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!


Everything there is to know about handheld tactical lights

Well, at least everything I’ve come to believe about them.  In regards to civilian defensive firearms and self-defense.

Do you need a light at all?

For typical civilian defensive firearms uses, probably not.  Tom Givens, the man with the data on such things, explains why here.  Essentially, bad people attack good people in low light, but in enough light that 1) they can see what they are doing, and 2) you can see them and feel sufficiently threatened.  This is because most violent attacks are co-incident with robbery.  I hear the whining…but data.  And logic.

That said, I do believe in carrying a light.  Shined in the face of an assailant or unknown contact it’s a low-level force tool, and it can illuminate unknown areas (think a dark parking lot, or unseen hands).


I really don’t like lights on handguns.  I used to have one on my service pistol when I was a cop, but we’re talking civilian self-defense here.  (Handgun-mounted lights have the same advantages and disadvantages regardless of who is using them, but cops are often offensive and pro-active, in comparison to the mostly defensive and reactive use of weapons by civilians, and the trade-offs are thus weighted differently.)

1) There are two methods of activating a handgun-mounted light, and they both suck.  Any operation by a finger either compromises your grip or (in some really faulty designs) causes your trigger finger to risk hitting the trigger.  And designs that operate off of grip pressure become death traps when your grip, under stress, squeezes the button unintentionally and gives you away.  Besides, you’ve spent your entire shooting career learning how to tightly hold the gun…and now you have to delicately modulate the pressure??? Under stress???

2) Rail-mounted lights cause you to violate Rule 2.  Yes, academic theory says you can keep the gun lowered and search or ID threats with the periphery of the beam…but seriously??? And again: under stress???  This is a lifetime of free room and board in the making.  We all get stupid under stress!

3) Least important, but a factor: they require funky holsters and make concealability more difficult.

What I prefer is a hand held light, with a nice ergonomic length of five or so inches, held to the neck or cheek, and operating the handgun one-handed with the strong hand.  By far and away most defensive gun uses are short-range affairs, and you should be reasonably competent with your gun — shot one-handed — at short distances.  If I really need to shoot two-handed with a hand-held light (very unlikely), there are a number of well-known techniques for so doing; pick the one that is most comfortable for you and retain some competence with it.

Of course the advantage of handgun-mounted lights is that two-handed shooting is easier (and more accurate).  I can only see the trade-off of using a rail-mounted light if you have good reason to believe that your defensive handgun use is likely to be (not might be) at a long distance — quite a bit longer that Tom Givens’ data indicates is likely.  In which case you might consider schlepping a long gun instead.

Long guns

As I’ve said many times before, every defensive long gun needs an attached white light, one that can be easily and independently operated with the support hand.  1) There is no other option for a light — you can’t hold one in your off hand and run the gun.  2)  Attached lights are tactically free – you don’t trade-off any other capability by having one: they don’t add significant weight, don’t affect function, and they don’t compromise carrayability.  3) Long gun engagements tend to be longer range, where you may well need the vision enhancement.

Now, employing a light on a long gun forces you to violate Rule 2, but there’s no other option except to not use a light.

Light attributes

A tactical light is not a utility light, and should not be used as such.  A small utility light can be carried on a key chain or in a pocket, but a tactical light has only two  purposes: searching and target identification, and it should be dedicated to those tasks.

A tactical light should have only one switch function: momentary-on, because that’s the only mode in which you can search and ID without yourself drawing fire.  And it should be located on the tail cap.  Most tail-cap switches are a combination momentary/constant-on switch, and these are suicide switches.  Under the strength and clumsiness of stress you severely risk depressing the switch to constant-on when you only meant to blip it…and now you are an easy target for incoming fire.  These two-stage switches are so common only because most light buyers simply do not understand the issue, and you know, more modes have to be better!

Even worse are the lights with multiple modes: constant-on, momentary-on, low output, medium output, high output, disco (strobe), fade, and reading your astrological chart.  1) It takes a user manual to figure out how to use them.  2) They always get into a messed up state, just when you need them.  3) They are too complicated to operate under stress.  4) You put them into the wrong state when you try and operate them under stress.  5) The only useful state is momentary-on anyway.  These lights are sold mostly to nerds who have never actually used a light in, at a minimum, a realistic scenario.  Consequently they sell well.

The light should be ergonomic: approximately five inches long and 3/4 to 1-inch thick.  Any shorter and it  becomes clumsy to operate, especially under stress, which means that it’s unreliable under stress.

