It’s not the gun, it’s you!

 

One of the most common mistakes I observe coming from novice shooters both on the internet and in person is the desire to blame their gun or their sights for inaccuracy issues. Many are puzzled when they switch sights or change to a different gun and still have the same issues. In my experience, the cause of inaccuracy is very rarely the firearm or the sights, but is most often due to user error.  Unfortunately, these errors are hard to diagnose without a skilled instructor present to observe and make corrections. This is one of the reasons that it is important to get to a good fundamentals class with a skilled instructor so that you can figure out what is causing you to miss and why it is happening. With that in mind, here are some tips as to what to look for when you miss.

Tip #1: Grip the gun harder

Most new shooters do not grip their guns hard enough. If you have a loose grip, you can end up with an unsupported platform which could cause the gun to malfunction due to a dissipation of energy that should go into the recoil spring, causing the gun not to cycle. If you experience frequent failures to feed, weak grip is a likely culprit.

A loose grip can also cause you to tighten your fingers as you press the trigger, which causes deviation to your weak side. If you see your shots consistently low and to the left for a righty or low and to the right for a lefty, that sympathetic tightening of the fingers is usually the cause. If you grip the gun harder, there won’t be as much tightening possible because your fingers will already be about as tight as they can be, so this usually fixes the issue.

The firearm is a tool, and you should grip it as tight as you would any other tool you are working with, like a wrench or a hammer. If you have a loose grip on other tools, they will slip and cause you to make mistakes, and the same is true of your pistol. My advice is to grip your pistol as tight as you can without your hands shaking.

Tip #2: Stop staging the trigger:

In my Intuitive Defensive Shooting classes, I teach students that the steps for breaking a first shot are to first touch and then press the trigger. This means that as you are extending the gun, you should touch the face of the trigger without taking out any slack, and then smoothly press the trigger to the rear with constant motion until the shot breaks at full extension. Most of the misses that I see in class are on the first shot from the ready position or the holster and most often on smaller or more distant targets that require more deviation control to achieve hits. When shooting at targets with higher precision requirements, students tend to try to exert too much control or try to break a “perfect shot”. They will hold the sights on the target, take the slack out of the trigger, and then try to snatch that last little bit of trigger press while keeping everything perfectly still, which in turn causes them to jerk that last bit and miss. When this happens, I remind them to keep a constant smooth motion all the way through their trigger press and it usually fixes the issue. So, when you practice trigger control, focus on a smooth, consistent motion of the trigger finger all the way until the shot breaks instead of staging and then trying to press the last little bit of travel.

Tip #3:  Keep your wrist locked

Another issue that I see most often when people are taking shots at more precise targets is dipping the strong hand wrist. This usually happens in conjunction with staging the trigger and trying to break a “perfect shot” and is sometimes referred to as “anticipating the recoil”. There are several basic drills like “ball and dummy” that can make you realize that you are in fact dipping your wrist, but most internet advice doesn’t dig into why it is happening. The reason it is happening is 100% mental and goes back to the “perfect shot” misnomer. Any given shot doesn’t need to be “perfect”, it just needs to be “good enough” to get the hit. When we start trying to make our sight picture and deviation control “perfect”, that is what causes “recoil anticipation” which is just “anticipating imperfection” in reality. When you learn to accept that your gun is always moving and can never be held 100% still, you learn to control deviation only as much as you need to get a hit. A remedial drill that helps with all 3 of these things is called the “dynamic deviation control” drill. Follow the hyperlink to watch Rob Pincus and Rob Leatham discuss how to run the drill.

So, if you find yourself missing, I can say with about 99% confidence that it’s not your gun, it’s you. In my experience, the 3 tips I laid out are the most frequent solutions based on hundreds of new shooters I’ve worked with over the years. However, as mentioned above, the best way to figure out exactly what is happening is to work with a skilled instructor who can offer corrections after observing what you are doing in a training environment. A lot of it depends on which shots you are missing with and a lot of other factors that are subjective in nature. So get to a class, and you’ll know for sure what you need to fix! Signup for a class with us here.

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The Value of Demonstrations in Class

As with seemingly every topic that relates to teaching style and curriculum, there is a lot of controversy inside the training community over how important shooting demonstrations are. I see enough videos, articles, and Facebook posts about it that I think it is worth offering my opinion as a trainer.

