Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sometimes overthinking.

Once upon a time, I took a few basic "Introduction To Handguns For Self Defense" classes from a local instructor, a retired deputy. He was a pretty calm and unflappable dude, and I'll never forget the time a student raised their hand and asked him (I'm not making this up) how many times we should shoot the bad guy.

He blinked a couple times and, in his good-ole-boy drawl, replied "Well, I reckon you should keep shootin' at 'em until they stop doin' whatever it was that made you start shootin' at 'em in the first place. Don't overthink things; don't try and plan how a gunfight's s'posed to go."

In the self-defense world, it's easy to get hung up on mantras. "Mindset" is one. People say that "mindset" is the key, but many do not explore any further just what exactly this "mindset" means.

Other mantras involve pre-programmed actions:
  • Get to cover.
  • Get off the X.
  • Get out of the hole.
  • Open the distance; range favors the better marksman.
  • Don't forget "Command Voice".
  • Call 911!
All of which are very good and potentially life-saving ideas, but can they get 'trained-in' to the point of being rote responses? Is that what leads to the dashcam vids you sometimes see of an officer frantically paying more attention to the radio mic in his left hand than the pistol in his right while taking incoming rounds? Or a cop shuffling frantically backwards, glancing over his shoulder in search of cover that may or may not be there while trying to shoot back on the move (and really, how many of us have practiced shooting on the move enough that we can do it well? I know I can't.)

I was thinking of my instructor's response, (and this video,) while reading an article by Jeff Hall in this month's issue of S.W.A.T. Magazine.

Maybe sometimes the right answer to the situation at hand is to just pull your heater and shoot the bad guy?


Knitebane said...

True. Tuco said it:

"When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk."

atlharp said...

(and really, how many of us have practiced shooting on the move enough that we can do it well? I know I can't.)

I actually practice it often. One thing I always try to make a point in doing is when practicing is trying to draw and shoot when I am not ready. I think it's easy to shoot when comfortable, but chances are when you are going to need to shoot it will not be at a time and situation of your choosing. Shooting on the move is something I practice because chances are if I have to draw my pistol I most likely be getting hell out of Dodge! I am not someone to harp on this but it is worth practicing.

MonteG said...

Just checked out a video Rob Pincus/PDN this morning that I think is relevant. Seems to be a common theme in his instruction: using the way most people naturally react to a threat in their training.

Kristopher said...


Gary Kleck's study backs this up.

Immediate non-verbal violence in the face of life jeopardizing deliberate acts results in the lowest victim injury rate.

Merely opening your mouth increases the odds of injury.

If you aren't a cop, stop trying to act like one. At most, do the Masaad Ayoob thing, and shout "don't move" while you are shooting.

DirtCrashr said...

I liked that article a lot. Don't pause for administrative crap or wait for confirmation, just finish it now.

Anonymous said...

You're quite right Tam, it's very easy to get caught up in doing the technique instead of just fighting.

All the techniques and ideas that are practiced and developped only exist to serve the primary concept: put bullets in bad guy and avoid getting the bad guy's bullets in you. When we lose track of the principle, we forget how to fight.


Will Brown said...

Maybe sometimes the right answer to the situation at hand is to just pull your heater and shoot the bad guy?

Which statement would logically imply that probably most times the right answer to the situation is some other action.

Can you name any shooting/gun class that makes this corelation and actively incorporates it into the course of instruction?

Safe gun handling skills and practices are essential aspects of intelligent gun ownership, as are accurate shooting skills, but neither comprise more than a minor consideration within the general rubric of "self defense". What you dismissively call "mantras" and "pre-programmed actions" (and would you classify automatically checking a gun for the presence of a round the same way?) are in reality only some of the options involved in confronting an assailant, something I'm confident you are fully aware of personally.

This whole business of conflating police (mis-)conduct in their deliberate confrontational approachs to citizens with individual self-defense is annoying on many levels, but principally because of the frankly wrong attitude that you express as: "All of which are very good and potentially life-saving ideas, but can they get 'trained-in' to the point of being rote responses?"

