able to perform your skills on demand regardless of the circumstances and how hard you may be thinking about the task. The only way you can do this is by taking the things you learn in class and then practicing them frequently on your own. This will require making deliberate practice with your firearm a part of your lifestyle. If you look at the entire gun owning public, there are probably less than 10% even within the gun culture who have actually made this a lifestyle priority. It will mean making ammo a part of your monthly budget instead of just a recreational activity splurge. It will mean you have to regularly set aside time in a way that you would for other “productive” things as opposed to how you randomly find time for “leisurely” activities. Being competent with your defensive gun will become a necessity to you as opposed to a “that would be fun” idea.

Don’t use your financial budget as an excuse to miss training opportunities when motivation and mentality are really the issue. If that has been you in the past, by reading this article you should have at least reached the state of conscious incompetency. It’s up to you now to deal with that and take the next step by getting to a class. If not, you’ll be in a state as yet not described, but easily understood: DENIAL. Don’t let that be you: get to a class and then get back out to the range to practice regularly. It is true that people who don’t train with their defensive guns survive encounters with bad guys every day. It is also true that inattentive drivers avoid being hit my oncoming traffic every day. I’m not going to bet on luck to bring me through my armed citizen lifestyle, and neither should you.

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Armed Parenting: Meeting Your Responsibility

If you have kids living in your home and own guns for personal defense, you have a big responsibility to fulfill. You must make sure that you are taking the proper steps to balance your need to secure your firearms and your need to have easy access to them in a worst case scenario. Furthermore, and most importantly, you must provide your kids with a proper education on the safe handling and appropriate use of firearms.

Security and Staging

               Firearms owned for personal defense are not “stored”, they are “secured” and “staged”. Let’s define those words. To “store” a firearm is to lock it away when it is not in use with the ammunition stored separately. Hunting rifles and shotguns are “stored” when they are not in use outside of hunting season. Heirlooms and collector’s items are the types of guns that might also be “stored”. To “secure” a firearm is to take steps that are reasonable to prevent unauthorized access to the firearm when it is not in use. To “stage” a firearm is to put it in a place that allows easy access to it in a worst case scenario. Defensive firearms should be “secured” and “staged” as opposed to “stored”. If you have kids living with you, or if kids spend any time in your home; you must make sure that you secure your defensive firearms in such a way that children cannot get access to them. This can be accomplished while still staging them to allow for quick access when you need it.

Your large, key operated gun safe is not going to accomplish these goals because the keys are usually cheap and easy to break, difficult to operate under stress, and require you to “hide” the key as well to truly secure them. In a worst case scenario, you don’t want to be hunting for a key to the safe and then fumbling around with it during the moment of truth. Think of the horror movies where the axe murderer is chasing the main character while they haplessly fumble with getting the keys in the door. You don’t want that to be you.

A modern quick-access safe with either the 4-button combo or the biometric fingerprint scanner is the best way to accomplish the goal of balancing security with accessibility. These types of safes will keep kids from gaining access while allowing you to quickly gain access under stress if you need to. Pro Tip: if you choose one of the biometric safes; load several different orientations of each fingerprint so that the safe will open whether you hit it the same way every time or not. Most safes will let you store up to 100 or more fingerprints, so I would store several orientations of each finger you intend to use for each person you want to have access.

Loaded or Unloaded

               Obviously, if you are going to stage your guns for defensive purposes, it makes no sense to store the ammunition separately. The question isn’t whether they should be loaded but whether you should have a round in the chamber or not. Most quick-access safes are simply lock boxes. If you are going to have a gun sitting inside of a box, you are going to want to have the trigger covered if you plan to keep it loaded and chambered. You wouldn’t want to go sticking your hand into the box and accidentally actuate the trigger under stress, potentially injuring your hand and causing the gun to malfunction in the process. Putting the gun inside of a holster even if it is something simple like the trigger-guard covers such as the Vanguard series from Raven Concealment will protect the trigger and allow you to still quickly present the firearm. If you are going to put it in the safe without a holster, I would recommend putting the magazine in but leaving an empty chamber. In most home defense situations, you are going to likely have more time to rack the slide and chamber a round; so it shouldn’t be a problem like it is for concealed carry where we are dealing with split seconds.

