by Gila Hayes
In early August, I had the privilege of visiting with Jason Falconer, our Network affiliated instructor from Waite Park, MN, who agreed to share his knowledge and experience with me and our fellow Network members. Falconer’s background includes policing, competitive shooting, several decades of experience as a firearms instructor, and he operates Tactical Advantage, a training resource, indoor shooting range and retail shop. In short, he’s a busy man who still finds time to recommend Network membership to a substantial number of folks per year, who tell us that they heard about the Network at Tactical Advantage.
I asked Falconer how he got started and it was interesting to follow his progression from his days as a beginning shooter up through a critical incident in which his decisive actions saved many from harm. We switch now to interview format, so readers can enjoy meeting Jason Falconer through our conversation. This interview is also available as streaming video. Click for video.
Falconer: I started out in competitive shooting and wanted to learn more about firearms, but I really didn’t have anybody to go to. I had a few people that introduced me but that was learn as you go. I took some basic NRA classes locally and I took the classes several times because that was the only thing we had around here.
The group I was taking the classes from was looking for more instructors and one thing led to another. I joined that group to help instruct people and became an instructor through the basic NRA Personal Protection Inside the Home class
eJournal: How did you get into policing?
Falconer: I was in the corporate world, working for a utility company and advancing in the company to the point where I would be in a managerial role, but I would have to live in different places every 3-5 years. That didn’t interest me. I had taken some criminal justice classes in college, so I went through a career transition program at Alexandria Technical College and I’ve been a licensed police officer since 2001. I’m getting towards the end of my law enforcement career now, but that’s how I got started.
eJournal: It was fortunate that you did. Many will recognize your name because five years ago you were awarded the Congressional Badge of Bravery after you stopped the Crossroads Mall knife attack. What happened?
Falconer: You know, that was just me being at the right place, some would say, at the right time. I was off duty at the time, shopping for my son’s birthday present when I was approached by an individual. I didn’t know what was happening; at that time, I didn’t know that there had been an attack in the mall.
After hearing a series of noises, I went out into the mall to investigate and there was a mass of people that were running. At the back of the crowd was an individual in a security uniform. He approached and asked me if I was a Muslim. I stated, “No,” and based on his demeanor, I stepped back. That was when I noticed that he had knives in his hands. When I told him I was an off-duty police officer and wanted to stop to talk to him, he took off running. I did get compliance out of him, but then he turned towards me and I ended up shooting and killing him. That’s when I found out about what had happened throughout the rest of the mall. He had stabbed 10 other people. That incident led to our Congressional delegates giving me that award.
eJournal: Congratulations on the award and I laud the skill and decisiveness you showed. News reporting about that incident demonstrated why armed citizens should consistently carry weapons for self defense. Your experience emphasized the importance of having worked through – in advance – what actions we might take if we were confronted with a threat to life. Thank you for the lessons we learned from what you did. Armed citizens have to address both mental conditioning and weapon training. Both are needed to survive what I see as the new normal in our communities these days.
Tactical Advantage is located about an hour away from the epicenter of the Minneapolis riots. How has civil unrest influenced your defensive shooting classes? Was there a shift in student demographics – age, gender, economic strata – over the past few years?
Falconer: There was. A lot of people that weren’t interested in guns realized that really, you’re on your own. As a law enforcement officer, I know we can’t be everywhere at every given time. Most of what we do is react to a call. Somebody calls for help and most of the time it’s over by the time we’re responding. People need to be able to take care of themselves.
At Tactical Advantage, our emphasis is on avoidance and situational awareness to keep out of trouble, but if it gets to the point where you may be involved in a fight, where you have to use force or deadly force, you’re prepared for not only the physical part – the firearm skills – but also prepared for what to do in the aftermath. I’ve gone to a lot of schools through 20-plus years of training and really, there are very few that talk about what to do afterwards. That’s where Jim Fleming’s book Aftermath came into play. He wrote about the things you need to think about.
You know, people often think, “It’ll never happen to me,” but if they look at my incident or the civil unrest that we had, they realize, “Yeah, it could happen.” It could easily happen. Our students shifted to both the younger generation and even to some of the older generation. People thought, “You know what? I think I need to at least explore this avenue to see if I can do it. What are my legal rights?” We are living in a different time.
eJournal: Yes, we are. I find myself using terms like, “the new normal.” How do you mentor folks who haven’t previously thought about self defense? How how do you guide them?
