Preparing for Self Defense – The Next Steps

We’ve talked about why a person needs to defend themselves, and more recently we’ve covered quite a bit about gear and dry fire exercises. But there is so much more.

Those who own a gun, and especially those who carry it for self defense, need to do at least the minimum necessary to develop and keep skills relevant. A comprehensive class and no less than one range session a month is seriously minimal, but I doubt many even go that far.

Owning a gun makes you ready for self defense about as much as owning a horse makes you a cowboy.

First, have you made up your mind that you WILL survive, that you WILL fight as long as you can breathe, and that you can and WILL do whatever is necessary to the criminal in order to stop the attack. Have you decided that you are NOT a victim?

No matter how well (or how often) you shoot at targets, your gun will be of little or no use to you if you don’t develop the other skills needed for self defense. If the bad guy gets his hands on you, gets close with a gun or other weapon, or grabs your children… you have lost any advantage the hardware might have given you.

Tactical training is another step in learning gun handling. You get a physical work out, and a much better idea what it is like to be in a shooting situation. The ideal tactical training would include possible situations in your home, office, shopping and other aspects of daily life. I’ve only been to one such session and, I’m afraid it was more geared to things MEN and cops might encounter and wasn’t too helpful to me. So I had to come up with my own. In any case, few of us could afford either the time or money to attend one of these expanded classes very often, yet the skills are no less perishable than shooting accuracy. They need to be practiced at least some every day or as often as possible. So, even if you enjoy such classes and participate often, you might want to consider this practice on your own.

Are you ready?

Situational awareness

Are you aware of your surroundings every day, every time you hear a knock on the door, and especially every time you leave the house? Have you taught your children and others about this vital skill? Or is it simply an intellectual acceptance of an idea, but not something you practice seriously? I’ve covered the subject in detail at the link. Take some time to read it and come back.

First do the drills outlined in the Situational Awareness instructions above for a while. This will give you the basic idea and some experience doing this kind of drill as you go through your ordinary daily activities. As good as a “tactical class” might be, and as terrific as it is to go to the range, real life attacks will be very, very different… they will come out of the blue, when you least expect it, and while you are doing other things. So, it makes sense to prepare, to practice your responses WHILE you are going about your everyday life. And, since you are not apt to get much warning under the best of circumstances, you need to be prepared with as many options as possible.

Possible home invasion is probably a good place to start. You are familiar with your home, its strengths and weaknesses. You are comfortable there, and the actions of an intruder and others who might be involved are easier to imagine than they would be most anywhere else. It’s a learning process, so take it slow and build as you go along.

Think about the power of visualization.

Can you remember the dress you wore to your first Prom, your wedding, or other memorable occasion? Can you remember what you did or didn’t do? If you made a major goof or were embarrassed, I suspect you remember it and all the moves you made very well. And, if you think about it, your mind uses those memories to help you avoid similar negative experiences later.

You can use the power of your mind, the very real benefits of your imagination and memory, to prepare yourself for self defense situations. It is important to plan this some, to avoid becoming obsessed or paranoid about it, of course, but it can be used as a very effective training aid.

So, think about the way your house is laid out, access points, physical barriers and any cameras, alarms or other security measures you have. Oh, you were not thinking that they could do the job alone, were you? Time to rethink all of those things if you’ve been counting on them to keep you safe without having to be a vital part of the whole. These things can be very good, but are no earthly use without serious human involvement. And, as with all tools, they may fail. It’s important to have a backup plan, and a backup plan for that one.

Start with an easy one. Just imagine that you hear glass breaking in the back of your house. You are home alone, it is night, and you don’t expect anyone to come until morning.

What now?

Do you have a “safe room?” (Send for my book if you don’t know what that means.)

Briefly, a “safe room” is one with a reinforced door and deadbolt locks that would resist an intruder.There should be something solid and heavy you would stay behind, in case the intruder fired a gun into the door or the lock.

In that room, quite possibly your bedroom, you would have a gun (if you don’t carry it), ammunition, a cell phone, some water and other things that might be needed if you had to stay there a while. You might want to have a spare gun and ammunition in that room, even if you carry all the time.

If you don’t have a safe room, and can’t think of any way to create one, what would you do if you saw or heard signs of an intruder?

Either way, imagine what an intruder might do. You also need to think of what you might do in each case, his possible reaction, and what you might do next. What might he do that would cause you to shoot? Why wouldn’t you shoot? What would make the difference? You absolutely must have thought about this and practiced it. A mistake in the midst of an emergency could be costly, or fatal.

