Force of Habit

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At first, I didn’t even notice I was doing it.

I was in the restroom, getting ready to do…umm, restroom things. The holster my M&P usually rides in (an appendix carry rig from Crossbreed) rides somewhat high on my waistband and, consequently, has a tendency to flip over my belt when I undo my jeans. So I’ve gotten into the habit of grabbing it with one hand, lest it dump my gun out onto the floor at an inopportune time.

But the other day, while doing the dance of clothing and gun belt, I noticed something interesting. When I’d taken hold of my gun, my right index finger had – without conscious thought – settled on the top of my belt, holster, and jeans, extended straight out just as as it would have lain along the side of the frame were my pistol in my hand. The habit I’d drilled into myself, the one I drill into those I teach, held firm even with a holstered gun. “Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you’re ready to fire,” the little voice inside my head said, and automatically my muscles moved to obey.

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A Hard-Won Victory

ccwWell, it’s official – today, I finally joined the ranks of lawfully armed citizens. Which is to say, today I pulled off what is a minor miracle in my area (coastal California). I’ve been carrying firearms in places where carry without a permit was permitted, of course – at home, when camping, at friends’ houses, and so forth. But today, I went over to my local sheriff’s department and picked up a small white piece of paper, across the top of which is printed these words: License to Carry Concealed Pistol, Revolver or Other Firearm Within the State of California.

Today’s almost anti-climactic moment came at the end of a long and difficult journey, and it’s a journey I’d like to talk about briefly to harvest a few lessons from. Some are lessons we all, as lawfully armed citizens, should know. Some are observations on the maze of California gun laws which, if given their way, the anti-gun folks would love to export to your state. Here’s what I learned along my journey.

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Lessons From CCW Class

Shooting Qual XD9 (100 pct)I had occasion to take a CCW training class recently from a local instructor. It was an interesting and, in some ways, eye-opening experience.

The classroom portion of the course was about 6 hours, and the instructor did a good job of covering the basics you’d expect: Gun safety, the laws regarding the justifiable use of deadly force, and a very bare-bones overview of some tactics (like the difference between cover and concealment). Honestly, the only part of the classroom program that was new to me was a great DVD the instructor showed during lunch about first aid for gunshot wounds.

After we got done in the the classroom, we moved to the range qualification. And it was here that I harvested some lessons for those of you planning to seek CCW permits.

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Altered Perceptions

It wasn’t until much later that I had time to reflect on the tricks my brain had played. Later, after I’d picked myself up from the ground. After I’d dusted myself off and bandaged the scrape in my elbow. After I’d picked the bits of gravel from the bleeding spot on my left knee. After I’d ascertained that the crying toddler was, in fact, crying from fear and surprise, rather than from injury.

I’d been holding my friend’s daughter while her parents hitched up a travel trailer. It was hot, and she was getting fidgety and restless, and I was concentrating too much on keeping her from wriggling out of my arms and not enough on where I was stepping. And then I put my foot down into a loose patch of sand, and it was all over.

Though I doubt it could have been more than a second or two between when I lost my footing and when we both hit the ground, I remember how slowly it seemed that time was moving. I remember making a conscious decision to tighten my hold on the little girl. I remember making a conscious decision to twist my body around, remember clearly thinking, “you CANNOT land on top of her”. I remember the half-roll I did in the air, a maneuver I could never have normally managed. I remember, just before my left shoulderblade hit the ground, the thought flashed through my head: This is going to hurt, but if you don’t drop Sarah, she’ll be all right.

That curious slowing of time, that stretching of the briefest instant out into what seemed like a much longer interval, is called tachypsychia. If you’re ever in a self-defense situation or other traumatic incident, odds are you’ll experience it too.

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Self Defense or Revenge?

Man Faces Prison for Shooting Carjackers 
A Houston man is facing a pretty severe penalty for defending his property, after shooting and killing one carjacker and wounding another.