As I sincerely hope you are aware, they aren't supposed to be rote responses, but considered actions taken to defeat a threat. And, yes, you can be trained to make those choices (and a long list of others) within a startlingly brief period of time. You may still screw up, and if you're lucky get to laugh at yourself on YouTube too, but that's called being human isn't it?

Your basic point is correct, but it is such a minor aspect of self defense as to almost be criminal. Really (check your state's statutes regarding which party bears what portion of the burden of proof in determining "self defense"). You're almost doing your readers a dis-service on this issue Tam.

staghounds said...

Like this?

Robin said...

"At most, do the Masaad Ayoob thing, and shout "don't move" while you are shooting."

If you've ever been around Mas, you know he'd never say this. What Mas would say is: 'Don't F**king Move!"

Tam said...

Will Brown,

Wow. Read much into what I wrote?

"they aren't supposed to be rote responses"

No, they aren't. Neither was dropping one's spent shells into the brass bucket. And yet they often become such. Shoot an IDPA match lately?

In real life, the Great Stage Designer In The Sky might not have put some handy cover nearby for when life's PACT timer goes off, and looking for such can gobble precious tenths that might be better spent doing something else. Like stopping the threat, for instance.

"Don't plan on a gunfight following a script." Is that really such a controversial statement?

I remember an elaborate scenario posited on a gun forum some eleven years back that involved Our Protagonist standing in line with a gallon of milk at a convenience store when the dude in front of you decides to pull a robbery. After ten people posted replies beginning with "I dive for cover and grab my cell phone," I was the first person to say "I bounce 8 pounds of Grade-A Vitamin D off the back of his head and..."

Don't get caught up in scenarios. Don't imagine that your first, best action will be to pull out your cell phone or look for cover that may or may not be there. Sometimes your first best choice is to run. Sometimes it's to lob 16 ounces of piping hot Starbucks into his face. Sometimes it's just to burn him down.

This is controversial? Did you even read the article?

Ed Foster said...

A certain cop I know says the mantra goes "Sir, please stop resisting" (double tap), "Sir, please stop resisting" (double tap), etc.

How well I remember a certain crusty old NCO telling me that there is cover, then there is concealment. Concealment became useless after the first shot. After that, you were firing, you were reloading, or you were moving. No exceptions except for deadmen.

Atlharp makes a good point, concerning practice combining movement with shooting, and I've seen it done on the Wednesday evening gun shows. A worthwhile endeavor.

Sadly, although I shoot perhaps 500 rounds of .45acp a week at work, it's in a firing port at one of our local indoor ranges, function firing our pistols (and cranking off a few extra magazines each when polishing the inside of the extractor hook on the electroless nickle/boron models. Insanely great finish, but lots of work getting it prepped).

I'm getting back to where I was a few years ago as a static shooter, not half bad, but fire and movement is pretty much banned on any range I know around here.

I also suspect that, due to the serious and varied kinds of muscle memories involved, moving fire would require a constant commitment to practice, summer and winter, several days a week.

The Army claims that any shooter loses some of his edge if he practices less than two hours a week of challenging shooting practice. That seems about right to me.

I'm wondering if some of the Sporting Clays places around here could set up handgun sessions.

ErnestM said...


I would just add the word "continuously" to your last sentence.

I agree with the entire sentiment expressed.

Kristopher said...

Robin: I took LFI I a few decades ago.

If the curricula has changed, I stand corrected.


bobn said...

Apropos of nothing other than news from "The Place Where Great Britain Used To Be":

Man Blows Off Finger Trying To Remove Wart With A 12Ga

Says the perp/victim/whatever:

"I know I could have gone to jail for up to 15 years for a firearms offence. My solicitor did a very good job."

So sad.

Old NFO said...

Excellent points all, and backing up and trying to shoot IS a challenge...

Anonymous said...

Situational awareness. Get some.

You can preclude most of the time-wasting inherent in what Will Brown calls "considered actions taken to defeat a threat" by considering them beforehand, avoiding the threat if at all possible, but knowing in advance how you will respond to a given threat in a given scenario.

But as Tam and others have said, if you have to shoot, focus on that threat alone, and shoot 'til the threat is a threat no more.

