Do defensive pistol leagues actually train you for self-defense?
Mindset must be a choice!
I know how.... Do I know when?
I have my concealed pistol license, now what?
Standard B27 police qualification target. shot with a .357 Magnum revolver by the author, using the 60-round New Hampshire State Police qualification course. It is overlaid with the anatomic structures of a human body. Note that all but one of the rounds impacted the target too low to hit the heart or any of the major blood vessels above the heart.
©iSTOCKPHOTO – JOHNWOODCOCK
Why “I’ll just take out my gun and shoot them” isn’t enough and will get you killed.
Dr. Art Joslin | May 23, 2017
In the past 16 years, I have trained hundreds and hundreds of shooters at all levels of training and skill, and at all levels of coursework. More often than not, someone will attend my class with the attitude and mindset that if they are in a dynamic critical incident that requires deadly force, they will simply draw their gun and shoot the bad guy.
Sound about right? After all, those of us who carry a firearm for self-defense would be justified in using the gun if deadly force is being unjustly used against us. Unfortunately, their attitude is they don't need anything else but a gun to defend themselves. You might see where I’m going with this. It is a myth (and a dangerous one at that) to believe that your gun will always be at the ready and you will always be able to use it to fend off or stop a deadly force attack against yourself or loved one. Unfortunately, a good number of concealed pistol carriers believe just that.
Consider these common activities: You are at the ATM machine withdrawing cash. As you turn around to walk to your car, you are brutally attacked by a thug, high on drugs and who has an edged weapon.
You stop to get gas at night. Before you exit your car, you look around for any signs of danger. As you exit your car and begin operating the pump, a stranger jumps out from behind a concrete pillar and brutally attacks you.
Walking from the ballgame to your car, you look around to make sure no one is following you or in your direct path. Suddenly, out of the darkness, a thug lunges at you, knocks you down and pulls a knife demanding your money.
You might be thinking “I wouldn’t park there” or “I wouldn’t use that ATM.” Sadly, these scenarios are real and happen everyday in cities across our great Country. One simply needs to pick up a newspaper to see these daily occurrences. I often work in Detroit and I can tell you it happens all too often.
I know you’re asking “Ok, so how do I defend against these types of attacks?” I will tell you it is very difficult. It is extremely difficult to defend against an ambush. The first few seconds will determine whether you live or die. Your reaction in those first few seconds will determine if you live or die. Defending against an ambush-style attack is one of the most difficult because the aggressor usually has the advantage of surprise. I currently work several different security positions. General security, bar bouncer, armed & unarmed executive protection, and reserve police officer are a few. In one recent case, I was ejecting an intoxicated and unruly patron from a packed college bar. Out of my field of vision, her boyfriend, who had been calm and cooperative, decided to jump in and grab my shirt at chest level with his right hand. Certainly, the next action would have been landing a left hook into my face. I was able to immediately grab his hand, come across my body placing him in an arm lock, taking him to the ground before he could make his next move. He immediately gave up (no doubt due to the massive pain he was feeling). I have trained that move hundreds of times in slow, low-stress technical training (Tai Chi style) and hundreds of times in fast, high stress training environments. That surprise attack, even though no weapon was involved, is exactly why I train with a counter ambush philosophy and why I teach my Commando Krav Maga (CKM) students to do the same.
The reactionary gap in the human animal is well researched. In a study conducted by the Smith & Wesson Academy, a study by Dr. Martin Fackler, and my own tests (although not scientific) have shown it takes at best 1/3 second (.33 seconds) for a test subject (in the S&W and Fackler tests subjects were police officers) to recognize a deadly force threat, make a cognitive decision to respond with deadly force and fire their weapon in response. Some test subjects had shown long response times of 1.5 to 2.0 seconds. This is just enough time for the assailant to plunge a knife multiple times into your body.
When in a dynamic critical incident (car crash, deadly force incident, bar fight) a complex series of events take place in the body initially set in action by the Sympathetic Nervous System. The brain will tell the adrenal glands to immediately infuse the body with adrenaline. Adrenaline enters the bloodstream from the medulla of the adrenal glands which are located at the top of the kidneys. In addition to adrenaline, norepinephrine is released. Other hormones released in a fight or flight response include dopamine and endorphins. These secreted hormones produced during a threat (perceived or real) are considered by many to be survival positives. Dopamine and endorphins are pain blockers, especially endorphins, which have been shown to block the perception of pain from an actual injury.
Although the effects of the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) during threat engagement can be a survival positive, they serve double duty as they can also be survival negatives. When the SNS causes hormones to dump into the bloodstream, we experience vasoconstriction, increase in heart rate, increase in breathing, loss of tactile (fine) motor skill, loss of peripheral vision (tunnel vision), elevated blood pressure, auditory exclusion and time dilation. All of this can happen literally within tenths of seconds or even milliseconds.
