Sunday, February 26, 2012

How do we achieve "excellence?"

In response to a recent article about the accidental discharge of a Deputy Sheriff's handgun, one commenter noted "I can't believe the number of cops who think that carrying a gun for 8 hours a day makes them an expert."

I have to agree.  Shooting is a perishable skill, and you need to not just carry your gun, but shoot it, and shoot it well.

True expertise for me is measured in one way: you are able to perform a task correctly upon demand.  Not after "warming up", not after "some practice" but at a moment's notice.

I find it frustrating that so many people who carry guns for self defense - by their own admission - don't shoot very often.  This is not a recipe for success.

Cops are not the only group that has strange ideas about what makes an "expert."  At a show last summer, a young man approached my booth.  I told him about the training we have to offer, and he responded by saying "The Army taught me everything I need to know about shooting."  Then walked off with a shrug.

I wish he had stuck around.  I spent eleven years in the Army, and I have to say with 20/20 hindsight that their firearms training, while comprehensive, does not really fit the needs of citizens who carry firearms for self-defense. 

In fact, having been issued a variety of weapons during my time in the military, I'd say that hands down their handgun training - arguably what a citizen needs the most - was by far the most lacking.

The truth is, shooting is a perishable skill.  No matter how good a shooter you are (or think you are), there is always going to be room for improvement.  We should continually strive for excellence. 

If you are getting consistent hits, try smaller targets.
Try targets at longer ranges. 
Increase your speed. 
Try shooting in low-light (80% of all defensive shootings occur in the dark). 
Try shooting with your "weak" hand. 
Try reloading or clearing stoppages with one hand, like you might have to do if wounded.
Insert dummy rounds into your magazines to simulate jams.

Excellence in gunfighting is not a destination, it's a journey.  Continue to push the envelope and strive for excellence!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Really Understanding Gun Safety

We all know the Four Rules of firearms safety. But have we thought lately about what they mean?

The recent shootings of the "Director of Training" for the Wisconsin Dept. of Justice and of a student attending a permit-to-carry class in South Carolina have highlighted the need to not just know the Four Rules, but to understand and practice them properly.

Treat all guns as if they were loaded. When accidents occur, the shooter usually says, "Whoops, I thought the gun was unloaded." Nobody ever says, "Well I knew the gun was loaded so I aimed at (insert expensive item here) and pulled the trigger."

You should never do anything with a gun you think is unloaded that you would not do with a gun that you knew was loaded. In these most recent cases, the shooters pointed the guns at 1) a student and 2) their own hand. These are not things you would point a loaded gun at.

Never point your gun at anything you are not willing to destroy. Firearms should never be handled casually. You and you alone are responsible for what your gun does and where it's pointed.

There only are two acceptable places to point a gun: at its intended target, and at the ground.

Be aware of your target and what's beyond it. Always think, "What will I hit if I miss my target?" Ensure your target is positively identified and your line of fire is clear. If it's not, don't take the shot! Again, you are responsible for your gun and what you do with it. If you don't have a clear shot, reposition yourself until you do.

 Keep your finger off the trigger until you are on target and have decided to fire. Despite numerous BS claims to the contrary, firearms do not "go off" by themselves. It's also an extremely rare occurrence that a firearm discharges from being dropped or due to a mechanical failure.

The #1 reason guns fire, accidentally or otherwise, is the shooter puts their finger on the trigger and presses it.

As I said before, firearms should never be handled casually. When you pick up a firearm, you should immediately assume a good grip, place your trigger finger in register up and out of the trigger guard, and control the direction of the muzzle.

Like auto accidents, gun accidents typically happen because of the following factors:

Distraction. The person gets distracted and does something incorrectly because they are not paying attention to what they are doing. Another distraction happens when the person gets interrupted in the middle of a procedure, and then tries to pick up where they left off.

Picture this: shooter is unloading his gun. He removes it from the holster and just as he's about to take out the magazine, the phone rings. After finishing the phone call, he picks up the gun, and assumes he had already removed the magazine. You can see what's coming.

Firearms should NEVER be handled casually. When there is a gun in your hand, it needs to have your undivided attention.

Exhaustion. Trying to handle your gun after a sixteen hour shift or when you haven't gotten enough sleep can be dangerous. As mentioned above, the gun in your hand needs your undivided attention. If you are tired, take it slow and check your work.

Poor Procedure. I don't think this one gets the credit it deserves. Two types of poor procedure I often see are:

- The shooter has no idea what they are doing. I am often amazed at the lack of knowledge people have about operating guns that they have owned for years. They've never had to unload the gun, because they have always shot it dry at the range. They don't know how to check the chamber, lock the slide to the rear, or operate the safety/decocker properly. There's no excuse for this. It's like owning a car that you can start and drive but don't know how to park.

- The shooter is rushing or hurrying the procedure, and skips a step. See "Distraction" above.

- The shooter has done the procedure so many times that they have a pre-determined result. I've personally seen - more than once - a person observe a round in the chamber of their gun and still press the trigger.

How do we correct poor procedure? The first step is to teach proper procedure. The majority of these "accidents" happen while the gun is being loaded. Here is the procedure we teach:

1. Point the firearm in a safe direction. By "safe direction" we mean an object which can take a bullet without severe consequences.

2. Remove the magazine and stow it. Don't try to manipulate your gun while you have one hand occupied holding the mag.

3. Rotate your gun so the ejection port (right side of the slide) is facing towards the ground. This is so if your gun is discharged while you are clearing it the blast will not be directed up into your face.

4. Vigorously work the slide at least three times. Don't try to "catch" the round, let it fall. You can always pick it up later, and if you lose it, they will make more. If you see more than one round kick out while doing this, you probably skipped Step 2 and left your magazine in the gun. Start over!

5. Lock the slide to the rear and inspect your pistol. Visually and physically check: the chamber, the breech face, and the magazine well. Always check both visually and physically. Remember, it's common for people who handle their guns a lot to miss a visual cue, such as a round in the chamber.

6. Once you are satisfied the gun is empty, point it in a safe direction, release the slide, and deliberately dry-fire.

Why dry fire? Well, if you are going to have an accident, deliberately firing the gun while aiming at a safe target is the best conditions you can hope for. Only by dry-firing can you be 100% sure the gun is clear.

There is an added feature to this step - if you KNOW you are going to dry-fire your gun after unloaded, you are more likely to take your unloading procedure seriously.

There is no excuse for owning a gun and not knowing how to operate it, and there is no excuse for poor gun handling. People who cannot handle firearms safely should not be handling them at all.

Firearm accidents are not "something that just happens." They are the direct result of irresponsible and sloppy gun handling. We owe it to ourselves and the people around us to take our gun handling seriously. 

It's literally a matter of life and death.