The cost of your gun is irrelevant

The world is an inherently unsafe place; therefore is follows that obtaining safety will consume resources.  Safety is not the natural state of affairs, and it is not free.  Just like your body is born with a need to eat and you have to expend energy to nourish it, you will have to expend resources to stay safe or be safer.  Naturally people with greater resources can eat more nutritiously, and  make themselves safer, than those with little.  Life’s not fair.

In that context, the cost of your defensive carry gun is all but irrelevant, because the cost of becoming truly safer with it is much greater than simply the cost of the gun.  The gun is not a talisman.  As Col. Cooper famously said, “Owning a guitar doesn’t make you a musician.” You need training and practice with both, and the cost of proper training and sufficient practice with a handgun will dwarf the cost of the gun alone.

I would suggest that a $500 Glock (less if used) is as efficacious for defense as a $1200 Teutonic Engineering Miracle, but in the larger scheme of becoming prepared, the difference is negligible.  (Of course, I would also suggest that a $150 (new) gun is probably — oh what’s the euphemism? — under-engineered.)

Sure you can buy a gun and carry it without training or practice, just as you can buy a car and drive it without any real training or practice.  But if you’re relying on your ability to use that car to extricate yourself from immediate danger, then without training and practice in evasive driving, you’re fooling yourself.  A $50,000 BMW will be just as useless then as a 10-year old Taurus, yet the latter will probably suffice if you’ve invested in the right training and practice.

In addition to the gun itself, you need: a good holster, a good belt, more good holsters for different carry modes, a wardrobe that is accommodating to concealed carry, carry ammo (enough to prove reliable in the gun – say 200 rounds), practice ammo (1000 rounds a year at least), range membership (so you can, you know, actually practice), training (most people don’t have great, credible, professional, decades-of-experience, trainers just down the road (internet sensations need not apply), ammo for training, and travel/lodging/tuition for periodic training.  Add in the ancillary do-dads like eye/ear pro, blue guns, range bags, timers, better sights, maintenance supplies, extra mags, etc., and the difference between that $500 Glock and the Gun Of Your Dreams is flea turds.

So buy the gun that best suits your needs (e.g., do you need wrong-handed controls?, are you grip-angle sensitive?, etc.), don’t try and impress your friends or range mates, and then get down to the serious business of training.

Just ask anyone who owns a working or sport horse (or dog) how much the cost of the animal was in comparison to its total lifetime cost.


Nix on the high ready

Trends come and go in the training world as they do in, say, the fashion world.  Normally they aren’t worth commenting on.  But one technique is making a comeback now that most of us thought thankfully dead and gone, expunged from the repertoire for all the right reasons.  It deserves comment because it’s basically the bell-bottoms (or for gals, the peasant dress) of the tactical training world.  Plus it’s downright dangerous: to you, and to innocents around you.

The handgun high ready.  One version (the so-called “compressed high ready”) shown below.  But my argument applies to all variations of the technique*.


My occasional forays into this new-fangled internet thing tells me that it’s making a comeback.  Because, I suppose, there’s only so many things to teach, and if everyone is already teaching mostly tried-and-true– and debugged — techniques, then a fella what wants to make his mark has to resurrect something from da past and wrap it up all new-like.

I can’t speak for military applications, but in the civilian (including law enforcement) world, the high ready does have a place — a very special place.  It’s in some situations in a tac team stack, and possibly – possibly – during some searches.  Also for competition, and/or if you are focused on shooting just as absolutely fast as possible (which is a bad idea; see the many posts on that subject elsewhere on this blog).  But for the defensive shooter, the person concerned with self-defense (and staying out of jail): nada.

This article from a few years ago in American Cop explains why.


*There are many variations of the high ready.  One is reminded of the old joke about the Kama Sutra: “Position 29 is the same as position 58 except the fingers are crossed”

Principles, schminceiples. But there are 2 to remember.

Back in the day it used to be fashionable and oh-so-smart-sounding for combatives/martial-arts instructors to say that they “didn’t teach techniques, they taught principles”.  Because, you know, if you understood a principle you could put an instantiation of it to work in any of countless situations.  As opposed, I suppose, to actually learning to perform a real technique…which you could put an instantiation of to work in any of countless situations.

