Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Ritual de lo Habitual.

Some years back, when we were deer hunting out on Byron's old family land, it was observed that MattG used his turn signals so habitually that he was signaling turns on rutted sandy single-tracks, on private property, with not another moving vehicle for over a mile in any given direction. We all agreed, however, that it was a good habit to have.

I was reminded of this when people commented on the video from our little Blackwater field trip last summer; a lot of folks described Todd Jarrett's gun-handling as borderline OCD, with his chamber checks every time he juiced up the gun, and they said it as though it was a bad thing.

When I juice up the gun administratively, I check the chamber. When I pick up a pistol that has been out of my control or observation, such as when I get dressed in the morning, I check the chamber. Now, does that mean that I think that gremlins have sneaked in and unloaded my heater overnight? No it means I check because I always check; this is the purpose behind things like safety checklists for everything from pistols to Piper Cubs to pebble-bed nuclear reactors, you are removing the question of "Do I or don't I?" from the loop. You do. Period.

This is tied in to another thing I often read on the internet "You carry a gun to the (grocery store/restaurant/nice neighborhood/sewing circle/whatever)?" No, I don't. As Kathy Jackson phrased it so well, I don't carry a gun "to" anyplace; I just carry a gun. I put the gun on in the morning with no more emotional freighting or special foresight than my shoes. In fact, probably less, because I may wear different shoes, but I always carry the same gun.

When I put my shoes on, I did not run though a complex internal calculus of "Well, there's a 'No shirt, No shoes, No service' sign at the bank, and I think I have to wear them at the grocery store, too. On the other hand, it's warm out, and I could put those errands off and not wear shoes today..." I just put my shoes on. It's the default state, just like putting the pistol in the holster on my belt. As I go through the day, I don't constantly think about my shoes, and whether I might "need" them at my next stop. Ditto, the gun.

What makes this hard for some people to understand is that, to them, a gun is an object of heavy totemic significance. They have not been exposed to firearms except via the entertainment industry or the six o'clock news, where they are constantly being used to deal death and mayhem, whereas I've been around them more or less constantly for my entire adult life and they've mostly just sat there. An object that to many people contains heavy emotional freighting is about as significant or shocking to me as an ashtray or a steak knife (to name a couple of other frequently-used murder weapons,) and I think this is the source of the massive disconnect between viewpoints. What to do about it? You got me, there; I haven't a clue.


Robert McDonald said...

I see you got around to that post after all. And it's good one. I remember when I first started carrying a gun and people would question the places I carried (everywhere legal, then and now). I'd always shrug and ask, "Why not?"

"But at the bank?!"

"You mean the most likely place I go on a regular basis where I stand a chance of being the victim of armed robbery? Why yes."

Chamber checks? Well, hell, that's just a good habit like the turn signal or brushing your teeth.

Jeff said...

It's been YEARS since Ive seen a good killin' size ashtray. :)

Boat Guy said...

Second on the ashtray, perhaps laptops have moved up the list as objects for blunt-object trauma use though.
While I don't often wear different shoes (being a guy there are dress shoes and work boots as options pretty much) I DO violate "Bianchi's Law" with some regularity. The nod I do give to it is that pistols go strong-side hip, wheelguns go crossdraw. I like my XD and it is the "pretty much daily" gun, however it just doesn't have the juice of the 4" Redhawk with 305-grain solids @ 1300-ish fps. There are times when said juice might be necessary. I also like wheelguns while hiking since the modular-food-storage chamber above my offside hip wears into the mag pouch (I ALWAYS carry sapre ammo). The sixguns (S&W .45's)are just more comfortable (and just as comforting)when walking distance.

Matt G said...

Exactly right.
I have nothing else to add to this beyond that I think of my pistol as underwear. I put some thought into what underwear I decided to settle on (it was a little more expensive), and bought some. I wear a fresh pair every day, and NEVER think about it in public. I would feel awkward and uncomfortable if I did not wear underwear while out and about. I know that some do just that. It's their business, not mine. And something like guns, I find people who obsess publicly over the underwear that they've got on a little tiresome.

Okay, so the analogy had legs. Sue me.

Anonymous said...

If one views firearms as magical items that cause bad things to happen to good people, I can only imagine that one would also not understand the actual risks of being armed vs the risks of being disarmed.