Demonstrations are an important part of the learning process. That statement is not just my opinion, it’s a scientific fact and is described in the academic community as “observational learning”. One of the ways human beings learn is by watching other people do things. Ever since we were small children, we have been watching other humans do things and then mimicking those movements until we could do it ourselves. It doesn’t matter whether we are learning how to shoot or how to skip rope; a teacher demonstrating the skill for us can be a key factor in learning that skill. When we observe other humans doing things, it activates what are called “mirror neurons”, which create new neural pathways in our brains that mirror what we just observed and help us to learn how to do the task ourselves. The best way I’ve heard it described in layman terms is that when we watch someone do something, we do a mental rep of it which we can then translate more easily into a physical rep because a rough trail has already been blazed in our minds that we can then follow with our bodies. I don’t think there is any real disagreement in the training community on the value of demonstrations in the learning process. I think where the controversy exists is around what ought to be demonstrated, why, and how.

While demonstrations are important and ought to be part of any instructor’s style; they aren’t the only way to teach a skill and they aren’t always necessary or helpful, and can even be detrimental. A lot of fundamental shooting skills can be taught more efficiently through the clear and concise use of the right language. When that is possible, demonstrations would do little more than waste class time and cheat the students out of the opportunity to do some critical thinking on their own. If your whole curriculum revolves around “monkey see, monkey do”, you’re not going to be letting the student work through problems, which is detrimental to their skill development. Sometimes the best thing to do is have the student go the board and work the problem while you talk them through it as needed, and not having the ability to do that makes you an incomplete instructor. While it might be easier to just show them how to do it, that’s not always the most effective or efficient method. An instructor ought to demonstrate when they need to, but know when it’s not necessary or possibly detrimental; and be able to coach well with words in those instances.

When demonstration is necessary, the movements you are doing are the important part as it relates to learning and mirror neurons. I will often do a demo with a marker in my hand or a SIRT pistol or blue gun so that the students can see the physical skill I want them to learn, regardless of the holes I make in the target.

If I need the gun to cycle to demo a reload or something like that, then I’ll shoot a real gun, but not at anything precise or potentially “wow factor” inducing. When I demonstrate this way, the students are looking at me instead of the target and they are internalizing my movements instead of if I center-punched the triangle in the head or not. I can already read the comments of “you only do that because you suck.” Believe that if you want to (you won’t hurt my feelings), but the scientific reason for doing a physical demonstration isn’t to exhibit your skills, it’s to develop the student’s. Sometimes I do suck, but it’s not about me. This also shows the students what they ought to be doing when they are coaching others. The focus ought to be on what the shooter is doing that makes the hole appear where it does in the target, and you can’t diagnose that by staring downrange.

I’ve never been to a class where the instructor demonstrated every single movement or every single drill, and I’ve never been to a class where the instructor demonstrated nothing. I have however been to classes where the instructor had more of a lecture style or more of a demonstration style. Typically, instructors who shoot for a living (usually competitive shooters) will want to do more demos in class and guys who are more into the academics and science will spend more time lecturing. I don’t have a problem with instructors who are demo heavy and I don’t have a problem with those that are lecture heavy. If they give me sufficient opportunity to get in as many reps as possible instead of talking/performing the whole time, it’s usually a good class. That said, some of the demo heavy guys I’ve trained with spend way too much time behind the gun instead of coaching, and some of the lecture heavy guys spend too much time running their mouth in between drills as I zone out from the words I don’t understand. I think a happy balance is the right place to be as a trainer for maximum student engagement and benefit.

Now that we’ve covered why demos are important and how I think they ought to be used, here’s why I believe demos are really talked about so much in the training industry: ego and marketing. There is a class of instructors who regard arbitrary target shooting standards as criteria for instructor qualification. They will tell you that if you aren’t classified at some level in a sanctioned shooting sport or if you can’t shoot XYZ standards drill and score X, then you shouldn’t be teaching. For them, instructor development is more about learning how to perform than it is about learning how to teach/coach. They think you need to be Peyton Manning skill-wise or close to it before you could ever coach the next Peyton Manning. If you believe that mantra and want to be in that club, then you’re going to need to demonstrate your shooting ability to join. Then if you do join that club and want to sell classes to students who want to train with members of that club, you’re going to have to show off on the interwebz and in class to be cool.

How well you can shoot the preferred drills becomes very important. If that’s what you want to do then go for it, but that doesn’t have anything to do with the learning process. It’s just a barrier to entry into the cool guy club and getting more likes on social media. Doing so may lead to getting more students, but it won’t make you a better coach or teacher, and it won’t make your students better. Some of the guys in that class of instructors are great teachers, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not because of their individual shooting ability, despite what they may believe.