What would you do next? Imagine it going many different ways, concentrating on what you think might happen and how you might respond. And don’t neglect to imagine that you had to shoot someone! How would it look? How would you feel? It’s a shock and horror to any normal person, but you can’t let it destroy your awareness or your caution. The person you shot might be “playing possum” and overwhelm you if you got too close. He/she might have an accomplice or four, just waiting for you to be distracted and overcome with emotion.

And don’t lose sight of the fact that your attacker could be either a man or a woman, a teen or any other age. Imagine having to confront and defend yourself against even the nice seeming neighbor down the street, the little group of teens with their baggy pants and snotty attitudes, the lady who says she just needs to use the telephone, or almost anyone else.

Do you have a cell phone? Where is it right now? Do you carry it in your purse? Is the purse in the kitchen now? Where might an intruder gain entrance? The kitchen? That plan needs some work, doesn’t it? When would you call 911? Most areas are set up for 911, but some still are not. Do you know for sure about your location?

I don’t have a cell phone (too deaf to use one), and an intruder might cut the land line telephone first thing. I have specific plans made for that possibility. I don’t rely on getting help from outside anyway, and calling 911 FIRST is not something expected here, but it may be very different where you live.

Then, if it was possible, when would you call? What would you say to the dispatcher? Should you tell them you have a gun? The answer to all of those might be very different in various places. You need to know what is best to do long before you need to do it. And you need to practice doing it so you won’t miss things, do things to increase the risk, or say things that would hang you later.

Think about why TV and movie plots are a very poor thing to base this practice on.

Next time we’ll take to the streets and parking garages with our imaginations. But you don’t have to wait for me. Tell me about the imaging you do to prepare for self defense.

I Can’t Believe I DID That!

Did you ever walk out of a bathroom and discover later that your holster was empty? OOPS

I’ve only done that twice in all the years I’ve carried a gun, and both times were at home, thank goodness, but it is something to think about seriously, and something to add to our training and conditioning.

But how?

I can’t remember the details of the first time, shortly after I started carrying, but the most recent episode of total dumb was just the other day. I sat down immediately to analyze it and see what I could do to prevent it from happening again. I absolutely, positively refuse to ever let it happen at the library or someone else’s home.

The first problem I could identify was the fact that I’d given up carrying ALL the time last year when I hurt my back. After a bad fall last autumn, the weight of the gun and tightness of the belt was just too difficult to bear all the time. That was about the time I started carrying concealed a lot when I went out, and the CC “fanny pack” just isn’t as heavy or tight as my belt rig. The worst of it was that I stopped carrying either way, pretty much completely, when I was home alone. So, I was simply out of the habit of being aware of the gun at my waist all the time.

Just recently, I got a new gun belt that holds the holster properly and doesn’t need to be so tight, so carrying OC became a lot more comfortable and I went back to it most of the time, including in the house. Now I need to get back into all the habits I’d cemented years ago when I started this.

The second problem can and does happen to us all, no matter how well we train: distractions. I realized that I’d just finished washing my hands when the phone rang. I went out to answer it, and just never thought about the gun until half an hour later when I noticed the empty holster.

So, what can we do about that sort of thing? First, there was no earthly reason why I HAD to answer the phone right then. If it had rung a few minutes earlier, I wouldn’t have thought a thing about ignoring it and letting it go to the answering machine. Why we react like Pavlov’s dogs to a ringing phone or the doorbell, I’ll never really understand, but all kinds of distractions are something to think about and most are certainly under our control.

Next I remembered that I had previously put the gun on a shelf directly at eye level when standing at the sink to wash. That shelf got filled with other things, so this time I’d put it on another shelf lower down – and it was out of sight once I stood up! The lower shelf might be a bigger problem for other reasons if I didn’t live alone, but “out of sight, out of mind” was problem enough.

Then, sometimes the habits necessary for one thing cause trouble in other areas. When learning to carry concealed, I’d carefully schooled myself against patting or otherwise touching the gun once it was in place… something I did occasionally when carrying openly before. I’d have noticed the gun was missing instantly if I’d not taught myself not to pat it.

Sometimes you just can’t win.

Has this happened to you? Where were you, and what did you do to correct the problem? I can tell you that I won’t forget to look for that gun and make sure it’s in the holster each time now for quite a while.The shock was pretty good incentive, and I only hope it lasts. I don’t even want to think about how embarrassing it would have been to leave the house like that, or to have a visitor find the gun I’d left behind.

