On a June evening that had cooled to a mere 110 degrees, more than a dozen women waited for a timed competition as Carol Ruh, president of the Arizona Women’s Shooting Associates, went over safety rules.
The group’s oldest member is 89. The youngest is Susan Bitter Smith’s 16-year-old daughter, who has brought her AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and her American history homework to the range. Some look like anyone’s grandmother — silvery hair possibly just styled at the salon, pastel-colored golf shirts, pressed slacks, orthopedically correct shoes — but for the handguns on their hips.
Aaaaaaahhhhh!!!! Oh noes!!!1!! Pistol-packin’ mommas on every street corner! No permit for concealed carry! The streets must be overflowing with blood!
Eeerrr, not so much.
But gun rights advocates say that the District’s gun control laws — not to mention prohibitions against murder — did not prevent a drive-by shooting in March that involved illegal weapons. They also say that despite having nearly 158,000 people with concealed weapons in Arizona, their homicide rate of 6.3 per 100,000 is lower than the District’s, 31.4. That’s true of Phoenix, too, where the homicide rate is 10.5 per 100,000.
It’s almost as if criminals break the law or something.
We all know that situational awareness is the key to keeping ourselves safe: It’s a baseline skill that all our training is founded on, after all, the only fight you’re guaranteed to win is the one you DON’T get into.
It’s also a skill that is very hard to hone as it can’t be taught on a range and there are no standardized drill or tests to teach it. You can’t buy any equipment for it, you can’t take classes to be certified in it and you can’t become a GrandMaster of Knowing What’s Going On Around You (Limited-10 Division).
It’s also weapon-neutral: You don’t need a firearm or any other weapon to know how to avoid dangerous situations. It’s a skill/mindset that anyone can learn and benefit from, and can be used in non-permississive environments like schools, power plants, federal buildings and Canada.
So how do we teach it? How do you go about training others to pay attention to what they’re paying attention to? What are some of the ways you use or have seen used to help instill effective situational awareness in others? Are there any drills you’ve found to be effective, and why?
It’s been two weeks since Arizona passed permit-less concealed carry, and our streets have yet to run ankle-deep with blood. Things have been pretty much like they always have been, just like we figured they’d be.
It’s almost as if the anti-Second Amendment crowd relies on hysteria and hyperbole rather than reality…
This is not to say I grew up without guns. I spent a couple of summers on my uncle’s farm, feeding the hogs at 0dark30 and then working long past sunset every day. On a farm, a gun isn’t a fearful instrument of mass destruction, it’s a tool, just like the hay baler or the seed drill. You use a gun to clean out the gophers in a stubble field or harvest a few ducks for dinner or snag some venison for a family feast: It’s no more mysterious than a tractor, and just like a tractor, it needs to be treated with respect and used properly at all times.
Then my family moved to Arizona, and things changed.
In Arizona, I could defend my life with deadly force more readily, the question is, did I want to?
I grew up (and still am) in the evangelical Christian church. I believed, (and still do) that for me to live is Christ, to die is gain, and nothing that I owned was worth my life or the life of someone else. There are Christians who believe differently, and that’s fine, there’s a lot of room inside the church for everyone. But for me, at that time, I couldn’t see myself taking a life.
And then I got married and had a family, and things changed again.
Now that I am married, I no longer live my life for my Saviour, others and myself, I live it for my family as well. When I was single, I decided that nothing I owned was worth a human life, but now that I am married and have a wife and two exceptional young men to raise up, I believe that God has given me stewardship over more than just my life, and their welfare is more important than the welfare of someone who might threaten our lives. I can decide for myself if someone ‘s life is or is not worth what is here on Earth, but I do not have the right to decide that question for the family that God has entrusted me with. My God-given responsibilities as a parent and a husband trumps my previous concerns. Both of these ideas extend from a love of God and the awesome challenge He has put before me.
The mission may have changed, but the duty has not.
As I’ve said before, I was a full-time commercial photographer for 10 years before I switched careers to web marketing, and I was/ am a die-hard Nikon guy. I carried an FG all over Latin America (Why an FG and not one of my F3’s? An FG is light. More on that later.), and I could usually be found with a bag of SLR’s hanging off my left shoulder, and if that wasn’t enough, I had a studio full of Hasselblads and Sinars to fall back on.
But I loved my Olympus XA. The other cameras I owned were/are great (an FM2 with motor drive can double as a hammer in a pinch. Ask me how I know this), but they were bigger, and I didn’t carry them around all the time. My XA could fit into a pocket, had a first-rate lens in a useful focal length, was manual focus and gave some control over exposure settings, even though it was an aperture-preffered automatic.