Surefire got it right out of the chute, what – 25 years ago?, with the 6P.  The more ergonomic 6Z shortly followed, although I preferred the less expensive polymer-body Nitrolon versions because I live where we get real (that is, damn cold) weather.

Lumens, and the other geeky stuff

The introduction of the Surefire 6P with an amazing 60 lumens(!) was like entering the jet age from the horse-and-buggy days of the old Maglites (or Kel-Lites, which was before even my time).  No one in the tactical community complained about too little light then, and the whole discipline of tactical while light use (with handguns) was born.

60 lumens still gets the job done, most of the time.

Now with 1000 lumens available in reasonable quality packages for cheap, the temptation is to get seriously geeky about lumens, candlepower (it’s making a comeback!), coronas, throw, white color, and a dozen more technical characteristics of small, handheld LED lights.  Places like candlepower forums are a great resource if you love the techy stuff, but really, it mostly doesn’t matter these days.

Color (that is, how “white” the white light is) certainly doesn’t matter.  Nothing that you will ever have to see or identify, even at great speed, will suffer from a slight blue (or whatever) tint to a light that’s, for all intents and purposes, white.

Indoors, beam concentration doesn’t matter, because, and this is the overriding factor at work in all of this: we gotta lotta lumens these days.  Lumens to excess in fact, and that makes a lot of things that used to matter irrelevant now.  It’s like MIPS; do you know how many MIPS your PC has?  Probably not because they are cheap and abundant these days, and all PCs have them in excess for most tasks.  Twenty five years ago, if you knew anything about computers, you certainly knew the MIPS of your machine because it mattered for ordinary tasks.  Progress.

Outdoors, at long distances, beam concentration can matter.

The great debate now is the question: Can you have too many lumens?  One side says that you can easily blind yourself indoors with too much light, especially in rooms with reflective surfaces and white walls.  The other side claims that you want as much light as possible to see into every dark nook.  I’m kinda in the former camp, but not dogmatically.  It is certainly true that, say, a million lumens would blind you, but handheld lights these days are in the range of, mo’ less, 200 to 1500 lumens.  In this range what constitutes a blinding amount of light will vary by person, and for each person, by age.  I find 200 lumens more than sufficient to see anything, anywhere, in any house I’ve been in, and past 400 or so it starts to feel too bright.  YMMV.

Three pieces of context: 1) any reasonable amount of light will degrade your night vision for a time, and the more light the longer the degradation, 2) you only need a couple lumens to see a remarkable amount at room distances, and 3) outdoors you want all the lumens you can get.

Quality & ruggedness

Here’s where I stop being a Luddite curmudgeon.  These are things worth caring about and spending money on.  1) Your light has to work when it has to work.  2) Shit happens at the worst times and you want your light to  take a good drop — or follow you down when you fall — onto a hard surface and keep going.

Competition physics vs. defensive engineering

My undergrad degree is in electrical engineering — not physics — but there is a good deal of overlap in the subjects studied while pursuing either degree.  The difference between the two fields is that physics is concerned with discovering the laws of nature, while engineering is concerned with applying them to solve problems.

All metaphors sooner or later break down, but it occurs to me that competitive shooting can be more or less regarded as the physics (science) of shooting, while defensive shooting is the “engineering” discipline that takes the efficient techniques that competitive shooting discovers and applies them to solve real-world problems.

Now a self-defense situation is not concerned with efficiency but rather with effectiveness, although  sometimes – not always – effectiveness comes from being efficient, and efficiency is always good.  Just as an engineering solution may not be (or may be) the most elegant solution from a pure science point of view, but may be “good enough” given the other considerations that the engineer (and their employer) have to consider.

Further, usually self-defense effectiveness is heavily dependent on things other than shooting altogether (such as tactics, awareness, legal considerations, verbal skills, etc.).   Just as an effective engineering solution has to also consider, besides the science of the situation, the other real-world factors of  economics, distribution, backwards compatibility, and existing technology infrastructure (to name but a few).

The end result is that defensive shooters can learn a whole lot about pure shooting from the competitive world — and should.  But no one should confuse shooting competition prowess with the entire toolbox needed to be effective in street encounters.

Why practice at 25 yards (with a handgun)?

Saw a comment on a link to one of my American Handgunner pieces over at Active Self Protection.  My article mentioned that I saw value in 25 yard handgun practice.  The commenter couldn’t understand why anyone needed to practice at that distance because “a person at 25 yards is hardly a threat” (written with snark).   This is a failure to think the thing through, from all relevant perspectives.

