Friday Fundamentals – Biases and Changes

My colleague Grant Cunningham posed two interesting questions on his blog, which led to a lengthy Facebook discussion.

Question #1: “what are your biases or preconceptions?”

Question #2: “what have you changed your mind about in the last year?”

I gave a brief answer to #2 but I think they both deserve some elaboration.

Question #1: “what are your biases or preconceptions?”

I am very reluctant to design training for myself or others that is rooted purely in hypothesis or conjecture. I.e., I am very biased toward following the scientific method, as much as possible, when developing training paradigms.

The overall process of the scientific method involves making conjectures (hypotheses), deriving predictions from them as logical consequences, and then carrying out experiments based on those predictions. —


It’s important to note that testing is an inherent part of the scientific method. Testing implies some form of measurement. As a result, I believe that having performance standards is an important part of training. I think of training as ‘outcomes based’ rather than ‘input based.’

We have at our fingertips, via the Internet, an enormous amount of data available to us. At the top of this blog are links to a number of sources that I regularly read to gather information about armed encounters, shootings, gunfights, and gunbattles. I use each of those terms in a very defined way because I consider many terms used in the training community to be fuzzy and ill-defined. Fuzzy and ill-defined terminology does not fit particularly well in the scientific method.

One of the often parroted phrases I hear about gathering information from the Internet is “The plural of anecdote is not data.” I rebut this with the words of one of my accounting professors, “Accounting information is expensive to gather and is sometimes not worth it.” What he meant was that, at some point, you have to accept whatever information you have been able to collect and work with it to form an opinion.

Something I try to avoid is ‘cherry picking’ data that supports my hypotheses. Cherry picking is not always an intentional process, either; it can require a significant amount of intellectual rigor to avoid. I learned this years ago when I was Research Director of a large commercial real estate brokerage company. The brokers all worked specific geographical areas and the Vice President asked me to analyze the Zip Codes of their contact lists. As it turned out, only about 20 percent of the brokers actually had the majority of their contacts in their assigned areas, even though they thought they did. That was when I became a believer in writing things down and checking them periodically to eliminate unconscious errors. A while later, I created a database of five years of data from the Armed Citizen and found some patterns and trends I hadn’t anticipated.

To sum up my bias, I might say:

I’m not interested in conjecture. Tell me where your hypothesis originated, what data supports it, and how you measure the outcome(s) you expect your students to achieve as a result of this training.

Question #2: “what have you changed your mind about in the last year?”

My short answer to this question on Facebook was “The importance of manipulation skills vis–à–vis decision-making.”

I’ve been thinking about this for many years. In 2011, my presentation at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference was entitled The Myth of the Lone Gunman: Working with Family, Friends, and Significant Others.

At the Conference in 2014, my colleague Craig Douglas made the suggestion that I do a presentation about ‘Bad Shootings’ for the 2015 Conference. The results of my research changed me forever.

As many people know, I was part of the Rogers Shooting School for ten years, culminating with being Chief Instructor for five years. Rogers is the most elite and difficult shooting school in the world. Many police and military special units go there to train every year and get to eat a piece of Humble Pie every day of the five day Course. “We’re the best shooters in our Department, by far. Then we come here and find out we suck!” The Handgun Testing Program has no peer for difficulty in the entire training community. It is training on a level that only a select few shooters will ever get to experience. I am enormously proud of my association with the School and maintain a relationship to Bill and Ronnie to this day.

That being said, once I started doing my research on ‘Bad Shootings,’ which eventually morphed into ‘Negative Outcomes,’ I saw a vastly different set of priorities were important. Although I still believe performance standards are important, the level of those standards has changed in my mind. The NRA Defensive Pistol standards, probably at the Sharpshooter level, will suffice to solve almost every confrontation I have been able to find between an Armed Private Citizen and a marauding criminal. Truth be told, those standards would work for most police shootings also. The kicker about the NRA standards is twofold; 1) competence must be demonstrated repetitively and 2) the standard is 100 percent hits.

DPI table

Once a person can shoot a pistol to a reasonable standard, it’s time to move on to thinking about the circumstances of personal protection and becoming proficient at decision making in that context. Decision making can be a very difficult task, especially when we are armed. Lack of proficiency, not just at marksmanship, but at gunhandling under stress, complicates this. Persons who are not Unconsciously Competent can easily become focused on the firearm rather the situation. Focusing on the wrong thing can lead to Bad Decisions, which in turn can result in Negative Outcomes.

These are the Negative Outcome categories I identified in my research. There are probably more.