Even as a very young quasi-tech guy (very quasi, not young these days), this never made sense to me.  To employ principles you have to think, which you don’t have time do do in the shit.  There you have to react to stimuli…with punches, kicks, covers, and what-not.

Yet there are two principles that you must understand in stand-up fighting (I don’t know anything about ground fighting).  You use these two principles to train actual techniques into yourself.

The first is the center-line principle.  (The center line is actually the sagittal plane if you have an anatomy background.)  You want your opponent to be on your center line and you want to be off of his.  This because you are strong directly in front of yourself and weaker to the side.  Hence you want to, for example, be coming straight at your opponent from his side; he’s at your 12:00, you’re at, say, his 2:00.   This is the sagittal plane:


The second is that you must maintain constant forward pressure.  You have to keep him on his heels.  Obviously if you are balanced and he’s off balance, you can land powerful strikes and he can’t (or as the Chinese so colorfully put it: your energy is connected to the earth and his ain’t so much).  This is one of the biggest weaknesses of Wing Chun.  There’s a lot of good in studying Wing Chun (I did), but it is usually practiced almost passively with no forward pressure.  Here’s two images of Wing Chun practice.  The first with no forward pressure, the second with a decent (but less than ideal) amount:

no pressure modified


Paul Vunak used to say that you should run the 50-yard dash straight into your opponent.  That’s an exaggeration of course, but you must be aggressive and violent.  Controlled aggression, and controlled violence, but aggressive and violent nonetheless.

The final verdict on concealed-carry bags

Or pretty damn near final.

I like bags.  Packs, sling bags, shoulder bags.  Office-orientated, tactical, outdoors-focused, and pretty much everything else (can’t stand those silly little leather European-style metrosexual “man” bags though).  You know there’s a whole sub-culture devoted to bags?  Blogs, websites, discussion forums, the full Monty.  I dove in for a few years.

And the ironic thing is that I never go anywhere anymore, so have very little need for a bag or extensive EDC kit.  But they still fascinate  me.

So anyways, being a gun guy and all, I spent much of the last decade getting a hold of most every new concealed-carry bag that came onto the market, and reviewing them for or American Handgunner.  I carried a lot of bags and formed a few opinions.

Too slow?  Most trainers will tell you — and I agree — that a bag, or anywhere off-body, is a poor way to carry a gun.  The primary reason being that access is slow.  But how slow, and in what context?  I used to say that the more-or-less standard standard for a draw and a shot — onto a reasonable target from, oh, seven yards or so, and from realistic concealment (not just a vest) — of two seconds, mo’ less, was only a reasonable standard because that’s what trained people could accomplish.  I used to posit that, by contrast, compared to what was required in an emergency situation, even that was too slow.  In that context, a draw and a shot from a well positioned and well-designed sling bag of, say four seconds, while also too slow, was not really significantly slower.

But Tom Givens changed all that when his data on what really happens in civilian self-defense shootings indicated that indeed a 1.5-second presentation and shot is fast enough…even, to my great surprise, against the drop (because of the OODA loop and all that, and also because your basic thug isn’t a Russian Spetsnaz veteran).  So in this new context I have to concur that a four-second bag-draw is too slow…to defeat a surprise encounter.

But not too slow  That conceded, I have never considered a bag-carried gun to be suitable for defense against a surprise attack, nor the reason you carry one there.  To me it has always been a way to have a gun quickly accessible because you believed that it might be needed real soon but not right now: that is, several seconds or minutes in the future.  As I’ve said many times: every gun-related choice you make is a trade-off.  Carrying a J-frame?  Well, you’ve effectively written off engagements at more than 15 yards, and against more than at most two assailants.  Carrying a service-size pistol and spare mags?  You’ve pretty much ruled out much strenuous activity and three-fourths of your wardrobe.  Every choice is a trade-off.  So’s bag carry: you’ve ruled out right-now access.  Right-now access might be the kind that most civilians need most of the time, but still, having a gun is better than not having one, especially if the target of the attack isn’t you personally and you choose to get involved (think active shooter, for example).  One of the tricks that I use is to put my bag gun in an easy-on IWB with spare mag pouch, so that I can grab that rig from the bag, stick it in my waistband, and voila!, my gun is now on-body where I usually carry it.  My current rig for this purpose is the Pro-Stealth from Gino and Sons (better known as DeSantis Holster), although a Kydex rig would be better.