  1. A firearm is a stand off weapon, and you can easily engage someone at 25 yards.  So 25 yards is definitely within threat distance.  Not often, to be sure, here in the states, but Tom Givens had a student who had to put down a BG at that distance, and I’m sure there are quite a few other examples.  But admittedly, rare.
  2. It is true that almost anything – shooting-wise – that you can do well at 25 is becomes easy at 7.  And while there’s more to a shooting problem than shooting, shooting is part of it.
  3. Consider deadlifting in the context of building paramedic skills.  The medic knows they will have to sometimes lift patients from where they are to where they can receive treatment.  Say the average patient weighs 160 pounds.  When that medic is in the gym, deadlifiting, so that they can get strong enough to perform their job competently (lift patients competently), should they deadlift only 160 pounds?  Or should they shoot for, say, 300 pounds because the gym (like the range) is a sterile environment and everything is harder in the real world?  In the gym you lift from a position of advantage with technique that is designed not to injure you; at a trauma scene you are lifting from weird, difficult, and injury-prone angles.  Similarly on the range you shoot on flat, clear, even terrain while in the real world you have to fight for your life in whatever environment you find yourself in.  In the gym you can take your time and prepare to lift; at the range you can take your time and prepare to shoot a drill.  But in the real world you have to get that patient to safety and-or treatment quickly, just as in a life-threatening situation you have to access and shoot your gun quickly.  In both cases, you need to train in the artificial environment harder and to a higher standard because everything is harder in the real world.

Those are just three reasons to train at 25 yards.

Competition with your carry gun – another reason to

Lot’s of back and forth on these intertubes about the guys that insist on competing with their carry gear and even adhering to street rules rather than the game’s rules.  I get both sides…but let me give you a decent reason to consider using your carry gear.

Was out shooting IDPA-ish rules today with “carry guns”.  Since most participants were shooting Shields, mag loading was limited to 7 rounds.  I did OK but what constantly surprised me was slide-lock.  I simply didn’t expect to be out of ammo at that point because I usually practice with a FS pistol.  But I often carry a Shield.

Might be a lesson there…

Four cost-saving, no-exertion ways to up your performance

Hey, how good can something be that doesn’t cost money (in fact saves it), and doesn’t require any sweat?  You be the judge.

  1. Slow down before you begin to shoot.  Before you shoot a string just be still for a few seconds, centering and collecting yourself.  Visualize what it is you are going to do and how you are going to do it.  Focus yourself.
  2. Slow down as you draw.  You know that a drawstroke (AKA “presentation”) is composed of several segments.   Isolate the one (or the couple) that are giving you trouble, and slow down just enough so you can think and feel your way through them.  If you can’t do them correctly slowly, you sure can’t fast.
  3. Slow down as you shoot.  I’ve hit this point a lot in other posts, but you don’t want to get in the habit of shooting faster than you can see – that is, faster than you can assess what’s happening in front of your muzzle.  That’s about 1/3 to 1/2 splits.  LAPD SWAT trains to shoot at 1/2 second per shot max for this very reason, and they see the shit a lot more than you and I do.  Any faster can easily land you in the shit on the street.  You can do this on a static range by making a conscious point to actually see and assess your target before every shot – even if using a static paper bulls-eye target.
  4. Slow down your ammo consumption.  Dry fire more and shoot less.  Even better, get someone to load your mags for the next day’s session ball-and-dummy style.

Gonna have a t-shirt printed someday that says “The Way of the Slug”!

Got a few spare bucks…

…and want to help lots of people who desperately need it?  Your dollars won’t go to waste here:

You’ll see from the “Do Something Nice” page on this blog that I am involved in animal welfare charities (mostly pit bull rescue), but Ravi Bansal is doing something great for some poor people in this world.  Never met the guy, but he’s a relative of some of the best people I know.  Take a look.

And if you have a blog or any other pulpit, please pass it on.


Providing medical care to someone you just shot (part 2)

I had a post on this subject below.  Today, in their latest Journal, the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network had this as their “Attorney Question of the Month”, in which they asked a bunch of people who’ve like actually gone to law school and stuff to give their opinion.

You’ll see some different opinions there, and the range of responses definitely provides some angles I hadn’t considered.  Well worth the small amount of time to read.  You can also read the entire Journal, which is one of the benefits of the ACLDN, my preferred self-defense insurance provider.  Good people there.

I still stand by my original take on the subject, but now I feel better informed and somewhat validated.