He’ll probably be ok under Texas law, but this was clearly not self defense. Since they had the drop on him, he did the smart thing and let them have what they demanded. Now, if he’d been openly armed, they probably would never have approached him, of course. But that’s a separate issue. He may have had no chance to access his gun during the confrontation, though many do… and succeed. He’s the only one who knows what the actual threat was at the time.

Fail on several other counts, however. He let his situational awareness lapse, for a big one. Houston is a big place, and I have no idea what the reputation of that particular area might be, but it’s probably not all that wise to go out alone, in the evening, and not have someone to watch your back.

Shooting up your own car doesn’t really seem like a good idea anyway. I’m assuming he was insured for the loss. Since the criminals already had everything else… what was the point? Revenge alone accounts for it, not self defense.

Now, whether or not he should face any particular penalty for this, I won’t be the judge. He needs to answer to his own community and family for it.

Do you think this was self defense? What would you do?

Strengthening Exercises for Hands

A reader posted an excellent suggestion in the comments to “On The Other Hand” for strengthening hands. I thought of several others, and continued to look into it, so it seemed a good idea to write more about it. My left wrist is still very sore, and I’m being cautious about how much I use it, but I certainly don’t want the left hand to become weakened.

As always, there’s plenty of information available on the internet, and I found two sites especially with detailed instructions and photographs of hand exercises used by physical therapists. Total Orthopaedic Care hasn’t been updated since 2005, but the pictures are very clear and the directions timeless. Livestrong.com is up to date and contains much more detail, with lots of other health related things that might be interesting, so I’ve bookmarked it to look into more later.

After reading all this, I was thinking of our busy schedules and how difficult it is to work in MORE exercises, or much of anything else, and began to wonder if much of this couldn’t be integrated into our normal routine doing other things. Just as the continuous practice of situational awareness is actually part of our “dry fire” program – or should be – strengthening our hands, and keeping them strong, must be part of our everyday living.

Most women used to have hands nearly as strong as men, before the advent of dishwashers and all the other convenience appliances and services. Nobody wants to go back to the 1800s, of course, but it might be smart to take a look at our daily routine and find at least a few things we could do physically with our hands to improve their strength and flexibility.

I don’t have a dishwasher, and wash mine by hand each day. Lots of opportunity to do flexing and grasping exercises, and it is clearly even better to do those exercises in warm water! Folks with arthritis or old scar tissue would find this especially beneficial.

Many ordinary household chores offer similar opportunities if you think about it. The trick is to be aware of what you are doing with your hands, and incorporate some of the necessary exercises into the action required to do the jobs. Sweeping, mopping, shoveling snow, and many others come to mind.

Gardening is a wonderful way to exercise your whole body, and pulling weeds is certainly a process that can contribute to stronger hands. Careful attention to body alignment, posture and reach will improve the effect and reduce the fatigue or potential for injury. As with anything, stay aware of your goal and the steps needed to reach it.

Knitting, crochet, sewing and other crafts also present us with good exercise for our hands. These things are of more use for retaining flexibility, of course, since most do not involve muscle resistance to weight, but there are likely many hobbies and crafts that would include those things as well.

The trick is not to zero in on one thing, requiring only one or a few motions. That would tend to strengthen only SOME muscles, but not give the balanced results of a more rounded program.

Luckily, just regular shooting (both hands, of course) and dry fire gives our hands a great work out. And with the ammunition situation increasingly optimistic, there’s no reason not to keep this one at the top of the list.

On The Other Hand

I sprained my left wrist last week and can’t even remember what happened, but the experience has given me some food for thought and reinforced some things I’ve done and taught through the years.

All my life I’ve been ambidextrous, able to do most things with either hand, but since we live in a world with mostly right hand dominant people, most things are set up and more convenient to do with the right hand. This, of course, is a problem for people with a true left hand dominance, but usually not much concern to me.

But I did notice right away that I was having trouble because I would reach for things or, especially, try to lift things with that left hand and even dropped a few of them. Not good. I hadn’t really considered how much I count on having both hands to work with until it became very painful to use the left one.

