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SURVIVING AN ARMED ENCOUNTER
Columbine, Sandy Hook, World Trade Center (twice), Aurora, San Bernardino, Virginia Tech and Fort Hood: What do these names have in common? Obviously they are locations where psychotic whackos or radical Islamists carried out mass killings in our country…. America, the land of the free, home of the brave. With our open borders and leaders who seem to think a socialist agenda trumps protecting its own citizens has made this land of infidels a target rich environment. If it seems like these are the only places these acts of terror have occurred, well, not hardly. What makes these names stand out is the high number of victims, killed and wounded.
According to shootingtracker.com and National Public Radio, the recent attack in San Bernardino was the 355th mass shooting in the United States in 2015. I’m not here to substantiate or refute the numbers but to give some advice to those citizens who choose to arm themselves as a means of protection.
What seems to be the common denominator in these violent attacks are that the killings are random, where the perpetrator(s) and the victims are not known to each other. The apparent motive in most, if not all of these incidents is for the perpetrators to take out as many people as possible before being stopped by a good person with a gun, police arrival, running out of ammunition, running out of victims or committing suicide.
Based upon the history of these incidents, I see where schools, theaters, churches, community centers or any other place where people gather in bunches that are perceived to be “gun free zones,” are where an attacker is most likely to strike.
In most of these incidents, had there been armed security, armed teachers, armed soldiers or armed citizens, the attacks would not have produced nearly as many victims. If and when enough people in this country go armed and that fact becomes known and the number of known “gun free zones” is reduced, the number of attacks will be reduced.
Jihadists are not afraid to die. Their idea of failure and biggest fear is not being able to take out as many infidels as intended before becoming martyrs and sacrificing their disgusting carcasses for Allah. It’s a lot more difficult to identify motives when the attackers have mental issues which were the cases at Sandy Hook and Aurora, Colorado.
Whatever the motives, one thing is clear. No state is immune and no community can claim total safety and immunity from attacks. And please note that this study does not include “normal” criminals such as robbers, rapists and other felons who’ve populated our turf for as long as man has been here. In some of the larger metropolitan areas, carjackings and home invasions are on the rise. Call me paranoid or call me prepared but in my house I keep the doors locked and I have firearms strategically located where I’m never more than a few steps from grabbing one.
I find it ironic we have a president who wants to disarm America but because of him, more Americans than ever are purchasing guns. I believe there are three main reasons. They know our leadership isn’t interested in protecting them, they want to get what they can before guns are outlawed and many have come to realize America is becoming an increasingly dangerous place.
Practice Avoidance First
My purpose here is to provide some helpful pointers, things I’ve learned (and taught) during an extended career in law enforcement. The first and possibly most important piece of advice I can give, is to do your best to avoid an armed confrontation if possible. Even if you’re highly trained, well-armed and mentally prepared for a gunfight, guess what……you can still get shot. Weird and totally unexplainable things can happen when guns go off.
Where I started my career in the local sheriff’s office, there were two deputies that responded to a bank robbery alarm in a rural community back in 1970. Both deputies were on the sheriff’s pistol team and one was on the “Governor’s Twenty,” a list of the top twenty police pistol shooters in the state.
Without going into a lot of detail, the bank was being robbed by two suspects. Only one was armed and he had a .32 automatic with full metal jacketed bullets, rounds not noted for being man-stoppers. The deputies were both armed with .38 Specials with high performance ammunition. After an exchange of gunfire, both robbers got away unscathed and one deputy was down on the sidewalk, dying from one hit from the .32 auto. The bullet hit the deputy in the sternum (breast bone) and splintered the bone sending several pieces of bone shards into his aorta. He bled to death in just a few minutes. The county pathologist who did the autopsy later said he couldn’t have saved the deputy had he been shot on the operating table, there were so many small holes in his aorta.
One suspect was later gunned down in a shootout with several officers after they located him in a remote area in the Sierra foothills. The second suspect, driving the stolen sheriff’s car was apprehended two days later when he was forced off the road by deputies from a neighboring county. This suspect was hit with 11 pellets from a OO buckshot shell….and…..he took a hit in the throat from a .357 Magnum. Two weeks later, he was doing push-ups in his jail cell. I had just started with the department and was one of his guards.
One hit from a low-powered .32 auto kills a man but his shooter takes all of these hits from a buckshot round and a very powerful .357 and survives because every pellet and bullet missed the vitals. What are the odds?
In another incident, a sheriff’s Sergeant was on the range, practicing with his AR-15. He was shooting 55 grain full metal jackets, a standard military load at the time. The deputy was a firearms training officer, setting up a course of fire using steel targets. The target was 70 yards downrange. Now we know better but at the time it was a common practice. The metal target had some pock marks where previous bullets had dented the steel, others had fully penetrated it.
The deputy was wearing shooting glasses but without the larger lenses. As he fired, the bullet hit the steel and flattened but came back on the same line of flight where it left, striking the deputy on the point of the orbital bone, just above the glasses frame. The bullet fragment deflected down and into the eyeball, slicing it through, coming to rest at the rear of the eye socket. Less than a quarter of an inch away from entering the brain.