So many millions of people carry firearms everyday without unintentionally harming another human being that I personally cannot grasp the danger of carrying a firearm.

But I understand that gun's don't just go off. The need for the trigger to be moved before a shot will be fired is very clear in my mind.

I understand that a handgun worn in a holster is not subject to unauthorized handling in the same way a handgun left somewhere is. If I don't remove the handgun from the holster, it is not going to go off.

I believe there are many folks, to whom firearms are dangerous totems of faith, that don't understand this. It appears to me that they believe the carrying of a handgun puts everyone near said handgun at risk throughout the day.

I don't fully understand it logically, and I don't understand it at all emotionally, but this is all I can take away from the arguments of those that are afraid of the handgun on my hip.

It's a whole nother cloud of confusion to me that they don't also fear the handgun on the LEO's hip.

Anonymous said...

that should be "that I personally cannot grasp the inherent danger of carrying a firearm."

John said...

Hoooray, Tam.

If you don't mind, I'd like to copy-save that post with attribution and link, for future uses.

It is as good as I have read.

And, one doesn't have to be a gunny folk to understand it.

Lissa said...

I'd like to be with you, Tam. I'm prevented by two things, one legal, one personal:

1) My company specifically prohibits carrying firearms to work. Which is stupid, because even BOSTON doesn't prohibit that.

2) My family would freak if they ever saw, noticed or guessed that I was carrying a gun.

I can't do anything about #1. I'm sure there's some brilliant approach to #2, but I haven't found it yet.

Joel said...

Well said, Tam.

I think that's where I was trying to go yesterday, but you got it across and I didn't. Wear it every day and it stops having emotional freight. It's just something you wear every day.

Slightly OT, yesterday in the little rural town near my home in the desert highlands, I stopped in a supermarket and for the first time in all the time I've lived here someone objected to my holstered 1911. I don't know what his deal was, but the checkout clerks just looked embarrassed and when he went away one muttered, "That guy sure talks a lot." I like it here.

WV = lakeyers: What you get when you put one lake on top of another.

Joanna said...

The "totemic significance" thing is what gets people killed in their own homes, surrounded by fire irons, kitchen knives, heavy lamps, chairs, etc. -- the perception of an object displaces the reality of it. A gun is a collection of metal and/or plastic pieces put together in a certain order. So is my pocketknife. So is the thermos I take to work every day.

I think a lot of drama could be avoided if people could be taught to recognize and overcome conditioned responses in general. Get that figured out, and half the battle's won.

og said...

Well said indeed. I carry a pocketknife and a wallet, too, and I attach no more or less significance to those items.

hell, I LEARNED the habit from the front stuffer folks- you always pull the ramrod and slide it down the barrel.

You should put together a nutshell version of this post and make Zazzle shirts out of it.

WV: Magamanii. Plural of magamaniac, a devotee of Magpul mags.

TJP said...

I've always wondered about that, too. Someone once attempted to ridicule the fact that I reflexively put on a seat belt right before turning the ignition, whether I'm driving five feet or five miles. My answer to this was, "Why would I want to waste any more than two braincells on this activity?" Who has the time to waste weighing the social consequences of a passive restraint faux pas? Not me.

I think the uninitiated just assume that everyone is burdened under the weight of symbolism when carrying a weapon. It usually takes only one trip the range to make them realize that grown-up pants have places to hang a holster but no room to fit emotional baggage.

Blackwing1 said...

I had to laugh about the shoes analogy. When I first started carrying I was very self-conscious about it. It's taken a long time for it to become routine.

I knew it had become routine one morning that I went out to get some morning bagels. It was a hot summer day, and I put on shorts, an IWB with .45, a mag carrier, and a tee-shirt. I was out the door and down the alley when I realized (when I stepped on a sharp rock) that I'd forgotten to put on sandals. There I was, shorts, tee-shirt, .45 and reload...but no shoes.

TheCabinetMan said...

TJP said:

I think the uninitiated just assume that everyone is burdened under the weight of symbolism when carrying a weapon. It usually takes only one trip the range to make them realize that grown-up pants have places to hang a holster but no room to fit emotional baggage.

Brilliant!! But, damn, I wish I'd said that...


Les Jones said...

"MattG used his turn signals so habitually that he was signaling turns on rutted sandy single-tracks, on private property, with not another moving vehicle for over a mile in any given direction."

