In the wake of the latest mass shooting tragedy in a gun-free zone by yet another anti-depressant popping psychopath, we see two responses that have become just as linked as night following day. First comes grand-standing by the politicians and media to push the idea of "common sense" gun laws, a.k.a. total confiscation through the Australian model, despite the inconvenient fact that gun violence has been cut in half in the last 20 years. This action, designed to lower the number of guns in America, instead provides a delightful Newtonian equal and opposite reaction that makes September, 2015 the 5th month in a row to set all-time record-high gun sales.
Whether these new guns are purchased for stock-piling, profit-making, or preparing for the 5th "easy" step to create a Gun Free America, there is one form of gun control that even the most radical supporter of the 2nd amendment can and should get behind, and that is self-control.
This is not a push for state-mandated licensing, education, or any other type of governmental restriction on the natural right to protect oneself. Instead, this is an example of the radical libertarian tactic of persuasion, a plea for a voluntary application of common sense. If you're going to take on the awesome responsibility of gun ownership, it is in your own best interest that you train both mind and body to prevent a senseless tragedy, whether through a negligent discharge or by having the mental acumen and tactical skills required to respond to an active shooter.
Having not grown up with guns, taking a basic firearms safety class was the first step I took before assuming the responsibility of firearms ownership. Since then, I have taken multiple safety and training classes for both the handgun and the rifle. For those that have not expended the time or money in such training, this post will review the key mental and tactical concepts that I have learned, not at all meant to serve as a substitute for such training, but to pique your interest and convincingly prove it to be a worthwhile investment, one that could even save your life.
While different organizations have their own flavor of gun safety rules, by far the most adopted, simple, and comprehensive are Jeff Cooper's four rules:
- All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.
- Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. (For those who insist that this particular gun is unloaded, see Rule 1.)
- Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target. This is the Golden Rule. Its violation is directly responsible for about 60 percent of inadvertent discharges.
- Identify your target, and what is behind it. Never shoot at anything that you have not positively identified.
You - or your family - those additional three words add another level of sobriety to the equation that need to be considered. While most states have passed legislation to make it illegal to have firearms unlocked or otherwise accessible to children, we need to remember the determination each child has when searching for birthday or Christmas presents when the parents are out of the home. Merely hiding and locking the guns aren't enough, all members of the family, including children, should be inducted into the seriousness and responsibility of firearms ownership.
Consider two homes that contain firearms and children. In the first house, the child is taught the rules of firearms safety and made to memorize them before they are allowed to use a gun under adult supervision. In turn, they are taught how to shoot as early as the parents think their maturity allows, perhaps starting with a BB or pellet gun first, but moving to the 22 LR caliber as quickly as possible. After all, a BB or pellet gun may not even break the skin, and you risk setting an example counter to the rules of gun safety to teach a child that some guns can be shot without serious consequences. The children will feel the pride and maturity that comes with the trust and responsibility expected by the parents, and while the guns are locked up, the parents are more than happy to take the children out shooting to reinforce their skills as often as possible. These children don't have an interest in toy guns, they have the real thing.
In our second house, all state and local laws are followed to a T, and that's about it. The guns are stored behind child safety locks, and all the children know about guns are what they see in movies and video games - point it and go bang! This ostrich with his head in the sand approach may work fine, that is, until the day the child is rummaging through the closet, looking for Christmas presents. Maybe that day passes without incident, but what about when a friend is over, and the child wants to show off what he found? In which house is a tragedy more likely to occur? The question should answer itself. To reemphasize the point, if you're going to own firearms, it's not just you that needs to be educated and responsible - everyone in the house needs to take on the same mentality. Firearms ownership is truly a family affair.
The Art of the Handgun
Front Sight Firearms Training Institute's 4-day defensive handgun course. While the four stages of competence is generically used to describe the progress that a student makes through any discipline, the trainers at Front Sight described a fifth stage applicable to firearms, which is that of the student who is "Intentionally Incompetent". This type of firearms owner knows he is incompetent, but chooses not to do anything about it either through laziness or fear. From there we move on to the traditional categories of the Unconsciously Incompetent, the Consciously Incompetent, The Consciously Competent, and the Unconsciously Competent student.
