Carrying a gun without knowing the law? Words just fail me. (sticky)

If you carry a gun for self-defense, you have to know the law.  Just because you are skilled at driving a car does not mean that you know the laws of the road and are safe driving on them.

Invest the money you’d spend on shaving a tenth of a second off your splits with Andrew Branca’s book or seminars — it’ll pay far greater dividends. Visit this link to learn more, and use the discount code “streetstandards” for a 10% discount.

Also, strongly consider shooting self-defense legal “insurance” plans.  They are NOT all the same.  I believe in the model and services of the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network.  This link explains the different models of after-the-event legal aid.  Caveat emptor!

The “no one will recognize your tactical clothing/pack/gun print” fallacy

I’ve written a bunch of reviews over the years of what we’d call tactical clothing and “tactical” packs (you know – the ones with the PALS all over them).  Because I am interested in like these products.  But tac clothing is, to say it again, not plain clothes attire or even discreet clothing; it is professional, non-uniform, clothing for armed professionals who don’t mind being known as armed professionals.  The Secret Service, DSS, on-duty detectives, etc.  Ditto for the PALS-engulfed packs.  They work great in that role.

But they are wrong – indeed they suck – for concealed carry or any role in which you do not want to be ID’d as armed.

Now the argument that I’ve heard a million times is “no one really knows that these clothes/packs are optimized for carrying guns/tac kit/strange-ranger chachkies/etc. – I’ve seen lots of people wearing/carrying them and no one even gave them a second glance.”  Which is undoubtedly true…only because you spend all you time at the local latte joint, not in an actual dangerous environment.  I’m not concerned what Sally Housewife, Andy Accountant, Polly Programmer, or Paul the Plummer notices.  I’m concerned with what real BGs think – and they do most certainly pick up on these things.  I’m also concerned about what the indigenous polizia think, because being armed – or just half-way capable – is my business, and mine alone.

Same argument for gun printing.  Sure it might be assumed to be a cell phone by the sheep, but it’s the wolves I’m concerned about.

It’s the wolves you are concerned about!

Nine easy-peasy, no-cost ways to make your practice street-relevant

I don’t teach hardly at all anymore, but for a few years I considered teaching a seminar titled “Moving From IDPA to Survival Shooting”.  The idea being that if you shoot IDPA (or almost any competitive venue) you were already good enough at pure shooting, but that you needed to work on more than just accurate fast fire to have street skills.  So assuming that you can shoot the IDPA qualifier half-way OK, here’s a nine things you can do at your practice – not necessarily even range – sessions to build on that shooting foundation in order to make that shooting skill useful on the street.

  1. Draw from your actual concealing garment, the one you wear on the street, not that 5.11 vest you use to shoot IDPA (and if you shoot IPSC you probably have almost no time drawing from any type of concealment).  Accept that you’ll be slower and that you’ll be learning a new skill.  Drawing from concealment is, like shooting, a perishable skill.  I spent most of this year working on fundamentals, and only last week started to practice from concealment again.  I used to have a flawless and fast draw from concealment but last week I flubbed a few of the initial draws…simply because I hadn’t done it enough recently at speed.  Lesson learned.
  2. Use your actual carry gun and holster.  In an earlier post (below) I recommend developing skill with a service-size handgun even if you carry a smaller one.  But I also said that you have to get in some periodic time with your actual carry gear.  Accept that you’ll be slower and probably less accurate with your smaller gun and actual carry holster.  In addition to simply getting in practice with your real kit you need to learn where the limits of the shots you can make with it are.
  3. Re-acquaint yourself with your street ammo a few times a year.  Know it’s accuracy, recoil, and POI.
  4. Shoot one-handed if you don’t.  You will seriously suck at it compared to two-hand shooting, but you need to build skill and know your limitations.
  5. Shoot one-handed with a light.  Tom Givens’ data on real-world civilian self-defense (see post below) contradicts the conventional wisdom that you’ll need a light in a real encounter…on average.  But you may not be an average person in an average encounter, in Memphis (where Tom teaches).
  6. Move laterally while drawing.  This should be your default street response.
  7. Leave the ammo at home and do scenario training with blue guns or just finger pistols.  Keep it realistic (meaning simple).  Reenact  actual events that you read about.  Learn to discriminate real deadly threats from non-threats and not-yet-deadly-threats.  This will help to keep you outta the big house.
  8. Practice threat management with blue guns or finger pistols.  Learn how to interact with a (realistic) role-playing BG, how to effectively verbalize, how to manage innocents, and how to manage the aftermath.  You must know the law well to do this — see the sticky at the top of this blog on that subject.
  9. Draw from unconventional positions – seated in a car, etc.  Do this with a dummy gun at first, then with a real but unloaded gun – very slowly, then only slightly faster, working your way up to real speed; there’s no need to use a loaded gun here – you already know how to shoot.

