None of us can imagine the feelings that must occur in the case of a mistaken identity shooting of a family member. We don’t like to talk about this sort of thing in the gun community but it happens on a regular basis. Don’t let it happen to you, on either end.
I’ve written about this before and probably will again. It’s an avoidable tragedy.
I have seen too many people forget the basics and rely on finding the laser dot instead of looking down the sights on pistols. They became much slower with the laser.
So began a Facebook thread in a closed group of ‘operators.’ There’s an antinomy, a form of paradox, in this sort of discussions that I always find interesting.
The paradox arises from the often parroted statement that most armed encounters take place at night or in low light. This premise is less than provable, but let’s accept it at face value for purposes of discussion.
Now, let’s follow up that premise with dismissal of a sighting system because ‘it doesn’t work’ during periods when gunfights are LESS LIKELY to take place.
In this particular FB thread, I will put myself in the category of ‘highly trained,’ since that’s what their membership group supposedly consists of. Years ago, it didn’t take me long to figure out that there were things I could do with a laser on a pistol that I simply couldn’t do without them. That held true even during the day, unless I was on a brightly sunlit ‘square range,’ which is so often said to be a poor and ‘non-realistic’ training environment. In any indoor environment, there is no issue with ‘finding the laser dot,’ even in a well lit room in daylight.
Once we get into the realm of low light, where the popular mantra says the majority of gunfights occur, most of us will agree that iron sights are fairly useless. We’re largely reduced to point shooting because the sights can’t be seen.
I wondered about the difference between iron sights and lasers during low light. I think of the time frame between sundown and End of Civil Twilight (dusk) as low light. The US Naval Observatory provides specific definitions of these and states
Some outdoor activities may be conducted without artificial illumination during these intervals, and it is useful to have some means to set limits beyond which a certain activity should be assisted by artificial lighting.
Target Acquisition and, to a lesser extent, Target Identification, is still possible during that period. However, between sundown and dusk, night sights aren’t really visible (not bright enough) and neither are the irons (luminous efficacy of the eye’s cones is insufficient).
To establish a quantitative measure for that difference, I chose several parts of the Handgun Testing Program at the elite Rogers Shooting School. The targets were more visible than they show in the video but I couldn’t see the irons. I proceeded to shoot the tests with a laser equipped Beretta. Having taught at Rogers for five years, I’m fairly confident in saying that, without the laser, I would have made the all the body hits (7) and around half of the hits on the number 1 head plate (8) for a score of 15 out of 69 targets. My score with the laser was four missed targets for a score of 65 out of 69.
There’s a reason I have a laser on my house gun.
The issue of parroting something that was heard without questioning, analyzing, or testing is a separate topic that the training community has yet to address adequately. That’s for another time, though.
It’s a sad fact that people shoot other people unintentionally. I’m not talking about mistaken identity shootings but completely unintentional shootings. Probably the most famous incident was when Vice President Dick Cheney shot his hunting partner. However, that was far from an isolated occurrence. Reading the news reports provides plenty of such incidents.
We absolutely don’t want to shoot someone unintentionally nor let someone get shot unintentionally. A firearm is an instrument of ultimate personal responsibility. It’s not like a car, where sometimes we can blame someone else for negative outcomes. When a firearm we are handling goes off, we have to bear the consequences, period. If we leave it sitting around unsecured and someone else makes it goes off, we have to the bear the consequences, period. Sometimes, the consequences are tragic, in either case.
A writer from Gun Digest contacted me about the Five Year Armed Citizen study TAC 5 year w tables I did a while back. He asked if I would give him a quote about it, so this was my reply.
“Analyzing incidents involving Armed Private Citizens, rather than LE/MIL situations, leads to different conclusions. Common discussion topics among Armed Private Citizens, such as equipment and caliber issues, rarely are the cause of Negative Outcomes. Negative Outcomes result from 1) lack of conceptual understanding leading to poor decision-making, and 2) lack of appropriate and necessary skills, techniques, and tactics.
Carrying and being capable of using a small gun adequately will yield much better results than owning a large pistol that isn’t carried or shot well. More criminals have been planted in the ground by .22s that hit than by .45s that miss.”
Claude, I really like your blog, I have been a fan and a reader, since I saw it linked over at georgiapacking.org
I’m scheduled to get my NRA certification as a firearms instructor for basic pistol next month.
Do you have any advice for me, in starting out as an instructor?
