A few weeks ago in Arkansas, I was teaching a 40-hour class for armed citizens and off duty cops. The course finishes with a tough written exam on deadly force law and tactics, and a 60-shot live fire qualification encompassing dominant hand only, non-dominant hand only, speed reloads, shooting from cover positions, and cetera. Before the students shoot, the staff runs a “pace-setter”: we shoot the timed course of fire while they watch, so they can get a good mental image of what the stances and techniques they’re expected to perform look like, and how fast they’ll have to do it to score well. Given that there are fixed time limits, this also lets the observers kinda “set their internal clock.” Part of the incentive is, whatever score I shoot, if the student ties me they get an autographed dollar bill inscribed, “You tied me at my own game,” and if they outshoot me, they earn an autographed five-dollar bill that says, “You beat me at my own game.”
Nothing makes me prouder of my students than giving them one of those dollar bills. I confess, however, to mixed feelings about having to pay out a fiver. On the one hand, as I tell them beforehand, there’s no greater compliment a student can pay an instructor than to outperform the teacher in the skill being taught. On the other hand, there’s the personal excoriation of “Oh, crap, I blew it!”
I normally shoot it with a perfect 300 out of 300 points score, as I damn well should, having run this course for decades. But – less than half an hour after telling them to stay at a “conscious competence” level and think about every shot as they’re squeezing it off, I violated my own rule and let myself slip into the “unconscious competence” mode sometimes called “automatic pilot.” The sight alignment was hard and solid from the fifteen yard line, but my stance wasn’t quite perfect for natural point of aim apparently, and about the time that I saw the well-aligned sights had drifted to the right and realized that I was automatically pressing the trigger, there was a very brief instant when I thought, “The sights need to come more left but my finger is pressing the trigger and” — BANG!
The sights told me the story before I saw the bullet hole: I had broken the shot prematurely with the gun aligned to 3 o’clock of where I needed the shot to go, and that was exactly where the 230 grain Winchester .45 ACP hardball bullet hit…just outside the maximum 5-point zone and into the four-point zone. I did what I should have done beforehand, and turned off the auto pilot and went back to conscious competence – thinking about what I was doing. The rest of the shots went center, but I finished with a 299 out of 300…and yes, that cost me more than one five-dollar bill.
The “snub-nose .38” revolver, dating back to the Colt Detective Special of 1926, is a standard prop in noir movies. Most see it as an urban gun, something to hide under the suit in the dangerous streets of the big cities. However, country folk like ‘em too. Where I live nowadays, I often spot one in the jeans pocket of a workin’ man, or even the front chest pouch of a farmer’s overalls (where it’s pretty handy to get to, actually).
A general rule of little guns is that “they’re easy to carry, but hard to shoot.” A Google or Amazon search should get you to some useful advice, such as the book “The Snubby Revolver” by my old friend Ed Lovette, who has “been there and done that.” Now we can add a small but meaty booklet by an old friend, Michael deBethencourt.
A lifelong martial artist, Michael is best known for his expertise with two weapons: the knife, with which he has developed his own simple, primal, and highly effective series of techniques, and the short-barrel revolver. The reading matter in question is titled “Thirty Eight Straight Tips for Better Snub Shooting.” The short-barrel Smith & Wesson .38 depicted on the cover sits under a fedora from the snub-nose .38’s heyday, appropriately enough.
While Michael and I differ on some things, as all instructors do – speed reload techniques for the revolver, in this case – brother deBethencourt gives you advice you can take to the bank. I’ve been in this game for a long time, and I learned some new stuff from “Thirty Eight Tips.” For instance, I hadn’t realized the JetLoader people (Buffer Technologies at www.buffertech.com) were making their super-fast loader for the J-frame Smith & Wesson. I immediately ordered three, and they’ve become my new favorite speedloader for these little five-shot .38s and .357 Magnums.
You can order Michael’s monograph at http://snubtraining.com/thirty-eight-straight-tips-for-better-snub-shooting/, and you can get info on his excellent training at snubtraining.com. In addition to knowing his stuff and imparting it superbly, Michael is a funny guy who uses his humor positively as “enter-train-ment,” and genuinely cares about his students. He embodies something I learned from one of my mentors, the supercop Col. Robert Lindsey, and have shared with instructors I’ve trained ever since. “We are not God’s gift to our students…our students are God’s gift to us.”
Three weeks ago today, on Sunday June 8, I was in the fourth day of a MAG-40 class in Kankakee, Illinois. Among other topics of the day, I warned the students that one of the dangers of armed intervention was “tailgunners,” criminal accomplices who cover their “point man” while pretending to be shoppers, and will assassinate anyone who interferes with their fellow thugs. That same day, some 1800 miles away, that scenario was acted out with tragic results.
A vicious psycho couple walked into a pizza joint where two Las Vegas Metro officers were taking a meal break, and ambushed and murdered them. Taking the slain officers’ pistols and spare ammo, they made their way to a nearby WalMart. The male of the pair fired a shot into the ceiling and ordered everyone out. One armed citizen, Joseph Wilcox, drew his own Glock and moved toward the gunman. The tailgunner, the gunman’s wife, sidled up beside Wilcox and shot him dead. The two nutcases then shot it out with police, and died.