The truth of the matter is this: if what I am telling you to do as a coach will make you better, it does not matter how well I can do it. I’ve personally watched as a QB coach who can’t throw a 60-yard spiral runs the QB through drills that will help him to do so regardless of what the coach can do. Either the drill is valid for skill development or it isn’t. Where the difference lies is that everyone I’ve met who is teaching defensive shooting ostensibly carries a gun themselves and practices with it, while not all coaches in sports aspire to become athletes and practice throwing footballs. Therefore, if you are teaching a curriculum and you don’t use it for your own personal development as a concealed carrier, that may not make you a bad coach; but it does make you a fraud. That’s an individual integrity issue though, not a curriculum issue.

In summary: demonstrations are an important part of the learning process. I think you ought to demonstrate things that need to be demonstrated and not demonstrate things that don’t need to be demonstrated. Don’t spend the whole time behind the gun while your students watch and don’t run your mouth for too long while students listen. You need to be able to find a balance in demonstration, lecture, and student application to run a solid class. However, how well you can perform on XYZ drill doesn’t have any bearing on the student’s skill development, it just demonstrates your skills or lack thereof. If you want to make videos about how fast you can skin a cat, I’ll be impressed, but it doesn’t mean you can make me a better cat-skinner.

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Bad Idea: Using Deadly Force to Defend Property

I feel that I must address what I believe is the #1 epidemic of incorrect thought in the gun culture: the idea that property is worth killing for and/or dying to protect. There are a lot of people over the years who I have interacted with both in person and over the internet who are one unfortunate opportunity away from making a deadly mistake in defense of their mere possessions. Let me say at the outset that I am not here to address the legality of using deadly force to protect property. Different states have different statutes that give property owners varying levels of legal justification for protecting property with deadly force. This post is not about what you as a property owner “can” do legally, but rather addresses what you as a responsible armed citizen “should” do.

As a Christian who values human life above all else, I own nothing that is worth killing someone or sacrificing my own life to protect. My purpose for owning a firearm is not defending my earthly possessions, which can always be replaced. I own a firearm to give me an efficient means of defending my life and the lives of my family members if they should ever be threatened. I hold all human life in higher regard than I do my earthly possessions. My gun exists to protect life, not stuff. When I express that conviction, I am sometimes accused of sympathizing with criminals who are killed or injured in the process of attempting to take property, but that could not be farther from the truth. I don’t need to have sympathy for the bad guys to properly value their lives above material possessions. It’s not that I believe that that a bad guy has been victimized when they get shot while trying to steal something, it’s just that I don’t believe that the gun owner is making a good decision in escalating to deadly force if property is all that is at stake. There are a lot of moral and simply rational reasons why this is a good policy for self-preservation.

When you decide to use deadly force, you are making a risk vs. benefit decision even if only subconsciously. Morals aside, if you are a practical person; you should want the benefits to outweigh the risks for your decision to be a good one. The only benefits of using deadly force to protect property are the possible retention of that property in good working order and/or avoidance of having to deal with an insurance claim if the property is insured. That’s it: you just might get to keep your stuff. However, the risks of using deadly force to defend property are numerous and severe.

First, you are putting yourself in danger of death or severe injury by instigating a confrontation, and there is no guarantee that you won’t lose the fight. If you pull a gun on someone trying to steal your truck out of your driveway, you could very likely be gunned down in your driveway next to your truck. Most people don’t think hard enough about that possibility, but there are plenty of instances where good guys even doing the right thing have lost their lives. There are no sure things when it comes to deadly force encounters and any time you pull your gun on someone even if it is justified, you are rolling the dice to a certain extent.

Second, even if you win the confrontation, you are probably going to have to deal with the legal system anyway. Even in states where you have some legal justification for using deadly force in defense of property, you are going to have to prove that justification to the police and potentially in a court of law. The finders of fact in these cases don’t always see things the way that you would hope and you don’t want to find yourself sitting in criminal court with all the legal fees and personal reputation issues that come with it over a piece of property. Ask anyone who has been to court over a gun-related issue even if they were in the right and I guarantee you they will advise against it.