Then I went to the range and discovered I could not shoot with the left hand as I always do. Of course, I could have done so if my life depended on it, but what if it were broken and in a cast, or damaged severely some other way that prevented me from drawing and firing the gun?

That’s easy for me, I can just use the other hand. Sure, but what if I had never practiced shooting with the right hand? What if I were left hand dominant and believed I couldn’t do anything much with my right hand? What if I broke my right arm, was right hand dominant, and had never trained to use the left?

In the course of many years giving the handgun and self defense classes, I’ve only encountered a few people who insist that they “can’t” use the non-dominant hand to do anything, and most of them are hard to convince to even try shooting that way. For those who are left dominant, I suspect it’s at least partly due to the extreme pressure so many of them encountered in childhood about their left handedness, especially older folks. It used to be treated almost like a minor crime, or at least a character defect.

I don’t find quite so much resistance among the naturally right handed, but it can still be difficult to convince them to even attempt to shoot with the left hand, and a great deal of persuasion is sometimes required to get them to consider shooting with either hand alone.

But it is important to learn to do so, and to practice it consistently. The reason seems self evident, but I’ll repeat it. What happens if you hurt your dominant hand and can’t draw or fire then, even if you use both hands? If you’ve got a cast or sling or brace on your hand/arm, you will also be seen as even more vulnerable than ordinarily, I suspect.

Seems to me to be important to at least consider learning to shoot with either hand, and either hand alone. You can’t pick and choose the time or place you will be attacked, so you have to be ready for whatever comes. If you’ve never fired your gun with your non-dominant hand, or never practiced shooting with either hand alone, you are due for another trip to your friendly firearms instructor and need to add a few more things to your regular dry fire and range sessions.

I Am NOT A Victim… even with only one hand available.

Are you?

Umm, Vice President Biden…?

shotgun_tlcI already knew that Vice President Joe Biden’s recent comments on the relative suitability of Modern Sporting Rifles and double-barreled shotguns were a bit silly. An AR-15 (something around 5.5 foot-pounds of recoil energy) is harder for a woman to shoot than a 12-gauge shotgun (17 up to a staggering 54 foot-pounds of recoil energy, depending on load and gun weight)? Hate to break the bad news, Mr. Biden, but in a contest between politics and physics, Newton’s Second Law wins every time.

But now, I don’t have to fall back on nebulous little trivialities like science. I’ve experienced the difference myself firsthand.

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Experience, Mindfulness and Gun Safety

GALs1159_zps256b745aI was at the range all day Saturday, teaching in the women’s shooting program that our range runs. The program began as a quarterly thing with 20 or so shooters, and has now grown to a monthly event with many more students, many more instructors and a long waiting list.

I was there, and teaching, despite the fact that I’d been sick all week and my throat was raw. It didn’t hurt too much, but when I talked it sounded roughly like someone had stepped on a bullfrog. Oh, well.

One thing I’ve noticed as that as we’ve been doing these clinics, we’ve gotten better at it, and things went much more smoothly this time. I did, however, notice one thing I wanted to talk about today, and it’s a lesson which goes right to the heart of Safely Rule #1.

The lesson is simply this: Just because you’re holding a blue gun, a SIRT pistol, or a gun with a training barrel doesn’t mean you get a free pass on where your muzzle is pointing.

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“Mommy, Why Do You Have a Gun?”

20130120-125837.jpgMWaG Facebook fan Dana Edwards Stallings asked a question yesterday that I’ve been meaning to talk about here. She wrote:

Any recommended articles on how to approach CC with my toddlers? I believe in an open, honest policy with my girls (ages 2.5 & 4) but I’m curious as to what Mom With a Gun recommends when they see mom carrying?

As it happens, I’ve been discussing this topic recently with a friend who’s the mom of three small kids and a new shooter and gun owner. So I have a few general thoughts, but I’m also thinking about going into some of these areas in more depth. If this is something you’d be interested in exploring more deeply, please let me know in the comments.

In no particular order, then, here are a few of my initial thoughts about making the choice to employ armed self-defense with little ones.

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