Because it was so small and yet so versatile, I carried one with me all the time and a result, I got some pretty good shots with it, shots that I couldn’t get if I didn’t have a camera with me.
My XA is gone, sold off with the rest of my pro equipment, but I’ve found a great substitute for it in my iPhone. Between Camera+, Tilt/Shift Generator and Perspective, I’ve got a pretty useful artistic tool with me everywhere I go.
Now, what does all this have to do with guns?
Quite a lot, actually.
My carry gun is currently either my Kel-Tec P3AT or my Sccy CPX-1. Neither would be considered a high-end tactical firearm, in fact either of them would probably blow up in to a fine plastic mist if I tried to put them through even the most basic of torture tests.
But I have at least one of them with me wherever I can, and that means they are currently the best self-defense gun for me. Is a Springfield EMP or a Sig P238 a better firearm? Maybe, probably, in fact. But I don’t own either one. What I do own I shoot, and what I practice with as well. I am confident that if, (God forbid), I need to use either one, my P3AT or Sccy will be the best guns I own.
The New Life Center church shootings really affected me. I grew up in the church and it’s always been a source of strength and a place of peace for me and my family. To have the sanctuary of a house of God defiled by a madman intent on murderous violence touched my very core.
What If? on SpikeTV covered the shooting on their show this week, and Jeanne Assam, the former police officer and security guard who stopped Matthew Murray, said something on the show that shook me up a bit.
“I’ve been asked ‘What should I do if a gun comes into the place where we are?’ and I tell them the first thing you do is be prepared to die, because you may.”
That’s a sobering thought, to say the least. I train and I practice so that if the worst day of my life happens, I have a better chance of coming out of it alive. There are no sure things in life, and even though my training and preparation will help, they are no guarantee of success. I train and I practice because if I have to, I want to emerge victorious and safe from a lethal force encounter. I train and I practice because I want to protect my family from any deadly harm that may come their way, even at a risk to my own life.
At the night shooting class I took a couple of days ago, a good number of people said that they had issues with doing many things at once with a firearm in their hand. They had problems with stashing their flashlight in a safe place, performing reloads and just keeping everything straight in their heads in a semi-stressful environment.
I’ll admit I had some issues with this as well (memo to self: a magazine with four rounds in it and a fully-loaded magazine do NOT weigh the same), but for the most part, I did pretty well.
My initial approach to this stage was to shoot eight rounds at each mini-stage within the larger course for a total 24 rounds. But what happens if, for some bizarre (and all-too-common) reason, I totally charlie-foxtrot a portion of the stage? What if it takes five or six rounds to knock down a popper rather than just one? Now I have to do a standing reload, (which kills your time) and adjust how I shoot the rest of the course accordingly.
This is what practical shooting teaches you: How to respond with a firearm in your hand when things don’t go according to plan. You can learn to shoot a 4″ bullseye at 25 yards on the public range and a training class will teach you the best way to engage targets around barricades, but practical shooting gives you the mindset you need to quickly and safely respond correctly with your firearm when things go all to pieces.
I had the opportunity to go to a four-hour “Fight at Night” training class over at Rio Salado on Saturday night, put on by Brad Parker of Defend University. I took the class because I knew I had a big gap in my training when it came to low light and night encounters. Most lethal force incidents happen in low-light conditions, but for reasons of safety and convenience, we do most of our practice and training on clean, well-lit ranges. It’s like a karate student who spends all of his time in the dojo doing kata and never does any sparring.
The class covered many of the standardized flashlight and pistol grips, types of lighting (backlit, frontlit, etc.), how to manipulate your firearm with a flashlight (your prirmary hand armpit, btw, makes a handy-dandy flashlight holder when you need both hands free), the basics of using a flashlight as a defensive tool and some of the physiological effects of darkness on the human body.
And then we got to the shooting. And it was unlike anything I’ve done before.
Here we’re trying to learn to shoot with our off-hand while trying to deal with a backlit target without illumination from with our flashlights. The glow you see behind the steel targets comes from a couple of dozen road flares strewn about the berm, and I’m kinda happy I was able to get a couple of muzzle flashes in the shot. For safety reasons, we all wore glowsticks so the RO’s could keep track of our whereabouts, and the firing line was designated by glowsticks as well. If this sort of thing looks cool, well, it was. 🙂
I learned a LOT for this class.
* This was the first time I’d used my new CZ for anything other than practice on the range, and it performed without a hiccup, which increases my confidence for using it as an everyday carry pistol.
* I need night sights, a flashlight and/or a laser for every firearm I may use in a self-defense situation. The sights on my P07 are great in broad daylight or at sunset, but once the lights go out, they’re utterly invisible.