Third, even if you retain your property and make it through court relatively unscathed, you are going to have to live with the fact that you took a human life in defense of a lifeless object. Killing is not at all like it is portrayed in the movies, and even the hardest, most highly trained professional killers don’t leave the battlefield mentally unscathed. Taking human life comes with mental and emotional baggage that you will have to carry with you for the rest of your life. Is that a burden you want to carry for the sake of protecting a mere piece of property?

The point is, whether you are a person of faith or not, the risks clearly outweigh the benefits when considered rationally. When that is the case, you are better off not using deadly force. The smart thing to do would be to avoid the confrontation and call the police if property is all that is at stake. You might not get your property back, but I’ll risk my truck to save my life and not vice versa, because I’m a rational human being.

The problem is that most people who express their sentiments about using deadly force to protect property aren’t considering the situation rationally, they are consumed by raw emotion. After all, we work hard to acquire our possessions in America and our property rights are the basis for a lot of our freedoms. On top of that, we have a seriously flawed justice system that all too often lets even violent offenders off with far less than they deserve only to allow them to continue victimizing good people. That makes us mad, and it ought to. But is it worth it to risk your life, your reputation, your financial resources, and your psychological well-being just to take some sort of stand against our flawed society? That’s a decision you must make ahead of time, because raw emotions in the heat of the moment often make for poor decisions. I think most people when they take a deep breath and really consider the implications will make the right decision, but there are some that are just one unfortunate chain of events away from making a serious mistake.

If you perceive that your life is in danger and you have no other option but to use deadly force because you believe someone is about to potentially kill or seriously injure you, then the benefits of potentially surviving by using deadly force to stop the threat outweigh the risks of potentially being killed. You only get one life, and you should do whatever you need to in order to defend yours and your family’s. But if property is all that is at stake, your life and the life of the thief are more valuable than the thing you wish to protect. Even if you don’t believe the part about the life of the thief, I hope you’re smart enough to believe the part about you, or you should not own a firearm. Be smart, or you might end up like this guy.

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Reality: Good Guys Don’t Always Win

There is a very real possibility that a lot of armed citizens take for granted: good guys can lose fights. I meet a lot of people in the gun culture who thump their chests and suggest that simply because they carry their guns, victory is inevitable if they are ever involved in a critical incident. A lot of the time, these folks will suggest that they will even instigate fights over mere property just because the state law (as they interpret it) may make some allowance for doing so. To put it frankly, there is a dangerous amount of hubris that permeates the gun culture that can put lives at risk if carried through to action.

It is possible that when you draw your gun even in a clearly justified and reasonable response to a threat, that the threat may defeat you in the fight that ensues. There are no pre-determined winners in these situations, and it could be that you find yourself on the ground bleeding out after pulling your firearm in self-defense. The likelihood of an armed citizen winning a fight increases to some degree based on the level of training the individual may have and how prepared they are for the fight. The rest of it comes down to circumstances and chance, which are totally out of our control. The unfortunate reality is that most armed citizens don’t spend near enough time on the range training and practicing with their defensive tools, which makes the probability of losing a fight that much higher. However, even if you train and practice regularly, factors outside of your control may put you at an insurmountable disadvantage that nullifies your level of preparedness.

Does this mean that you should have a defeatist attitude toward personal defense? Absolutely not. I am by no means telling you that you can’t or won’t win your fight if it ever comes. I bring up the possibility of defeat to drive home the fact that you shouldn’t develop a false sense of security just because you carry a gun. If you can avoid putting yourself in situations that may lead to armed confrontation, you should always do that. If there are things that you wouldn’t do unarmed because of the potential danger they pose, you shouldn’t do them armed either. Unfortunately, I hear far too many people express the opposite disposition. While I understand that a lot of that has to do with “sounding cool”, I’m afraid that it sometimes reflects a very reckless mindset.

I see this dangerous mindset expressed most frequently as it relates to using deadly force in defense of property. In my opinion, which is informed by reading a lot of legal scholars and case law; there is nothing you own that is worth taking a human life to defend. Deadly force should only be used in defense of life, not stuff. The fact is, if you aren’t willing to give your life in defense of your property, you shouldn’t be willing to take someone else’s either. It may be the case that when you instigate a confrontation over property, you may lose your life over your tractor/car/dog, etc. when it is all said and done. When you go into your yard and confront the guy trying to steal your riding lawn mower (an actual scenario a student brought up in class), you may find yourself bleeding to death next to that lawn mower if the fight doesn’t go your way. Don’t be that guy.