Let’s look at a few effects this way:
Adrenaline - a stimulant that can make us faster and stronger
Dopamine - a hormone that can block euphoric pain
Endorphins - a hormone that can block perception of pain from an injury
Tunnel vision - perceptional narrowing; sometimes extreme focus - Positive
loss of visual acuity and loss of peripheral vision - Negative
loss of near vision and loss of depth of field - Negative
Auditory exclusion - loss of hearing or hearing greatly reduced causing decreased auditory damage - Positive
loss of hearing or hearing greatly reduced - Negative
Vasoconstriction - loss of/greatly reduced blood flow to extremities causing loss of fine motor skill - Negative
Hopefully you can begin to see the body’s survival response can be both positive and negative. In their book Deadly Force Encounters: What cops need to know to mentally and physically prepare for and survive a gunfight (Palladin Press), renowned police psychologist Dr. Alexis Artwohl and career police officer Loren Christensen list multiple physical changes that may occur when a person is faced with fear:
Rapid, shallow breathing
Tingling sensation in limbs of face
Insensitive to pain
Urge to urinate
Urge to defecate
Added to the perceptual changes induced from the fight or flight response, you can see a diminished chance of survival. Let’s go back to our original question and alter it slightly, “How do I defend against an ambush while experiencing the effects caused by a fear response?”
For many folks I have personally trained, it is in large part a rewiring of their general attitude toward self defense. When we begin to train from a counter-ambush philosophy (my friend and colleague Rob Pincus wrote an entire book on the topic), our approach to self defense changes mentally which in turn causes us to re-evaluate our training choices. Sometimes, this transformation causes us to re-evaluate and perhaps change many of our lifestyle choices as well.
As we will see in the next installment of this article, what we choose to train and how we choose to train will be vital components of a counter ambush philosophy and will increase our survival chances.
Do defensive pistol leagues actually train you for self-defense?
by Art Joslin, DMA | November 27, 2016
I have been a member of defensive shooting leagues and shot at the club level, league level, and in IDPA. One question keeps surfacing from the students I train and shooters I meet. Does shooting in a defensive pistol league actually train you for self-defense?
My short answer is no. I have debated this topic with members of my own club and pistol leagues to no avail. Many foolishly believe that shooting IDPA, or other defensive pistol leagues, will prepare one for the real world of self-defense. I believe this to be untrue. I have outlined a few things to consider below.
1. Shooting in competitions is just that, a competition.
In real life, a person doesn't get to choose the time and place to defend themselves. It is often a surprise and often at a time when it is unexpected. Having drawn my weapon several times in the course of my job, I did not get to do a "walk-through" prior to having to defend myself. To think otherwise will certainly get you killed.
2. Shooting on a league develops shooting skills.
Working skills during any shooting practice will, to a certain extent, develop skills. However, this development is limited. For example, practicing rapid magazine changes is a much needed skill if your weapon experiences a malfunction. Many leagues and clubs make this skill part of the shooting exercise or drill. However, these are usually isolated skill sets and are not put into context. Putting a skill into context means to add stress factors, add movement, and add real life factors so the experience becomes as close to reality as possible. I have watched shooters take 10 seconds or longer to change an empty magazine and put their weapon back into service. This is after the few seconds it takes to recognize their weapon is at slide lock. They falsely believe they are developing defensive skills. I believe this type of out-of-context drill actually does more harm than good since it reinforces the wrong muscle memory and defensive attitude.
3. Scoring the highest points is equal to neutralizing the threat.
I'm not sure what world people live in who believe that scoring the highest points in competition equals solid defensive marksmanship. Certainly, shot placement is important and shots must be on target in order to effect that target. I understand this. However, I would rather hit a threat with five shots in five different vital areas than five carefully placed bullseye hits. You will most likely lose that great marksmanship you have on the range that convinces you (and impresses everyone else) how great you are. Most experts agree that shots to the pelvic girdle is the most effective at stopping a threat since it collapses the structure and the threat can't advance on the intended victim. Additionally, shots to this area are difficult to repair in the field and require rapid surgical application to stop the massive internal bleeding.
According to James Williams, MD, (a trauma surgeon, police medical officer and SWAT team medic), shooting a standard police style target usually results in missing the vital areas of the assailant. He states "If you look at the picture on page 25, you’ll see a standard police B27 training target that I shot 60 times using a standard police qualification course of fire. If you look at the score, you’ll see that I made 299/300 points, which is pretty good shooting.
But before I shot that course of fire, I drew the vital anatomy of the human torso on the back of the target. As you can see, 59 of my 60 bullets, which were perfect hits for scoring purposes, failed to hit the vital organs in the chest: the heart or Great Vessels. My single miss, in the 9-ring, was the only shot that hit in the vital zone." (https://www.usconcealedcarry.com/doc-how-do-i-know-where-i-should-shoot/)
This was taken from his Tactical Anatomy course materials and I have copied the target he is referencing on the right. His 299/300 points is great to show around the club and impress friends and neighbors but it is poor marksmanship if faced with a threat trying to end your life. High center chest is actually the area of greatest impact on a threat. Does this mean if I place my shots below the vital area I won't stop my attacker? Not at all. But then again, training to shoot in that area won't score too many points.
4. Shooting competition adds stress equal to real life.
As a person who has drawn his weapon in defensive situations, I can be the first to tell you I was scared, my hands were shaking, my mind was racing, my heart was racing, and was unable to talk in a calm fashion when the local police arrived. I have also shot in competition and raced against the clock. I will simply say that racing against the clock is nothing (and I mean nothing) compared to actually pointing your weapon at another human being. To believe otherwise, tells me you're probably extremely naive, or you've never actually had to defend yourself with or without a weapon. Maybe both.