* I learned I can trust my instincts. One of the drills we did was in total darkness: No lights, no nuthin’, just the backscatter of the lights of Mesa off the clouds overhead. Despite the lack of light, I was able to bang the steel four times out of four. Maybe I should close my eyes each time I go shooting…
The class was DEFINITELY worth the modest registration fee, and I’d recommend it (or any other low-light training class) to anyone who is serious about defending their life or the lives of their loved ones.
Lost in the all the hubbub yesterday over Arizona’s new immigration law was a seismic shift in the firearms laws of Arizona. As of today, citizens and legal residents of Arizona do not need the government’s permission to carry a concealed defensive firearm, and with this new law, Arizona joins Vermont and Alaska as the three states in the Union return this right to their residents.
I’ll be honest, I was a little bit leery of this law at first, but now I’m on board with it. Self-defense is a human right and it should be regulated as little as possible. A CCW permit is still very, very useful, though. An Arizona CCW permit GREATLY speeds up the paperwork associated with firearms purchases from an FFL, and it also allows the bearer to carry concealed in restaurants that serve alcohol (were permitted. Also, a CCW permit allows the bearer to carry concealed in the majority of states that have CCW laws on the book, making it very handy for anyone who travels out of state.
While a CCW permit is no longer required, it’s still a very good idea to get if you plan on carrying concealed, but keep in mind it’s a licensing class and not a training class. If you carry concealed, it’s a very, very good idea to get some training so you can be prepared and ready for that worst day of your life when you might have to use it. Owning a gun isn’t enough: A gun isn’t a magical talisman against violence, and having a pistol with you doesn’t turn you into Massad Ayoob any more than sitting behind the wheel of a Ferrari means you’re now Michael Schumacher.
Get training. I can’t say it often enough.
And the cool thing is, there are PLENTY of opportunities for firearms training in Arizona. Generations Firearm Training (a sponsor of this blog) offers a full range of NRA classes for all skill levels, and Alan Korwin (who literally wrote the book on Arizona’s gun laws) has created TrainMeAZ.com as a resource for everyone inside and outside the state who want to take advantage of the many firearms training opportunities here in Arizona.
Whenever the restrictions are eased in this state, the cry goes out that we’ll return to the “Wild West”, with gunfights on every street corner. When Arizona passed “shall-issue” concealed carry, nothing happened. When Arizona allowed concealed carry in bars, nothing happened. And now that we can carry concealed without a permission slip, I’m looking forward to nothing happening once again.
Sooner or later, your friends will find out you’re into the shooting sports, and this will lead to one of four reactions:
1. “Huh. I never knew that about you.”, followed by a gradually distancing of the relationship as your friend doesn’t like being around a “gun nut”.
2. “Huh, I never knew that about you”, followed by a normal continuation of the relationship as your friend thinks that the shooting sports is just another hobby, akin to building ships in bottles or needlepoint.
3. “Cool. Whaddaya shoot?” (The best outcome).
4. “Huh. I never knew that about you. Say, I’ve been thinking about getting a gun for the home and…”
That last answer is the trickiest. Giving advice to another person on what gun they should buy is kinda like married people giving dating advice to a single person. Yes, I know what works for me, but that’s only because I’ve made some mistakes, thought about things, and put a lot of time and effort into selecting what I shoot.
A PGB (Potential Gun Buyer) should start by asking himself several questions. What do I want this gun to do for me? Is it for self defense? Will I carry it concealed? How large are my hands? Will I seek professional training? Once trained, how often will I practice? Do I know what level of recoil I can tolerate? Who else in my home will have access to this firearm? Would my spouse have the necessary skills to use this firearm? Once you have made this list you should prioritize your requirements.
Unfortunately for the PGB, there isn’t a whole lot of resources out there for guiding such decisions. There’s a lot of places for raw data, such as gun manufacturers websites, online gun stores and gun magazines, but very few places that have a list of guns in a certain price range and with a list of the the pros and cons of each, and worst of all is the gun-owning friend him/herself, who has the tendency to evangelize what they shoot and like to any all (buyCZs!:) ) around them.
That’s why I always, always, recommend that a PGB goes to a gun range that has a rental counter before making their first gun purchase, and ideally, go with a friend who can steady their nerves and help guide (but not direct) a PGB through the process. Spending $50 and trying out a few guns before they buy will help calm nerves and give a sense of empowerment: It’ll be the the PGB who makes the decision of what they’re buying based on their experience and their priorities, not someone else handing them a gun and saying “Here, this is the gun for you.”
Owning a gun for personal protection is fundamentally an act of self-reliance: It is taking your safety and the safety of your loved ones literally in your hands. Anything we as the shooting community can do to extend that sense of self-empowerment to the selection and buying process can only add new shooters to our ranks.