My main recommendation would be to continuously improve your knowledge and skills. I can’t tell you how many NRA Instructors I know who haven’t
read a single gun book beyond the NRA manuals, have never taken another
class, and who don’t do anything to measure and improve their skills.
My personal library has over 400 books about guns, shooting, tactics, police work, and military history. The subjects run the gamut from appropriate rifles for African hunting in the early 20th century to analyses of the effects of using deadly force by the shooter. My collection has over 100 DVDs in it too. Granted that took me over 40 years to accumulate but it’s indicative of what I try to know about the subject. Many instructors have neither depth nor breadth to their repertoire. They learn one set of skills at a mediocre level and stop there. I see it time and again. That’s a mistake; never stop learning.
I take classes from others regularly, frequently just short evening courses. Those short evening courses are how we are going to begin to reach the majority of new gunowners. And, even if someone else’s class is terrible, like one I took at an indoor range last week, you get important insight about how NOT to do things. Learn from others’ mistakes as well as your own.
With regard to measuring one’s skills, I think it’s important for everyone to benchmark where you are and try to improve that continuously. For an instructor, it’s doubly important. There are a lot of different benchmarks you can use, just having one is the important thing. Shoot it periodically and try to get better at it. You may find that the benchmark you use changes over time to something more challenging and that you have multiple benchmarks that measure different aspects of shooting. One of the main advantages of shooting in competition is that you find out you’re not as good as you think you are. Ego is the Achilles heel of many shooters and instructors.
I also think it’s important to demonstrate drills for the class. Time dependent, it doesn’t have to be all of them, but the first drill and any complex drills should be demonstrated. People are visual learners, for the most part. Telling people how to perform a physical skill is simply not as effective as showing them, IMO. And don’t take your subject matter knowledge for granted about what constitutes a ‘complex’ drill. I have had very intelligent students who couldn’t figure out what the NRA MQP drills were until I demonstrated for them.
Have an inert gun to do this, where it’s appropriate. If it’s livefire, I use a live gun. If I’m demonstrating gunhandling or tactics, the inert gun comes out. I have both of them on me when I’m teaching.
Most importantly, don’t get complacent about anything. Your skills, safety, communication, etc. need to be at the forefront of your mind whenever you’re teaching. Every story we hear about an instructor having a Negligent Discharge or shooting a student in class has complacency as its root. Complacency is a killer, don’t go there.
Structured shooting is a whole new world for most people. Help them understand it in every way you can.
This is the second installment of my Negative Outcomes series. I’ve already been taken to task for commenting about imprecise language and I understand where he’s coming from. The fact of the matter is, however, that we, in the instructional community, take a lot of our subject matter knowledge for granted.
Frequently, I hear comments to the effect that NRA courses go too much into depth about things like the individual components of ammunition, etc. I disagree with that completely. The influx of new gunowners requires that we educate them thoroughly. Many of the new owners have never operated any hand held device more complicated than an electric toothbrush.
As I commented to a student last night, I previously had a student in a class who was using a Sig pistol. He had owned and been shooting it regularly for almost two years. When I told him to ‘decock,’ he looked at me and said “What does that mean?” He had never used the decocking lever before and didn’t understand what its function was. He was actually a good shot, too. But elements of the pistol’s manual of arms had never been explained to him.
When dealing with deadly weapons, we can leave nothing to chance, including our vocabulary and students’ understanding thereof.
I’m not so sure about the empirical reality of the Farnham [sic] idea: “The person most likely to shoot you is YOU. Why? Because you’re always there.” It just seems incorrect to say, so I am wondering what the broader idea he is conveying is supposed to be.
Since John’s statement generated some incredulity, I will elaborate on it. His comment referred to the often atrocious gunhandling he sees, not people committing suicide. Improper and dangerous gunhandling regularly results in gunowners turning themselves into casualties, although not necessarily fatalities.
The reason I included John’s quote began with a statement he made in the first DTI class I took. The statement was “Eighty percent of police officers who are shot shoot themselves.” Once again, he was not referring to suicide but rather negligent shootings where the officer injured himself or herself. Whether that is still true, I don’t know. I do know that holster manufacturers are sued numerous times each year, unsuccessfully, by police officers who shoot themselves in the process of drawing or holstering. However, given the multiplicity of reports I have about private citizens who accidentally shoot themselves, I wouldn’t be surprised. It happens a lot more often than we like to think. The two casualties I have had on ranges I have been running were self-inflicted non-fatal wounds. One was a highly trained and experienced police officer who had a momentary lapse of concentration and technique.