I'm not down on competitive shooting, club leagues or defensive pistol leagues. I enjoy them. The camaraderie, fun, food, and fellowship with like-minded people is great. Having a competitive spirit is one of the things that makes for a great afternoon of shooting. However, it is just that; fun, food, and fellowship. It shouldn't be misconstrued for stand-alone defensive skill training. Jeff Cooper said it best " Owning a handgun doesn't make you armed any more than owning a guitar makes you a musician."
I tend to agree.
Mindset Must Be a Choice!
Art Joslin, DMA | May 23, 2015
Certain topics, seemingly old and worn out, do not always get across to people using a firearm for personal defense. This week I was shooting at my local gun club in an evening pistol league with about fifteen other shooters. The league has been established to help people work through any number of issues when practicing personal defense skills with a firearm. The course of fire adds stress to the lives of some and gives others a chance to practice defensive fundamentals. A few people didn’t get too far and, in fact; shot no more than one magazine of six rounds before having equipment failures. This is what I would like to discuss (again) in this article – equipment & mindset choices for personal defense.
I am not sure why people make the choices they do regarding their selection of a tool that they will use to possibly save their lives or the lives of those in their mantle of protection. Perhaps someone sees a slick magazine article or glossy color advertisement about a certain gun and they buy it with the intention of making it their primary every-day carry (EDC). Perhaps people purchase primary guns because someone else has one or they had a chance to shoot a certain size, brand, caliber, make, model of gun but didn’t really have a chance to try it in any self-defense training scenario.
During our league shoot, I saw several shooter violations (my term for wrong or incompetent use) of basic personal defense use of their gun. One prime example is bringing a brand new gun to the league without a proper break-in period. This shooter, who we will call ‘Shooter A,’ was attempting to learn and practice defensive shooting techniques with a gun that jammed every few rounds because he didn’t choose an ammunition that was the proper grain for this tight tolerance ‘solo carry’ pocket gun. Granted it is a very valid skill to know how to handle a malfunction in your EDC, Shooter A did not know how to respond to the gun jamming every few rounds.
Another shooter, ‘Shooter B,” had issues with an improperly fitting, off-brand magazine in his 1911-style pistol. This caused every second or third round to jam and create a feed malfunction. As with Shooter A, this shooter did not know the proper procedure for clearing the gun and getting back into operation.
Several shooters lost valuable time, and therefore shots on target, because of the gun’s safety or de-cocker needing to be manipulated. I am against carrying any EDC with a manual safety (except in rare cases) because it slows the process of threat neutralization. Additionally, when cognitive ability diminishes in a dynamic critical incident, shooters often forget the safety is on and they fumble trying to get the gun in action. This can certainly cost lives.
And there were others. To be fair, a few of the shooters never had any formal training. However, most were concealed pistol licensees who have the state-required minimum training to carry a concealed firearm. I’m not sure if this is a stain on the firearm instructors and the quality of teaching or a reflection on skill and knowledge retention of the student. Perhaps it is both.
As I have written many times before and mentioned in a few of my podcasts, if you are going to carry a loaded gun, in public, round chambered, concealed for your personal protection, you must know the operation and function of every button, knob, slide, and sight of that gun BEFORE you use it as one of your EDC guns.
If you can’t clear a malfunction on the range in a low stress environment, how can you expect to do it when you experience adrenaline dump, tunnel vision, loss of fine motor skill, and other physiological factors? Anyone who chooses to carry a gun for protection must have the skill to operate that gun, clear that gun, and shoot that gun in mere seconds. And, it must be done quickly, safely, effectively, and efficiently. There can be no other option!
Do not think for a single minute you will gain sudden super hero powers and you’ll be able to mitigate a deadly force situation simply because you have a gun. This would be similar to someone entering an Olympic skiing event simply because they own the right equipment. The late Col. Jeff Cooper, a noted personal defense instructor and mentor of many, once stated, “Owning a handgun doesn’t make you armed any more than owning a guitar makes you a musician.” You must practice weekly (sometimes daily) for weeks and months to become proficient at functionally operating your gun. Once or twice a month will not suffice. Shooting holes in paper, although fun and a great stress reliever, will not develop the proper skill set for a deadly force situation.
Personal defense skills are diminishing skills. Shortly after learning them, they begin to leave our short and long-term memories. This is why it is important to train regularly and train the skills that diminish most rapidly.
Taking a serious approach to personal defense training must be a top priority when allocating resources of time, equipment and finances. If we are truly serious about our safety and the safety of those in our mantle of protection, then we are obligated to train to the highest degree available and to train at that high level as often as possible.
As I have stated before, “Obtaining a license to carry a loaded, concealed firearm in public is a huge responsibility and is over a few hours. Training to use that firearm to save your life, or that of another, is developed over a lifetime.”
I know how… Do I know when?
Art Joslin, DMA | February 12, 2015
Attention: This article is not intended, nor to be used or construed, as legal advice. It is purely for educational purposes only. No warranty or claim is made as to its legal or intended use. Consult a qualified attorney for specific questions as to your rights and obligations under Michigan law. This article is written from the non-legal opinion of an expert & consulting witness, not as an attorney or legal counsel.
