Five habits of responsible gun owners

They get training.  A gun is a lethal weapon, for cryin’ out loud!  That’s a hell of a responsibility in your hands.  You need training to be even a responsible hairdresser – so yeah, you need training to know what you’re doing with a gun.  Yes, I know that many people manage to defend themselves without any training, but we shouldn’t confuse good luck with good practice.  We also don’t know how many untrained people would have been better off in a bad situation – or after it – with training.  I’m also keenly aware of the difference between those things that we should do, and those that we should make people do.  But just ’cause it’s a right to own a gun don’t mean you’re not an irresponsible turd for not getting training with it.

They know the law.  My jar just drops every time I meet an otherwise responsible gun owner who has not had any training in the law surrounding the use of lethal force.  The ability to employ lethal force it what gun ownership is all about!  At least read Massad Ayoob’s or Andrew Branca’s books…and then spend some quality time ingraining and visualizing their lessons.  Without this ingrained knowledge otherwise very good, very responsible people regularly get badly jammed up by making the wrong decision when they use their gun.  Seen it first hand.

They are unconsciously obsessive about safety.  Unconsciously!  A responsible person doesn’t have to think about which way the muzzle is pointed; they don’t have to make an effort to keep their finger off the trigger – these things just happen automatically because they have been practiced so much.  And of course, they don’t do any of the more inane things that stupid gun handlers do all too often.  I don’t care how skilled someone is at arms – if they aren’t safe all the time, they’re just another goober.

They don’t mix alcohol and guns.  You don’t mix alcohol and driving for a reason.  Ditto guns and booze.  Legal, appropriate, tactically correct gun use is something that depends on fine reflexes and 100% sound judgement.  Alcohol – biologically, medically – diminishes both.  And God forbid you use your gun defensively when there’s even a little of the stuff in your blood; your local DA will have a field day, and you will not come out intact.

They are discreet.  I have written about the jackassery of open carry here and here.  But beyond that, responsible gun owners are low key about their gun.  They don’t have AR-15 stickers on their vehicles, they don’t parade about in obviously tactical clothing, they don’t wear t-shirts that advertise a gun business, and so on.  Now, I have no problem with testosterone – we could use more of it.  I am dismayed by the emasculation of our culture and the effeminacy* of our male youth.   But actual men and competent women are low key: they are inconspicuous in their appearance**, quiet in their demeanor, and polite in their interactions.


* Not out of political correctness, but from not wanting to be misconstrued, this has nothing to do with sexual orientation, which I see as an orthogonal axis from the masculine-feminine axis.

** As a straight male, I guess I’d relax the prohibition on conspicuous dress for some women.  🙂



Double taps: please, no!

In the old days, and still somewhat true today, several instructors taught the “double tap”.  This is more than simply two shots fired quickly together, a technique known as the “controlled pair”.  An actual double tap requires that you fire two rounds as fast as you can pull the trigger.  At typical engagement distances and with a competent shooter, this results in the two rounds impacting maybe a couple or few vertical inches from each other, something that’s usually perfectly acceptable in  real encounter.  The theory is that handgun rounds suck — all of them, even .45s, which is true — that a two shot burst will be twice as effective as a single shot, and you need all the stopping power advantages you can get with a handgun.

Good theory.  But a bad solution to the problem.

An alternate solution to the anemic power of hand gun rounds is the “shoot the bad guy until he drops from your sights” technique.

Again, good theory, bad solution.

Here’s why to both:

  1. True double taps are extremely difficult with anything but a single-action pistol.  The whole point is that the second shot is fired while the gun is still in recoil.  With a striker-fired pistol like a Glock, SIG 320, or M&P – which is what almost everyone carries, getting two rounds only a few inches apart while pulling the trigger as fast as you can requires an extremely high level of skill.  As a result, wild shots are likely to be the result of an attempted double-tap for most people.
  2. You are responsible for every round you fire.  Period.  Just ask your local district attorney.  You want to, and to truthfully be able to say you, aimed every shot that you fired at another human being.  (While “aimed” fire isn’t the same as “sighted” fire, it’s hard to argue that the second round of a double-tap is aimed in any way.)  And un-aimed fire is the very definition of irresponsible fire in a court room.
  3. You are shooting faster than you can assess the need for shooting….in a legal context that says every shot has to be individually justified. Remember that the need for a follow up shot can change in a tiny fraction of a second.
  4. I defer to Paul Howe, retired from the finest unit of combat shooters in the world, and a man who as seen the real deal more than a bunch of times.  MSGT Howe’s position is that you get a sight picture for every shot.  If this is true for overseas combat missions conducted by the best-trained shooters in the world, then it’s true in spades for state-side defensive shootings performed by less well-trained persons.