When you accept the reality that fights are not always won by the good guy, it should motivate you to avoid the fight altogether to the extent that you can. Despite how “badass” you may believe yourself to be, there are no guarantees in life, and you can’t predict how a fight will go down. Your gun doesn’t confer superpowers on you, and you are not Superman. Guns are merely tools designed to help you efficiently respond to the threat of deadly force when and to the degree it is immediately necessary to do so. Regardless of whether you decide to train and practice with your firearm, your positive mindset should never turn into an irrational hubris. Train, practice, and be vigilant; but don’t start to believe that you are invincible, or it may lead to making bad decisions that end in your ultimate demise.

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My Thoughts on the PRACTICE of Open Carry

The open carry of a handgun by a license holder became legal in Texas as of January 1, 2016. In the anti-gun community, this was met with the usual anticipation of blood in the streets and vigilantism that has yet to materialize in any of the other 44 states where open carry is lawful. Despite all of the hype, the open carry of handguns really hasn’t actually changed much of anything except that law abiding gun owners are no longer guilty of a criminal offense if they choose to display their holstered firearms. In fact, I have yet to actually see anyone in public partaking in this newly legalized practice outside of the small demonstration at the state capitol staged by some open carry advocacy groups on New Year’s Day. Obviously, there is nothing to fear from open carry from a public safety standpoint, and I don’t suspect it will affect the lives of most Texans in any substantial way. With this new law in place, I have been asked by several former and perspective students what my thoughts are on the practice of open carry; and so I will detail them here. Please understand up front that I fully support your right to open carry (I am actually for Constitutional Carry); but I will continue to conceal my firearm and encourage my students to do so for the reasons detailed herein.

The first reason that I choose to conceal my firearm and encourage my students to do so is that I don’t carry my firearm for the purpose of advocacy; which is to say that I don’t carry it in order to make a political statement by showing it off. I am a very opinionated guy, and I have no problem taking a stand on my principles and speaking my mind on the issues. However, when I want to express my opinions, I do it by writing blog posts such as this, supporting candidates I believe in, voting, writing my representatives, and generally making good use of my First Amendment right to free speech. When I holster my firearm and walk out my door into the public space, I don’t do so because I am interested in “making a statement” or “starting a conversation” about gun rights. I may well do those things throughout my day, but I don’t need the sight of my firearm in its holster to be the catalyst for them. Up to this point, I’ve had no shortage of opportunities to share my pro-2A beliefs with people I meet while my firearm has remained concealed the entire time. I just don’t see the need for the sight of a holstered gun to be the catalyst for a discussion of gun rights or responsible gun ownership. Regardless, advocacy isn’t my personal motivation for carrying my firearm, and so it will stay concealed. If that is your motivation, then I guess OC is an option for you.

The second reason I choose to conceal my firearm and encourage my students to do so has to do with what my motivation for carrying a firearm actually is: personal defense.  I carry my firearm for the purpose of defending myself and/or my family in the event of a violent confrontation with the evil that exists in this world. With that being the case, I simply don’t see what I gain in the context of personal defense by displaying my holstered firearm. Some will say draw speed, but the tradeoff in split seconds is negligible at best for a trained individual. Some will say comfort, but in 2016 there are literally hundreds of holster options that will comfortably work for any lifestyle and body type that I am aware of. One school of thought (and probably the most frequent talking point of those in favor of the practice of open carry) suggests that displaying your weapon could provide an advantage in the context of “deterrence”. While it is true that the sight of a holstered firearm might deter some would-be attackers, there is no guarantee that it will in every instance. If that were the case, armed and uniformed police officers would not be attacked and killed with their own weapons, which is something that happens. Furthermore, gun grabs, though very rare (as are shootings in general), wouldn’t be a thing; but we know that they are. So, if it is your belief that open carry is an effective deterrent, then I hope you are right 100% of the time; because all it will take is that one time that you aren’t for you to have to deal with the fact that you are armed on the bad guy’s terms instead of your own. I don’t necessarily believe that open carry “makes you a target” in and of itself; but I certainly don’t think it eliminates you as one either. If you do become a target when open carrying for whatever reason, there will be no illusion on the part of the bad guy as to what your intent is and where your tools are. Also, it could necessitate a deadly force response that may not have been called for otherwise. Personally, I intend to keep my playbook full of options that merely include deadly force, and I will keep that playbook a secret as opposed to sharing it with the other team and hoping that they will forfeit out of fear of what might happen.