I’ve waited this long to address it because it takes that long for the facts to shake out. Early reports said one of the first two officers returned fire and wounded one of the perps; turns out that wasn’t true. Early reports said the armed citizen was female, and had wounded one of the cop-killers; turns out, no and no. First reports said the female psycho killed her husband and then herself; later reports say a police bullet killed him and she didn’t shoot him at all, though she did put a slug in her own head after being anchored by a police bullet in the final gunfight.
No one with a three-digit IQ has blamed officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo for their own deaths: they were bushwhacked suddenly and without discernible warning. Not so the private citizen, Joseph Wilcox. An amazing number of people on the Internet accused him of “getting himself killed,” with one idiot even suggesting that he died while “playing Barney Fife.” An interesting parallel was seen on two threads over at www.glocktalk.com. In the “Carry Issues” section, quite a few people thought Wilcox had overstepped his bounds. They took the position that the gun they carried was only to protect themselves and their families, not the public. Interestingly enough, in the “Cop Talk” section of the same forum, police officers felt he had done the right thing and agreed with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, who publicly proclaimed Wilcox to have died a hero and probably saved multiple innocent lives by interrupting the plans of the two whacked-out murderers.
Readers…I’d be very much interested in hearing YOUR take on this.
This past Monday I was at a state bar association headquarters, leading a panel discussion they were filming on gun modifications and gun-and-ammo choices as they relate to shooting cases. On the same day, half a world away, South African athlete Oscar Pistorius was on trial for murder in the death of his girlfriend. It turned out that the ammunition in the death weapon in South Africa was jacketed hollow point, and the prosecution was making a huge deal about its deadly effects, implying that using it was indicia of malice in and of itself. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/prosecutor-in-pistorius-trial-says-autopsy-testimony-is-graphic-should-not-be-broadcast/article17391312/. Oddly enough, at the bar association CLE (continuing legal education) film we discussed the same thing.
The ammo was reportedly Ranger, a Winchester brand which in this country is generally sold as “law enforcement only,” though outside of San Francisco I don’t know of any laws actually banning its use by private citizens. (Interestingly, the images they showed on CNN looked more like Federal HST. I watched the talking heads babble on about how the bullet spread itself out into petals that spun like a fan. Slice and dice…it could have been a Cuisinart commercial.
The panel they were filming on our end was made up entirely of people carrying Glock pistols with Winchester Ranger ammunition. The police chief who used to command LAPD Metro and SWAT had 124 grain Ranger +P in his 9mm Glock 17. The Sergeant/Rangemaster who had shot a guy with such a bullet was wearing the same Glock 21 he had used that night, with 230 grain Ranger .45 ACP. And I had the same ammo he did, in my RoBar custom Glock 30S.
The BS arguments about “malicious dum-dum bullets” have been going on for more than 40 years in this country. Yet such expanding bullets are issued to virtually all of American law enforcement, and are the smart thing to put in personal defense and home defense handguns. The reasons are reduced likelihood of overpenetration, reduced likelihood of ricochet, and faster neutralization of threats to the innocent so deadly that they warrant lethal force in the first place. I think those are incontrovertible arguments. But there’s also a fourth argument, and we’ll get to that before long.
This will kick off a five-part series, so our readers can have the tools to defend their use of appropriate ammunition when that choice is falsely questioned in a court of law.
Todd Louis Green, one of the brightest stars in the handgun training world today in my opinion, made this excellent point recently on his blog.
I totally agree with Todd. I learned early that if you don’t read you can’t write, and if you don’t learn you can’t teach. The person who thinks he has it nailed and will teach without continuing education has doomed himself – and his curriculum – to fossilization. That’s why lawyers have CLE (continuing legal education) requirements annually, and docs have CME, and cops have mandatory in-service training.
Sometimes, though, the schedule gets in the way. For me, February was a case in point. Pistol champ Mike Seeklander ran a course tantalizingly close to me, but by the time it was announced I was committed to teach elsewhere. By all accounts, the course was excellent – half of the people I shoot with regularly went, and loved it – but I was trapped in the front of a classroom in the frozen North. I’m hoping to catch Seeklander’s program later this year.
February also saw one of the best training smorgasbords ever served to law-abiding armed citizens, Tom Givens’ Polite Society conference in Memphis. I had been scheduled to teach for half a day and soak up learning from top people in the field for the rest of the Friday-Saturday-Sunday event. Alas, I had to cancel because I was scheduled to appear at a trial which would encompass that Friday, and it would take me all day Saturday to drive to Memphis. My teaching slot (and classroom slot) were quickly filled by others. The trial postponed at the last minute, too late to get into the seminar. Significant Other and I went to a pistol match as a consolation prize.
I’ll be taking a solid week of training in March, long since locked into the schedule, and plan to make that one come Hell or high water. I hope to wallow in new ideas like a shark in a feeding frenzy.
Just ‘cause I’m old enough to look like a fossil don’t mean I gotta be one.
Mike Seeklander coaches Terri Strayer on a weak hand shooting technique.