Other disadvantages  Besides the slower access there are some other disadvantages of bag-carry that will frustrate you :

  • The access stroke pretty much requires that you not move during it.  Unlike drawing from a belt holster, during which you can be in motion, accessing a gun from a bag pretty much requires you to be rooted.
  • Bags are just inconvenient to schlep around.  If you’re driving around town running errands, the damn bag has to go on, then off, then on, then off again, etc. for as many stops as you’re making.  Gets real old real fast.
  • More inconvenience.  Bags have to be taken off if you’re in a meeting, working, eating, or for many other reasons when you’re inside.  Where do they go?  You have to keep track of them as you move around the room or building.  And a man taking a bag to the rest room looks plum weird.  In some places, bags aren’t even allowed (some museums, for example).
  • Some jurisdictions have laws about having your gun “under your immediate control”, which means different things in different places at different times in different circumstances.  A gun in a bag on the back seat?  In a bag on a poolside chair while you’re swimming?  You better check your state’s case (not just statutory) law.

As of right now (January, 2018) I think the best concealed-carry bags on the  market are the ones from Vertx.  They are of superior build quality, extremely well thought-out and laid-out, and have very fast (and also extremely-well thought-out) gun access.  They are also low-key; really, carrying a gun in a cameo bag or a molle’d up one is, besides the strange-rangerness of it, defeating the purpose.  These bags were designed with input from serious SMEs and with the help of an industrial designer, and the contribution of both shows.  There’s many YouTube videos demonstrating them.

Finally, here’s a trick you can use to turn any bag or pack into a concealed-carry bag.  Yes, you can stuff a gun into any old bag, but please don’t do that: the gun, particularly its trigger, needs to be protected and you need to be able to access it without having to perform a search-and-rescue mission inside your bag.  Instead buy a few cheap nylon gun rags (a few dollars each).  Position them inside your bag(s) strategically.  Using the zipper and maybe some heavy-duty needles and thread, close off part of the rag, leaving a strategic opening for easy access.  Put your gun  inside the rag, the rag inside your bag, and you have achieved safe and effective off-body concealed-carry…with all of the disadvantages above, plus the additional one of increased access time because the bag wasn’t purpose-designed for quick gun access.


My Paladin Press books available now for free download

Over a decade ago I published two books with Paladin Press consisting of articles I’d written, some original material, and some guest-written chapters.  The themes of both were the two themes I had written about for years prior: 1) the necessity of integrating empty-hand training with firearms training, and 2) the necessity of force-on-force simulation training — both for both cops and civilians. I am pleased that much of what I advocated strongly for then is now accepted wisdom and part of good / advanced training.  And I’m not so pleased that I (and many other like-minded trainers) had so little impact on the plethora of low-end instructors.  Oh, well.

Paladin Press at that time had gone from being the first amendment poster child, to being the first amendment poster child and a valuable publisher of, for a better word, “tactical” subjects.  The people I worked with there – mostly Michael Janich and Jon Ford – were real professionals and a pleasure to associate with.

Since they have recently closed their doors, I’m taking the lead of several other Paladin r authors and posting free .pdf downloads of my books.  Just click on the images below to open or download them.

Tactical Defensive Training for Real-Life Encounters cover-page-001

Defensive Shooting for Real-Life Encounters cover-page-001

Policing needs reform; don’t blame the police

If you get a bad car, do you blame the workers who made the car?  No; you understand that the workers simply implemented the design, using the manufacturing process, that they were handed.  You understand that it’s the process, not the people, that’s to blame.

It’s the same with the problems in policing these days.