Where to Stage

               The best places to stage the quick access safe would be wherever you spend most of your time or whatever your “fall back” position is where you intend to barricade yourself in a worst case scenario. I personally have several safes in my house from my living room, bedroom, the kitchen, and the closet in my daughter’s room. I know that in a worst case scenario I am likely to be either already in one of those rooms or quickly moving toward one of them to barricade based on my home defense plan. Whatever your plan is, make sure that you have your guns staged in an intuitive way as part of that plan.


               If you carry a firearm outside of the home, you must have the discipline to maintain control of your firearm by always having it in your possession, securing it when it isn’t, or rendering it inoperable. Whenever my gun is not in my holster on my body, it goes into one of my quick-access safes. If for some reason I do not put it directly into my quick access safe, I clear it and lock the slide open before I set it on any surface. This is something you must never get complacent about. Furthermore, you must be very careful with off-body carry options. If you carry your firearm in a bag or purse, that bag or purse needs to be in your direct control at all times and never left anywhere near where a child could get into it. You cannot set you purse in a cart at the store or leave it sitting next to your kid in the back seat of the car if there is a gun in it. You need to have that off-body option under your 100% control at all times; and when you get home you need to secure that gun just as if it were coming off of your hip. Glove boxes and consoles are not good places to put guns if you have kids in the car. Too often, parents forget the guns are there, kids get into the vehicles, and bad things happen. There are many stories of negligence where the parent fails to maintain control of an off-body carry option or forgets to secure a gun when returning from the public space. Practice meticulous discipline and don’t add to those statistics.


There is no magic age for when a child is old enough to start learning about gun safety. It is up to the parents to know the maturity level of their children and make the appropriate decision on when to begin the conversation. I would say that as soon as a kid is old enough to learn about “stranger danger” and other common concepts that they are old enough to learn about gun safety. The National Rifle Association has a good program called “Eddie the Eagle” that breaks gun safety down “Barney-style” so that kids can understand it.

What you absolutely do not want to do is just tell your kids “never touch guns” or “only touch guns when an adult is present”. The former is naïve and the latter is only a piece of the puzzle. It is your responsibility to teach your children the basics of gun safety like how to keep the gun pointed in a generally safe direction, keep the finger off of the trigger until ready to fire, and (once they have enough dexterity) how to unload and clear the gun. You should do this by taking your kids to the range with you and showing them the proper context for responsible usage of firearms. This will be far better than just saying “don’t touch”. Kids are curious by nature and if that is as far as you go, they are going to touch the gun and touch it in an unsafe manner as soon as they are given the opportunity. If you take the time to actually teach your kids about gun safety, it will be likely that if they are exposed to a gun outside of your supervision; they will at the very least handle it safely. If you don’t feel qualified to do the teaching, there are instructors through the NRA and programs like Project Appleseed that can help.

Beyond just teaching kids about gun safety in general, you want to educate them about what to do in a worst case scenario. For instance, if your kids are located on the other side of the house from where your bedroom is, you don’t want them to be moving across the open areas of the house where the bad guy might be when the alarm goes off. It is up to you to communicate to your kids what you expect them to do if and when a bad situation occurs. It can be as simple as a conversation and as detailed as running scenarios, depending on how far you want to take it. Whatever you choose to do, they need to be aware that there is a plan and that they have a part to play in a worst case scenario.


               You can have guns in your home if you have kids. In fact, as someone who takes personal defense seriously, you should. In doing so, you must balance the need to secure your firearms with the ability to gain access to them. You must also educate your children on proper gun safety so that they know how to appropriately interact with firearms. Do these things and you will be meeting your responsibility as an armed parent.

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Growing The Gun Culture at the Grassroots

I have been a part of the gun culture since I was a child. My grandfather introduced me to shooting when I was very young. I was involved in marksmanship programs through Boy Scouts as a pre-teen, I joined the military as a young man, and I eventually became a defensive shooting instructor as an adult. With that background, it is no wonder that I now stand as an avid supporter of the 2nd Amendment, and an advocate for personal defense. However, this type of upbringing around guns is becoming more and more outside of the norm as our culture grows more urban and disconnected from its rural roots. In accepting this reality, it is imperative that we break from the traditional narrative and endeavor to grow the gun culture by reaching out in ways that may be uncomfortable to us.