Here are a few recent examples:
This is an excerpt from a detailed incident report by the LAPD Board of Police Commissioners.
Officer A was off-duty and inside his residence. Officer A was seated alone in the living room of the residence cleaning and putting tactical lights on his personally owned handguns. Officer A indicated that he had completed cleaning his .40 caliber Springfield Arms semi-automatic pistol and during this process he had inadvertently seated a partially loaded magazine and released the pistol slide that chambered a round. Officer A mistakenly believed the weapon was not loaded, so he pulled the trigger and caused the weapon to discharge.
Officer A received a through and through bullet wound to his left hand just below the little finger. The bullet traveled through Officer A’s hand, then through the back of a couch [the interior decorator in me thinks it was a sofa and not a couch], and the living room wall adjacent to the couch, entering the garage and striking the metal back of a clothes dryer before falling to the garage floor.
Officer A was treated and released from the hospital the day of the shooting.
The BOPC found that Officer A’s use of force was negligent, requiring Administrative Disapproval.
Unfortunately, some incidents prove fatal. Gunshot wounds to the upper leg can sever the femoral artery, resulting in rapid death. RIP Sgt. Davis, who was an experienced officer with 8 years of service, including on SWAT.
This video of Tex Grebner shooting himself contains explicit language. I give him credit for taking responsibility and showing how easily this can happen.
There is an image I see used on Internet websites that makes me cringe whenever I look at it.
That’s a good way to shoot yourself in the support hand. The number of beginners I see doing this at IDPA matches is legion. I warn them immediately to stop doing that. If your holster doesn’t allow you to draw from it with one hand, then you need to stop using it immediately and get a new holster.
If IDPA and USPSA Production Class do nothing else other than to train people to draw their gun without putting their support hand on the holster, that’s a great contribution to the shooting community. For those who say IDPA isn’t training, I would counter that it’s excellent training in safe gunhandling. There’s nothing like getting disqualified for a safety violation to make the point that someone’s gunhandling needs work.
So the point of John’s Master Lesson is twofold:
- Proper gunhandling has to be at the forefront of our minds anytime we handle a firearm. Firearms are mechanical devices; they do no more and no less than we make them do. Consequently, they are relentlessly unforgiving of carelessness and/or stupidity.
- Pointing your weapon at yourself can have serious consequences. Some holsters force us to point our weapons at ourselves. But placing your hand in front of the muzzle when the pistol is out of the holster is a prescription for an unhappy outcome. One of my personal peeves is the devices that shotguns shooters put on their shoes to rest the muzzle on. I have some really nasty pictures of feet with holes from shotguns in them. Those people are unlikely to ever walk right again. Similarly, taking a high performance anti-personnel bullet in the hand at point blank range is unlikely to enhance your ability to play the piano.
Reflecting on Shunryu Suzuki’s comment – “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few,” some frequently ignored or overlooked fundamentals taught by people who have been at this a long time come to mind. My research on ‘bad shootings’ has reinforced some things to me.
Jeff Cooper – The Four Rules
1. ALL GUNS ARE ALWAYS LOADED.
2. NEVER LET THE MUZZLE COVER ANYTHING YOU ARE NOT PREPARED TO DESTROY.
3. KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER UNTIL YOUR SIGHTS ARE ON THE TARGET.
4. BE SURE OF YOUR TARGET AND WHAT IS BEYOND IT.
The person most likely to shoot you is YOU. Why? Because you’re always there.
• Muzzle direction is the primary safety; always has been and always will be.
• Identify your target at night, preferably with a flashlight, before you shoot it.
The Most Dangerous Man
• Shooting isn’t always the optimal solution.
• Holding someone at gunpoint isn’t as easy as it seems.
Ken Hackathorn –
It’s a downrange world
Avoiding the problem (implied task) is a lot easier than fixing the problem, either at the moment or in the legal system later.
Driven by hunger, a fox tried to reach some grapes hanging high on the vine but was unable to, although he leaped with all his strength. As he went away, the fox remarked ‘Oh, you aren’t even ripe yet! I don’t need any sour grapes.’ People who speak disparagingly of things that they cannot attain would do well to apply this story to themselves.