Remember that every round you place on a person will have an effect.  It may not stop them, but it will all but certainly slow them down for a little bit.  I usually express this as “every hit buys you a good half-second to assess the situation and place another shot on target if necessary.”  Even a peripheral hit in the biceps (what would normally be called a “miss” in training) will likely buy you a half-second — maybe more — to assess the need for a follow-up shot.

Now I certainly appreciate the logic of a fast two-shot controlled pair; to me it’s like a fast 1-2 jab-cross combination in boxing.  These two-impact techniques are said to be executed “as a single stroke”; that is, as a single committed technique.  However, I submit that there’s a tactical, moral, and legal difference between a 1-2 technique with a lethal weapon versus a non-lethal one.

4 martial arts carny tricks

The revival of street-practical fighting – known as “combatives” – is the best thing to happen to those interested in unarmed self-defense in my lifetime.  Prior to that we were stuck with the various traditional martial arts.  While not useless, they were far from truly practical.  Of course, they’re still around and widely taught.

Back in 2003 I wrote an article for Black Belt magazine on the four most common carny (con) tricks that martial arts teachers use to make it seem like they’re actually teaching useful self-defense.  You can access that issue of Black Belt here, and my article starts on page 78.

Why martial arts teachers suck…but on a positive note can get you free room and board

A commenter on my post two posts below on evaluating instructors reminded me of something I’ve been wanting to write for some time — thanks John!

I started out in the martial arts…in the Nixon administration!   Seen a bunch of it.  The bad teachers don’t teach squat that’s useful on the street.  The good ones do, of course, but their approach to winning the fight is to use the most effective technique that will win the fight.  “Duhh,” you say,  “so what’s wrong with that?”

So some guy is trying to tear me away from my car so he can steal the iPhone on my seat.  I punch him in the throat, then front kick his knee, breaking it.  If he don’t die from a broken trachea he’ll be crippled from the busted knee.  Or maybe he was just trying to shove me out of the way to steal my new Toro lawnmower.  I know what Sensi taught me to do when this happens: I trap his wrist and smash my forearm against his elbow, breaking it; that’ll show him!  Last lawnmower he’ll try to steal!

You get the idea?  No one in the martial arts teaches appropriate use of force; in fact much of what you’re taught consists of lethal or crippling techniques.  Good if someone’s trying to kill, cripple, or rape you; not so good in other circumstances.

Responsible gun people now know that knowing the law is a critical component of armed self-defense. They know that force has to be proportional, reasonable, and necessary (in Andrew Branca’s words).  They look with scorn on those that don’t know these things, and with contempt on those that deny their necessity.

The principles of the legal use of force translate wholesale from the armed to the unarmed arenas.  Yet there is no recognition of this in the martial arts world; no awareness of it among the teachers who blithely — and irresponsibly — teach killing and maiming techniques to all comers.  (I have the same complaint about gun instructors who blithely — and irresponsibly — teach killing techniques to all comers.  In my opinion, Andrew Branca’s book would be the prerequisite to any course teaching armed self-defense.)

If you’re a martial artist and a responsible gun owner, you’re probably thought about how what you’ve read in Atty. Branca’s or Massad Ayoob’s books applies to your unarmed repertoire.  What you may have discovered is that just as you need to carry intermediate weapons like OC when armed with a gun, you need to have controlling techniques – such as those from aiki-jutsu – in your unarmed armory as well as the crippling techniques.

And if you teach martial arts, for the love of God learn the law (you can start with Andrew Branca’s book) and be responsible with what you teaching people to do.

How to explain gun nuttery to a non-gun person

So how many guns ya got?

Actually a gentleman doesn’t ask that question of another gentleman or a lady.

But still, you might have a smidge more than you need, even if the whole concept of need is utterly irrelevant and hard to define in any case.

I dunno, the serious people that I know that are into guns – not professionally but just out of interest – probably average 20 or so.  Them’s not gun nuts to me – I know real gun nuts, people with lots of guns.  Not strange rangers, not dangerous people, not insecure men with small…er, members.  Just people with a serious interest in guns who enjoy shooting different kinds of them, or geek out on the development of different guns and cartridges.

But to a non-gun person that level of interest smacks of, well: strange rangers,  dangerous people, and insecure men with small members.  How to explain it to them?

