Making the Choice Not to Carry

1070609_65995437On a recent trip to Seattle for business, I had a chance to have lunch with the inimitable Kathy Jackson. As you might imagine, our conversation touched on all sorts of topics, including armed self-defense. At one point, I commented about how I think it’s important to encourage other women to become responsible for their own safety, but that it’s also important to let women come to that decision on their own and not be pushy about it.

Kathy said something which surprised me, but which on reflection I totally agree with. “I’d go farther than that,” she replied, “and say that I think it’s irresponsible to pressure women into making that decision.”

Though we didn’t talk in depth about Kathy’s reasons for feeling that way, I’d like to talk about the reasons why I wholeheartedly agree with her sentiment.

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More Than Just Self Defense

The students in my basic pistol classes are usually too overwhelmed with new information to ask many questions, but I often get good ones from the intermediate and conceal carry students. This last week I got an exceptional one, and it caused me to consider rewriting a part of my book.

We had been going over situational awareness, and she asked if I had any suggestions, beyond the exercises in the book, to help practice for that. We discussed some, and then went on with how that could contribute a lot to other areas of our lives, giving us both the motive and opportunity to actually practice it all the time.

The implications for self defense are important, obviously, so that we may be aware of danger as early as possible and can avoid it or respond otherwise as appropriate. We agreed that it was very important to teach this to children early, since they are even more vulnerable.

So, in what other ways would the constant practice of situational awareness benefit us and those around us?

We can become much better, safer drivers. Now this might seem contradictory a little, since distraction is a major cause of accidents and we are proposing to be aware of a great deal more than we might otherwise be, but if we integrate that awareness into other safe driving habits, consciously weeding out the irrelevant things that are so often distractions, it only seems logical that we become a better driver. We train ourselves to observe what we see around us, the actions of other vehicles and pedestrians, and assess them for potential problems. We also would be thinking of simple plans to avoid problems. The key is to be aware and prepared, rather than surprised when danger strikes.

By the same token, we become much safer pedestrians.

We can become better shoppers. I had not thought about this before, but it seems clear. If we are practicing being aware of our surroundings, why would that not extend to examining, assessing and evaluating the things we propose to purchase? Did you ever get home with a rotten potato in the bottom of the bag? Did you determine to lift the bag and LOOK for one next time? Cracked eggs? Out of date milk? Dented cans? A tear in a shirt, or a missing hook on a boot after you got the items home? I’ve done them all at one time or another, but I’ve done that far less often since I began to practice awareness… and I wasn’t even thinking about it that way. It was just a part of the whole process.

Might we not become far better friends and neighbors? Before I began to carry a gun, I could not have told you much about the normal happenings in my neighborhood to save my life. I literally was not paying attention. After several years, and consciously practicing the drills, I can actually look out my windows and  spot a car, truck or person that doesn’t “belong” because I’ve invested the time and effort to know who and what does belong.  That doesn’t mean the stranger is up to no good, obviously, but they are worth a second or even a third glance. If I see a stranger hanging around, with no evident purpose, I’ll watch even more closely. And my neighbors commonly do the same now since I suggested it to them years ago. I live alone, and one neighbor has called me many times when strangers drive up here, just to be sure I’m OK.

Now, some people might not appreciate that part, and in a crowded neighborhood it would be impractical, but it works out well here. Another neighbor called once this summer to let me know my sneaky horses had gotten out on the other side of my property. I would not have known about it until I went out to feed otherwise, and they might have gotten into real trouble by then. So the exercise of awareness can help to build safer and more friendly neighborhoods.

Obviously, you don’t want to become a nosy parker, and interventions like the phone calls would be reserved for serious situations or questions, but the very practice of observing and assessing is what is most important for your own development and safety.

We came up with a good list, I think, but I would be very glad to get your feedback so I can add as many practical suggestions as possible to my teaching material. How would you go about expanding your own practice of situational awareness, and how do you think it would it affect your family, neighborhood and safety? What might be a downside or problem with those listed here?

[The book, “I Am NOT A Victim” is still available free to anyone who sends me an email and asks for it. Please let me know where you saw the offer. I am sending it only in pdf format now, so if you can’t open a pdf document for some reason, or would just rather have something else, let me know that too.]

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?

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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On Instruction and Risk Management

1156423_19045308If you’ve taken training classes, or spent much time at a range, you’ve doubtless seen instructors – or gun owners who are teaching newbie shooters but who aren’t actually trained instructors – do stupid and potentially dangerous things. I know I have.

I’ve seen people pointing muzzles at themselves or putting their hands in front of the end of the gun. I’ve been swept with the muzzle of a gun in a training class. I’ve seen negligent and unintentional discharges that ended up in the berm rather than the shooter’s leg because of accident more than intent. I’ve seen guns malfunction in potentially dangerous ways, including an AR-15 with a malfunctioning trigger group; bumping the trigger while the safety was on would cause a round to discharge when the safety was subsequently disengaged.