Don’t let the timer rule your life!

Grant Cunningham has a really good recent post titled “Meaningless Increments of Precision”.  His point: don’t let small amounts of time become too important in your training – there are MUCH more important things to work on!

I had to smile when I read his post last week because he and I seem to often think alike.  I have had an article in to American Handgunner for a while (who knows when it’ll be published?) titled “Measuring What’s Important“.  There I argue that standards, including times, are important, but should not be obsessed over.  Here’s an early look at the paragraph in that article that dovetails with Grant’s:

To a top competitor who wins matches (and purses) by hundredths of a second, obsessing over minute fractions of a second is appropriate (and profitable).  To us regular folks though, I suggest that we try and aim for windows of time.  Take, for example: drawing without concealment and hitting an 8-inch plate at seven yards.  This is a standard drill, and I am pretty happy when I can do it between 1.3 and 1.5 seconds.  This is, for most ordinary people, a “good” time.  An “excellent” time might be between 1.0 and 1.3 seconds, while a superb time might be less than a second.  Likewise a “fair” time might be  1.6 to 2.0 seconds and a poor time over 2 seconds.  Vary the size of the plate and the distance, or add in concealment, and these windows would shift around, but the point is that aiming for windows of time is probably a better practice for most of us than obsessing about shaving a tenth or a twentieth of a second off of our good runs.

The impractical yet lovable snubby

In 2006 I was part of the team that filmed the instructors at the first (and to date only) “Snubby Summit”.  This multi-day conference was devoted to the use of the snub-nose revolver and was the brainchild of Andy Stanford.  The world-class instructors captured on tape that week were Andy, Mas Ayoob, Walt Rauch (RIP), Craig Douglas, Claude Werner, Michael deBethencourt, Yelena Pawela, Paul Gomez (RIP), Clyde Caceres, and others (the videos are still available behind an LE-verification wall at here.)   It was a bunch o’ fun!

This is where I first met Tom Givens.  Tom showed up as the lone respectable dissenter.  He presented an extremely well thought out set of reasons why a small Glock (26 or 27) or another small semi-auto was the better choice.  Truth be told, there was nothing in his facts or reasoning that I could argue with, and I was forced to agree.

Yet I just like snubbys, particularly the S&W J-frames and the Colt D-frames.  It’s not even that they are what I grew up with (my foray into handguns in the early 80s was at the transition from revolvers to autos, and I “grew up” on both).  But they are like they classic men’s suits and fedoras of the 40s: classic, classy, and comfortable.  They feel great – both physically and emotionally.  I still use a J-frame as a coat pocket and ankle gun.

I’m not alone;there are lots of snubby fans out there. But most posts about the snubby – and J-frames in particular – recommend the all-steel versions because they are the easiest to shoot and (partially as a result) the most accurate at distance.  That’s true. Yet I think that the lightest possible J-frame is the logical choice – specifically the 342PD in Scandium/Titanium.  I think it’s like 10 ounces unloaded.