And if that "basic point" makes you "almost criminal", well that beats the fuck out of fiddlefarting around until you're "almost dead".


RobertM said...

The closest I've come to force on force training it playing BB gun wars and paintball. It's hardly lethal, but it HURTS, and you don't want to get hit. The one thing I learned it that accuracy goes to hell if you're main focus is not getting hit. The best way I found to not get hit was to be so aggressive in attacking that the other guy was more worried about not getting hit than hitting me.

However, I am NOT a DEVGRU, Tacticool Operator so I probably don't have a clue what I'm talking about.

TBeck said...

I've shot one IDPA match. When I was informed that I had "cheated" by standing still to shoot I decided that it was not for me.

Miguel said...

and I'll never forget the time a student raised their hand and asked him (I'm not making this up) how many times we should shoot the bad guy.

It will sound dumb, but in certain countries you can actually go to prison for shooting a criminal more than once. The "rational" is that you must give the criminal the chance to change his mind about his activity before re-engaging him.
I know, stupid as hell but that is the law.

bobn said...

The "rational" is that you must give the criminal the chance to change his mind about his activity before re-engaging him.

That would be "rationale". Certainly not rational.

The criminal properly demonstrates that he has changed his mind by falling down dead.

Will Brown said...


It seems it is still true that there is no statement that can't cause offense or (as in this example) be poorly worded to the same effect.

I'm not going to debate Jeff Hall's contentions in the linked article except to observe that I have long considered the founder of "the martial art of shooting" to be Jeff Cooper, but what do I know?

To restate my earlier objection:

1) I think it is an error to conflate the (however questionably) necessary extreme of aggresion cops display in their occupational confrontations with people with the standard of conduct the rest of us are required to comport our actions to.

2) As a matter of legal statute (in Texas for certain, but I would wager a reasonable sum it is the same in all 50 states), there must be a detectable (the legal standard here is "to a reasonable person") difference in the level and degree of agression between combatants in order to differentiate the defender from the aggressor. Absent such, it's mutual combat and all survivors go to jail.

If you write a post on police training and discuss the pros and cons of applying that to self defense training, I want to read that. If you write a post on the limitations and liabilities involved in a self defense shooting (or even just a confrontation that stops short of gunfire), I want to read that. My complaint is that you seem to have conflated the two distinct catagories of confrontation in this particular post.

In support of this contention I offer the following; in his article, Mr. (or is that sensei?) Hall writes "The first problem I see all around the country is the litany of "create distance and go to cover." I will not dispute with his objection as regards cops confronting an armed assailant, but this is precisely the correct response for a private citizen seeking to defend him/herself in similar circumstance. Mr. Hall's profoundly silly object regarding the lack of comparative speed between himself and a discharged .45acp bullet is both insult to the readers intelligence as well as contradictory to his own later argument in the same article in support of lateral movement in a gun fight.

You have mentioned before the distinction between "cover" and "concealment"; disregarding Mr. Hall's conflation of the two, it is worth noting that any object that initially meets the standard of "cover" retains that status whether or not your personal presence behind it has been observed by some other. Now we're back to maneuver and situational awareness again.

Further, in a self defense situation your actions are severely constrained without your having to declare for the other team. If this reality offends, sorry, but I didn't make the rules either.

Finally, the correct completion to your forum scenario reply is "... and begin preparations for an extensive stay in prison for manslaughter." Unless and until said robber at least begins to turn his/her gun toward you, shooting s/he in the back of the head is some category of murder as no private citizen has any duty to defend the property of any other (their life arguably, but not their property). Blindfold, cigarette and kneeling are all embellishments of the crime, though I appreciate the emotional satisfaction your partial answer delivered.

My reply to your retort is so tardy because I took my CHL recertification class/test tonight shortly after posting my initial comment. As it happens, that same general scenario is one of the examples given illustrating the limits imposed by the distinction of "self defense", at least as it is defined here in Texas.

To the degree my complaint is in error I stand corrected and no offense was intended.

David said...

I was in a concealed carry class a while back and the instructor asked us "Once you decide to shoot, how many times do you shoot the bad guy."