Going into Front Sight, I knew I didn't fall into the Intentionally Incompetent, as by definition, I was trying to do something about my skill level. I thought I'd humbly rank in the "Consciously Incompetent" category, so I was very surprised to hear the Front Sight instructors claim that 95% of all gun owners, including those in the police and military, should be regarded as Unconsciously Incompetent. How could that be? After all, I competed monthly in IDPA matches and had earned the rank of "marksman" - how could I simultaneously be unconsciously incompetent with my firearm? Needless to say, I was very skeptical of the claim, but amazingly, by the end of the training I became a believer.
The former training had been given by state-licensed professionals that included former police and military, and while I had been taught how to load the weapon, how to hold it, how to align the sights, and how to fire - I came to find that just about every technique I had learned was either incomplete or inadequate for a truly tactical situation. It's one thing to shoot paper targets with all the time in the world, but not only will a "bad guy" not bless you with that luxury, but your own skills seriously degrade when your heart beat is accelerating, your palms are sweaty, and your mind is racing with adrenaline and fear.
|HARD focus on the front sight… Pressssssss|
So while I learned many new techniques, such as changing my stance to use isometric pressure to "push" my firearm with my trigger hand while "pulling" the firearm with my secondary hand, how to apply a consistent squeeze for a surprise break and slowly releasing the trigger until it resets, a 7 step draw from concealment, and to always aim for a fist sized pattern from any distance (if your pattern is larger, slow down, but if you're too accurate, speed up!); the most valuable lesson I gained from Front Sight is the realization of how much I didn't know.
While it was rewarding to learn how to consistently put two shots to the thoracic cavity from concealment in 2 seconds, the most impactful lesson is to find out what it's like to be in a life or death scenario, both from the perspective of staying alive, and the consequences of having to take a life in defense of your own. Through discussions you play through several scenarios: if you hear a window crashing in your house at 2:00 A.M., what do you do? Perhaps some would say to lock n' load and search the house, but after going through a live-fire drill in a Front Sight house, you come to a different perspective after you see how your hands shake, your heart beats through your chest and your accuracy degrades. Now the option of barricading yourself in your room and call 9-1-1 seems a little more appealing. That is, unless you hear the cry of a loved one somewhere in the house and you have no other choice - at that point the police are minutes away and seconds count. In this case the house scenario provides the jolt of reality of how little prepared you really are to deal with such a scenario, and just how critical it is to regularly partake in serious tactical training.
The Rifleman: an American tradition
Front Sight's practical or precision rifle course, and therefore recognizing that I am likely an "Unconscious Incompetent" in the rifle in the same way that I was for the handgun, nevertheless I highly recommend the training I received from the Appleseed Project. Volunteer run, only charging $30 a day or less for ladies and minors, the Appleseed Project seeks to pass on the heritage of the American rifleman by teaching 1-3 day classes on the fundamentals of precision rifle shooting while mixing in stories of the revolutionary war and Paul Revere's ride. By teaching the techniques necessary to match the Revolutionary War rifleman's precision of head shots at 250 yards, the Appleseed Project scales back the size of the targets in order to shoot at 25 yards, making it an accessible class that can be offered everywhere in the country.
Going into that class my groups were the size of a basketball, and by the time I left I was overjoyed to hit the 1 inch square / 250 yard "head shot" in a timed shooting drill. In order to achieve this feat in just 3 days of training, we focused on proper shoulder and cheek placement, trigger control, the rifleman's cadence, and the natural point of aim, all the while learning how to properly use the sling to stabilize the prone, sitting, and standing positions.
|The Sling: Who knew it wasn't just for carrying your rifle?|
However, it wasn't until taking a Barrett long range rifle class that I saw how these techniques that can accomplish a great deal at 25 yards require some refining at long distances. While short distances can be forgiving of the occasional slip-up, those little things add up in a big way when going out to distances of 600, 800, and 1,000 yards. If every component of every shot isn't perfect, then it's immediately obvious at those distances.
For instance, rifles with a pistol grip stock are generally held with the trigger finger wrapping the thumb around the stock. The Barrett instructors suggested that we defy common sense and instead keep our thumb aligned with the rest of our hand, such that the rest of our hand is pushing the stock into our shoulder, and avoiding the slightest pressure from the thumb to squeeze the opposite side of the stock as the trigger finger executes it's slow squeeze. Sure enough, we saw one shooter was able to adjust his grouping by a few inches from right to left merely by making this adjustment.
