Survival at What Cost?

image

I was reading a blog post recently that talked about the gap between the “feel-good” messages some self-defense instructors teach and the on-the-ground reality of violence. There’s lots of goodness there, but I wanted to pick up on one particular lesson today.

The author writes, in part:

…[Y]ou say…that we can prevail, and you’re teaching us stuff that we ought to be able to work, stuff that some of us can do here and now. And I think that’s great, but here there are no consequences to messing it up. If I fumble my joint lock or don’t punch hard enough it won’t mean a difference between life and death. You are telling us nothing about risk avoidance or damage control. You are telling us nothing about how to pick our battles and when to admit defeat. With you it’s just fighting until victory or death.

There’s more there, and I’ll let you read it, but this is the point I’d like to talk about: You can do everything right, practice situationall awareness and avoid going to “stupid places with stupid people” and deploy your unarmed defensive skills and even your weapon. You might do all that and still lose the fight. And you need to be ready for that eventuality, and you need to have made some decisions about that situation ahead of time.

[Read more…]

The Element of Surprise

470636_85894802If you are ever the victim of a crime, I can make this prediction with some certainty: Whatever happens will catch you off-guard. You will be taken by surprise, and you will have to move through the reaction loop before you can respond to it.

This news is probably not a surprise, but there are implications to this that bear thinking about. But first, we need to talk about why you won’t be ready for the criminal assault.

[Read more…]

Force of Habit

image

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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.]

A Flashlight on Your Gun?

Two posts at Autrey’s Armory, What’s the Deal with Tactical Flashlights? and How Do You Hold This? sparked a dialog, and then some serious thinking on my part as well.

I start, as always, by considering my own place in the self defense continuum, and any potential hazards. Not every technique, piece of gear or tactical idea is right or necessary for everyone, but most of them are certainly worth considering. I won’t be repeating anything much that is in the articles, so please do read them if you would like to join the discussion here.

First, then, is thinking about potential attacks in your home or during the evening or nights when you are out and about. Close your eyes and imagine as many as you can. And I mean real possibilities. Nobody can anticipate everything.

In how many of those potential attacks would having a light be imperative to locate, identify and aim at your target? How might using that light make you MORE vulnerable, more of a target? If you have not been to a comprehensive tactical class, you might want to consider taking one because a lot of these questions are covered.

Of course you don’t want to put yourself into the position of possibly shooting anyone unnecessarily or, heaven forbid, a family member, so the second consideration is making sure your plans for lighting are integrated with all of your other self defense necessities: barriers, alarms, and so forth. The neighborhood drunk going into the wrong house isn’t going to be a problem for you if you always lock your doors. The family member, guests, renters coming home late at night would have a key, turn on lights, and convey agreed on signals to demonstrate that he/she is not an intruder. Children who can’t be trusted to do the same probably shouldn’t be going out alone at night anyway, I’d think.

Where light would be an absolute imperative, can you think of anything besides a flashlight that would do the job and not work against you? Motion detector lights on entrances, with smaller ones (and/or regular night lights) in hallways would be good if you have people wandering around at night.

If you must be out of the house at night, either in the car or walking, what precautions could you take to minimize being alone in the dark? Where would you need a flashlight, and would there be any way to avoid that place and time? If you had to draw your gun, would you have time or presence of mind to draw a flashlight as well? If you had the flashlight already in your hand, could you draw and fire without hesitation or fumbling? See an older article of mine to consider the necessity of being able to shoot well with one hand.

One suggestion in Autrey’s article is to mount a flashlight on your carry or home defense gun. She goes into the problem of that making you a greater target, of course. My contention is that I would not want, ever, to point a gun at someone before I had identified them as a threat; as one I would be willing to actually shoot. Some folks might be more comfortable with that possibility than I am.

Holding the flashlight in the other hand is the subject of the second article. Lots of good ideas and plenty of expert input there. Try them all, and see how they might fit into your own self defense program.

Lots to think about, and plenty of things to try. What would you do if you found yourself in a situation where you needed to be holding both a flashlight and a gun? Or, even better, what has worked for you so far? Any real life experiences to share?

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?

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.