I get it – accidents happen, and novice shooters don’t always have the experience and knowledge to know what’s safe and what’s dangerous. But I’ve also seen instructors who do careless, stupid, or even outright reckless things with guns and think that, because they’re the teacher, the safety rules don’t apply to them.

This is my public service announcement to you: Get with the program. You are responsible for your students’ safety, and for managing the level of risk they face. If one of your students shoots themselves, or someone else, saying “they didn’t follow the safety rules; it’s not my fault” isn’t going to be nearly good enough.

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A Free eBook for MWAG Readers

1382561_47291255A friend and regular reader who calls herself MamaLiberty, made a generous offer in a comment to my post the other day about training and “unusual attitudes”. I wanted to call out her offer here for those who might have missed it.

Here’s what she wrote:

I want to make sure all of your readers know that they can have a free copy of the entire book just by sending an email to mamaliberty at rtconnect dot net – replace the at and dot with appropriate symbols and eliminate the spaces. Put “self defense” in the subject line to send it to the right filter for fastest reply.

The book, “I Am NOT A Victim” contains the story of the man I had to shoot to save my life, and all of the exercises I use to ensure that I am prepared as much as possible never to be a HELPLESS victim. :)

I’ve read MamaLiberty’s book. It’s a great primer and an easy, compelling read, and her story illustrates that trouble can, and does, find us anywhere, even in the places we think we’re safe. My heartfelt thanks to her for making this generous offer to my readers.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

What is Your Mission?

Suppose you arrive home and notice your door ajar. You might even hear noises inside, or – God forbid, the screams of a loved one who’s been taken hostage or is being harmed by the bad guys. Do you grab your gun and go looking for the criminals, or do you retreat to safety and call 9-1-1?

Kathy Jackson had a great post about the subject of house clearing over at the Cornered Cat blog today. Although I’ve written here before about the limits of our training as armed citizens, and about why we shouldn’t go looking for intruders on our own if we can at all help it, I wanted to revisit the subject in light of Kathy’s post.

Kathy wrote, in part:

The idea of staying out of unnecessary danger didn’t sit well with the tactical crowd. Many wanted to immediately rush in and “clear the house,” playing hide-n-seek with a potential intruder. Some people feel that calling the authorities would mean they were too wimpy to take care of their own homes, and many didn’t (and don’t) realize they could literally die of embarrassment if they let their fear of social awkwardness dictate their actions.

You should definitely visit her post, which includes a great description of how the police respond to a 9-1-1 call for possible intruders in a home – and why an armed citizen shouldn’t attempt alone what the professionals do with special training, equipment, and backup. I want to talk about the subject from a different direction, and discuss why trying to clear your house by yourself may be a bad idea in that light.

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Circle Back to the Basics

20121124-211956.jpgNo matter how many fancy guns we have, no matter how much tacti-cool crap we bolt onto the accessory rails, and no matter how much we spend on trigger work, super-duper Titanium strikers, and “precision” replacement parts for our guns, our skill with a gun ultimately depends on our ability to execute the fundamentals – sight picture, stance, grip, and trigger control – with precision and on demand.

I was reminded of this truism while at the range this evening for a “Ladies Night” event, the tail end of a longer day of shooting and teaching stuff. We had a great turnout, over a dozen women with all manner of pistols, revolvers and a few rifles. I even saw a specialty scoped .22 LR rifle that looked like some sort of weird hybrid between a Ruger 10/22 and a Steyr AUG. Its owner told me it was a custom weapon for steel silhouette shooting.

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“Focus on the Front Sight” – But Why?

“Focus on the front sight!” It’s often one of the first pieces of advice new shooters get. Sometimes, they get it nicely, as a suggestion; other times, so I’m told, they get it screamed at them when they’re not doing it. (Side note: screaming at students rarely seems productive to me, the only possible exception being a firmer “STOP” command when something immediate and unsafe is happening.)

But few instructors, in my experience, take the time to explain precisely why you should focus on the front sight. So, I thought I’d take a stab at it. Please note: This is my understanding, and I freely admit the limits of my knowledge and experience when it comes to teaching this stuff. Feel free to chime in and expand on this or clarify nuances.

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Excitement, Delight, Total and Complete Exhaustion

I’d meant to write this post yesterday, but just didn’t quite have the energy left.

You see, we had another women’s shooting clinic Saturday at my local range, and (like last time) I was helping to instruct. This time, I was teaching basics (grip, stance, sight picture) with a blue gun as well as a .22 pistol, and also helping run some students on a .22 double-action revolver stage.

After the clinic wrapped up, we had just enough time to grab some lunch, and then we were back at the range for a Ladies Night shoot. The combination of the two events on the same day meant I was out of bed at 4:30am, and it was close to 11:00pm by the time I rolled out of the shower and into bed.

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