In another case, we saw how the prone position traditionally taught needed some adjustment as well. Instead of adopting an off-center relationship between the body and the rifle, they recommended that we ensure our body is center of mass is perfectly perpendicular to the plane of the rifle. In other words, as you watch the reticle of your scope rhythmically move to your breathing when timing your rifleman's cadence, you must ensure that the path of the reticle is exactly up and down. If there is any left-to-right movement, then your body needs to be adjusted to correct this, as otherwise it is going to show up down range.
Speaking of the scope reticle, a proper understanding of the scope was the biggest lesson learned from long range rifle training. While we were taught the calculations for target size, distance, and adjustments for both the MIL and MOA style reticle and adjustments knobs, the lesson begged the question, why on earth do nearly all scopes have MIL style reticles but MOA adjustment knobs! Ok, it's good to know that 1 MIL is roughly 0.3 MOA, but why force these rough calculations, especially if you actually had to make that determination when it counts. Instead, wouldn't it make sense to be consistent and get a MIL-MIL or a MOA-MOA scope, where the dots on the reticle perfectly align with the adjustment knobs, removing the need for rough math and rounding errors?
However, even this solution isn't complete for variable power scopes. Again, most traditional scopes are "Second focal plane", meaning that the reticle stays the same size as the sight picture shrinks and grows according to the power setting. The problem then, is that the MOA or MIL reticles are only accurate at one particular setting, usually the highest magnification. If you are at a lower setting to acquire your target, you'd have to again resort to quick math to make a shooting opportunity. Instead, one could look into "First Focal Plane" scopes, where the reticle grows and shrinks in relation to the target, such that the markings of the reticle are always constant. With 1 MIL always equaling 1 MIL, the shooter can make distance adjustments or hold-over at any magnification on the fly. While these scopes are generally more expensive, the price might just be worth it.
The final lesson was the importance of data sheets. The combination of a unique gun, a precise brand of ammunition, as well as the elevation, pressure, and temperature all come into play for long distance shooting. On the one hand, trial and error could slowly but surely achieve precise data sheets that can be collected and used in the future. On the other hand, spending $15 on the "Ballistics AE" smart phone app paid for itself many times over within an hour of shooting match grade ammunition. After entering the temperature, elevation, pressure, information on my rifle, and selecting my ammunition, it presented a data sheet that made me feel like I was cheating. All the way out to 900 yards I could rely on the elevation adjustments to be perfectly spot on, allowing me to focus only on wind adjustments. Never having shot farther than 200 yards prior to this experience, it was incredibly rewarding to learn the techniques required to hit a 12" target at 700 yards and a 24" target at 1,000 yards. It may not be a skill likely to come into play in a life or death situation, but it's definitely rewarding in it's own right!
|Who cares if it's practical? Long range shooting is just plain cool.|
For the principled libertarian, the right to firearms is absolute. There are no misguided arguments of practicality, history, or statistics that can override my right to life and property, with the logical implication that I can protect them from deadly force, with deadly force. Anything less denies my self-ownership and makes me a slave to those who would disarm me - but all that aside - these principles, admirable as they are, will not prevent a negligent discharge or win a single gun fight.
Yet, as important as it is to have a quality weapon and be properly trained in its use, we must conclude by going back to the great Jeff Cooper, who argued that the most important tool for surviving a lethal confrontation is not the weapon or the martial skills, but the combat mindset.
Especially with the introduction of smart phones and the walking-zombie effect it brings, nearly the entire nation spends its time in condition "White", completely unaware and unprepared. By taking on the responsibility of firearms ownership, and especially for those that decide to conceal carry, you must be willing to make the conscious effort to live in condition "Yellow". To be "Yellow" is to be relaxed but alert, aware of the world around you. From condition "Yellow" you are capable of identifying a specific threat and moving into condition "Orange", and if need be, to condition "Red". Hopefully, if you are ever faced with a harrowing situation that requires a fight to save your own life or the life of another, you will be able to rely on a solid investment of mental and tactical training. It may not be the "law" to take such training, but ultimately, it's just common sense gun control.