The point of carrying a snubby is that you want or need to reduce size because traditional belt carry of a service-size pistol isn’t practical or judged necessary.  If you want to reduce size then weight reduction probably also makes sense given where you’ll be carrying the snubby: usually in a pocket.  If you are carrying it on your belt, you might as easily carry a service-size pistol.  So I don’t see the point of an all-steel J-frame; it’s impractical given where you are likely to have to carry it.  (There are exceptions ; some people can carry an all-steel Ruger SP101 in a front pocket inconspicuously and comfortably, but they are unusual.)

There’s also an exception if we’re talking ankle carry, where more weight can be tolerated.  But schlepping a steel J-frame all day on my ankle gets to be a chore after a while (if I’m walking much), while I literally forget that I have the 342PD there.

Yes, an airweight J-frame is much more difficult to shoot well, but when you downsize your gun  in the first place you are inherently making the decision to truncate its effective distance.  Since carrying a small gun in the first place means that you are concerned with personal protection rather than flock protection, and personal attacks on civilians happen pretty close, that’s a reasonable decision.  I consider my 342PD to be a 10 yard gun; 15 yards if I have time.  If I need to make a realistic (target size/time frame/movement) shot at 25 yards I’m going to have far less odds with it it than I would with my FS M&P.  But of course if I have to make a 50 yard shot with my M&P I will also have quite reduced odds compared to making it with my AR.  Every gear/lifestyle/tactics/whatever decision you make is an odds play.

Finally, no matter what snub you carry, just don’t load them with +P, or God forbid, if they will take it, .357s!  Stick with the standard loads. That way you can hit what you’re aiming at and you can actually practice with them.

Dynamic entries no good???

This is an LE-relevant post.

I’ve been reading articles recently that claim that dynamic tactical entries are dangerous and outdated; that a more methodical slice-the-pie/don’t-enter-until-you’ve-visually-cleared-almost-all-the-room approach is what the current standard is.  These posts are written by ex-SF guys, from both the U.S. and allies…but they are preaching to LE, too.  While I don’t for a minute doubt the sincerity of these trainers, I have my doubts about the applicability of their reasoning to U.S. LE.  I wonder if they aren’t trying to apply the lessons of overseas anti-terrorist engagements to domestic LE raids.

I literally mean that “I have doubts”; I don’t know.  I have great respect for the people making these arguments, but literally, I don’t know.

There are exceptions of course, but here’s how I see the general picture (and I am soliciting feedback to show me that I’m wrong):

  • Much of the construction overseas where our SF troops have been deployed is quite different than what you see here in the U.S.  The layout is different (courtyards are common, for example) and the construction is often hard, round-stopping masonry (which is uncommon here).
  • In countries where our military conducts AT raids, the BGs often expect that sooner or later our troops will show up and they’ve made mental and tactical preparations for that event.
  • In the U.S., almost all interior and exterior walls will NOT reliably stop either handgun or rifle rounds.
  • Most of the BGs that we raid in this country are taken by surprise – that’s why we hit them at 4 am.  They aren’t usually lying in wait for us.
  • BGs close and lock the door to their apartments and houses.
  • There’s no way to slice the pie into a BGs residence without first entering it, and usually involves making a shit-ton of noise.  (I never did get the knack of ramming a door silently.)  Once we’re in they damn well know we’re there.
  • Even if we didn’t have to break down their door, there’s no way that a team can really move completely quietly in a building.
  • Even if we didn’t have to break down a door, and even if we could move quietly and peek in to a room:
    •   If it’s dark we have to use white light to see into it, and that gives us away (almost no tac teams in this country have outfitted each member with helmet-mounted NVGs)
    • If it’s light, the BGs can plainly see us
  • Bottom line: we’re there and the BGs will know we’re there.  At this point, if we take the time to slice the pie they can easily shoot through the walls and hit us (happens all the time, actually)
    • If they aren’t “hard” enough to shoot through the walls, then we could simply saunter up to them and ask if it was a convenient time for us to arrest them.  We have to assume they are “hard” – that’s why we’re raiding them with guns drawn to begin with.
  • A dynamic entry, possibly preceded by a flash-bang, often gets us inside the BG’s OODA loop.  Particularly if we hit them when they’re in bed and with their weapons not in bed with them.  Once there we can dominate the space and apply any necessary force while the BGs, even if armed, and even if possessing bad intent, are still trying to figure out WTF is happening.
    • Has this been proven wrong consistently?  If so, was it due to this being a bad operating theory, or because the team was poorly trained or executed poorly?