The Self-Defense Act of Michigan (the Act) seems to be one of the most misunderstood sets of laws in Michigan by those people who posses a Michigan Concealed Pistol License (CPL). I arrive at this conclusion due to the number of CPL holders attending my classes for advanced training, who are seemingly unfamiliar with the laws from their initial training.
In light of recent events in Michigan, and across the United States, much has been written on the use of deadly force. Many have been justified in their use of deadly force and a few have not. Allow me to list the general provisions of the Act and then I will write about several myths and misconceptions that students often bring to my courses.
In general, a person in Michigan may use deadly force with no duty to retreat (PA 309) if:
They are not engaged in a crime;
They are in a place they have a legal right to be;
They honestly and reasonably believe deadly force is necessary;
The deadly force is used to prevent imminent death, great bodily harm, or sexual assault of the person or another.
Before we discuss the aforementioned points, keep in mind Michigan is generally considered a no-retreat state. However, it should be stated that most firearm and personal defense instructors agree that if a means of escape is available, it should be taken. It must be emphasized that anything you can do to keep from using deadly force, do it!
Additionally, keep in mind the following jury instructions:
M Crim JI 7.16 Duty to Retreat to Avoid Using Deadly Force
(1) A person can use deadly force in self-defense only where it is necessary to do so. If the defendant could have safely retreated but did not do so, you may consider that fact in deciding whether the defendant honestly and reasonably believed [he / she] needed to use deadly force in self-defense.*
(2) However, a person is never required to retreat if attacked in [his / her] own home, nor if the person reasonably believes that an attacker is about to use a deadly weapon, nor if the person is subject to a sudden, fierce, and violent attack.
(3) Further, a person is not required to retreat if the person:
(a) has not or is not engaged in the commission of a crime at the time the deadly force is used, and
(b) has a legal right to be where the person is at that time, and
(c) has an honest and reasonable belief that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent imminent [death / great bodily harm / sexual assault] of the person or another.
So remember, the law in Michigan states there is generally no duty to retreat, however, juries may use the fact that you chose not to retreat (when one was safely available) in their decision for or against you.
Let’s examine the previous numbered points:
They are not engaged in a crime.
An assailant who is engaged in criminal activity cannot use deadly force to prevent the victim from using deadly force (or other force) and then complain to the police that they had to use deadly force in order to mitigate the situation; while they were robbing the victim.
They are in a place they have a legal right to be.
Although Michigan is considered a “no retreat state,” the person using deadly force must be in a place they are legally able to be. This includes at the store, the ATM, your yard, place of business, shopping with friends, at dinner, etc.
They honestly and reasonably believe deadly force is necessary.
This is where many people fall into trouble. Many experienced criminal defense attorneys will tell you that in order to defend a deadly force encounter, your honest and reasonable belief must be supported by the facts of the case. You may have been truly scared and had an honest belief the assailant was going to kill you, but if the evidence suggests otherwise, you might have a bit of trouble.
The deadly force is used to prevent imminent death, great bodily harm, or sexual assault of the person or another.
These three reasons to use deadly force do not mean you can shoot someone who knocks on your door, makes a future threat, threatened you five minutes ago but hasn’t carried it out yet, threatens you in a road rage incident but does not have the means to carry it out.
As you can read, using deadly force is allowed in very narrow circumstances. Let’s examine more jury instructions:
M Crim JI 7.15 Use of Deadly Force in Self-Defense
(1) The defendant claims that [he / she] acted in lawful self-defense. A person has the right to use force or even take a life to defend [himself / herself] under certain circumstances. If a person acts in lawful self-defense, that person’s actions are justified and [he / she] is not guilty of [state crime].
(2) You should consider all the evidence and use the following rules to decide whether the defendant acted in lawful self-defense. Remember to judge the defendant’s conduct according to how the circumstances appeared to [him / her] at the time [he / she] acted.
(3) First, at the time [he / she] acted, the defendant must have honestly and reasonably believed that [he / she] was in danger of being [killed / seriously injured / sexually assaulted]. If the defendant’s belief was honest and reasonable, [he / she] could act immediately to defend [himself / herself] even if it turned out later that [he / she] was wrong about how much danger [he / she] was in. In deciding if the defendant’s belief was honest and reasonable, you should consider all the circumstances as they appeared to the defendant at the time.
(4) Second, a person may not kill or seriously injure another person just to protect [himself / herself] against what seems like a threat of only minor injury. The defendant must have been afraid of [death / serious physical injury / sexual assault]. When you decide if the defendant was afraid of one or more of these, you should consider all the circumstances: [the condition of the people involved, including their relative strength / whether the other person was armed with a dangerous weapon or had some other means of injuring the defendant / the nature of the other person’s attack or threat / whether the defendant knew about any previous violent acts or threats made by the other person].
(5) Third, at the time [he / she] acted, the defendant must have honestly and reasonably believed that what [he / she] did was immediately necessary. Under the law, a person may only use as much force as [he / she] thinks is necessary at the time to protect [himself / herself]. When you decide whether the amount of force used seemed to be necessary, you may consider whether the defendant knew about any other ways of protecting [himself / herself], but you may also consider how the excitement of the moment affected the choice the defendant made.