Fortunately, the blown out eye was my non-dominant eye and although the incident ended my already too-long law enforcement career, it only caused a brief intermission in my shooting career. Again, what are the odds?
I cite these cases to show how things can go terribly and tragically wrong when bullets start flying and oftentimes totally unexpected things can happen. One thing to take away from these incidents is no matter how well armed you are and what may seem like overwhelming odds in your favor, you can still get killed or maimed. This is why I say avoid a shooting confrontation if at all possible, if you’re given the time and opportunity to make that choice.
Mindset Wins Fights
Most people, whether they’re gun fanciers, experienced law officers or first time buyers, consider the type and caliber of firearm as the first thing they think about when deciding to arm themselves for protection for self and family. I agree this is a very important consideration but there’s another issue that should be addressed first and that’s mindset.
Set aside for a second, your desire to be the ultimate warrior, the Rambo and the macho male attitude if you have it. Ask yourself, “Can I really kill? Can I do it without even a split second’s hesitation? Really? Seriously? With me will it be flight or fight?” And if you’re purchasing one of those cute new pink camouflaged pistols for your wife or girlfriend, this question becomes even more relevant. If she’s really all in for becoming armed and willing to practice and learn all about self-defense then go for it. If she’s passive and succumbs reluctantly at your insistence then you may want to reconsider.
My point here is Fear is not cowardice. Anyone who has no fear when facing an armed adversary is most assuredly 6 fries short of a happy meal. Learn to convert your fear into an instant burning desire to survive and to beat that bastard who is drawing down on you. If you can master this aspect of self-defense, you will have a far better chance to remain standing when the smoke clears.
Choosing the Right Gun
What gun should you choose for self-defense? Chances are you are already an accomplished shooter and already have one or more guns for this purpose since you’re on this website. The gun has to be accessible, reliable, simple and powerful. The word powerful should have an asterisk.
If I were going into an armed confrontation and I knew it ahead of time that I was going, yeah, I would still take a pistol but it would be stuck in my waistband somewhere out of the way so it wouldn’t get in the way of my rifle or shotgun. No knowledgeable shooter in his right mind would choose a pistol over a much more powerful and accurate long gun. If you are a stay-at-home sort who rarely leaves your house or property, the choice is easier.
When you see SWAT teams on the news, they always have long guns. SWAT teams mobilize because they’re going into a high risk situation that has a high likelihood of gunfire. Cops on patrol have pistols, only because it’s not practical to carry a slung rifle every time they climb out of their patrol car.
A good short-barreled shotgun by the bed, loaded with buckshot or even birdshot works rather nicely in close quarters and limited lighting conditions. I say birdshot because in distances you would face an intruder in a house, especially in low light, it increases your chances of hitting the bad guy and will do plenty of damage to stop the fight. The added benefit is it will not penetrate interior walls as easily and pose as much risk to family members in other rooms of the house. Large buckshot and most pistol bullets can penetrate sheetrock like it was paper.
What is best for self-defense/concealed carry? If you ever want to start an argument at a gun shop, shooting range, police squad room or online forum, just make a declaration what’s best, revolver, semi-auto, 9mm, .40, 10mm, .45, .357 Magnum or any other caliber or model.
Don’t make a very common mistake of over- gunning yourself. A rule of thumb is to arm yourself with the largest practical caliber you can shoot accurately. If you have trouble controlling a .45 auto and aren’t satisfied with your hit ratio then downsize to the .40 or 9mm until you find one that’s comfortable to shoot. You can’t prevail in a gunfight if you miss with a 10mm or .45 due to flinching. You can win with a 9mm you shoot comfortably and accurately.
If you’re a novice and just getting interested, you can consult with someone whom you know and trust to give you some guidance. If you live near an indoor shooting range that rents handguns to use in their facility, it’s a good opportunity to try different models and calibers to see what might fit your need.
A few paragraphs back I mentioned the gun should be accessible, reliable, simple and powerful. The term powerful is subjective and can mean different things to different people, including the experts, or more especially the experts. What I mean is powerful enough to get the bad guy’s attention.
Most law enforcement experts and trainers agree it should be nothing less than .355 (9mm) or .357 calibers. The incident with the .32 auto putting down the deputy with one shot should be considered a fluke. There are just too many cases where lower powered calibers don’t get the job done, at least not fast enough to keep him from inflicting injury or death to the innocent.
Keep Them Accessible
Just a few days ago, I was at our local gun club range with a friend who showed me his new Glock Model 43 9mm, a sub-compact auto he bought to replace his older carry gun which was a Colt .45 ACP. His reasoning was that for years he felt he needed the power and stopping ability of the .45 but lately he found he was going out in public more and more without because it was just too heavy, bulky and hard to conceal. He found the Glock 43 to be so light and small he hardly knew it was on him. If the gun is left at home or in your car when you leave, it does you no good. Accessible, it’s not.