When we examine the 2nd Amendment at its core, it is easy to see that it is based on personal defense. It exists to protect an individual’s right to own and carry firearms as an option for defense from every form of threat that may present itself from individual human aggression to a tyrannical government. We as advocates tend to focus on the latter in light of the fact that our government at the federal level has shown increasing hostility toward gun rights over the years. Slogans like the National Rifle Association’s “From my cold dead hands” or “stand and fight” act as battle cries for the base. Energizing the base is obviously important since the donations of legacy members are what the life of national gun rights organizations depend on. However, the strategies that work for pumping up the base will not necessarily aid in proselytizing to convert new supporters. We are essentially preaching the convention sermon at the revival meeting, and few if any are coming back for more. We need to get back to the gospel of personal defense at the grassroots level.

Personal defense is a fundamental human right. Anyone who has experienced something as simple as bullying will understand that human beings are built for self-defense; which means it requires little actual explanation. Depending on largely uncontrollable and unpredictable circumstances, some may be called on to defend themselves from the threat of deadly force. There are millions of people who have never owned guns that have nonetheless experienced the realities of this type of violence. Absent a strong ideological conditioning, anyone who has experienced such things is not a hard sell on the viability of firearms as an option for self-defense under those circumstances, often in spite of their political views on other issues. But what do we talk about with these people? We focus the narrative on government tyranny, “modern sporting rifles”, Obama, etc. This isn’t likely to appeal to the single mom who got beat half to death by her ex-boyfriend and now desires more options for self-defense if and when he or someone else tries again. We are talking about the wrong things at the grassroots level, and that is what limits the growth of our movement. It is up to us as individual gun owners to change this. If we as individuals take the lead, the national organizations will follow.

So, my challenge to you is to take someone outside of your circle of friends, someone who isn’t a part of the gun culture, to the range with you. Don’t wear your “infidel” t-shirt or your tactical gear; dress like a normal person. Base your discussions of gun rights on questions asked as opposed to talking points that you have learned over the years. Avoid platitudes and instead relate guns to the individual circumstances faced by this person. Do what you can to make this person your FRIEND, and they will likely see the gun culture in a new light at the very least. We as disciples of the way of the gun are stuck in Judea; and we desperately need to get to Samaria and the edges of the earth with our message. As we succeed in spreading this message, we will grow the gun culture and help to preserve our rights for the next generation.

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Maximizing Your Range Time

If you intend to carry a gun in the public space, it is imperative that you spend time on the range practicing with that gun. Most armed citizens who carry with any frequency understand this. The problem I see as I walk up and down the range on any given weekend is that most people don’t really know how to make proper use of their range time. There is a drastic difference between deliberate practice with the goal of skill development in the context of personal defense and simply “plinking”. Unfortunately, most people spend a majority of their time doing the latter even though they may believe they are preparing themselves for a defensive shooting. Below I will outline the difference between the two and offer some suggestions on how to get the most out of your range time.

“Plinking” vs. Practice

What I see most shooters do with their “practice sessions” is go to the range with a box of ammunition and simply shoot at a target until that box of ammunition is empty. When they run out of ammo, they may or may not take the time to tally hits and misses on their target. Regardless, they do little more than dump ammunition into the berm from a couple of stationary positions and see how many “bullseyes” they can get. While this may be an enjoyable use of range time, it is not actually practice for defensive shooting. This sort of range session is what my grandpa would commonly have referred to as “plinking”, which is essentially just having fun shooting your pistol with no particular goal in mind. While there is nothing wrong with plinking; it is not useful if you intend to prepare yourself for a defensive shooting. At best, it will give you some reps at the mechanical aspects of shooting; but it certainly will not develop any skills that are relevant to anything outside of the square range. On the contrary, deliberate practice starts with the goal of developing a certain skillset within a certain context. When you are practicing, you should be working toward the goal of improving your execution of some skill you have learned in training. This of course implies that you have sought out some form of training whether it is through online resources or a formal class with an instructor. This missing prerequisite is why most armed citizens make such ineffective use of their range time; they simply don’t know any better. This drives home the importance of taking the responsibility of personal defense seriously enough to seek out quality training from a reputable instructor. Once you have done that, you can start practicing efficiently by following these simple principles.