We will pull a few sentences from the jury instructions and discuss their implications.
Remember to judge the defendant’s conduct according to how the circumstances appeared to [him / her] at the time [he / she] acted.
In deciding if the defendant’s belief was honest and reasonable, you should consider all the circumstances as they appeared to the defendant at the time.
This statement refers to the Reasonable Man Doctrine that asks, “Would a reasonable person under the same circumstances, knowing what you knew at the time, likely have used the same deadly force in self defense?” This is the position that the jury must hold. If a juror can see the incident through your eyes, knowing what you knew, and agreeing therefore that deadly force was indeed necessary if they were in your shoes, you have a greater chance of walking free.
Elements of Ability, Opportunity, Jeopardy
These three elements must be present to show a justifiable use of deadly force.
The defendant must have been afraid of [death / serious physical injury / sexual assault]. When you decide if the defendant was afraid of one or more of these, you should consider all the circumstances: [the condition of the people involved, including their relative strength / whether the other person was armed with a dangerous weapon or had some other means of injuring the defendant / the nature of the other person’s attack or threat / whether the defendant knew about any previous violent acts or threats made by the other person].
Ability refers to the assailant having the capability to carry out an attack. In other words, if the attacker is twice the victim’s size, possesses a weapon (gun, knife, bat, hands), is holding a big rock, or some other means of inflicting imminent death or great bodily harm, they have the ability.
Opportunity to carry out a deadly force attack can be shown by the proximity of the attacker. An assailant who is making threats with a baseball bat from thirty feet away certainly has the ability, but if he never closes the distance between the two of you it would be difficult to prove the assailant had the opportunity. The same would hold true if you were behind a closed door, in a vehicle, or had some other barrier that would prevent the assailant from breaking.
Finally, jeopardy simply means that you can show a jury you had an honest and reasonable belief that your life was in peril from imminent death, great bodily harm, or sexual assault. What was the intent of the attacker(s)? Is it reasonable to believe they were intending to carry out an attack that would cause imminent death, great bodily harm, or sexual assault?
Under the law, a person may only use as much force as [he / she] thinks is necessary at the time to protect [himself / herself]. When you decide whether the amount of force used seemed to be necessary, you may consider whether the defendant knew about any other ways of protecting [himself / herself], but you may also consider how the excitement of the moment affected the choice the defendant made.
The amount of force you use must be reasonable and only be at a level that will counter-act the force being used against you. If you had any other means of defending yourself (pepper spray, taser, martial arts), this may be taken into consideration.
“I can shoot a person who breaks into my house.”
Remember that you must have an honest and reasonable belief of imminent death, great bodily harm or sexual assault. Although one never has to retreat in their own home, this is not license to shoot on sight.
“If I feel threatened by someone or I feel like someone is going to hurt me, I can use deadly force.”
Simply because a person threatens you, you cannot use deadly force. You cannot use deadly force against a threat that was made but not yet carried out. You cannot use deadly force against a threat that was made or carried out at some other date or time. Remember, the states that the threat must be imminent.
“I don’t have to retreat in Michigan. I can stand my ground.”
Generally, yes you can. However, from an ethical standpoint, you should go out of your way to avoid using deadly force. From a jury standpoint, remember, a jury can use the fact that you had a reasonable means of escape to avoid deadly force in their decision. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!
Advice to take from this article:
If you can escape safely, DO IT!
Avoid using deadly force unless you are faced with imminent death, great bodily harm, or sexual assault.
It is your legal, ethical, and moral responsibility to avoid placing yourself in any situation that could escalate to the use of deadly force.
Train, read, consult, discuss, and practice so that if you are in need of making the decision of using deadly force, you will make right decision, legally, ethically, and morally to preserve your life and the lives of your loved ones.
The judicious use of force needs to be filtered through ethical responsibility and the attitude that you will do everything in your power to avoid its use. The financial, legal, and emotional aftermath can be devastating to you and your family if you make the decision to use deadly force, even if you’re actions are deemed justified by a jury. Your mindset, attitude, behavior, and thought processes should be that of the preservation of life.
 Commonly referenced as The Self Defense Act of Michigan is found in the Michigan Compiled Laws, MCL 600.2922b, MCL 600.2922c, & MCL 777.21c. Public Acts 309-314 of 2006.
 Michigan Model Criminal Jury Instructions, p. 158.
 Michigan Model Criminal Jury Instructions, p. 157.
 Hayes, Marty. What Every Gun Owner Needs to Know About Self-Defense Law. Armed Citizen’s Educational Foundation. Onalaska, WA., 2014.
I have my Concealed Pistol License (CPL), now what?
Art Joslin, DMA | December 26, 2014
An interesting, yet common topic was discussed this weekend in my most recent NRA instructor class. Four new instructors were certified as Certified Pistol and PPITH Instructors. Our discussion was about the lack of quality training standards in Michigan for a citizen to obtain their Concealed Pistol License (CPL).
The discussion quickly gained momentum and the broader topic of training and ability came to the forefront. In Michigan, and many locales, a citizen must only complete an 8-hour course of training, make application, and pass a criminal background check in order to obtain the legal authority to carry a pistol concealed in public.