Too Hot To Shoot!

In many parts of the country, it really is too hot to shoot much of the time these days. And then, of course, there’s always the problem of scarce ammunition. What to do? How do you keep your skills sharp under those conditions?

Practice – General guidelines for dry fire exercises:

CAUTION: All of the safety rules must be maintained during these exercises. Remove all live ammunition from the room. Eliminate all distractions as much as possible. Establish specific times and places for exercises. Check to be sure gun is unloaded EACH TIME you begin a dry fire exercise. Exercises done on the range, live fire, should be done with a qualified instructor or experienced mentor and conform with all standard and range specific rules and safety precautions. Ask an instructor for schedule of live fire sessions available or to arrange for one.

What is “dry fire?” This simply means that you use an unloaded gun, dummy ammunition or gun simulation for practice and drills to learn new skills and practice them to a desired level of competence before you shoot live ammunition at the range. [Make sure your gun would not be damaged by dry fire (empty). You may need to use a dummy round or “snap caps.“ Check with manufacturer.]

Why dry fire? Believe it or not, dry fire is far more important for building good skills than live fire. You don’t have the recoil to deal with, and it doesn’t cost anything. The only way to build “muscle memory” is with many repetitions of a PERFECT action, so taking the time to learn things and practice them CORRECTLY from the start will save you countless hours. It takes about 300 repetitions to learn a habit, but at least 10,000 to UNLEARN one. Therefore, if you are not confident that you fully understand the operations called for in an exercise, wait to consult your instructor before you proceed. You’ll save lots of time and money in the long run.

Make specific plans for place and time to practice. If you make and stick to a schedule, you will benefit the most and create safe habits. In the ideal world, you would practice at least 10 to 15 minutes every day. Most people who are serious about self defense manage this about three times a week – at least in the beginning. Your choice.

Choose one place in your home, garage, patio or other for your dry fire exercise. Do not engage in this activity anywhere else except on the gun range. This helps form good habits and reduces risk of accidents. Evaluate the area for hazards such as appliances, fire sources and anything that would make the actual discharge of a gun a danger to you or anyone else. Eliminate those where possible. Choose a “safe direction” for your dry fire and keep your gun pointed in that direction as much as possible, depending on the drill.

Unless the drill calls for it, do not allow anyone else to be in the room. Do not use anything but simulated guns if others are present. Never point ANY gun at another person unless you are being attacked. Use an actual target.

Remove ALL live ammunition from your dry fire area. Check to make sure the gun is unloaded before entering the dry fire area and before EACH exercise. This may seem excessive or redundant, but it is a vital safety habit. The first thing said in most negligent (accidental) discharges is, “I thought the gun was unloaded.”

Maintain the three absolute rules each and every time you handle a gun. Muzzle and trigger control, along with frequent – even obsessive – checking for an empty chamber will go a long way towards guaranteeing that nobody will ever get hurt unless they attack you.

Eliminate distractions as much as you can. Turn off TV or radios, unplug the phone and lock the doors.

When you come to the end of your dry fire session, review what you have done and consciously END your session before you leave the area. Be very aware of what you are doing before you reload and store or holster the gun. This is the point were many unintended discharges occur. Do not reload in your dry fire area under any circumstances.

The above is from my book, “I Am NOT A Victim.” It’s available free to anyone who sends me an email and requests it. Follow the link to find contact information at the bottom of the page.

Next, we’ll look at some specific dry fire drills. I’d love to have comments on the drills you use and find helpful.

What Goes Up, Must Come Down

Boy killed by stray bullet fired in celebration of July 4
(The Raw Story)

Police in Chesterfield County Virginia are seeking information that could lead to the arrest of whoever fired a shot into the air that struck and killed 7-year-old Brendon Mackey on July 4. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the boy was walking with his father in a parking lot when he abruptly fell to the ground lifeless.

Every year we read about such tragic events, and while gun owners and even some experts don’t always agree on the details, this is a very even handed description of what happens when a bullet is fired straight up into the air.

It seems obvious, however, that most bullets fired into the air, for whatever reason, are NOT aimed straight up. I would imagine that most people shooting this way take at least some care to aim away from people and buildings they can SEE, but they quite obviously do not understand the speed and trajectory of the bullet. They are obviously not thinking about the person or object that may be on the other end of that trajectory. Most importantly, however, they have chosen to ignore one of the absolutely imperative rules for safe gun handling.

ALWAYS point the gun in a safe direction. KNOW your target, and what is behind it.