The Skill Development Cycle

Before you load your range bag into the truck, you should have already decided what the goal of your practice session is going to be. The best way to do this is to consider the most recent skills you have learned. For instance, let’s say that you have just learned how to efficiently present your firearm from the holster. Since that skill is what is newest for you, you should invest a bulk of your time up front in your next practice session working to master it. When you get to the range, dedicate the first several drills you do to working on your presentation from the holster until you feel that you have become proficient at it. At that point, you can move from practicing the skill to assessing the skill. To aid in your development, it is always good to have a training partner to tell you what you are doing wrong and make corrections. Any training session is going to be enhanced considerably if you have a training partner with whom you can alternate the role of student and instructor in order to “fix each other” as needed. If you feel comfortable with the results of the assessment phase, you can then move on to learning the next skill or practicing skills that you may have already mastered from beforehand. The principle is to always “front-load” your practice so that the most recent thing you have learned is what you focus your efforts on until you have mastered it. This skill development cycle allows each successive skill to build upon the previous skill in an incremental fashion by spending time developing a new skill to a level of proficiency before moving on. It also allows for constant refreshers on the fundamentals at appropriate intervals. Learning defensive shooting skills is the same as learning algebra or anything else; you must work problems and do your homework every time you learn something new, or you will fail to master it.

Practice in Context

Once you have established what your goals are and have implemented a plan for your practice sessions based on those goals, you need to run drills that put your practice in as much context as possible given the obvious limitations of the square range. There are 3 basic principles you can follow to ensure that the drills you use for practice achieve this goal.

First, you should endeavor to put yourself as off-balance as possible prior to executing a skill. In a worst case scenario, it is likely that you will not see an attack coming regardless of how aware of your surroundings you may be. In accepting this reality, it is important that you understand that your level of anticipation just before needing to respond to the attack and apply your skills is likely going to be very low. There are things you can do within the controlled environment of the square range that are designed to put you “in the zone” so to speak. When I am shooting in a competition, I put my hands in places and stand in such a way that when the buzzer goes off, I can move as fast and efficiently as possible because I know that I need to shoot. Since none of us likely walk around the public space with our center of gravity forward and our hands hovering over our holsters expecting to get into a gunfight; we probably shouldn’t do this in practice either. Use drills that require you to be not in the zone as much as possible just prior to getting the command to engage a target. While there is always going to be some level of anticipation on the square range, you can do things to minimize it and more closely mirror what it will be like in the real world. Just simply relaxing and standing like a normal human prior to getting the command to fire is a good start.

Second, you want to make sure that you are forced to process information prior to shooting. Defensive shootings do not happen in a vacuum. There are a ton of factors in play from your body’s natural reactions, the varying chaotic circumstances of the public space, the presence of bystanders, etc. that will have an effect on your ability to apply your skills. With this in mind, any drill you do should require you to think before you shoot. One way to do this is to have different targets of varying sizes that require different levels of precision to hit. In the Combat Focus® Shooting program, we use a target that has different shapes, colors, and sizes that can be called out randomly such that the shooter does not know what their target will be from one command to the next. This forces the shooter to think before they shoot, which mirrors the context of an actual fight. You can achieve this goal with spray paint and magic markers on any type of target if you don’t have targets specifically designed for this purpose.

Third, you should be required to move dynamically prior to shooting. Since there is going to be a given amount of time between recognizing a threat and having the ability to shoot it, you want to be doing something during that time that affects the threat’s ability to hurt you. Explosive movement perpendicular to the line of attack while presenting your firearm from the holster or the ready position is an efficient way to accomplish this goal. There are other drills you can do that have you walk with your gun holstered prior to receiving the command to engage a target that have the effect of closely resembling your normal movement in the public space. Whatever drill you choose, if you find yourself constantly standing stationary and shooting at the same thing every time, you are in plinking territory and are not actually practicing for a defensive shooting.

You now have some simple rules of thumb that you can use to get the most out of your range time. Your next logical step if you haven’t already would be to get to a class and learn some skills, set goals to develop those skills, and develop them in as much context as possible. For some great articles and training videos that give you specific drills you can do on the range, check out the Personal Defense Network.

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“Sheepdog” or Lap Dog?