According to the Michigan State Police, there are slightly less than 500,000 CPL holders in Michigan. The population is currently at 9.9 million people with slightly more than 7 million over the age of 21. This represents approximately 7% of the Michigan population over the age of 21 who are CPL holders.
How many of the 7% of CPL holders are adequately trained to mitigate a lethal force situation? Not very many if they are trained to minimum standards. In Michigan, the minimum requirements for obtaining a CPL, is five hours of classroom instruction and three hours on the range. Minimum number of rounds fired must be at least thirty-five. Why teach to minimum standards? For some instructors, it’s a matter of economics. They have invested heavily in instructor training, equipment for the classroom and range, and continuing education. Other instructors have completed instructor training without ever attending another course to improve their own skills. Many of these instructors do not have the skill-sets to teach others. They barely have the skill-sets to survive a defensive encounter.
The late Lt. Colonel Jeff Cooper, a highly respected firearms instructor, once said, “Owning a handgun doesn’t make you armed any more than owning a guitar makes you a musician.” How true! We can modify his statement for our purposes: “Possessing a CPL doesn’t make you proficient in self-defense any more than owning a car makes you a NASCAR driver.”
As firearm instructors, we must seek to change the mindset of the people we train. Learning to read music is the first step to becoming a musician. Taking a SCUBA course is the first step to learning to dive. Likewise, shouldn’t we consider purchasing a gun and taking a concealed pistol course the first step to learning to use a gun in personal defense? Unfortunately, this is not the mindset of most CPL holders and instructors. Obtaining a CPL and carrying a pistol, concealed and in public, appears to be the end game for many of our citizens.
However, this attitude leaves those carrying a concealed pistol in a dangerous predicament. Carrying a gun is one thing; using it in a defensive confrontation is certainly another.
Let’s take a look at some very real statistics involving lethal force incidents. (Keep in mind while reading this; many defensive firearm courses are based on mitigating a defensive encounter 21 feet from the shooter). Dave Spaulding’s research shows that over 80% of defensive encounters occur within 20 feet of the victim. Furthermore, his research concludes that in the 30 years prior to publication of his research, the majority of the close-quarters defensive encounters occurred within 6 feet. In his book, Counter Ambush: The Science of Training for the Unexpected Defensive Shooting, Rob Pincus discusses the need for training for the “nine to fifteen feet” radius around the victim that “someone could be close enough to attack you without ever noticing [his or her] presence.”
If research proves the majority of defensive encounters occur within 20 feet and the of those, a vast majority occur within 6 feet, why do firearm course objectives place so much emphasis on the 21-foot rule? In 1983, Salt Lake City Officer Dennis Tueller wrote an article, based on his original research, discussing the time it takes for an officer to draw, aim, and fire at an attacker encroaching from 21 feet. In a later interview, Tueller commented that training that day consisted of “draw and fire” techniques from 7 yards. The concept of the 21-foot rule soon became a part of the defense-training lexicon. So much research and many more articles have been written to give us an insight into why the 21-foot rule (which, by the way, was not a term coined by Tueller) is not a hard and fast “rule.” This is part of our culture that must be changed.
Changing the cultural mindset in firearm training requires the instructor to rethink many opinions they have held, perhaps for decades. For example, many instructors continue to advance the myth of the “one-stop shot” even though it has been disproven many times over. When firearm instructors do not become students of their craft, they will continue to use old methodologies, outdated statistics, and continue to be proponents of myths and misconceptions.
The public does not understand, mostly, what they are missing in defensive training. Most students place a deep trust, perhaps to their dismay, in their instructor. As in any professional endeavor, there are good instructors and there are bad instructors. How does the beginning CPL student know the difference? For the student, it is difficult and many times they simply do not know. Rob Pincus states “ Credentials do not always equate to ability.”
How does a student vet a firearms instructor? How do students know if what the instructor is teaching them is valid? Because a class or program meets minimum requirements of some standard does not mean it is adequate to meet the needed requirements of the end-user.
Rob Pincus additionally states “It is important to remember that experts are not always right and certainly don’t always know everything.” Going back to the questions just asked, we can ask the prospective instructor a few questions. Consider the following as a place to start:
What was the last student-level firearms course you attended and when?
In the previous five years, what have you changed about the way you personally train?
How do you keep your current level of skill at peak performance?
What is the title of the last book you’ve read on personal defense?
What is the source of your training philosophy?
If your singular goal in obtaining a CPL is to have the ability to carry a gun in public, you can stop reading here. It is not overly difficult to attend a class for 5 hours, spend a few more hours at the range, make application, pay the requisite fees, and wait six weeks for your license. You will have the legal ability to carry a loaded firearm in public anywhere the law allows. However, if your goal is personal protection, you must look at reality and develop a self-defense plan appropriate to your needs.
Obtaining a CPL should be viewed much akin to earning a driver’s license. Driver education teaches the very basics to get one started. Driving skill is learned over the years to follow. Similar to a driver’s license is the Concealed Pistol License. Your skill with a firearm and skill in defensive tactics is learned, developed, and refined over a lifetime. If you are not willing to put in the time through continuing education, I submit that you should pack your firearm away and make a conscious choice of not including it in your personal defense plan. This would be the most responsible and ethical thing to do.
