People want to know what changes they will need to make in their lives when they decide to carry a gun for self-protection. The answer I usually give out isn’t about new clothing or different equipment, it’s about a new attitude. Specifically, you can’t get angry when you carry a gun.
Ever. Let me say that again in another way: Carrying a gun means giving up your right to be angry at the actions of others, no matter how unbelievably stupid those actions may have been.
A friend of mine’s boyfriend got into an argument while driving with the driver of another car. Words were exchanged, and both cars pulled over to the side of the road. My friends boyfriend walked out of his car with his gun in hand, determined the other driver was unarmed, and drove off, believing the incident to be over.
The other driver called the cops, claiming my friend’s boyfriend had pulled a gun on him (which, in reality, is sorta what happened). My friend’s boyfriend had a long legal journey that only recently came to an end and with a satisfactory (but not exculpatory) conclusion.
What if he had just walked away and not stoked the fires of anger? What if he gave up his “right” to express his anger at that @#$! who just cut him off at traffic? Would he have had to worry about that other driver being armed? Would he to face a mountain of legal bills and possible loss of his right of armed self-defence? Is giving up the pretend right of being angry at someone worth the loss of your actual right to arm yourself in defense of your life and your loved ones?
If you answer to that question is “No, I am not willing to give up my right to get angry”, please don’t own a gun. The safety of myself others around you depend on such things.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” – Proverbs 27:17
There’s four schools schools of thought when it comes to firearms training:
- I don’t need it, because I learned how to shoot in the military/police/whatevs
- I don’t need it, because dammit I’m an Amurican, and shootin’s in my blood.
- I probably need it because I know I don’t know enough about gun safety or how to use my gun.
- I know I need it because there are specific firearms skills I need to improve.
If you’re in groups one or two, you still need training, we’ll get to why in a bit. If you’re in groups three or four, you’re right, you do need training, and good for your for realizing it.
Reason #1 for Firearms Training: You don’t know how bad you really are
Let’s diverge here for a moment for a video of one of my co-bloggers shooting her very first 3 gun stage with a rather sweet JM Pro Mossberg shotgun specifically designed for 3 gun.
3 gun, in case you were wondering, is kinda like shooting a practical pistol match, except you’re using (wait for it…) three guns: A rifle, a pistol and a shotgun.
Now Jaci is a very good pistol shooter (better than me…), but she struggled when faced with a new challenge like shooting and reloading a shotgun quickly under the artificial stress of competition because she didn’t have any practical experience with this type of match. However, by watching this video, she learned what she needed to learn, and sought out some training from some of the best shooters in three gun.
This video allowed her to see where her troubles were and make the necessary corrections to solve the problem, and this sort of thing is ONLY available when you have someone else around you who knows what they’re doing.
In other words, a training class. And yes, she won the video contest.
If you just hang out with your friends and shoot and you think you’ve got all the firearms skills to pay the bills, what are you doing to get better? What are you doing to fill in the gap between what you THINK you can do and what you actually CAN do? If (God forbid) you need to use your gun in a defensive situation, you’re not going to rise to the occasion, you’re going to fall to your lowest level of training.
If you shoot with people who know what they’re doing, great! Here’s hoping you’ll find a trainer who knows what to teach and how to teach it.
Reason #2 for Firearms Training: Documentation, documentation, documentation.
Let’s say the absolute worst happens and you are forced to defend your life with a handgun, and the prosecutor finds reason to bring you into court and defend your actions in front of a jury. Two things are going to happen: You’re going to wish you had some legal protection to help cover court costs, and you’re going to want to show the court that yes, you were in fear for your life and no, you had no other option to use lethal force, and nothing proves that like documentation. You can SAY that’s you’re good shooter and have been around guns your entire life, but if you can enter documents into the record that SHOW you’ve been trained in safe gun handling, shoot/no shoot situations and civilian counter-ambush training, you’re way ahead of the game. This is also why you want to get a CCW permit even if you live in a “constitutional carry state like Arizona: The more you can show you’ve done you’re homework, the more likely the jury is to believe your side of the story is the right side of the story.
