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.

Review: Speed Marksmanship with J.J. Racaza

TSG signed up to take a course with J.J. Racaza called Speed Marksmanship held at the Clark County shooting facility in Las Vegas. Some of you might know the name from the television series “Top Shot” and some of you might know his name from the competition world.

J.J. Racaza instructing students at Speed Marksmanship shooting class.
J.J. Racaza instructing students at Speed Marksmanship shooting class.

But what most don’t know is that he has spent a substantial part of his career dedicated to the Department of Homeland Security in operating and training.

That combination of competition and practical firearms perspective made this course extremely interesting.

First things first: this a high-level class. It is not for beginners. The subtle concepts will be lost on those who have not attained an advanced level of skill. Seriously — if you are not willing to explore the advanced concepts of trigger control for 6 hours, this is not the class for you.

The exciting aspect of this course was the focus on breaking through the “normal” concepts of shooting and give you a doorway into the physical and mental aspects of the world’s fastest competitive shooters. It is designed to ruthlessly push your boundaries and force you onto a whole new level of shooting. And J.J. does this in a really, really engaging way.

That being said, J.J. emphasized the “marksmanship” aspect of the course title. It doesn’t matter how fast you are shooting if you are not hitting your target. He reinforced this concept during some of the competitive challenges during the course — only the times with hits were counted. In other words, students with extremely fast misses were disqualified leaving slower students who achieved hits as winners.

Here is a video from the course showing J.J. coaching Brad. The goal of the drill is to increase the speed of the shot transitioning from the near paper target to the far steel target.

As you can see, J.J. is saying Brad had a “delayed press” on the first string. He is coaching him to begin prepping the trigger even as he transitions from the paper target to the steel one about 15 yards beyond. The coaching yields a dramatically improved time for the second string.

Speed Marksmanship Course Concepts

  1. The fundamentals mastered.
  2. Trigger control.
  3. Presentation.
  4. Target transitions.

Class Pros and Cons

These are impressions coming from our experience for one particular day.  Remember that variables such as a different day, a different location or a different group of students can have an effect on the course experience for you. In other words, your mileage might vary.  Also take into account the yin/yang aspect of a positive aspect creating a corresponding negative aspect. Increased personal attention and coaching = pro. The corresponding drag on the rest of the class = con.  You decide what’s more important to you.

Pros

  • J.J. has an engaging personality and his teaching method is a good blend of friendly and firm. He’s the type of instructor who pushes you in a way that makes you want to perform.
  • Surprising amount of personal coaching and one-on-one time.
  • The concepts are extremely advanced which challenge you.
  • Instructor who DOES what he is teaching.  J.J. demonstrates the concepts giving you concrete examples for some very esoteric information. Demonstrating the drills and the concepts at a very, very high level also reinforces the credibility of the instructor. In this case, J.J. makes most of it look easy.  When he pushes himself towards the upper limits of his own speed, you start to see his accuracy degrading — just like students experience.  In business leadership, this expression of vulnerability (J.J. showing us he is human as he begins to “fail”) establishes trust among the group.
  • The concepts are measured. The shot timer is out and used religiously giving students a very real barometer of performance. This is important because some of the methods, particularly for transitions between targets, are perceived to be “slower”, yet the timer proves they are actually faster.
  • Friendly competition and making a game out of the drills adds to the fun and keeps interest.

Cons

  • The length of the course might challenge your concentration and attention for a skill  that demands concentration and attention.
  • The personal coaching time for individual students leaves the rest of the group with some down time. This is great for reloading magazines, hydrating, snacking. But it can make the overall course tempo feel somewhat slower — particularly later in the evening.

Cost

$250 for 9 hours of instruction and training.  Expect to shoot about 500 rounds.

Check out more background on J.J. in the video below:

Self-Defense Handgun: Sacrificing Security over Speed

There seems to be the prevailing attitude that when you need your handgun, you really, really need it right now!

But there is another attitude that is usually espoused by members of the brotherhood in arms which routinely carry their firearms daily and face the rigors of performing a variety of tasks while armed. They say you need to look at keeping your tools (your weapons) secure enough that you can count on them to be with you when you need them.

Take a look at this post from a veteran SWAT officer I know:

“One day, while working with a veteran officer, we received a “Code 3″ call (light and sirens authorized).  I blew past him like he was driving in reverse.  We both made it to the call within short moments of each other.  I think I was getting out of my car when he pulled up. After we cleared the call, he pulled me aside and (without screaming at me) told me something I have never forgotten:  ‘You have to get there to do any good.’ 

Fast forward a couple of years.  I began my search to become proficient in the SWAT realm.  I once had an instructor from a very proficient Southern California training organization tell me that security straps on handgun holsters are a good idea, but should come off once you get ready to go through the door.  The reasoning was that if you need to transition during a firefight, you don’t need the hassle of fooling with the thumbreak of drop holster.  Hey, it made sense to me at the time, as he was Yoda.  I practiced this and practiced this.  And, on the range, it made sense.  I was able to make wickedly fast transition drills. 

Then it happened.

On one of my first SWAT calls.  Dope warrant.  We were riding in the back of our transport van to the location.  As we were approx. 30 seconds out, I readied myself.  I tripped the thumb break on my drop holster.  As soon as we got on scene, the van door flew open, and everyone hauled ass out.  We served the warrant, and life seemed good.  Prior to leaving, we all checked ourselves for extra holes we did come in with, cuts, glass……….make sure you have all your gear…….