One of my biggest pet peeves as a defensive shooting instructor is when someone tells me that they want to carry a gun or have one in their home for “peace of mind”. I always ask people in my state mandated concealed carry classes what made them decide to get their license. Invariably, at least half of the class responds with some reference to this security blanket mentality which implies that simply possessing a defensive tool will make them “feel safer”. An unfortunate fact in the shooting industry is that we have a tendency to perpetuate this dangerous mindset when we can use it to appeal to certain demographics. How many times have you seen or experienced someone within the industry pandering to women with promises of “empowerment”? How many self-proclaimed “sheepdogs” have you met who have never logged a single hour of formal training? We use cliché’s such as “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” in response to anti-gunners, but then turn around and convince ourselves that just having a gun somehow gives us magical powers with which to stop the bad guy. We in fact mock stories like this one where people suggest a defensive strategy that doesn’t involve firearms in a restrictive environment. If you fall into this category of armed citizen, you are kidding yourself, and you could be on a path to your own demise if the wolf ever does come knocking.

My Basset Hound was bred to hunt rabbits. That is why she has short legs, a pointy tail, and droopy ears. Hundreds of years ago, the French and British aristocracy did selective breeding to create this ideal rabbit hunting machine. However, when I picked my Basset Hound up from the rescue service, I didn’t take her out and train her to hunt rabbits. I instead took her to my house, let her lay on my furniture, fed her treats, and taught her how to fetch dog toys. As far as she knows, that is what she is supposed to do. If I were to take her into the woods, her sense of smell and other instincts might take over well enough that she would be able to catch a rabbit; but it would be due to little more than dumb luck.

Similarly, all humans have innate proclivities toward self-preservation. Red-blooded Americans also have a strong connection to firearms as a means of self-preservation due to our history as a nation. However, those two things in and of themselves are about as useful for real world self-defense as my dog’s pedigree is for rabbit hunting. It is true that untrained individuals successfully defend themselves with firearms all the time but it is equally true that Basset Hounds follow their noses to rabbits in their suburban backyards just as often. In the absence of training, instincts are all you have to rely on. It is always troubling to me when people believe that the possession of a mere tool somehow negates this fact.

Gun ownership may well elicit warm and fuzzy feelings about security or a sense of patriotism and the desire to protect yourself and your fellow man from evil. However, if emotion is all you are chasing after by purchasing a gun for self-defense, you are missing the boat. Gun ownership ought to come with a sense of responsibility and an understanding that simply possessing the tool does not make you a master craftsman. If you wouldn’t be prepared to build a house just because you possess a hammer, you shouldn’t consider yourself prepared for a fight just because you possess a gun.

It is a fact that most gun owners will never be compelled to use deadly force in self-defense. You will likely go your entire life without needing any of the defensive shooting skills you can develop through training. However, the same could have been said of me during my time in the military. Despite the years upon years of training I received in preparation for combat, I never fired a shot during my rotation to Iraq. But would you have called me reckless if I had let my patriotism and my emotional response to 9/11 alone lead me to board a plane and fly to Baghdad on my own? That option in my view is no less insane than sticking a gun in a safe for home defense or strapping on a gun and walking around in the public space because it gives you “peace of mind”, and then never learning how to use it in context. You could train a lifetime for an event that never occurs; or you could walk around with a false sense of security and hope that your instincts are enough to bring you through if an event does occur. I choose the former, and I hope you will as well. If you want to feel warm and fuzzy feelings, get a shrink or join a church. If you want to be prepared to stop the bad man; get to a class and get to the range.

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Use of Deadly Force in Defense of a 3rd Person: My Analyis of Southlake “Good Samaritan” Story

kraegThe interwebs have been buzzing over the past 72 hours with the story of an armed citizen in Southlake, Texas who stopped a brutal assault by calling the police and confronting the attacker with his handgun without having to fire a shot. The multiple comment threads I have read through as the incident has gained publicity have made it clear to me that a thoughtful analysis of the incident is warranted in order to quell the plethora of false information and conjecture being espoused by some so called “instructors” and other keyboard ninjas in cyberspace. For the sake of full disclosure, the armed citizen in question does happen to be a friend of mine; but that in no way changes the facts of the situation, the law, or my analysis thereof. Below I will deal with the legal and tactical aspects of the incident.

The Legal Side

Section 9.04 of the Texas Penal Code states:

THREATS AS JUSTIFIABLE FORCE. The threat of force is justified when the use of force is justified by this chapter. For purposes of this section, a threat to cause death or serious bodily injury by the production of a weapon or otherwise, as long as the actor’s purpose is limited to creating an apprehension that he will use deadly force if necessary, does not constitute the use of deadly force.

