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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The Choices We Make

2013-11-26 07.34.18“What about a gym? I’m not sure I’d want people to concealed carry in a gym!”

I looked curiously at my friend. We’d been discussing gun stuff, and he offered the thought that there are some places that should be off-limits for law-abiding citizens to carry a concealed weapon. When I asked him for an example of such a place, that was the one he came up with.

“Why a gym?” I asked him.

“Maybe this isn’t a problem for women,” he replied, “but I know the testosterone gets pretty thick in a gym, and I’d hate for someone to see a gun under my shirt and make a grab for it. It’s just not worth the risk. I mean, what would you do?”

I thought about it for a second. “If I felt that having someone make a grab for my gun in a gym was a serious risk,” I answered, “I’d probably choose someplace else to work out.”

His next question threw me for a loop. “Don’t you feel like your focus on safety and self-defense is limiting your life too much? Where’s the point at which you say it’s not worth it?”

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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?

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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Of Skills Drills and Negligent Discharges

20130105-204706.jpgDon’t worry, the negligent discharge wasn’t mine…but it brought home a lesson I had underscored at the range today.

As those who follow my page on Facebook know, I shot the IDPA Classifier today for the first time. (Side note: If you aren’t following me on Facebook, I invite you to join the discussion there; I share lots of stuff that isn’t large enough to warrant its own blog post.) For those who don’t do IDPA, the Classifier is a standardized 90-round course of fire that tests many of the common skills needed to compete in IDPA: drawing and re-holstering, shooting on the move, shooting from behind cover, and reloading your firearm quickly. Whether IDPA skills translate to real-world lethal force defensive encounters is a subject of perennial debate, but in my view of things, anything that makes you more accurate and confident in your gun handling skills is a good thing.

In any event, I had a great time, and came home from the range with a bunch of lessons, both good and bad, bouncing around in my head.

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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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