I looked down and my hadgun was missing from it’s holster.  Things got really warm and humid really quickly.  No one had called out finding a pistol in the house.  Prior to the team leaving the scene, I volunteered to “help” load the breaching tools.  There in the van, on the floor near where I was sitting, was my handgun.  Luckily, I did not need it.

I have used my thumbreaks and retention devices ever since that time.

You gear has to make it to the fight, in order to do any good.  That requires straps, snaps, retention devices, etc. being engaged. 

The same mindset infects my patrol equipment also.  I put my kit in near identical locations.  Holsters have the same draw.  Edged weapons in similar located pockets, radio on same side, etc.  Repeatability and redundancy.

One thing that has always irked me as an instructor is the lazy mindset some have when it comes to this.  I cannot tell you the amount of times I have seen officers with Level 3 retention holsters not secure all levels of their holsters.  Excuses range from the need to speed up their draw, inability to draw with all three levels engaged, or my favorite, “I can’t get it to snap.”  That’s fine, don’t worry about engaging it.  I’ll come save your butt when you are rolling around in the mud/blood/beer and the bad guy is prying your handgun out.  I betcha you want a level 17 retention holster at that point.

This also goes for magazine pouches, kit pouches, radio pouches, etc., but I focused my reply towards a firearms based response.  I’ve seen a lot of guys who remove the kydex liner from their open top mag pouches in the quest for ever faster reload times.

You have to get there to do any good.”

A couple of things he covers that stand out to me:

  • Security of your firearm and gear is a top concern, it is of no value to you when missing;
  • The value of repetition is so important for optimal performance under stress that you should go to great lengths to make sure all of your equipment and kit has “repeatability and redundancy”.

My own experience will back up our SWAT officer’s narrative. I’ve qualified and patrolled wearing a duty rig that had enclosed magazine pouches positioned horizontally and a Bianchi duty holster with a thumbbreak retention device. I would routinely qualify with 245s and 250s, yet would be lectured by the instructors/range officers who said I would have faster times if I would reconfigure my rig to have exposed vertical magazine pouches and a holster with an internal retention indent. This kind of advice mainly came from officers who clearly did not have to jump fences or wrestle with suspects in the back of a patrol car anymore.  I stuck with my lower profile and more secure rig.

I also personally know at least two individuals who have almost lost their pistols because they were carrying a “speed” rig.  One was a guy who dropped his 1911 in a movie theater. He was wearing a popular rig sometimes known as a “yaqui slide”. It is essentially a scabbard that allows the barrel and the grip to be mostly exposed. When he sat down in the theater seat, the muzzle of his pistol rested on the arm of the chair and pushed the 1911 up and out of the scabbard. Thunk!

The other guy was hiking and carrying his Glock 19 in the same kydex holster he uses for competition. When he sat down on a bolder next to a stream, part of the rock pushed up on the muzzle and, again, pushed the handgun up and out of the holster. This guy saved his pistol from being lost in the stream by quickly trapping the handgun to his side with his elbow.

While some manufacturers ascribe to the security over speed school of thought, the marketplace seemingly overrides the design’s intent. Case in point, the original Glock magazines do not drop free from the pistol. When making the pistols for the Austrian Army, Glock did not want soldiers to lose their magazines if the mag release was inadvertantly pushed.  Yet, American shooters griped about this feature and now you can purchase “drop-free” magazines for your Glock.

At the extreme end of the speed-over-security issue are many competition shooters. I’ve seen extended magazine releases that are so sensitive that a shooter lost his magazine when the stage started with the unholstered pistol placed on a table. Just of the weight of the pistol on the magazine release button released the magazine which fell free when the shooter picked up the pistol to start.  I’ve seen full magazines flop out onto the ground during running stages.

Granted, these are competitions, so the only penalty is either not having your reload available or just the embarassment of having the course looking like a yard sale after you finish your stage.

But, if you are serious student of armed self-defense, give considerable thought to the security vs. speed issue.  It is going to be a bit of a balancing act to be comfortable with the choice you’ve made.

This revised article originally appeared on the old Defend University self-defense blog. 

Beware the Knife Within 21 Feet

“…Department of Justice studies have proven that an adversary armed with only a knife can advance and defeat an individual armed with a handgun from distances up to 20 feet. By the time the armed individual recognizes the threat, determines that lethal force is justified, and withdraws the handgun from the holster, the adversary can overtake and incapacitate him. Adding additional steps to employing the handgun (chambering a round or sweeping the safety), significantly delays the shooter’s ability to respond and place rounds on target. Additionally, during life threatening encounters, one proven physiological effect is that individuals lose fine finger movement, and other motor skills are significantly impacted. This inhibits the individual’s ability to operate small controls on the weapon, such as the safety lever, and can event create problems with his ability to perform such tasks as pulling the slide to the rear to chamber a round. All of these factors reduce the shooter’s capabilities to respond to the threat with rapid and accurate firepower and places him at a major disadvantage, especially against an adversary armed with a firearm. “

Lt. Col. Stephen Dade, USMC (Ret.), Marine Corps Gazette, Jan. 2012

Many of you have heard this before — the so-called 21-food rule.  If you haven’t heard of or seen demonstrations of this concept, there are a lot of videos like this one available: