Self-Defense Lessons from Concealed Handgun Carry Course

This article originally appeared on the Defend University web site and detailed a number of items which apply to everyone carrying a concealed weapon for self-defense from an instructional module in a high level executive protection course.

This particular course had representatives from the military, law enforcement and the security industry. There was also a very skilled martial artist taking the course as a way to get into the executive protection business.  Many of the students have experience at the highest level of the special warfare and special forces business.

The lessons learned by the experiences that happened during this course are the same that instructors will see time and time again — and they have direct applications for any one carrying a handgun for self-defense or for the defense of others. What this class presented to these students was a good dose of stress (much of it probably self-inflicted since they wanted to pass the shooting module to graduate from the course), movement and drawing from concealment.

My observations:

  1. Shooting a handgun quickly and accurately involves perishable skills.  All of the mechanics that go into smooth, effective and accurate handgun shooting are fine motor skills — and that means they don’t hold up well over time without practice.  I witnessed operators with world-class experience right out of the hottest combat zones having a difficult time presenting and shooting their handguns well. I’m not saying they were terrible — they were adequate, but I could tell visually that there was a lot of rust in their technique and it was not what you would expect from this strata of operators. Their comments to me indicated they were not happy with their performance. The comments were not so much an excuse, but more of an explanation like “sheesh, I’ve not really shot my handgun in the last 18 months” or a lot of head shaking and muttering under their breath. It’s obvious there was room for improvement. (To be fair here, it’s a whole different story with other courses I’ve done with active military personnel that involve carbines. Obviously, the M4 is their sword and the one that they spend their time shooting and not handguns.) All of the students’ targets improved significantly as the course went on, some from getting back into the groove of their potential skill level and other because they were benefitting from the instruction and coaching.
  2. Shooting is not a natural behavior. It’s a skill that requires putting together multiple actions over a short period of time. There is a grip, presentation, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger press and follow through. Then there are other aspects like ammunition management and the re-holster. That’s a lot of thoughts and actions in what should be a simple sequence. It’s a bit like golf in that regard. To become a superior golfer, you need instruction. To become a superior gunfighter, you need instruction. Practice and then get more coaching. Practice what you’ve been coached on. The most proficient shooters where those who have been taught an efficient drawstroke and delivery of rounds on target. They have practiced and can smoothly repeat the action over and over again. The self-taught and uncoached students were inconsistent and seemed to be searching for an answer to their inconsistency during the course. This second group of students did benefit significantly from the instruction (my point in #1 above), but they were still outshown by those who had good technique to begin with.
  3. Practice with your concealment equipment. This is probably the number one problem I observed during this course. A good number of the students have not regularly shot from concealment. Police officers and military members are almost always overtly armed and carry a duty rig that is configured the same all the time. Security personnel and citizens almost always do their shooting on the range. But carrying covertly or concealed means you will have some sort of garment covering your holster. In fact, many people carry a different type or sized handgun for concealment than they do for duty or the range. Many people then use a different type of holster for concealed carry than they do for duty, range or competition. Let’s look at this — shoot all the time on the range with one handgun and one holster on a belt, but now carry a different handgun in a different holster under a garment for self-defense. See where I’m going with this? I saw some serious flubs on draws caused by unfamiliarity with the concealed carry. I saw draws that got tangled up in shirttails. I saw two students fumbling with the safeties and magazine release buttons on unfamiliar pistols. I saw a student literally draw his holster — his paddle-style holster was still attached to the pistol when he drew it. It had come right out of his waistband. I also talked with one operator who carried a compact .45 semi-concealed on his plate carrier in Afghanistan only to find out one day that it had become rusted sometime during his deployment. Practice with what you are going to carry. Shake down your set up. Does it work? Does it work under stress? You should probably rethink your handgun system. Instead of having different types of handguns for different activities, take a look at having the same handgun in different sizes, i.e. duty, compact and subcompact. For Glock people that could mean a Glock 17 full-sized handgun for duty or range; a Glock 19 compact model for concealed carry or a Glock 26 subcompact model for deep concealed carry. In this example all of the models use the same caliber (9mm) and are the same size with the exception of shorter barrels and grips for the compact and subcompact models. If you are a .40 caliber fan, then you could repeat this system with a Glock 22 full-sized handgun for duty, a Glock 23 compact for concealment and a Glock 27 subcompact. Staying with one handgun system means the same manual of arms, the same sight picture and the same “feel” for all of the handguns.

Your super-stressful self-defense incident should not be the time to be figuring out your equipment. It should not be the time to find out that you haven’t kept up your skills.

There will be no warm up.

You will not have time to get ready — you will have to be ready.

Train like your life depends on it.

Protective Driving Training Yields Lessons

You are in and around your car for a large portion of your day and it’s statistically likely that you are at risk for assault or injury when you’re on the road. In fact, according to one U.S. Department of Transportation study, aggressive driving may be a factor in 50% of auto crashes.

In low risk, permissive environments, your highest risk for assault might be in the form of road rage.

If you can detect and avoid dangerous situations by the intelligent use of your own vehicle, you are far ahead of the game, even for for the other 50% of crashes that are not caused by some maniac with anger management problems.

We participated in an executive protection driving course and here’s a couple of highlights gained which you can incorporate into your own training:

Explore the capabilities of your car. Modern technology is amazing — the tires, suspension and brakes for newer, well-maintained vehicles provide you with an escape capsule that is capable of more than you think. But you have to find out the handling characteristics of you vehicle before you have an emergency situation. Find an empty area where you can practice turning and braking. Then begin to take corners progressively faster and try to stop progressively faster. Be prepared to hear your tires howl under protest and learn what it sounds like as you push their limits. Also be prepared to feel the thumping of the Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) engaging when you brake hard. The Mercury Marquis that were used in this course are extremely heavy at about 4500 pounds, yet they proved to be surprisingly nimble when pushed. For example, I could do reverse 180s with the big car.

Explore your own capabilities as a driver. You’ll find that once you start exploring the limits of your vehicle, you’ll run into resistance from yourself as fear and old training fight to keep you from pushing the vehicle to it’s ability. Some students report they are hesitant to increase speed or provide sharp steering input because they are afraid they will lose control or because they fear damaging the car’s engine, brakes or suspension. One student (who provides close protection for a well-known female country music star) told me she was holding back because when she heard the tires squealing, she assumed she was doing something wrong.

Be mindful of your tire contact and car balance. Car control depends on an understanding of the physics surrounding acceleration and deceleration and it’s effects on your tires. The only thing holding your car on the road — and therefore allowing you to go, turn and brake — is the contact patch provided by each tire with the road. At the highest circles of driving, you’ll hear more talk about tires and suspension geometry than you will hear about horsepower. Ironically, drift drivers seem to have an advantage here because they are pushing the limits of traction all the time. They know where the edge is, because they intentionally go over it. For many, however, it seems that that only time you know you are on the edge of losing your contact is when you are inexplicably making lazy circles without any control because you’ve lost all traction with your tire patches. You’ll learn how to use your throttle and brake to put the weight of the car where you want it to maximize contact.

Get a coach. Many people think they are expert drivers just because they’ve driven for a number of years or they have never been in an accident. But the truth is, we can all benefit from having a professional coach observe our driving and providing instruction and feedback. Hey, you have a coach for personal training, martial arts and shooting, having a driving coach is not any different.

If you have any road rage stories that put you at risk of assault or injury, please share them here with the group. As always, you comments are encouraged.

This revised post originally appeared on the Defend University website which no longer features articles.