Section 9.33 of the Texas Penal Code states:

DEFENSE OF THIRD PERSON. A person is justified in using force or deadly force against another to protect a third person if:

 (1) under the circumstances as the actor reasonably believes them to be, the actor would be justified under Section 9.31 or 9.32 in using force or deadly force to protect himself against the unlawful force or unlawful deadly force he reasonably believes to be threatening the third person he seeks to protect; 

(2) the actor reasonably believes that his intervention is immediately necessary to protect the third person.

These 2 sections of the Texas Penal code are the statutes most relevant to what occurred during the incident in question. The law plainly states that an individual is justified in using deadly force on behalf of a 3rd person when they reasonably believe that the 3rd person is in a situation where they would be justified in using deadly force in self-defense. What this means in layman’s terms is that if you see another person being put in danger of death or serious bodily injury such that if you were to put yourself in their shoes, you would be compelled to use deadly force in defense of yourself, and you feel that you must intervene immediately with deadly force on behalf of that person; you would be justified in doing so. There is no “grey area” in this statute or any other statute for that matter. The “grey area” has to do with the totality of the circumstances in the given situation. So let’s take a look at what we know about the incident in question.

Aaron Kreag was on his way to a movie with his wife when he spotted a man savagely beating a woman in a parked vehicle with closed fists and elbows to the head and neck. The confrontation witnessed by Kreag is what is known as “disparity of force”. The legal term as described here by Massad Ayoob is “when an ostensibly unarmed man is so likely to kill or cripple you, his physical advantage becomes the equivalent of a deadly weapon, and warrants your recourse to a gun or knife or whatever in self-defense”. That right there ought to clear up the confusion I have seen over Mr. Kreag being supposedly in the wrong for his armed intervention without seeing a weapon. In situations such as this, there need not be a weapon present for use of deadly force to be justified because the attacker’s fists and elbows ARE the weapons capable of killing or seriously injuring his victim. When Mr. Kreag witnessed this “disparity of force” assault, he was compelled to stop his car, have his wife dial 911, and exit the car with gun drawn to confront the attacker. From his point of view, he was reasonably certain that the attacker was likely to kill or seriously injure his victim if he did not intervene, and he determined that it was therefore immediately necessary to do so. After receiving multiple verbal commands from Mr. Kreag with the gun trained on him, the attacker stopped his assault and turned his attention to Mr. Kreag and was generally compliant until the police arrived. Once the situation de-escalated, Mr. Kreag moved the gun from the fully extended position into a high compressed ready position close to his chest. When police arrived on the scene, he was fully compliant with their commands and was handcuffed for a short time while the scene was secured and witnesses were interviewed. Mr. Kreag clearly articulated his reasoning for drawing his weapon and confronting the attacker, and was released with his weapon to go about his day. The victim of the assault corroborated his story and even hugged and thanked him for intervening and potentially saving her life.

The totality of the circumstances based on the reports of the incident and the statements of Mr. Kreag himself show clearly that he violated no state laws in any way by doing what he did. The DA’s office said as much when contacted by reporters after the incident. The relevant statutes listed above show that his action of producing his weapon and thereby threatening to use deadly force if necessary was fully justified and that in fact his use of deadly force would have been justified had he felt it immediately necessary. A lot of the commentaries I have seen in threads about this story have read something like “he shouldn’t have drawn his gun because he was not in fear for his life” or “you should only draw your gun when you are immediately going to shoot someone”. Both of those statements are ridiculous if you have even a basic understanding of criminal law. There are a lot of situations where you may feel compelled to present your firearm even though shooting is something that may not need to immediately happen. You should never draw your gun unless you are prepared to use it; but drawing it when you don’t immediately need to use it can be the best option in circumstances, such as the ones Mr. Kreag faced. There are plenty of situations where simply drawing your gun may be enough to stop a threat altogether, whether on behalf of yourself or a third person. In Mr. Kreag’s situation, the presence of the gun combined with his verbal commands to the assailant was enough to stop the attack and there was no statute or armed citizen “rule of thumb” violated. In fact: if we look at it from the perspective of the “can vs. should” rule of thumb; Mr. Kreag “could” have been justified in shooting the assailant if he felt it was immediately necessary, but he did what he “should” and de-escalated the situation without firing a shot. From my perspective, Mr. Kreag should be congratulated for handling the situation as calmly as he did once he decided to present his firearm.