–Aesop’s Fables, The Fox and the Grapes,
Periodically, I see comments in the tactical/concealed carry community downplaying the value of competition for someone interested in personal protection. The commentary usually revolves around “the stress isn’t the same as a two way range” or “competition isn’t realistic; the targets don’t move, you don’t move” or some other blah, blah, blah. Oftentimes, the person making the statement is from the ‘tactical training’ side of the house.
In my role as the Georgia/Alabama Area coordinator for IDPA, I was recently reviewing some tweaked stages for the upcoming 2014 GADPA Georgia State Match Championship. As I was doing so, I was struck by the complexity and marksmanship challenges presented in the match. Some of the aspects of the Championship include:
- Moving targets
- Shooting on the move
- Shooting Strong Hand Only with holding something with the Support Hand
- Shooting from inside and around vehicles
- Head shots at distance
- Steel targets with a concealed hit zone that have to be knocked down to count
- Engaging targets while moving through a structure
Those tasks have to be accomplished with a limited supply of ammunition, requiring a minimum hit rate of about 60%, just to finish. To be competitive at all, the hit rate on a torso sized target (-0/-1) better be 100% or you’re out of luck. Rapid reloading is an integral part of each stage, requiring a high degree of weapons manipulation skills.
In short, it’s a very demanding test of one’s ability to effectively manipulate a handgun. Hitting the target with a high degree of regularity, while being confronted by awkward shooting positions and scenarios is an integral part of it.
I think of Preparation for Personal Protection as having three components; Training, Practice, and Testing. Training is something you get from someone else. The other person or group structures your experience, almost always outside your comfort zone. Practice is something you do on your own, hopefully with some kind of structure, based on training or re-creation of actual incidents. Then there’s the nasty little question: “Where is my skill level at?” Testing is the only way that question can be answered. In his book POLICE PISTOLCRAFT, Mike Conti mentions Police Officers who are so intimidated by firearms qualification that they become physically ill, simply from the thought of having to do it. That’s a good example of how daunting the testing process can be. Those of us active in the competition world often look at police qualification courses in a bemused way because they are so simple compared to the tests we are used to.
Bill Rogers once said to me “You and I are from the last generation that is comfortable being tested.” I’m not sure if that’s true, but it is quite obvious to me that there is a great deal of cognitive dissonance and ego defense that goes on when discussions about competition v. ‘training’ start. The next time you hear someone disparaging competition, keep The Fox and The Grapes fable in mind. And for those who make negative statements about competition, I invite you to come out and test yourself and see what it’s like. Firearms competition has evolved a great deal since the original Columbia Conference. One of the most ridiculous statements I have ever heard is “I never saw a timer in a gunfight.” It was there every time; it’s called your lifeclock and it’s running all the time, at least until someone stops it.
I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a-hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.
— John Bernard Books in The Shootist
Mine is somewhat more complex than that, but the principles remain fairly simple. They guide me every day.
“Son, try to get along with everyone; but don’t let anyone hurt you.” – my Father, Jerry Werner
“An officer is responsible for his own morale.” – General of the Armies John J. Pershing
“When they get the duct tape out, it’s time to make your move, ready or not.” – The Most Dangerous Man in the World
“Stupid people, stupid places, stupid things. Avoid them and you’ll probably be all right.” –John Farnam
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” ― Shunryu Suzuki
“Thinking ‘I’ll solve it when I get there’ has gotten a lot of people killed.” –Bill Rogers
“Look good, be right, control and dominate, avoid being controlled and dominated. Those are the things that run most people’s lives.” – Lifespring
“There are two kinds of people in the world, those who eat to live and those who live to eat.” – my ex-wife
“When you leave your car, don’t forget your Mace. That is unless you want to get stabbed in the face.” – Attractive Eighties Women
“Son, when you park the car, face the rear end into the Sun so you won’t have to sit on a hot seat when you get in.” – my Father, Jerry Werner
“You can do a lot of aiming and squeezing in a second and a half.” – Mike Benedict
“Don’t ever march home the same way. Take a different route so you won’t be ambushed.” – Major Robert Rogers
“Begin to attrit the enemy at the maximum effective range of your weapons.” – The Infantry School
“Auditing is intellectually rigorous and is not for everyone.” – Nick Crooks, Senior Manager, Deloitte & Touche
“Guns and knives, sir, you can never have enough of them.” – CSM Autrail Cobb
“Little things I should’ve said and done, I never took the time. You were always on my mind.” – Pet Shop Boys
“Surrender is not a Ranger word.” – the Ranger Creed