Now I have been trained in both dynamic and slow/slice-the-pie entries (while I’ve been trained, and have a little experience, I’m hardly an expert).  However, the slice-the-pie methods involved the use of shields.  Frankly I find shields impractical for most teams because:

    • They suck to use
    • They are expensive items
    • They require extensive training – meaning lots of training time
    • That training time costs even more money
    • Did I mention that they truly suck to use?
    • Bottom line: most agencies can’t afford them, or if they have them can’t afford to keep their officers trained and competent with them

So…what am I missing?  Why is a methodical slice-the-pie/don’t-enter-until-you’ve-visually-cleared-almost-all-the-room approach safer than a dynamic entry for most bread-and-butter LE raids?

Why I dislike gimmick weapons

Tactical pens, cleverly disguised saps, modified brass knuckles, and so on.  There’s a whole industry out there selling hidden/disguised weapons to the self-defense crowd.

I like none of them.  I suppose I could be forced to make an argument for them if boxed into an intellectual and tactical corner, but in general they are gimmicks, sold to people who 1) aren’t thinking the problem through, 2) are dazzled by the latest tacti-cool thingy, or 3) are strange rangers, mall ninjas or both.

OK.  Got that off my chest.  Now here’s why.

Many years ago I wrote an article for Combat Handguns (RIP) pointing out that there were six levels of force options that a well-prepared person ought to have available on them.

  1. Verbal/de-escalation skills
  2. Soft empty hand skills
  3. Hard empty hand skills
  4. Impact weapon capability
  5. Chemical options
  6. Deadly force

Let’s set aside the fact that most people never bother to study, let alone acquire, appropriate street verbal/de-escalation skills, soft hand skills and hard (striking) hand skills.  That aside, this list means, again to most people, that they need to carry a piece of hardware to have options 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 available to them.  But if you’ve made the appropriate investments of time all you need is a can of OC and a gun to have all six options at your immediate disposal.  Carrying some gimmick to achieve options 2, 3 and 4 means that you don’t have enough investment in good combatives/martial arts skills…and let’s be honest, that’s a serious deficit.  (Note that I’m saying that impact weapons capability can be achieved with good striking skills…there’s blows, and there’s blows!)

When I’ve argued this point with a gimmick-enthralled person the reply I usually get is, “That’s all well and good for someone with martial arts training, but I don’t have any”, usually followed by some variant of “Besides, I’m not in great shape.”  Well kid, get your lazy ass off the couch, get in shape and learn some skills; you got no sympathy from me. I know it’s more fun to feel like a man by shooing guns, but if you’re deficient in these other areas, going to the range instead of going to the gym or dojo is just being irresponsible,  lazy, and self-indulgent.

You know: hard work and sweat.  They’re still virtues.

There’s also some very serious tactical reasons that I don’t like these gimmick weapons:

  • They take time to access; using your empty hands is always faster.
  • They can perform only certain tasks and thus limit what you can do with them; you lose the flexibility to flow into some other technique in real time.
  • Once they are in your hand you become focused on using them and continue to try and deploy them even if the situation has changed and they aren’t the best or even an appropriate option.  Related: you become reluctant to simply drop them and flow into a more appropriate technique or level of force (either force escalation or  de-escalation).

Finally, there’s one other, admittedly second-level reason, that I don’t like them.  If you’re searched or arrested with one of more of them on you, you look for all the world to a DA and a potential jury pool like a paranoid strange ranger, and that can only work against you.

Bottom line: you don’t need them, and they are actually tactically harmful.