How is a personal defense plan developed and what do I train? This is a common question among new students and isn’t difficult to understand and develop. Consider the aforementioned research of Dave Spaulding. If over 80% of defensive confrontations occur within 20 feet and a majority of those are within 6 feet of the victim, it should become clear that close-quarters training should be at the top of our personal defense training list. This means we need to focus an appropriate amount of time and training resources to learning how to mitigate this type of attack. In your training model, you may want to consider taking courses in unarmed defense and ambush training. Study the physics and physiology of a close-quarters attack. Train and develop your response. Examine your carry methods. Changes may be needed to safeguard your firearm with a different carry method or retention device. Research the effects of the body’s physiology when involved in a critical incident (This topic will be discussed in a future article). Train to use the body’s natural reactions and safeguards to your advantage. Train in low-light, one-handed shooting, unorthodox shooting positions, shooting from a sitting position, train to transition from a primary firearm to your back up.
Plan your range time to incorporate at least one of these techniques each time you go to the range. Plan to take additional training or intermediate/advanced training each year. Read books, search the training forums, attend conferences, and join a local gun club. If you are choosing to include a firearm in your personal protection plan, you must be more than proficient at simply standing on a square range and putting holes on a paper target.
Obtaining a license to carry a loaded, concealed firearm in public is a huge responsibility and training is developed over a few hours. Training to use that firearm to save your life, or that of another, is developed over a lifetime.
 “American Fact Finder – Results.” American Fact Finder – Results. Accessed October 12, 2014.
 Michigan State Police, Concealed Pistol License Application. 2014.
 Spaulding, Dave. Handgun Combatives. Flushing, NY: Looseleaf Law Publications, 2003.
 Pincus, Rob. Counter Ambush: The Science of Training for the Unexpected Defensive Shooting. I.C.E. Publishing Company, 2013.
 Tueller, Dennis. “How Close is too Close?” S.W.A.T. Magazine, March 1983.
 Hayes, Gila. “The Tueller Drill Revisited,” Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Fund, Inc (2008): accessed November 9, 2014, http://www.armedcitizensnetwork.org/the-tueller-drill-revisited.
 Pincus, Rob. Combat Focus Shooting: The Science of Intuitive Shooting Skill Development. Virginia Beach, VA: I.C.E. Publishing Company, 2010.
 Pincus, Rob. Combat Focus Shooting: The Science of Intuitive Shooting Skill Development. Virginia Beach, VA: I.C.E. Publishing Company, 2010.
Chris Hernandez | OCTOBER 4, 2014 | used with author's permission
This is an important read……
The controversy surrounding New York state’s new gun control laws mystifies me. What’s the big deal about limiting a pistol’s magazine capacity to seven rounds? Nobody needs more than seven rounds for self defense. After all, when you shoot someone even once, they fly through the air and drop dead, just like in the movies.
I arrived on a robbery call one night. A robber had shot a man through the sternum with a 9mm hollow point. He looked dead. I got on the radio and notified dispatch that we had a murder. Thirty seconds later, the victim started moaning and squirming. Less than a minute later he was fully conscious and complained, “This is the fifth time I’ve been shot.”
But nobody needs more than seven rounds. One round is usually fatal. And nobody could possibly still be a threat after being shot more than once.
The same robbers shot another victim that night. One round in the ankle, one in the face and one in the forehead. 9mm hollow points. This victim turned and ran about 500 yards through an apartment complex, pounded on a door to beg for help, and passed out. Last I heard, years after the shooting, he’s still alive.
But nobody needs more than seven rounds. When you shoot someone, they fall to their knees, pledge their soul to Jesus, gasp dramatically and die.
I answered a disturbance call one night. A teenage girl calmly told me that she had gotten into a fight with her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend. Several minutes into the story she informed me she had been shot through the thigh. I looked down and saw a bullet wound through her leg. She was completely unconcerned about it.
I responded to a burglary in progress. A teenager on PCP picked a random house and started kicking the sun room door in. The homeowner stood by the door with his 9mm pistol, called 911 and warned the teenager he was armed. The teenager kicked the door in. The homeowner shot him in the leg, then retreated into the house. The teenager forced his way into the kitchen. The homeowner shot him in the stomach. When we arrived, we had to wrestle the teenager into handcuffs. Had the teenager been armed, he still could have fired a weapon.
But nobody needs more than seven rounds. Seven rounds are more than enough to stop any criminal threatening you. When a criminal gets shot, their body’s entire blood supply sprays onto all the walls and they die within milliseconds.
I answered a call about a man with a gun. When I knocked on an apartment door, a drunk inside pointed a gun at me through a window. I jumped out of the way, drew my weapon and screamed at the drunk to drop the gun. He kept moving the gun, trying to get me in his sights. Another officer in a different spot shot him.
When we got inside the apartment, we found the suspect wide awake, flailing around on the floor. Fortunately a family member had disarmed him. He could still have shot us. The officer had hit him under the left arm. The round went all the way through his upper body and stopped just under the skin below his right arm. Last I heard, years after the shooting, the drunk was still alive.