The answers varied from once to until the gun goes click click click.

His response was "Shoot until there is no longer a threat in your sight picture. If you think that your gun will start going click click click before the threat is gone, I teach a pistol marksmanship class on Thursdays."

Later during the shooting portion of the class he reminded us that several students thought the answer to his questions was "two center mass, one in the head." So from 7 yards he challenged us all to put six rounds in the targets head. As the first shooter, the class's token mall ninja, was ready to shoot the instructor who was standing behind him gave him the order to fire. As the student drew his pistol the instructor grabbed the cable the target was hanging from and started jerking it side to side while repeatedly shouting at the top of his lungs "SHOOT HIM IN THE HEAD." The student missed all six shots.

And so it went for the next three shooters. On my turn I put six, admittedly not tightly grouped rounds in the targets torso. When finished the instructor asked me why I didn't try to shoot him in the head as instructed. I replied "If he still wants my wallet now - he can have it."

Don M said...

Rommel commanded a machinegun battalion during WWI, and developed a technique that worked for him. Plaster the enemy with fire then use the moments that he is hiding, head down to maneuver. Shoot, then go for decisive position advantage.

Of course that is very aggressive, and the Texicans might not like it.

Roberta X said...

Will, bearin' you no animosity, if I am ever next to you somewhere like Tam's scenario when a bad guy decides to get frisky, you are on your own. I'll bean him with the milk bottle and if he's still on-task, shoot him until he ceases to be a problem and I'll live to stand trial. Guy sticks up a convenience store fulla witnesses, he's probably not planning on leaving them in condition to testify; I'm certainly not going to trust in his Christian charity.

(Srsly, I have been held up at gunpoint twice, shot at and missed once; I was unarmed each time, though I did run away and throw a bad of groceries at the pursuing robber the second time. At that point, I figure I have used up all the dumb luck I had.)

Tam said...

Will Brown,

"Blindfold, cigarette and kneeling are all embellishments of the crime, though I appreciate the emotional satisfaction your partial answer delivered."

And it was an excerpt. A partial answer intended to illustrate a specific point. And the point that it illustrated is that, with an active shooter standing not ten feet away, people robotically started answering "I pull out my cell phone and dive for cover..." looking for pats on the head, like they'd answered the test correctly.

What "cover"? You're standing right in front of the counter of a Kwik-E-Mart! Unless they have a floor display of Mosler Safes ("On Sale This Week Only! 25% OFF!") your typical Stop'N'Rob is pretty short on cover in the middle of the sales floor, and generally not long on concealment, either.

Like all internet forum scenarios, it was deliberately constructed to allow our Internet Heroes to shoot. If someone standing next to you has actually started putting bullets into people and the landscape in general, you are no longer under any obligation to just stand there like a duck in thunder and "Be A Good Witness". Not even in Texas.

Tam said...

(...and if "Situational Awareness" was the magic answer, we wouldn't even be having this discussion. The reason I carry a gun is for those times my situational awareness malfunctions. As long as it's working, I don't need the gun, because I won't be where the bad stuff is happening.)

staghounds said...

My old friend Steve was walking past Fort Sanders hospital from the Cumberland Avenue Krystal when he was held up.

Smacked the crook with the Krystals in his left hand, grabbed the gun with his right and bend it upwards until it was loose and the crook went away.

I didn't see it happen, but he DID come back with no Krystals and a pretty decent model 60 with some flesh gobbets on it.

Captcha is SUBIL- the lawyer's oracle.

Stuart the Viking said...

RobertM: "The best way I found to not get hit was to be so aggressive in attacking that the other guy was more worried about not getting hit than hitting me."

This was beat (almost literally) into our heads in USMC boot camp and Marine Combat Training and I have found it to work really well while playing games like lazer tag and paintball. I didn't spend any time in actual combat, so I can't say for certian that the same hold true when real bullets are flying, but I suspect it does (especially against the un-trained and un-diciplined, which one would hope the bad guys are).