I came to police work as an adult in my mid-30s.  Along with the decade-plus of life experience that that implied, it also meant I had a fully formed frontal cortex – the part of the brain that makes judgements and decisions.  (The frontal cortex isn’t fully developed until at least 30, which explains why the words “young” and “stupid” are so often paired in a sentence.)   And while I was raised in a blue-collar family, I was then in a white-collar profession, which added another unusual twist to my perspective.  Later I spent some years in management consulting, adding a private-sector management perspective to my way of thinking.  And finally, for years, I spent a lot of time at conferences and training events with some of the very best hearts and minds in the police business, giving me insight into the way the top 1% of the profession thinks and behaves.

I have come to believe that the police profession needs some significant reform.  Now, when I say “significant”, I mean that some central things need to be re-thought; I do not mean that the system is FUBAR, needs to be blown-up, or that most cops on the job aren’t good people doing a darn good job within the constraints they face.  I’ve worked with many such excellent officers locally, for example, and I’m proud both of them and the 20 years I spent doing the job.  (For a complimentary perspective from one really good cop, see Greg Ellifritz’s piece: “Peace Officers vs. “Law Enforcement Officers”.)

But the very nature of policing is that “very good on average” isn’t good enough.  The job is too important, and too central to a free society, to be done merely “very well”.  You wouldn’t want your heart surgeon to be “pretty good on average”…because the job is too important.  Likewise, policing.

Here’s the main symptoms of the problem that I’ve seen (my root cause analysis follows):

  • I speak for anyone with some experience in the field when I say that we have too many “kid cops” on the job these days: immature, inexperienced, incompetent, cowardly, either lazy or over-zealous, and generally unsuited for the job
  • Cops sometimes make serious serious mistakes, often tragic ones.  In the context of the hundreds of millions of citizen contacts over the course of a year in the U.S., these are tiny in number — teeny tiny.  But they get a lot of publicity and do far more damage to the reputation of the profession (and by extension to its effective practice) than their immediate tragic consequences.  Almost all of these mistakes are completely avoidable.  Yes, the law of large numbers says that mistakes will happen, but we have a way to go before we are at only that statistically inevitable number.  Yes, many of these mistakes are “good faith” mistakes, but they’re mistakes nonetheless.  That said, the reasons cops have to, say, shoot someone, aren’t always clear to someone uninitiated in the tactics of the situation; what appear to be bad decisions or even murders to a lay person (or politically motivated activist) are sometimes in fact good, even necessary, actions.
  • For an anger-inducing compilation of some recent serious mistakes, see this guy’s list here.  (I know nothing about this guy other that what I read on his website.  I doubt I agree with him about much; he seems like a very angry person.)  I can argue the cop’s side of things on some of these events — even as I argue that many shouldn’t have happened.  But still, it’s a bad list.
  • Cops are too often rude to the general public (I’m talking about the people they serve and the taxpayers that pay their salary — not the genuine BGs).  Been guilty of that myself a couple times, and ever since I’ve kicked myself over them.  Never should have happened.  (OTOH I’ve had complaints about being concerned and polite, but that’s another story.)

OK, so far nothing new to anyone.  Now here’s where my (probably unique, or close there to) perspective may come in.  Here’s what I see as the root causes of these symptoms.  And they aren’t the cops themselves:

  1. Policing is viewed as a blue-collar job, not a high-status profession.  It’s viewed, for the most part, as a civil-service, union-protected, public-sector job, that almost anyone can do — not an inspired calling.  (And for the wrong kind of person, a job that also comes with a badge and gun.)
  2. Policing is often boring.  Boring jobs attract, or breed, some people happy to be not busy.
  3. Policing in the United States is Balkanized (fragmented).  Every state, and most towns and cities, have their own selection criteria, training curriculum, performance standards, pay scale, and even laws to be enforced.  There’s little to no standardization among agencies.  This and civil service rules lead to…
  4. Lack or cross-pollination among agencies.  In the private sector, a company pulls talent from anywhere in the world into whatever position that person can best contribute.  But a cop that moves from one agency to another has to start at the bottom of the rank, pay, and seniority ladder (the chief’s position usually being the exception).  So no agency can effectively pull in middle- or upper- management talent from another.  Providence effectively can’t hire a great sergeant or captain from Boston, and so on.  This leads to inbreeding of personnel, procedures, training, and internal politics.  New, fresh, and good ideas don’t spread throughout the profession the way they should.  In the private sector, a new CEO immediately staffs the company with fresh talent, at least a the top; not so in the government sector.
  5. Related to the 1, 3, and 4 above, most cops are local boys and girls.  Policing is strictly a local job  – yet another indication of its non-profession status.  I had a young friend in Massachusetts who, upon deciding that he wanted to be a cop, interviewed at agencies all across the U.S.; at LAPD they were dumbfounded as to why he was there.  Part of the problem is that in some states (like mine) you first have to be hired by a department, then you’re sent to the academy (while drawing a salary), and when you get out you have to go to work for that department.  If you want to change agencies, you’re certification is only good within the state.  Some states have a better process in which you, at your own expense, go to a community college to study law enforcement (a.k.a. criminal justice) and you get your certification there.  Once graduated you can apply for open jobs anywhere in the state.  But you’re still limited to the one state (with occasional reciprocity).
  6. Low standards.  It’s no secret that recruit standards have fallen considerably over the last decades.  Physically of course, but also as everyone knows, mentally (test scores), and also psychologically (Minneapolis, for example, has dropped almost all of its psychological screening because it was screening out too many minorities.)  I’ve been on academy training grounds where barely a single recruit could hit the target with their pistol, but the instructors had to pass them anyway because…well, I think you know.
  7. Low pay.  Yes, I know that some police jobs pay quite well – these are usually federal and some state police positions.  But at the local level the pay can be pretty low – low enough that raising a family on it isn’t possible.  This problem is worse in the South in my experience, where deputies make barely above the minimum wage in many places.  Heck, I even know of state police commanders making not a lot more.  You only get great people in low paying jobs because of altruism, there’s only so much of that to go around, and in any case it has a pretty short half-life. One of my pet peeves here is using cops for off-duty traffic details.  These privately-paid gigs pay much better than their actual job, and cops soak them up.  As a result they routinely work 16 hour days, boosting their income to a nice level, but at the cost of their health, marriages, alertness, and job effectiveness.  This is not the way to raise cops’ pay.
  8. Lack of respect.  I’ve had bad experiences with cops (even when I was one).  I trust the reports of minorities that I know (or know of) who relate stories of undue hassle.  But this does not reasonably translate into a wholesale condemnation of all one million cops (in the U.S.), or of the entire profession.  A few vocal activists and their media accomplices  have nonetheless done just that, and labeled routine, legal, effective, appreciated, community policing as racist.  No one wants to go into a job where merely doing it gets you labeled as a racist, so naturally you get fewer good recruits as a result.

Here’s what I see as reform solutions (numbers correlated to the root causes above).  In a nutshell: make police work prestigious, well-paying, difficult to get into, and demanding to stay in.  (Why yes, I am familiar with the terms “pipe dream” and “pissing into the wind”.)

  1. Policing needs to be made into a true profession, complete with very high standards of selection, training, and ongoing performance.  To include rigorous continuing education/training requirements, and national accrediting bodies.  It should be hard to become a police officer, and easy to be fired for truly bad behavior or not meeting performance standards, but hard to be fired for actually doing your job.
  2. Much of the really boring administrative and paperwork stuff, and much of the non-dangerous activities (like office-based investigations) can be given over to non-sworn personnel.  Keep the dangerous, street-based stuff for the guys and gals with the guns.  This would lower overall costs (allowing the cops to be paid more), and by reducing the number of cops, reduce the pressures on inappropriate selection.
  3. Fragmentation leads to bad outcomes; total centralization leads to bad outcomes; we need to find the right balance.  We are totally fragmented now and we could use a greater degree of national standards regarding selection, training, and performance evaluation.   I’m told that countries like Norway with a significantly centralized selection and training process, have had good things come of it  (although they naturally have problems, particularly the inevitable ones that come from any large-scale undertaking, especially a political one).  I know that this is a balancing act; what I’m suggesting that we are not as balanced as we can or should be in this regard.
  4. This should be easy to solve.  Chiefs should be able to hire the best people – into lateral positions or promotions – without loss of pay or benefits to the sought-after officer.  Make policing part of a national civil service.
  5. If it pays well and has national career mobility, then the profession will attract good people from across the nation. If there are nationally-recognized certification programs in law enforcement, just as there are in medicine or engineering, officers can move about freely without loss of pay or grade, allowing their talents and experience to percolate throughout the profession, enriching it just as the free movement of, for example, engineers, enriches their profession.
  6. To be sure, police agencies had a racial, ethnic, and sex gap relative to their communities for a long time, which is bad – the entity that enforces the rules of society ought to reflect that society.  The way to fix that, however, is to give preference once an appropriate standard has been met, not to lower the standard.  Poorly selected officers only hurt the very segments of society that they were selected to represent.
  7. Implementing very high selection and retention standards allows us to demand high pay.  In fact you can’t have the former without the latter.  Paying well would diminish the allure of energy-draining law enforcement-related side-jobs.  Public safety is one of the very few essential, foundational jobs of government.  It (and the justice system) should be fully funded before we fund silly things like art centers…or almost anything else.
  8. I think that implementing the above reforms would go a long way towards reducing inappropriate police behavior and restoring respect for law enforcement.  Ultimately this is a cultural issue, which is above my pay grade.  But it is certainly as true as it is often derided, that “culture counts”.  In fact, nothing counts more.