Falconer: In our permit to carry class we emphasize situational awareness, the physiological and then psychological aspects, the use of deadly force and then the aftermath. We try to separate our class base. If you haven’t had any shooting experience, our permit class probably isn’t for you. We cover the fundamentals, but we have a separate class for teaching people how to shoot. I think a lot of people get shorted when they take permit classes, unfortunately, because instructors try to teach somebody to shoot and put all the material that they can in a four-hour time block. That’s not realistic.
Even in our Intro to Handguns class that averages three hours, sometimes students need to come back for more training. We’ve also had people who did the permit class then realized, “This isn’t for me. I can’t take that legal responsibility. I don’t want to have to react to that situation.” They struggle with the moral and ethical part or with knowing that they possibly could be arrested. That’s a game changer for some. It’s good that they went through the thought process. The other extreme, “I’ll deal with it when it happens,” is the wrong attitude.
eJournal: You’re planting seeds. Someone who’s not ready to make the decision after a class or two, may remember what you taught them if their circumstances change. You don’t know when what you taught will germinate and grow. You don’t know the people whose lives you’ve touched, even outside of formal classes. Tactical Advantage sells guns, too, doesn’t it?
Falconer: We have an indoor range and a retail component, but we’re not a hunting store. We’re more oriented toward self-defense tactical, and we do business with law enforcement agencies, as well, whether through product sales or training.
We’ve had a training company since 2003 but we were a mobile company. It got harder and harder to find places to have adequate training. We would travel and when we showed up, the place wasn’t a range; it was just a pile of dirt. We started vetting ranges, but we needed a place that we can train at any time. Especially when it comes to low light, a lot of the ranges have conditional use permits and have to shut down an hour before sunset. Now, at Tactical Advantage, we can control the lighting and do night training anytime we want.
We opened Tactical Advantage in 2013. It was a big commitment, but I wasn’t getting any younger so it was a good transition out of law enforcement. Our big emphasis is still training and getting people the best knowledge and the best skills. It doesn’t have to be for defensive situations. We run a pretty well-attended shooting league here that’s just for fun.
eJournal: Did the range you built reflect the needs you saw while traveling to teach?
Falconer: Yes, we have it set up so we can shoot into the walls if we need to for a wider range of training. From competitive shooting and from the tactical side of things, we knew that just shooting straight ahead wasn’t going to work. We can move around portable targets that have the same ballistic backstop as our main backstop so you can shoot at different angles to give realistic moving, for example. We have strobes for when we have law enforcement in so that they can use their sights or their red dot in low light and see what it looks like. We try to make it as realistic as possible.
We do as much decision-based simulation training as we can. I think training was a big component in how my incident played out. As an officer, any time I had a chance to partake in simulation and decision-based training, I took it. My daughter is entering law enforcement and I tell her the same thing: Take advantage of training opportunities to build skills and train thought processes when you have an elevated heart rate. Training is the time to experience that, so it doesn’t come up for the first time in real life.
eJournal: Do you offer decision-making drills in classes for private citizens, not just police?
Falconer: The vast majority of what we do is for the private sector now. It is unfortunate for law enforcement that there’s not as much funding as you’d want. A lot of my own training was on my own dime. You can’t just rely on what your department gives you.
I look at my incident. My hit rate was 60%. That is above the law enforcement average which is probably in the high 20s, but I look at that as a failure so I strive to be better. If you don’t put the training time in, you can imagine the outcome. Even if you qualify two or four times a year, that isn’t training. I’m fortunate because the department I’m at doesn’t call it qualifications. We train, and then we validate that by qualifications. At our department and at Tactical Advantage, we require 80% or higher when it comes to qualifications. We do that to push people to be better.
We want responsible gun owners out there; we want people to be educated and figure it out in a non-stressed environment. That’s better than having a weapon you can’t use and end up having it used against you.
eJournal: If you were to sum up what you think armed citizens need to learn and work out in advance of getting tangled up as intended victims of violence, what would you tell us?
Falconer: You hope that you don’t have to use deadly force, but I always prepared for that day. A lot of people realized in 2020 that they needed to be prepared. I remind people that it doesn’t change. Even if tomorrow is perfect, we still want to be prepared for what may or may not happen.
You have to continue building your skills and your situational awareness. Things aren’t getting better for the most part. I’ve got friends in the Minneapolis Police Department, and they’re hand-cuffed by the elected leaders about what they can and can’t do. Until the people running the cities change, you’re going to get more of the same.
We’re living in a different world. Like you said, this is the new normal. You need to prepare yourself for what may happen and hope that it never happens.
Learn more about Jason Falconer and his Tactical Advantage team, the range and store, league and classes at https://tacticaladvantagemn.com/ .