But nobody needs more than seven rounds. When someone is trying to kill you, all you have to do is fire slowly and carefully to make sure you don’t run out. You can even count your rounds as you shoot. It’s easy.
When investigators asked the officer who saved my life how many rounds he fired, he said, “Two or three, I think.” But when they counted rounds in his magazine, it turned out he had fired eight. He had been a cop for over twenty years, and was a survivor of several shootings. Under stress, he lost count of his rounds. Because that’s what happens when you’re shooting to save your life, or to save someone else’s life.
But nobody needs more than seven rounds. You can just shoot the bad guy in the head. It’s easy to make a head shot under stress, right? And they’re immediately fatal.
I answered a stabbing call at a nightclub. When I arrived I found two women standing at the open door of a truck, telling the driver, “You’ll be okay.” When I shined my flashlight on the driver, I was stunned; he hadn’t been stabbed, he had been shot in the head with a .38 from close range. About a third of his skull was blown away. And he wasn’t just alive, he was awake. He nodded to the women, wiped his face, did his best to stay calm. When paramedics arrived, the man got out of the truck with minimal assistance. He died hours later.
I arrived on a shooting/riot outside a club. One man was dead in the street, another had been taken to the hospital by private car. As we tried to control the crowd, a severely beaten young man walked up to me and slurred, “Hey man, we need an ambulance.” I answered, “Yeah, we have one on the way.” As I spoke, I noticed a bloody dent on the side of the young man’s head. I thought, Is that a bullet hole? The man collapsed at my feet. A 9mm Black Talon hollow point had bounced off his skull. The wound didn’t put the man down until several minutes after he was shot. He survived.
I assisted on a rollover accident. The driver was an older woman who lost control of her truck. At the emergency room, a CAT scan revealed a bullet in her head. The woman died. Her husband was unconscious. Days later, when the husband awakened, investigators asked who shot his wife. The man answered, “Oh yeah, that. She told me she got shot in the head about ten years ago, before we got married. She never went to the doctor or nothing, though.” An autopsy showed it was an old wound. This woman got shot in the head, and never even bothered to get medical attention.
But nobody needs more than seven rounds. If little bullets don’t work, get a pistol that fires bigger bullets. Nobody could still be a threat after being hit by a big round.
In one of our firefights in Afghanistan, three French Marines were hit by gunfire. One died from a head wound. The other two were hit in the upper body and badly wounded. Those two Marines got back to their feet, kept their weapons ready and made it to safety with help. And they were hit by either 7.62×39 AK-47 rounds or 7.62x54R PKM machine gun rounds. Those are far more powerful than what any typical pistol fires.
These stories are all from my personal experience. Secondhand, I know of a man who was shot in the forehead, sneezed and blew the round out his nose. I know of a gang member who had half his head blown off by an AK round, then told the first responding officer, “They shot me, dog.” I know of a robber who ran into a restaurant with an Uzi and was immediately shot twice by an off-duty officer, then ran to a payphone and called 911 to report he had been shot.
Historically speaking, I know of the suspect in the Miami FBI shootout who sustained a non-survivable wound in the first few seconds of the fight, but still managed to kill two FBI agents and wound several others. I know of a drunk suspect who shot an Arkansas deputy twice, then took seventeen 9mm rounds in the torso without effect before the deputy finally shot him twice in the face. I know of the young Georgia mother who shot a burglar five times in the head and neck. He asked her to stop shooting, cried, and drove away. I know of many Soldiers and Marines who sustained horrible wounds and stayed in the fight.
When I’m on the street, I carry a pistol with a fifteen round magazine and three spare mags. Off duty, I carry a weapon and magazines that hold many more than seven rounds. I carry that much ammo because I understand what pistols are capable of, and what they’re not capable of.
The people who are pushing new gun control laws seem to think they understand weapons and lethal force encounters. They don’t. One of them thinks someone armed with a double-barrel shotgun is better off than someone armed with an AR-15, even if the person with the AR knows how to use it. One of them thinks people have been shot with unloaded guns. One of them thinks women can’t use an AR-15, even though women in the military have been using M-16s and M4s for decades. The same person didn’t know the difference between a barrel shroud and a folding stock. Some in the media think a rifle’s sling swivel is used to mount a bayonet and fire grenades. Some of them pay $200 for an expended anti-tank rocket launcher tube, which can’t be reloaded and is nothing more than a piece of fiberglass, proudly hold it over their heads at press conferences and proclaim they’ve protected the public from a “weapon of war”. They think cops who have body armor and backup need high capacity magazines, but private citizens without those things only need seven rounds.
Make your own decision about whether or not to defend yourself, and what you should use to do so. But learn the reality of a gunfight. Understand that you’re likely to only hit with a small percentage of the shots you fire, and those hits may not have much effect.
And most of all, remember that many people who say nobody needs more than seven rounds don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.
Chris Hernandez is a 20 year police officer, former Marine and currently serving National Guard soldier with over 25 years of military service. He is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and also served 18 months as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo. He writes for BreachBangClear.com, Iron Mike magazine and has published two military fiction novels, Proof of Our Resolve and Line in the Valley, through Tactical16 Publishing. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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