The final reason for why I choose to conceal my firearm and encourage my students to do so is that I just don’t want or need the attention that comes with OC, as that attention can come with unintended consequences. We are already seeing several restaurants and other private establishments across Texas modifying their gun policies to prohibit open carry. Thankfully, lawmakers had the foresight to codify a new signage requirement separate from the 30.06 statute to allow for private property owners to prohibit open carry in their establishments without prohibiting concealed carry. I don’t believe that most business owners have a strong opinion on the gun issue; but some are simply worried that the sight of firearms in their establishments could drive away other customers. While that may be misguided from our perspective, you have to understand that most business owners are going to naturally err on the side of caution when it comes to how they are perceived in the market. Starbucks didn’t take a stance on the open carry issue until they were inundated with open carry activists who forced their hand, and there is no doubt that other businesses saw that and don’t want to deal with it. If you walk into an establishment open carrying, you are forcing the owner to make a statement either in favor of or against your actions at that moment; which is simply not a situation I want to put most people in, not knowing what their irrational predisposition toward guns might be. I know that one of the stated goals of the open carry movement is to normalize the sight of firearms in public, but I don’t believe that is the real issue for most people. We in the gun community always talk about shifting the debate away from the inanimate object and focusing on the individual human. With that in mind, what we really need to do is normalize the view of the people who are carrying firearms in public, and the best way to do that is to keep them concealed and go on about our business, in my opinion.

I am fully aware that plenty of Texans will choose to open carry their handguns, despite my best efforts to dissuade them, as is their right; and as mentioned above, is a right I unequivocally support. I hope that even those who disagree with me will at least consider formal training, regardless of how they intend to carry their firearms. Participating in reality based training can go a long way to help someone understand the full context of a fight instead of just fixating on tools and how they are carried. My job as an instructor is to recommend best practices as I see them, based on my observations and empirical evidence; and that is all I am doing here. I’ll leave the politics of it alone and just simply say that whatever method of carry you choose, do so from an educated position; and make sure you have fully considered the ramifications of your decision. Unfortunately, I’m not confident that most people have thought it through very thoroughly (and that would include MOST who choose to carry concealed as well). At the end of the day, it’s about what you SHOULD do, as opposed to what you CAN do.

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“Whatever Works for You” is BAD Advice

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There are far too many instructors in the defensive/tactical training industry who have no ability to backup or defend what they teach. The way you can spot these charlatans is by noticing their inability to answer “why” questions. Instead of providing real answers, you will usually find them using cop-outs that allow them to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings while giving worthless advice. If you are paying someone to train you for a potentially life-threatening situation; they should be teaching you about the best, most efficient tactics/techniques/gear that they have knowledge of. This doesn’t mean that an instructor shouldn’t adjust their curriculum or recommendations to your specific needs; just that they shouldn’t suggest that you continue doing things they know to be suboptimal or inefficient just because they may ostensibly “work for you”.

For example, I often have students that show up to my classes with guns that are not on my recommended list (which consists of Modern, Striker-Fired Semi Autos w/ no manual safeties). Most recently, I had a novice female student come to class with a SIG P938. This particular firearm is so small that it is difficult to get a solid grip on, makes reloading nearly impossible, and has a tiny,hard to operate manual safety. I know from experience that this firearm is prone to malfunctions, is extremely inefficient, and is frankly a reckless choice for personal defense. It would have been extremely irresponsible for me to let this student believe that she was “good to go” because the gun may have “worked for her”. As such, I let her run the first drill with it (which illustrated the aforementioned reasons why I don’t recommend it), and then I loaned her a more efficient firearm to complete the class with. As a result, she will likely be making a more informed gun purchase in the near future. I could have easily done what her CHL instructor from the state licensing class undoubtedly did, and just made sure that she could hit the target with it and then said something like: “it’s better than having no gun at all”. However, I like to be able to look myself in the mirror and sleep at night after I get home from teaching a class. Therefore, I took the chance that I might offend her for a brief moment and used the expertise she was paying me for to make the best recommendation I could. If an instructor can’t bring his or herself to do that, they shouldn’t be teaching people at all; and certainly not for money.