We can go on and on about whether or not you or I would have been compelled to draw our firearms in the same circumstance but until we see what Mr. Kreag saw, those discussions are all pure conjecture and speculation. Such analysis is not intellectual or scientific and really is of no value. It is up to the individual to process the events that take place in any given incident and each individual may handle it differently. I am afraid far too many individuals in our society are inclined to pass by an incident such as this and do nothing. Given the options, I hope many in our community of armed citizens are more inclined to do what Mr. Kreag did. There are obviously other routes he could have taken such as calling the police and foregoing the armed confrontation, but there are just as many hypothetical outcomes to that as there are to his chosen course. At the end of the day, we are left to analyze what he chose to do, and from a legal standpoint, he did no wrong.

The Tactical Side

Now that we have established that Mr. Kreag clearly broke no laws, we can do a little bit of “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” as to the tactics he employed once he decided to draw his pistol. The first thing I would say is that he would have been better served to use his vehicle as cover and keep a little bit more standoff from the assailant as he issued verbal commands. That being said, he did have his wife in the car who was on the phone with 911, so he may have been considering her safety inside the vehicle when he decided to position himself in the middle of the street. He was also apparently positioning himself such that the victim would not be in his line of fire should he need to shoot. Using whatever cover is available and as much standoff as possible when dealing with a potential threat especially when you intend to de-escalate the situation is always going to be ideal. I have seen several people in the comment threads suggest that he would have been better served to get into a physical altercation with the assailant as opposed to drawing his gun. That makes absolutely no sense to me as a rational human being. Putting yourself into physical contact with a threat when you don’t need to has a far higher likelihood of ending with someone being shot and/or killed than producing a weapon and maintaining a good standoff does. Mr. Kreag did reasonably well by keeping the distance that he did but I would have liked to have seen him behind some cover if it was possible, which it may not have been given that his wife was in his car.

High Compressed readyThe second thing I would consider is that keeping the gun in the high compressed ready position with his finger indexed from the beginning probably would have conveyed what he wanted it to without extending the gun toward the assailant and putting his finger on the trigger. The high compressed ready position has the double benefit of showing a would be attacker in this situation that you are capable of armed response as you attempt de-escalation as well as maintaining a lower profile for when another armed citizen, security personnel, or the police arrive. Mr. Kreag did move appropriately to the high compressed ready and indexed his finger when the assailant complied with his verbal commands just before the police arrived, as can be seen on the video. He did well in that regard but from a learning standpoint I think he could have accomplished the same goal without extending the gun and pointing it at the assailant. Additionally, having your finger on the trigger prematurely when you don’t immediately intend to take a shot could end badly if the assailant or something else in your environment does something that startles you and causes your grasp reflex to go into action. There have been numerous cases where law enforcement officers have had that exact situation take place and it has caused them to either shoot themselves or the suspect unintentionally. It’s something to consider and a good reason to keep your finger indexed, even if you feel the need to extend the gun, if you aren’t immediately going to shoot. Mr. Kraeg did articulate to the assailant that he would remove his finger from the trigger and compress the gun if the assailant complied with his commands, which he did.

Other than those 2 considerations I cannot think of any other criticism constructive or otherwise that I can give to Mr. Kreag given the facts of the incident. Like I said before, we can debate all day whether you or I would have made the initial decision to present the firearm and confront the attacker, but that is a fruitless discussion in my opinion. Until you are faced with a similar situation, you really don’t know for sure exactly how you will handle it. What we can do is look at the facts of situations like this and learn from them to better prepare ourselves for our own scenarios, should we ever face something similar. With that in mind, I believe that we as a community of armed citizens should commend Mr. Kreag for his handling of the situation and thank God that there are those among us who won’t stand idly by and watch someone get beat to death when they have the wherewithal and the justification to do something about it. I’m proud to call Aaron my friend, and he is without a doubt one of the “good guys” that we want on our side.