The bottom line is, if you’re a newcomer to firearms want to learn how to safely shoot and enjoy your new gun or if you’ve grown up around firearms and shot your entire life, you will benefit in some way from getting good, solid training that fills in the gaps in your shooting skills.
Take a few moments and watch this video.
Yes, that is an actual promotional video for a California-based “tactical” firearms training company, and yes, that is every bit as unsafe as it looks. To top things off, all that “training” they’re doing is pretty much useless.
Why? Because those “drills” they’re doing aren’t really drills, they’re scenarios: Very, very, VERY dangerous (and stupid) “scenarios” and those people are risking their lives performing them for the camera. Don’t just walk away from a trainer who asks you to do something like that, RUN.
Ok, now that that’s over with, let’s start by defining some terms so we can figure out what we need to learn in a firearms training class and how we’re going to learn it so we can avoid those people like the plague they are. We need to learn…
Skills: The ability, coming from one’s knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well
This is the basic operations required to perform a task. This is what we actually want to perform on demand when needed, be it drawing from a holster, trigger press, reloading a gun, whatever. Everything in training should be based around this core foundation: If it’s something like, “Oh, cool, that looks like fun!”, (Like, say, hanging off a rappelling harness firing an AR-15 when you’re not a SWAT team member), it’s not training, it’s recreation. We’re going to improve our skills with…
Practice: Repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency
Simply put, practice improve skills. You do the same thing, over and over again to get better at the skill you’re trying to develop. This is to firearms what kata is to the martial arts. For every firearms skill you want to develop, there’s a practice routine you can use to develop it. The one thing to remember is that practice is not about doing things FAST, it’s about doing things the CORRECT way every single time. We figure out how well we’re practicing skills with…
Drills: Strict, methodical, repetitive, or mechanical training, instruction, or exercise
Simply put, if you can compare your ability to do a consistent, predetermined practice routine against somebody else, it’s a drill. El Presidente, Tueller, Mozambique, USPSA Classifiers, they’re all drills because there’s only one way to do them and the results of any given shooter can be compared against their past results and anyone else who shoots that drill.
Now, most trainers I’ve seen with shy away from drills because they can have a dampening effect on a student’s desire to learn: If you get your @ss whipped by someone else in a class, it may hurt your desire to go back to that class. However, I think you won’t know how far you’ve come unless you know where you’ve been, which is why I’ve been using the same drills for almost three years now to track my progress, and it’s been encouraging to know that yes, I am getting (slowly) better at this sort of thing. Stringing a bunch of drills together in a bunch of different ways is called…
Scenarios: An imagined or projected sequence of events, especially any of several detailed plans or possibilities
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. All those skills you developed with practice and kept track of with drills now come down to this: Can you deliver the shot when it’s needed under some kind of artificial stress? Simply put, a firearms training scenario is a series of drills strung together in a way that requires an element of problem-solving and critical thinking to complete correctly as quickly and accurately as possible. Scenarios like a shoot house, USPSA stage, IDPA match or a Figure Eight “drill” all require the shooter to put together different skills developed through practice while under some form of artificial stress, such as a timer or “realistic” training environment.
So if you’re walking into a classroom for a firearms course and the instructor seems to be more interested in talking about about the high-speed, low-drag tactical operations you’re about to do in his class but can’t talk about what actual firearms skills you’ll be developing while doing so, you’re not enrolled in a training class, you’re enrolled in a armed forces fantasy camp. Next time, look for an instructor who can teach, not lead a team of wannabes.
Craig “Sawman” Sawyer (who I met this week) has some thought-provoking words on the differences between combat and competitive shooting.
Because there is no sudden, inter-human violent confrontation, civilian competition shooting simply is unlikely to present such stress on the shooter. If the shooter experiences this level of stress shooting in a civilian sporting competition, I’d have serious concerns about his ability to perform to any degree, whatsoever, in a real life and death confrontation. Conversely, just because someone has performed well in combat, that doesn’t mean they will necessarily do well against experienced competition shooters in their environment. Someone who trains extensively for perfect conditions will absolutely become very good in those conditions. We all adapt to the stimulus we’re challenged with most often.