You are always responsible for every single bullet that fires from your gun. Every bullet fired has to go somewhere. It WILL hit something. You are responsible for what it hits. You remain responsible if you “didn’t know,” or if you did not intend to fire the gun at all. So, firing a gun into the air, with zero idea where the bullet will land or what it will hit is not an “accident” in any rational sense of the word. An accident is an event that happens without intention, and without any reasonable warning. It is something unforeseen and, often, unavoidable. A great many things that are called “accidents” are truly incidents of negligence, by one or more people.

So, while the actual chance of killing someone is probably very low, the very act of firing a gun into the air, without a clear target and knowledge of where that bullet will land, is simply criminal negligence whether you hit the side of a building or kill someone’s prize bull. If your bullet kills a person, you are guilty of at least manslaughter. I can’t imagine any “celebration” being worth taking that chance.

Those who truly care about safety, and their reputation as responsible, rational people need to take the one step necessary to avoid this negligence. Don’t shoot your guns into the air.

 

Children and Safety

This is apt to be a “hot button” topic because people have such a wide variety of opinions, experiences and ideas about it, but that’s pretty much exactly why few “top down” regulations or “laws” will ever be relevant for everyone. Just too many variables.

By what process do “children” become adults? How do people become responsible for themselves, rather than dependent on others for their lives and safety? What part does chronological age have to do with it?

We would all likely say that a two or three year old is incapable of exercising sufficient judgment to be trusted to hold or use a sharp object, let alone a gun – no matter how much one might attempt to teach them. To start with, most don’t have enough control of their muscles, but then there are the three year olds who play classical piano… Of course, that is the exception. I never met a prodigy like that myself, but my experience with three year olds tells me no. Can I then assume that this is true for everyone, everywhere?

How about a five year old? Ten? Seventeen and a half?

Again, it depends on the child. My two boys were taught to shoot when they were six or so. They were allowed to shoot pretty much whenever they wanted, as long as they had supervision. The older boy demonstrated good understanding and compliance with safety rules, along with general reliability taking responsibility for himself, and was given a .22 bolt action rifle for his 12th birthday. He’d had several BB and pellet guns before that, and did well with them. The younger brother, however, didn’t do so well in either the following rules or accountability departments, and he didn’t get his first .22 until he was nearly 14 – despite the expected moans about how it “wasn’t fair.”

Our job, as parents, is to demonstrate both adherence to the safety rules (integrity), and comprehensive personal responsibility for our choices and actions. Without that consistent example, it’s very difficult for children to understand the concepts or develop the necessary self discipline. That it actually happens sometimes anyway is a wonderful mystery.

But more than just a good example is required. The child must be given the opportunity… the necessity, to make age/cognition appropriate choices AND to live with the real consequences of those choices. We would, of course, prevent them from actually harming themselves if possible, but the consequences must be very real and very immediate – both for good AND bad choices. Just telling them about it, or “warning” or yelling our heads off when they’ve messed up won’t do the job, though praise for good choices is important too. Giving them all kinds of choices, but then immediately rescuing them from the bad ones is a terribly destructive thing – even something like cleaning up after children who are perfectly able to take care of that themselves.

For example, I think I was probably four years old when I found a pot handle sticking out over the edge of the stove. I was able to reach it, and pulled on it enough to tip it. I was drenched in ice cold water!! And then, to add insult to injury, I was given a cloth and expected to wipe up the water! Mean old mommy.

My mother told me, years later, that she did that on purpose after seeing me attempt to reach for things on the counter above my head. She figured that an ice cold shower would cure me of the tendency and didn’t want to wait for me to learn the hard way with something hot.  She was right! I never tried it again. And my own children learned about pot handles (and lots of other things) in much the same way.

So, the age of the child, and the amount of protection they need is relative – whether we’re talking about sharp objects, guns or stoves. How terribly sad to see children increasingly isolated from every conceivable risk and experience, given all “choice” and no responsibility, only to be told at the ripe age of 18 that they are suddenly “adults!” How many of those newly minted adults are truly ready to be responsible for themselves and whatever children they produce? How many of them can honestly teach what they have never learned?

What is your experience, and what are your strategies?

Awareness and Exertion in the Backcountry

20130304-104540.jpgYes, I admit it: That is my oversized butt hiking up the side of that valley. I spent the weekend backpacking with friends, although we stayed in a campground (of sorts) this time. But we did go for a hike in Sunday morning. It was my first REAL hike, so we did things semi-easily for me: I didn’t carry a pack, and we kept the distance relatively short and the pace relatively slow. We hiked about two miles down the side of a valley, made lunch atop a slab of limestone at a flat spot in the trail, and hiked back. Round trip, including lunch, was maybe four hours.