Will Brown: Remind me not to go to Texas. You Texans have always seemed like really nice people, BUT if you are representing Texas law correctly then I'm not sure I would ever want to go there. Here in Florida, we have Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws. If the goblin offers deadly force, all bets are off and you can NUKE THE HOLY FUCKING CRAP out of him if that is what you think will save your ass (or other innocent persons ass). Sure, you really do have to have cause (you can't just go around shooting people for no reason) but as soon as the bad guy points a gun (knife, other deadly weapon) at someone all bets are off and he's fair game. Personally, I think anything other than that is highly uncivilized and you Texans need to catch up. If I understand your comment, in effect you are legally required to "do nothing". Evil thrives when good people "do nothing".


WV: uream. Yes, when the bad guy pulls a weapon uream him a new one. It's the only civilized thing to do.

JeffJ said...

I've enjoyed your posts over at pistol forum and followed Todd's jump today over here. Great post, I think that, ironically, some of the other posters are way overthinking this. Personally, I've dabbled in different martial arts for the past 20 years or so with various degrees of intensity and it wasn't until about 5 years ago that I was taught the mantra of "overwhelming violence" - we put away all the cool grappling and MMA style moves and worked on getting close and throwing as many blows as fast as possible and trying to block a few more than we threw. Some highly polished martial artists might take issue with that, and in a controled MMA ring where you can't leave for 5 minutes, it doesn't always work. But, in reality - a fast violent response followed by retreat can be a good way to go.

Having more technique at your disposal is only a good thing when that technique doesn't slow you down. In other words: Stop the threat as quickly as possible, if this means moving to cover, great - if not - stand and deliver. But, the only concious thought that one should have is to STOP THE THREAT everything else just slows you down.

Kevin Dooley said...

Stuart the Viking: I don't know what Will is smoking... There is absolutely Castle Doctrine/Stand Your Ground laws here in Texas. You can absolutely shoot to protect yourself, your property, the lives of others, and the property of others if they've given permission (watching a friend's house for instance - google Joe Horn).

Given the stop-n-rob scenario, there are a list of crimes you are authorized (as a citizen) to use deadly force to prevent. They are clearly spelled out in Texas law and should be covered in any CHL course (first time or renewal), and this scenario clearly falls under it's purview.

Anonymous said...

I'm here to tell you that even with training, when it starts comin' your way you can even forget such basic social graces as maintaining bladder control. Couldn't even guarantee it wouldn't happen the same way thirty-some years later and I hope I never have to find out, but that doesn't mean that the most I can do to be prepared for bad situations would be to wear Depends.

Rob J

Stuart the Viking said...

Thank you Kevin Dooley. I suspected as much, but not having done any research into Texas law, I did not have fact to couter Will's statments. Texas is offically back on my list of civilized places that would be nice to visit (yes, I know you are all feeling honored and such, feel free to put it on all your signs, letterhead, etc).

We have a list of "Forceable Felonys" here in Florida also (covered under F.S. 776.08 for those who want to look it up). I suspect that the two lists are very simular.

(Please note, I am not a lawyer, I am merely a nerd that reads a lot. The standard disclaimer applies.)


Anonymous said...

Sorry put I pray at the church of Move!. Forward, backward to cover, attack, off at an angle, run like hell Just do something.

I consider throwing coffee, a six pack, milk jug, your Yorkie and a dozen roses a good start but then move.


Anonymous said...

I'm no expert, but I am a former LEO and long time NRA instructor who has also taken many courses which over the years I've come to like what Travis Haley says, "do what works for you 95% of the time."

If you see a situation going bad, move to cover, but once the lead starts flying, I believe it's time to stop and put hits on target unless you can move to cover at a faster rate than the incoming bullets travel... then move to cover.

Dann in Ohio

DirtCrashr said...