I agree with what he’s saying for the most part. I compete in USPSA Production, IDPA SSP and 3 Gun Tac Limited, which means the guns and equipment I use in competition are pretty much like the guns I use to protect my family. In the case of IDPA, they are, in fact, the exact same equipment as what I carry. Unlike a lot of competitors in that sport, I use an IWB holster and draw from an untucked t-shirt, rather than use a “shoot me first” vest and speed rig to gain a competitive advantage. I want the training and the practice I get ON the range to match up as closely as I can to what I’m likely to face OFF the range.
I also agree with Craig in the futility of emphasizing “gun solutions” in practical shooting competitions. Competition, and most firearms training classes as well, tend to teach that gun solutions above all else, rather than a tiered response to different threats (or lack thereof. Gun guys teach that every personal defensive problem has a gun solution. The dojo teaches that every problem has a punch, kick or throw solution. Very few people are teaching people not in uniform how to integrate the two .
The one thing I’d say about Craig’s article is the need for more understanding on the “tactical” side of the aisle about what we “civilians” need to know. We probably won’t experience combat, and we’re perfectly ok with that.
I don’t want to know what it’s like to lay down cover fire or call in an airstrike; that’s the military’s job, nor do I want to form a CQB stack and clear a room like a SWAT team. All I want to do is keep my family safe in an increasingly dangerous and uncertain world. Nothing else is like combat: I accept that fact 100%. I didn’t serve in the military, and I know my limitations. I’m fully aware that competitive shooting doesn’t equal actual combat in terms of danger, stress level or having to dealing with chaotic situations.
But I still want to keep my family safe.
I wasn’t a smokejumper and I don’t know how to run a 3 inch line from the hydrant to the fire, but I still have a fire extinguisher and a fire escape plan. I’m not an EMT or a trauma surgeon, but I still have a first aid kit and field bandages nearby at all times. And I didn’t serve on the front lines as Craig and millions of other brave men and women did and are doing, but I still keep my eyes open and have the will and the means to deal with a violent threat near me at all times.
I know enough (I hope) to keep my family safe in case something unexpected happens. You do what you can, not what you should.
I fully understand that what I’m learning in the dojo or on the sparring mat isn’t actually a bar fight or a mugging. But it helps. I know that an IDPA stage isn’t really a violent robbery attempt. But it helps. I know a Figure Eight drill isn’t dealing with an active shooter. But it helps.
Along with millions of other people, I’ve realized I am my own first responder. How I’ll respond in a crisis remains to be seen, and quite frankly, I hope I never find that out. But if it happens, I’ll do what I can to keep myself and my family as safe as possible.
Todd Green, who has a history with Law Enforcement and is one of the top pistol trainers out there, says it a lot better than I can:
Possibly the biggest benefit of competition is that it is often the most stressful shooting many people will ever be exposed to. While obviously not the same as being in an actual gunfight, shooting in a competitive event in front of peers and strangers will do a great job of showing you just how easy it is to make mental mistakes under stress. Learning to stay focused on the task at hand and building experience fixing mistakes under pressure both have legitimate real world payoffs.
At the end of the day, there are pros and cons to competition shooting for the ‘defense-minded’ shooter. But, the pros are pretty universal and the cons are really only cons if you let them be. Because whether you stay true to your original purpose or give in to the dark side and become an absolute gamer, you’re still getting more time on the range and more experience shooting complex problems under stress. As long as you don’t fall into the trap of thinking that winning at a game makes you an honorary gunfighter, competition is a fun and effective way to become a better shooter.
Oh, and one more reason to shoot IDPA or USPSA: They’re outrageously fun sports to participate in and the people you shoot with are some of the best people on earth. If you haven’t done so already, I suggest you find a range nearby and give them a try. You’ll be amazed at what you learn about yourself and your equipment.