  • Brandishing/showing
  • Chasing and shooting
  • Downrange failures (shot an innocent while shooting at a threat)
  • Intervention
  • Lost/stolen guns
  • Mistaken identity shootings
  • Negligent discharges
    • Self-inflicted GSW
    • Unintentional shootings
  • Police Involvement (arrests for non-shooting related incidents)
  • Poor judgement
  • Unauthorized access (generally by small children)
  • Unjustifiable shootings
  • Warning shots

As an example of one category, Unintentional Shootings, here’s a screencap of some of the stories I have collected.

Unintentional pic

Bad decisions have serious consequences and end up being punished in a variety of ways, some legal and some social. The legal consequences are obvious; the shooter goes to court and sometimes thence to prison. The social consequences of Negative Outcomes are less obvious. If a person accidentally shoots a family member, whether the criminal justice system gets involved or not, I doubt that family relationship will ever be the same. The particular incident I am thinking of occurred when a police officer shot his daughter, thinking she was an intruder.

Decision making has many aspects to it that people don’t often consider. Where you point a gun anytime you handle it is a decision that has to be made. Consider that the next time you’re in a gun shop; where are you going to point the gun as you pick it up to ensure that you don’t muzzle anyone? This relates to another reason I am not fond of the overhand method of slide manipulation. During administrative gunhandling, which happens far more than shooting, the overhand method simply does not give the same level of muzzle control that the slingshot method does. I regularly have to correct students about muzzling themselves when using the overhand method. Using the slingshot technique, not at all.

Note that the Decision Making Process starts long before an incident. For instance, having a flashlight and then practicing with it is a decision. Not having one and/or not practicing with it is a Bad Decision. There are many other possibilities too. Failing to devise emergency plans and then discuss them with your family is a Bad Decision.

cheek technique

Look at the list of Negative Outcomes. The category ‘Downrange Failures’ is the only one that is marksmanship driven. All the rest relate to Decision Making and gunhandling. That’s why I changed my mind.

9 responses

  1. […] Source: Friday Fundamentals – Biases and Changes […]

  2. […] friend Claude Werner is the preeminent researcher of armed citizen-involved shootings.  He has a great post out today covering a couple subjects, but the quote I found that dovetails into this post […]

  3. Great post. I’ve been reading you’re blog for quite sometime and feel that I have had a good grasp of the concepts you write about. However, I think this article really put everything into perspective. Thanks for the post and the blog.

  4. Excellent information again, sir.
    I only pause for thought on your suggested performance standards, e.g.
    “Sharpshooter ” level as defined by the NRA. Are you basing this on your previous research utilizing the “Armed Citizen” data?
    Your other conclusions are most worthy of reflection and internalization.
    Thanks for your work, as always…

    1. Yes, the ability to hit a 12 inch circle at seven yards, especially in the high chest, would have solved everything I can think of in The Armed Citizen.

    2. Quick follow up:
      In your 10/23 post, you suggest several drills for accuracy and timing evaluation…
      With the 12″ @ 7 yards, any thoughts on cadence and\or time limits, e.g.,
      1 shot from holster in 3 seconds (or whatever)?
      I believe what’s bugging me is the seeming generous time in the NRA rankings…

      1. While many people pooh-pooh the NRA Standards, I am not one of them. I tried using the Defensive Pistol I Pro-Marksman Course of Fire as the qualification course in my Concealed Carry: Beyond the Basics Class. This is an Intermediate level class for experienced shooters. Pro-Marksman is simply to shoot 5 shots into the 8 ring at 7 yards in 15 seconds, starting from a Ready position; done four times. I had to discontinue using that Standard because so few people, even people who practice quite a bit, could pass it without shooting it multiple times. Only 10 percent of the students were able to pass it on the first try.

        The kicker is the 100 percent standard. Lots of people can make 4 hits out of 5 shots, i.e., police level shooting, repetitively. Five out of 5 consistently; not so much.

        Now let’s throw in three gross motor skill tasks; pick up pistol from table, load it, and present to target with only 3 additional seconds. It’s just not as easy as people think, especially for those who only shoot 100 rounds once a month.

      2. At Revolver Roundup in October, one of the hosts trained quite a bit with LAPD SWAT before he retired. One of his comments was “They shoot at the same cadence at the range, in the shoothouse, and on the street. They’ve learned the cadence they can hit at consistently and it’s not as fast as you might think.”

        A comment that was made to me years ago stays in the back of my mind. It was made by a very competent [high Expert, near Master] and fast competition shooter at the end of a match. “Claude, I’m haunted by that last shot [a complete Mike] because I can’t imagine where it went.”

        We don’t have the option of sending errant rounds into the urban landscape. That’s the way criminals think, not decent responsible Citizens who understand the totality of the situation.

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