So today we have a totally fragmented profession, with poor entry standards, poor retention criteria, inbred procedures, poor pay, lack of mobility, that’s of fundamental importance to society, and that is difficult to understand from the outside.  And we’re surprised that so many people mistrust or hate the police, and that whole police-hate movements can get traction?

I’ll end with a saying that anyone who’s taken Management 101 has heard: Every system  is already perfectly designed…to achieve the results it’s getting.

How to pay only $60 for your next training course – the best you’ve ever had

“How can this be,” you ask?  “How can a first-rate training course be had for so little?”

It’s easy.  Don’t take one.  (h/t here, albeit obliquely, to Steve Martin’s famous old routine.)

Because, as Ken Hackathorn points out, you probably already shoot well enough (if you don’t, well, then go ahead and take that course you were planning on).

But my way’s still gonna cost you about $60, and it’ll still be the best experience you’ve had.

First, buy an inert replica of your handgun.  Blueguns are great if it’s not a Glock (Glock won’t let the Blueguns folks sell Bluegun Glocks to the public), or use an airsoft replica.  That’s $50.

Second, buy my DVD on how to safely conduct force-on-force simulations from the Massachusetts Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors and Armorers Association here (I make not so much as a penny on the sale).  There’s another $10.  Several cops, and God knows how many civilians, are killed each year during simulations with “unloaded” weapons.  Do NOT use a real gun – even one that you know is unloaded.  Ever.  Get an inert replica, and watch my DVD.  And stick to the protocol!

Stick to the protocol!

Don’t even load the airsoft guns – just say “bang”.

Then search for real-life violent altercations caught on camera.  There’s lots of them.  John over at Active Self Protection posts a few a day.

Then, STICKING TO THE SAFETY PROTOCOL OUTLINED IN MY DVD, re-enact them with your buddies.  Go ahead, ad lib, and modify them to make them more relevant to you, BUT KEEP THEM SIMPLE AND SHORT.  Simple.  Short.

Then discuss what you did, debug it, and re-run the scenario until you get it right.

You’re trying to learn to: 1) pick up on the cues of impending attacks, 2) react with the appropriate level of force, if force is necessary at all (use a tomato sauce can as an inert OC canister), 3) verbally control a situation effectively, including challenging if appropriate, and 4) good judgement.  This last is of two kinds – to defend yourself in time, and more important (because it’s likely to be your deficit), learn to not use force until it’s absolutely necessary…and legally justifiable.  (If you don’t know what’s legally justifiable, you HAVE TO read Andrew Branca’s book, the Law of Self Defense.  I’m assuming that any half-way responsible gun owner has already done this.)

There’s no other way to learn this stuff, and it’s far more valuable than learning how to shoot a Bill Drill faster.

Far, far and away more valuable.














), learn appropriate and effective verbalization, challenge, and control skills, and (don’t forget this part) 4) drill home the aftermath skills (witness management, leave or stay decisions, calling the cops, etc.)