I’d use an analogy.  Ask if they know anyone who’s into cars.  There’s people out there with way more cars than they need.  Some of them even have way more horsepower than you can legally unleash on the street.  No one considers that sociopathic or dangerous, or even weird.  Just a guy with a hobby.   Ask if they know any quilters.  Ask any woman who’s seriously into quilting how many “fat quarters” she has (a fat quarter is an 18″ x 20″ piece of fabric; they are the raw material of most quilts).  One thousand would not be too unusual of an answer.  Yet her family probably doesn’t need yet another quilt.  No one thinks she needs therapy and to have her sewing machines taken away.

There are dangerous people out there; evil is real and walks the land; mental illness is a serious problem.  But an interest in a machine that has played such a part in the history of the world, and that is essential for self-defense, is none of them.

Experience, training, and critical thinking: evaluating instructors

Some segment of the growing firearms-based self-defense market actually wants good, responsible, professional, legally-sound training.  A larger segment, of course, wants entertainment or Walter Mitty-type fantasy experiences.  I don’t have any use for the latter; they give the rest of us a bad name and they make keeping our right to armed self-defense all the more difficult.  These kids (of all ages) and strange rangers should be driven out of the fold…if we could!

But for the former, evaluating the credentials of an instructor, and the appropriateness of the material taught (two separate things), can be difficult.  While there have been a number of good articles written lately in the firearms press about how to go about the task, I have a typically systems-approach to the subject, so for what it’s worth…

There are three dimensions to look at in evaluating an instructor: their experience, their training, and the research and/or critical thinking that they bring to the table.  ALso, the depth of an instructors knowledge along any of these dimensions can vary from shallow to deep.  Yes, you can (and should) learn from someone with only some of these characteristics and only a moderate amount of knowledge in them, but the onus is on you to figure out what the instructor’s biases are and the weaknesses of, or gaps in, their instruction.  Someone with deep credentials in all three dimensions is exceedingly, extremely rare.

Experience  Someone with only experience – someone who’s had to use a gun in self-defense, or at least had to control volatile situations at gunpoint – knows what it’s like to do that, and how that affects their sterile-range ability.  But most people who’s done so have done it only once or  at most a few times, so their limited experience isn’t representative even their own possible spectrum of performance, let alone everyone’s.  Besides: how do you know that they weren’t just lucky; good luck can make anyone look like a genius.  I must also mention that the people with the most experience on two-way ranges – military special operations veterans and law enforcement SWAT personnel – have gained most of that experience in a team environment with exceptionally highly trained mates, and the initiative was often — if not usually — taken by them.  That’s not you  getting suddenly carjacked, home invaded, or suffering armed robbery.

Training  Someone with only a lot of good, professional, responsible training has a wide spectrum knowledge to blend and impart to their students.  But lacking experience, they often don’t understand the application of their knowledge in the real world, and they often miss kinda obvious ways in which the techniques they teach can’t in fact be applied.  They easily fall prey to the “range effect”, where you believe that the real world will be and behave just as the  square range does, and where your training is designed around the limitations and convenience of the range rather than mimicking the real thing.  Shooting drills are thought to be the measure of how you’ll perform, ignoring all the rest of the problem’s dimensions: situational awareness, threat management, challenge ability, managing bystanders and loved ones, staying within the law, verbal skills, and the requisite real-world non-fakeable confidence…to name a few.

Research/Critical Thinking  Someone who has only researched subjects such as gunfights, currently taught technique, historical technique, gunfight statistics, etc., or someone who only thinks through self-defense problems and technique from an armchair (rather than through full-on simulations) can certainly  provide you with valuable information with which to frame your training.  They can also can pick apart the logical faults of much that’s taught (assuming your assumptions are correct, if something’s logically impossible, then it’s actually impossible).   But this purely academic knowledge doesn’t help you actually perform valid self-defense armed tactics and techniques.

So who do you go to?  There are quite a few instructors of only one type or another, who are of limited value.  Fewer, but still quite a few, that have a foot — to some depth — in two of these dimensions.  You can learn from them…provided that you realize the limitations of their experience at the same time you mine what they can teach for all it’s worth.  Even better are instructors who are fully competent in two of these dimensions.  You can learn a whole lot from them.  Instructors with little competence in all three dimensions are probably not going to be real useful to you.  If you can find someone with deep experience in all three disciplines…well: run, don’t walk, to that guy or gal.  There aren’t many of them, and at any given time they almost certainly aren’t the biggest names in the business.

No, I’m not going to name names.  With a little critical thought of your own you can evaluate the dimensions in which an instructor is experienced, and make a good estimate of their competence in each.