I sometimes find myself signalling when going through a sharp, veering curve in the road. It's almost like the curve is triggering a gyroscope in my brain.

chris horton said...

My question is how often do you check your pebble-bed nuclear reactor? And is it in a King or Queen size?


Weer'd Beard said...

I chamber check in my dreams. How's that for obsessive!

Great post.

I also love the retort: "Do you really think you'll need a gun at X?"

"No, if I thought I'd need a gun there, I wouldn't go!"

Crucis said...

I was sitting in a retirement seminary hosted by my former employer this morning. Usual corporate setting---high-rise, cube farm, sterile conference room, business casual attire. When I left, I reached into my pocket for my car keys and pulled out my speed-loader. No one noticed and I checked for no-gun signs when I left. None posted.

So much of Corporate America is posted territory. I've been working from home the last few years and had forgotten. Speed loader in left pocket, .38 in the right. Just another day.

excitedVulcan said...

nice work Tam. "totemic significance" really sums it up, I think.

doubletrouble said...

VERY well done Tam.

You captured the thought exactly.

Ian Argent said...

Autos are interesting for me - I *cannot* start the car without putting the seat belt on first. Muscle memory strikes again. OTOH I have to think about using the turn signal - despite having developed nascent muscle memory in driver's ed. The difference? The DC beltway and environs is a harsh place for anyone who uses a turn signal habitually - and has plenty of object lessons of what happens when you don't wear the seat belt (plus good examples from both my parents, who would buckle up and check us young-uns before starting up).

We will have to see what happens when NJ is forced to go shall-issue by Heller, McDonald, and progeny.

WV: polutma - what the Bright Young Things think Scott Brown did... (Go Scott Go)

Six said...

I'm a firearms instructor Tam and that's as well said as anything I've ever read (or said dangit!).

pdb said...

This is the big reason I'm sour on shoot me first vests, not because they shout "Hey, I'm either carrying a gun or a bag full of Nikons!". A concealment garment shouldn't be something you don only when you decide to carry that day. Carriage of your CCW shouldn't be dependent on a occasional garment.

Tam said...

"Carriage of your CCW shouldn't be dependent on a occasional garment."

Huh. Occasional? I've had occasion to wear a shoot-me vest, boyfriend shirt, or fleece pullover every day for near ten years now...

Ian Argent said...

It doesn't have to look like a shoot-me-now vest to have a capacious carry capacity. - looks like a windbreaker; carries like a photog vest.

Dave said...

The seat belt thing was strange to me when I started riding motorcycles. It felt *wrong* not to be strapped to my vehicle.

pdb said...

I've had occasion to wear a shoot-me vest, boyfriend shirt, or fleece pullover every day for near ten years now...

Well, carry on then!

Tam said...

I plan to. ;)

wrm said...

I never check the "chamber" (it's a wheelgun) on my carry gun, because it's *always* loaded.

I guess someone will think up a scenario where this will get me killed. Ah well.

I check before I do things like clean or dry fire. Especially dry fire. Check, more than once.

My mother once said "but a gun to church?" then remembered St James (happened about 2km from where I'm sitting right now), then said "OK" and never gave me grief again :-)

netfotoj said...

Before I got into your good habit, I had to learn it the hard way. Took a pistol out of the gun safe one Monday morning, assumed it was loaded because it "always" is, put it on and went to work. At work a friend stopped by who hadn't seen this new-to-me pistol and asked to see it. I pulled it out, removed the magazine and jacked the slide back to render it safe -- and surprise, surprise, mag was empty and so was chamber. I had shot it at the range that weekend, cleaned it and put it in the safe empty. Shame on me for not being OCD. Now I am, too.

Anonymous said...

Years ago I took a class from Ted Bonnet (he won the IPSC World Championships twice in Standard Division, among other things) and one thing I noted was his constant, constant chamber checking, both loaded and unloaded. I'd bet that trait is very common amongst people that shoot pistols for a living, especially as the consequences of a 'click' or 'bang' at the wrong time can be rather immediate. Maybe not fatal, but the ol' monkey brain is pretty good at immediate threats.

If we really expected to be shooting every time we stepped out the front door, I bet we'd be checking religiously as well.

(Ted also did mention that back in the day, home dry-firing practice with loaded magazines wasn't uncommon.)