Posted in Advice, Firearms, Training | 1 Comment

Ideal Student Mindset

In my previous post “Is Training for Me?” I went into detail about what type of student I like to have in my class as far as their background, lifestyle, etc. In this post I want to talk about the attitude and mindset that my ideal student possesses. I break down student attitude and mindset into two basic categories: 1.) Intellectual Curiosity 2.) Work Ethic. My ideal student gets high marks in both areas.cfs3

Intellectual Curiosity

You will read a lot of class descriptions that ask students to show up with an “open mind”. While I certainly don’t want to train someone who doesn’t think they can learn anything from me; a lot of the time instructors say “open mind” when what they really mean is “empty skull”. Serious trainers complain a lot about the trend of fly-by-night instructors who teach ridiculous things to an uninitiated public and somehow manage to stay in business. These charlatans usually have a group of repeat clients who show up with the sort of “open minds” that allow the proliferation of their espoused nonsense. The difference between the cliché of an “open-mind” and intellectual curiosity comes in the form of discernment. I want students who are willing to learn but discerning enough to not hang on my every word as gospel truth. Whatever I am teaching, I should be able to explain why I am teaching it. The intellectually curious student will keep the instructor honest in that regard by challenging the instructor when he hasn’t explained something well enough or if he is teaching something that is just plain wrong. Good instructors who care about their craft will welcome intellectual challenges to the curriculum because it helps them learn better ways to articulate tough concepts or evolve/change when warranted.

An intellectually curious student does their homework before they show up to class. They don’t take a course just because it “sounds cool” or has a cool YouTube video associated with it. They take a course because they have researched the instructor and the material, and possibly even engaged the instructor beforehand to get a read on who they will be spending their time and money with. This type of student by their very nature will usually not be wasting their time with a bad instructor or a bad curriculum because they will have figured that out ahead of time and found something else. Intellectually curious students are not blinded by big names or long resumes. You won’t find them haplessly enrolled in a fantasy camp disguised as a defensive shooting course.

The intellectually curious student asks questions, but they don’t heckle. Everyone remembers the guy in class who raised his hand every single lecture to get face time with the professor and/or the sarcastic blow-hard. The intellectually curious student doesn’t ask questions just for the sake of hearing their own voice. Intellectually curious students think hard about their questions and ask them in very concise and pointed ways, and without any unnecessary attitude. They ask because they really want to understand, not because they think they already know. Good instructors actually enjoy their conversations with this type of student because it is beneficial for both parties.

Work Ethic

I like having students who show up ready to do work. I’m not interested in training with a line full of students who already think they “have it”. Every student shows up with a given level of competency as it relates to different defensive shooting skills, but nobody is perfect. Every student who takes one of my classes has things that they can get better at, regardless of their starting point. The student with a good work ethic actually wants me to put them outside of their comfort zone and push their limits to find those failure points. They view every miss as an opportunity and call it a win if they walk away from class knowing what they need to work on at their next individual practice session.

cropped-cfs8.jpg    No matter how many formal classes you take, if you don’t train and develop skills on your own time, you aren’t going to improve. One of the worst things that can happen is for a student to take a class, get a certificate, and then “call it good”. That would be akin to taking one piano lesson and then never practicing again, or just showing up for lecture and never doing your homework. Human beings cannot develop skills in this manner. Work ethic flows forth from passion about the subject matter. I’m never going to practice at chess because I don’t care about it. If personal defense is to you as chess is to me, you are never going to get better at defensive shooting.

That being said, you can in fact take too many classes. The biggest cliché’ in this industry is when students and instructors alike talk about amassing “tools for the toolbox”. There is nothing wrong with taking the good and leaving the bad from several different trainers, but only if you stay focused on what your realistic goals are. It will do me no good from a survival standpoint to have learned how to ice fish if I never leave the west Texas desert. It’s a “cool” skill to have, but it is irrelevant to my survival. Similarly, knowing how to clear buildings on a 4 man stack is not going to help me in my day to day life as a CHL holder. I say that to illustrate the difference between work ethic aimed at personal defense goals and simply collecting certificates. There were guys I served with in the Army who wanted to go to every elite school the Army offered but never actually learned to do their assigned job well; we called them “tab chasers”. There are similar types in the shooting industry; we call them “training junkies”. You can develop the skills that you need for self-defense mostly by maximizing your personal training time. Come to class ready to get after it, and leave class with the same approach to your own range time.

In summary: I want students who do their homework ahead of time and take my class because they see potential value in it. I want them to show up and ask questions so that they can learn and I can get better at teaching. I want my students to show up ready to work hard, push themselves to their failure points, and use those as learning opportunities. I want them to carry that same work ethic to their individual range sessions and continue to develop their skills long after the one or two day class. I don’t want a student to take my class just so they can say they got a certificate from me.

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