This same mindset should apply to all things being taught in class. If a given technique or piece of gear is known to be inefficient, new recommendations and changes should be made (or changes demanded if safety is an issue). Obviously, an instructor should still consider if the juice is worth the squeeze when making these recommendations and changes. There are minute tweaks that can always be made to a student’s technique or gear setup that may cost more in the way of time, effort and energy to adjust than would be gained in making the adjustment. In those circumstances, it would be a waste of time to “split hairs”, so to speak. That being said, I have found that those circumstances are very rare compared to those where a change should be recommended. A good instructor will be able to make the proper decision on whether to intervene or not. The important thing is for them to have the willingness to make the call when it needs to be made, and to be able to clearly articulate “why” when they do. The delicate balance is being able to do this in a manner that doesn’t seem condescending or belittling to the student. Different instructors have different ways for walking that balance beam, but it must be walked regardless; failure to do so is a detriment to the student and demonstrates a lack of integrity on the part of the instructor.

So, if you as a student ever run into an instructor who fails to answer the “why” questions: run, don’t walk away. If you are fine doing what “works for you”; you could have done that without paying for the class in the first place. Look for someone who knows enough about their subject matter to clearly articulate how and why you should do the things you are paying to learn. You are paying for expertise, so don’t settle for cop-outs.

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The 6 Most Annoying Gun Cliches (updated)

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Anyone who has been a part of America’s gun culture for a good amount of time has probably heard plenty of clichés at the gun store counter or the local range. With the growth of social media over the past decade, these catch phrases are being blasted out to the masses in the form of memes, status updates and the like. Some of these sayings are innocent and even endearing, but some are outright misrepresentations of the gun owning community. A lot of us, including me, have used some of these phrases before in passing without really thinking about what they mean and how they can affect the way that we are perceived. With this post I am going to detail 6 clichés that I think are overused and probably even reckless when put in proper context.

1.      “It’s better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6.”

This flippant attitude toward the use of deadly force is both ignorant and dangerous. Any armed citizen who takes their legal obligations this lightly is a liability to society as a whole, not to mention the danger that they pose to themselves if they are ever faced with a true conundrum. Having taught use of force for several years as part of my concealed handgun license classes, I don’t know how anyone with even the baseline required training can possibly miss the “last resort” part of using deadly force. The concept that potentially taking a life should be considered only in the direst of circumstances is one that any instructor worth his or her salt ought to be covering thoroughly. I believe that most instructors are diligent to point this out, but there are just some students who don’t want to hear it because of their egos. I understand that this is often said in jest, and I probably said it myself early on in my life as an armed citizen. However, in light of recent national headlines; I cannot fathom why anyone would truly believe that this is a wise maxim to live by. If you ask George Zimmerman how much “better” it was to live to be “judged by 12”; I’m not so sure he would be as bold with this chest-thumping bravado.  What’s better is to never be judged by 12 or carried by 6. This is an outcome that is achievable through education and even temperament, which should be the virtues of any armed citizen.

2.      “I carry a .45 because they don’t make a .46”

Do you even train bro? I am especially passionate about this one because I have no doubt that I have uttered these words before (probably several times). As a student of history and a red-blooded American male to boot, I grew up shooting 1911’s and have always loved the .45ACP round. It is the iconic American cartridge and is as legendary as the Greatest Generation that brought it to prominence. The problem is that with modern ballistic technology being what it is, the .45ACP is simply not the best choice for a defensive shooter. All shooting is a balance of speed and precision, and you simply cannot optimize that balance as well with a .45ACP as you can with a 9mm. This debate will rage on as long as there are trained and untrained individuals on internet forums sparring for attention. Science is an amazing thing. Once I accepted that there is no discernable difference between modern bonded hollow point ammunition in 9mm, .40, and .45 when it comes to wounding capacity or penetration depth, and combined that with the fact that I can shoot much faster with 9mm: the debate was over for me. I still love my .45 and I still love the history that it represents; but historical coolness will not better prepare me to defend myself. If you just can’t get over the facts, I would challenge you to carry this cliché to its natural conclusion and start concealed carrying a .50 or you’re obviously a wimp.