A friend of mine, let's call him Mike, is a young man on his way home and decides a nosh is in order. He generally has excellent situational awareness, but has just won some money and is in a celebratory, not-thinking mood.
He walks into a little nondescript burger joint in town at the exact same time another gentleman has chosen to rob the place. As he comes through the double-doors the M1 Carbine in the hands of the robber goes off with a REALLY LOUD noise and the Chinese lady behind the counter turns to red-mist. He sees the mist over the shoulder of the robber, and being unarmed and surprised he simply spins around and continues walking but in the opposite, out-the-door direction, making further haste once outside - and the local Cops end up chasing him that evening instead of the perp.
The lady is dead, her husband wounded, and the robber netted $5.30 and was picked up a couple months later, two counties away. The 3-time loser goes away for 15+ odd years and eventually gets out with time-served - is now an old man making minimum-wage sandwiches in a little stop-and-rob sandwich/burger shop.

Sometimes Mike stops in there for a sandwich. Despite his testimony not being crucial or anything, he keeps an eye on the sandwich as it's being made. That's as close as I know about anything like that.

Anonymous said...

"(...if "Situational Awareness" was the magic answer...)"

Oh it definitely is...most of the time. And along with its bigger meaner brother Situational Control, it's the reason that in about 35 years of relatively high-risk business and public contact, I've never had to resort to life-altering armed confrontation or worse. And I'm guessing your experience has been the same, if different. As is that of most cops.

The chances of "facing the elephant" are very small even for those who want to really. really. bad. As for me, I'll keep depending on SA and SC to push my probablility a few more notches to the right of decimal...probably aided by a distinctly boring social life and aversion to people in general.

Situational Awareness and Situational Control...just tacti-speak for keeping your eyes open and staying away from "where the bad stuff is happening". And it works 99.????% of the time.

But if my percentile number ever does come up -dear God let it not- I won't go gently. If forced to shoot, I am prepared to shoot and I will shoot to kill. Because in that situation he who hesitates is not lost, he's dead. And better him than me.

Then I'll deal with the consequences, whatever they may be.


Tam said...


Don't get all bowed up. I wasn't talking to you.

I agree: "Situational Awareness" is Tool #1 in the Tool Box.

The reason I carry a gun is because sometimes my Situational Awareness fails.

I've only had to pull a pistol 2.5 times in the twenty-some years I've been carrying one, and two of those times were because my magic "Situational Awareness" fairy was off having lunch. (Well, one of those times was compounded by me being a dumbass; who knew that a crazy guy might want to hurt me, and that he could cover twenty or thirty feet that fast? I should have stayed in the car.)

If someone's got flawless Situational Awareness, they should just leave the pistol at home. It's heavy, after all, and they can just use their SA to keep them out of Situations where they might need one. ;)

Firehand said...

Miguel, I think it was Cooper who wrote about one of his trainers going through a shoot/don't shoot with some Euro LE agency. Terrorist popped up on screen, he shot him twice dead center, and they stopped the run and lectured him that "We don't do that here. You shoot for the arms or legs, not to kill him!"

I've done some 'move and shoot' practice; the local indoor range gets real hinky if they see you moving away from the line with something in your hand, so can only do it at an outdoor range. REALLY tricky, and it'd take a lot to get good at it.

Firehand said...

And I'm with Roberta and Tam: hit him with something large and heavy, and if he doesn't collapse shoot him.

Depending on circumstances, shoot him even if he DOES collapse; like if he's still conscious and moving and has the gun in his hand

Anonymous said...

No need to get defensive, Tam...oh wait, maybe there is since that's kind of the point here. But yeah, we all have our lapses; I thought I covered that well enough with the percentile thing.

But actually I wasn't talking to you either, just using you and myself as examples of the unlikelihood of pulling let alone using your tool #3 in anger, especially if you've put #1 and #2 to good use in advance.

But if we're gonna count .5's and add 'em up? Shit, I was counting hand-on-grip and even finger-on-boom-button-under-the-counter as awareness and control...

Your *crazy guy* story though, is a whole 'nother deal; I and I'm sure others would be interested in the details and it might be instructive...have you elaborated or care to?


Tam said...


"No need to get defensive, Tam...oh wait, maybe there is since that's kind of the point here."

I see what you did there. :D

I'll post a link to the tale; lemme google it up.

Tony Muhlenkamp said...

So, what is mindset, and how do you train it?

Anonymous said...

Distance favors the guy with a long range weapon. Not necessarily the better shot.