Speaking of being accessible, there are more holsters and means to carry on the market than ever before. Belt holsters, inside the pants holsters, pancake holsters, ankle holsters, purses with holsters built in, shoulder holsters and even holsters built into women’s bras. Now there are fanny or waist packs built specifically for carrying pistols. My latest acquisition is a small, nylon pack made by 5.11 right here in my back yard. It’s small and can be placed anywhere around your middle that’s comfortable. It will carry and conceal a whole myriad of handguns all the way up to full size autos.
Reliable and Simple
I’ve been told Glock handguns have the fewest moving parts of any on the market today. This gun has proven itself to be both simple and reliable. So much in fact, other manufacturers have been copying this gun and turning out very nice pistols. I know from experience that the Glock, modern Smith and Wesson M&P models, the Springfield XD and the Sig Sauer models are all well-built and reliable handguns. Even with many types of hollow point ammunition, they feed and cycle without stoppages.
Not all that many years ago, one of the biggest reasons police agencies shied away from autos was they were notorious for jamming with any ammunition other than ball or round-nose-type bullets. These modern pistols have all but, on the rarest occasions, eliminated that concern.
TRAIN AND PRACTICE
I would venture to say by far, the biggest majority of people who purchase a handgun for defensive purposes rarely practice shooting it and rarer yet, practice often. He will pick up his pistol and a box of ammunition, take it home, load it and stick it in his nightstand drawer or maybe the glove box of his car or truck. Some may take it out and run a magazine or two through it and hopefully, he’ll reload it but then it goes back into the truck or bedside drawer. Here’s an even scarier thought, many will for safety’s sake, leave the chamber empty. That practice differs little than stepping into the ring in a mixed martial arts fight with one arm handcuffed.
If you’re concerned about safety and mishandling, then find other ways to mitigate that. Keep it out of reach or hidden from view or whatever but don’t handicap yourself with an empty chamber. Most modern pistols are made to be very safe with a round in the chamber. When the chips are down and a threat is facing you, the last thing you need to worry about is having to think where the gun is, where the safety is and remember if you chambered a round. If you’re in a life and death situation and you have to stop and think about any of these things your body could be absorbing bullets or your jugular could be slashed open by the time you get it figured out.
Practice and Repetition
The best way to overcome having to think these thoughts in a life or death situation is practice and repetition. When I say practice, I don’t mean going out to a field or gun range, tacking up a bullseye target, standing back 50 feet it says on many bullseye targets and shoot, one-handed, slow-fire. Practice means doing your best to duplicate what might happen in a real adventure.
If your main concern is a late night, uninvited guest breaking into your home then the combat distance will probably 15-20 feet or less. It can be a lot less if the bad guy is coming at you. Practice this way. Keep a flashlight by the gun in an easy to access location. Now there are mini lights on the market with led bulbs that are extremely bright (blinding).
Find a range or remote location where you can shoot after dark. Place a man-sized target (they’re available anywhere online) at a distance approximating room distance. Practice shooting in low light, practice shooting with a flashlight. Learn to load it in the dark and change magazines in the dark. Do it often, often enough to where you can do it without thinking about what you’re doing. If you practice in the dark, it will force you to learn to do it all by feel and not rely on your eyes for help.
When I say practice a lot and often, you don’t have to take out a loan against your house to purchase ammunition. Burning up hundreds of rounds of ammunition each time you go out isn’t necessarily the answer. For instance, when I was shooting police competition years back we had a match in Ventura County, north of Los Angeles. I was with a group that was invited to tour the Ventura County sheriff’s range and armory that was state of the art at the time. I hate to admit it but this was just about 45 years ago. They had an indoor range that was right next to the squad room where the oncoming shift attended briefing.
Right after briefing while preparing to hit the streets, each deputy went to the indoor range and with his Smith & Wesson .41 Magnum, fired the 6 rounds in his gun and did 2 reloads in very low lighting conditions. He fired 18 rounds, moved to the gun cleaning station, cleaned his handgun and reloaded it and his speed loaders. It was required that a buddy or fellow officer inspect his gun and speed loaders before he left the armory. The deputies from this sheriff’s department fired 18 rounds, every day they went on duty. Shooting and reloading became as automatic as tying your shoes.
Hire a Trainer
One final thing. I can’t overstate the importance of spending a few bucks or whatever the price is in your area to get some up to date training from a competent CCW trainer. In California and I assume most states, this training is required before one can get a concealed carry permit. Most of these trainers are police trainers who have either retired or are doing this as a side job. You are NEVER too old or too experienced to where you can’t learn something useful from somebody else.
Most of my years in law enforcement I was a firearms training instructor, retiring just over 10 years ago. Recently I attended a concealed carry class given by a very popular and capable trainer. I was quite surprised at how much he was teaching that was new since my days on the job. New guns, new ammo, new gadgets, new techniques all new to an old law dog. Most all of these things came about at the expense of somebody, someone innocent who lost a gunfight. We owe it to those souls and to ourselves to learn from their tragic experiences.