3.       I’m a “sheepdog”

I am a big advocate for LTC Dave Grossman and his work. “On Killing” and “On Combat” ought to be required reading for any armed citizen. I don’t necessarily agree with everything in the books, but the good far outweighs the questionable. I had the pleasure of dining with the Colonel and engaged him one on one a couple of years ago. I can tell you that there is not a more passionate, dedicated advocate for personal responsibility and the right to keep and bear arms on this planet. That being said, some of the legion of followers that he has inspired have failed to take that inspiration any further than reading the words off of the page. Think about the essence of a true sheepdog for a minute. People pay top dollar to pedigreed breeders with special licenses and certificates in order to acquire the most pure bred sheepdogs to tend their herds. Every one of these sheepdogs is going to come with certain ingrained tendencies to want to protect and herd the flock. However, if I were to spend top dollar on a sheepdog and then bring it back to Texas, domesticate it by letting it lay on my couch, and never expose it to sheep; its sheepdog tendencies would soon be overcome by lapdog reality. I have a basset hound that was undoubtedly bred for hunting rabbits, but if I were to drag him out of his dog bed and take him to the woods, he would just as likely fall off of a cliff as catch a rabbit. You see, Sheepdogs must be TRAINED in order to hone their sheepdog essence and make a good, reliable working animal. The same thing can be said about the legion of “sheepdogs” that cling to LTC Grossman’s every word. There are plenty of “fanboys” of the sheepdog mentality who have never been to a training class of any kind. They may very well have the love for their fellow man and desire to protect others ingrained in them, but without proper training, they will be unlikely to be of any use when the wolf comes. So, if you fancy yourself a “sheepdog”: go get some training. If not, you’re just carrying the label as a crutch and may not rise to the occasion if it is ever required of you.

4.       “A little lady like you needs a little gun like this.”

This ridiculously condescending and sexist advice is usually followed by the recommendation of some tiny, malfunction-prone mouse gun or most unfortunately, a snub nosed .38. I have had several different women show up to my classes with little pink something or others that the dummy at the gun store sold them out of ignorance. Usually, by the end of even the most unchallenging concealed carry qualification, they are already asking for a different recommendation. This is especially true of women who show up with little micro revolvers with heavy DA triggers. As long as there is nothing physically wrong with a given female shooter, there are several options in the Modern Striker Fired list of guns that will work perfectly well for even the tiniest of frames. So, if you are the guy telling brand new female shooters to bring Beretta Nanos to my class, please… just.. stop.. Thanks.

5.       “That door was locked for your protection, not mine.”

Ok Rambo, apparently we need to talk about what doors are for. If you believe yourself to be such a super bad-ass, then why have a door at all? Since men have been building things, doors have been shut and locked generally to keep unwanted intruders out. If you think that a bad guy coming into your home is less safe in that moment than you are: you are a fool.  A home invader clearly has the upper hand if he has defeated your first tier of home defense in a locked door. The principles of a solid home defense plan should be to evade, barricade, and respond. Evasion means to get as far away from the bad guy as you can. If you can get out of the house, do it. If not, get to a pre-designated safe room and commence with barricading yourself inside. Somewhere in conjunction with evading and barricading, you should arm yourself for the possibility of a required response. If the bad guy defeats your barricade, that’s when you should be prepared to use deadly force if necessary. A t-shirt slogan like the one above betrays an ego that will not lead to a very proactive strategy for home defense and is little more than tough guy talk. Watch a few videos of home invasions and then tell me how you feel about doors.

6.) “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

This one is a favorite retort of Wayne Lapierre and other people who aren’t good at arguing on substance. There are actually plenty of ways to stop a bad guy with a gun. Take, for instance, the guys in Europe who jumped a terrorist armed with a rifle and subdued him with nothing but their bare hands. Those guys had the will to fight and the opportunity to act, which are really the two key factors at play in any of these situations. Overcoming evil is more about mindset than it is about tools. Obviously, if confronted with a gun, the best response would be to have a gun yourself and shoot back. However, we know that even outside of a “gun-free zone”, this isn’t always possible. What we need to be preaching to people is that the best way to stop a bad guy, regardless of his armament, is to be ready to beat his ass with whatever means available. If that happens to be a gun, great; but the fight isn’t necessarily lost just because of the disproportionate armament. If we start seeing classrooms full of people all charging the shooter with any improvised weapon they can grab on short notice, we will see fewer of these cowards seeking the easy fame of mass murder. We get pretty righteously irritated when the anti-gun media fixates on the tool over the person. As such, we need to make sure we aren’t guilty of the same logical fallacy. This cliche’ needs to go away along with the people who keep using it.

Obviously, this post is filled with a high level of snark and sarcasm. For me, that is the best way to confront these ideas in the context that they are most often conveyed. Words mean things. The sayings that we use are what the general public will use to paint a picture of who we are. This is especially true of our enemies who want to take our freedoms away. Politics is a thing, and public opinion can be swayed in this age of social media with the right meme. So consider what you say to others, and especially when you are talking to new shooters. They might not understand that you are “just kidding”. This is potentially life and death stuff we are talking about. Take it seriously.

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“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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“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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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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