26 January 2014

Shoot naturally

When you teach personal protection for a living, people are often interested in the tools you carry, and for me it isn't any different.  People always ask me what light, gun, or knife I carry.  But a question I seldom get is what skills do I teach those closest to me.

By the time my son Frank was 7 years old, I had been a cop for over a decade, used a pistol and shotgun in a fatal shooting, shot a child molester with a 12 bean bag from about 15 yards away, been on the SWAT team for about 8 years, and had attended 3 firearms instructors schools.  He had been shooting BB guns and 22 rifles for a few years, but the time had come to start teaching him how to use a pistol to save his life.  Those who have attended classes have heard me say that in my opinion the firearms training I had received prior to my shooting was like driving on the highway in preparation for driving in the Indy 500.  The more and more I read, the more and more I spoke to other officers in my agency and others involved in deadly force confrontations, the more I came to believe that training was not only taking advantage of how humans actually react under combat stress, but it was working against it.   What follows is how I trained and continue to train my son, other family, friends, and students.  What made my son different was that he didn't have any preconceived notions of how things were meant to be.  Here were some considerations I had.

1) The reason behind me teaching him pistol craft was so that he could defend himself against someone trying to kill him.

2) Training had to be fast and fun.

3)  Training had to continue in spite of ammo costs or not having a place to shoot live fire.

4)  Training had to be integrated with the open hand combative, impact weapons, and edged weapon skills we were already working on.

The very first full size pistol I put in his hand was a Glock 17 airsoft.  I put him about 7-10 yards from the flagpole in front of our house, which was about 3 inches in diameter.  One of the first things I ever said to him was that it was a handgun and not a "handsgun", and that that most of his time should be spent shooting with one hand.    The second thing was that he had his strong hand and his other strong hand, meaning I did not want him to have any distinction between which hand he was shooting with.  I told him to focus on the pole and keep both eyes open, then I cut him loose, all you heard was ping, ping, ping, as he continued to fire, switching between hands.  If you looked from the front, it would look like the shooter on the cell phone at the top of this article.  People without an understanding of anatomy will make a joke about this being "gangster".  Others will realize that is the natural position of the wrist when pointing and throwing a punch.  The reason is that it is anatomically correct.  All of your bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons are locked into place.  If you hold the pistol within the traditional position and then roll it into this natural position, you can actually feel it lock and unlock.  The natural position also turns your arm into a shock absorber to control recoil.

Frank is now 14 and over the past 7 years we have continued working this drill with the airsoft and our house gun which is a CZ75B.  The transition between the airsoft and live handgun was seamless.  Any pistol you put in Frank's hand becomes part of his body, not a tool in his hand.  He enjoys shooting neat little groups with rimfire handguns and rifles, but when it comes to centerfire pistols, this is how he continues to train as we add in things like moving targets and having him move.  Lots and lots of airsoft pinging things like the flag pole and old cookie sheets.  I have done the same to a lesser extent but with the same results with his Mother and 17 year old sister.  Knowing that I have trained them in a way that will lend itself to working with the effects of combat stress, gives me peace of mind when I am not home.  Something that a pretty paper target never did.

I realize that many who read this have spent a lot of time and money training and are very competent shooters because of it.  My career has also allowed me to do the same.  I am not throwing the baby out with the bathwater saying that live fire at targets or even competition is bad.  What I am saying is that more than any other firearm, the handgun is most likely to be used for self-defense than long guns.  We need to define what we are training for and then train accordingly.  Everyone who may be in the position to use a handgun to defend themselves may not dedicate enough time to training, so the training they do must be dedicated to things that will prepare them for the realities of a real situation.  For law enforcement, the Supreme Court has held that training must be recent, relevant, and realistic for their applications.  We as armed citizens would be wise to hold out training to the same standard.

As an instructor, I always ask myself in reference to every skill set what I would teach someone if I only had an hour.  After the basics of safe gun handling, this would be it, and that being the case I think it is important to spend a lot of time on it.

So, if you are new to handguns and your interest is in using them for personal protection, try this out. If you are an experienced shooter and carry a gun, consider giving this a chance as well.

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