Notwithstanding all of that, the experience was an eye-opener for me on a number of levels, and I came away from the experience with a number of lessons that I think apply to armed citizens as well as they do to new backpackers.

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Explaining Our Mindset

20130227-193210.jpgI had a difficult conversation with a friend a couple of days ago. Thinking about it, I’m not sure I gave her a very satisfactory answer, though I’m unsure what I could have said that would have been better.

“I looked at your blog,” she told me during our conversation. “I just don’t understand how you can be so VIOLENT!” When I asked her what she meant, she referred to this post, and to how I’d looked at the situation and lessons learned. “How can you go through life all day thinking about the world that way?” she asked me. “Like everyone’s out to get you and you have to respond with violence!”

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Your Most Important Tool

20130218-143007.jpgMy friend and I picked our way carefully down the hillside toward a small clearing. The sun was setting, and the air was becoming chilled. As we walked, our eyes and flashlights swept our surroundings – there were plenty of holes and pieces of fallen brush to trip us up if we weren’t paying attention, and we could hear the first plaintive yips of a pack of coyotes further up the hill. We’d also seen the tracks of a wild pig, and though we’d not caught sight of the animal, we knew it was likely close by.

Between us, we carried some 50 pounds of gear and supplies – warm down-filled sleeping bags, tents, a pair of butane-powered stoves and the fuel canisters that go with them. We each had a half gallon or so of water – plenty for the overnight camp out we’d planned. A gallon Ziploc bag in my pack held an assortment of food – noodles, instant potatoes, dried blueberries, coffee, and more.I had a knife in each of my front pants pockets on this trip; my friend carried two more blades and a 9mm semiautomatic pistol. (Six hours after I got home from our trip, she’d call me to report that, while out on a short walk, she’d had to shoot a juvenile rattlesnake that had been inches away from striking.)

But despite what the outdoor products industry would have you believe, the most important tool in our survival arsenal wasn’t our gear, our food, or our water. It wasn’t anything we carried, nor was it something you can buy. But whether you’re facing natural hazards or human ones, it’s absolutely essential.

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Backpacking and Common Sense Prepping

20130213-210443.jpgLet me start out this post with a disclaimer: I’m using the word “pepper” here, but I don’t intend it to mean what a lot of people think it means. I’m not stockpiling guns and ammo against the coming zombie apocalypse. I don’t think the earth’s magnetic field is going to suddenly flip on its axis, and I doubt the UN troops/BATFE/black helicopter guys are going to be landing in my back yard without some advance warning that they’re coming. When you see the folks on the TV show Doomsday Preppers, digging underground bunkers to wait for whatever apocalyptic catastrophe they think will bring about The End of the World As We Know It? That’s not me. I don’t own a tinfoil hat, and I don’t expect an unannounced apocalypse tomorrow.

However, this is what I do believe: It is probable that at some point I could experience a crisis – be it natural or manmade – that would have the potential to disrupt my life for a period of time, and being able to function autonomously and to provide for my basic needs will help me through that crisis.

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Get Off the “X”!

20130212-070606.jpgAlthough the temperature was rapidly dropping toward freezing, he wore only faded jeans and a loose T-shirt. But that wasn’t what set off alarm bells for me. It was, I think, the fact that he wasn’t acting like he was cold, and if his story was true, he bloody well should have been.

I locked eyes with my friend, who’d gone inside to pay for the gas we were putting in her car and was approaching from behind me. I could tell that she’d gone to heightened alert too, even before she heard the young man’s story (”I just walked five miles in the cold, can you give me a few bucks for something to eat?”) But my attention was focused on him, and on the fact that he kept inching closer and closer to me.

I stepped back and over, keeping the car between me and him and also giving me a clearer escape path. Behind me, my friend did the same. “Sorry, I can’t help you,” I said, polite but firm. He took another step toward me, and I moved again. My eyes stayed locked on his hands, which hovered near the pockets of his jeans. As long as you can see his hands, you can tell what he’s doing, I thought to myself. He continued to try to get close to us, and my friend and I kept moving – not back, mostly, but sideways. After a minute he gave up and approached another motorist, who gave him some money. And just like that, he vanished in the night. If I’d had to guess, I’d say that money wasn’t going to be spent on food.

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