An Interview with Tom Givens
Interview by Gila Hayes
With summer temperatures, vacations, recreational activities and all the other distractions of life, armed citizens sometimes conclude that carrying their gun 24-7 is too much work, bordering on the impossible. “I will carry it when I think there’s likely more danger,” they say, or, “I will carry a gun when it is convenient.” Network advisory board member Tom Givens has likely heard all the excuses in his decades as a firearms instructor. As a Memphis, TN resident for many years he knew better than most the risks of not having a gun immediately at hand for self defense.
I recently asked Tom Givens if he would share a reminder about the importance of being prepared for unexpected danger, identify pitfalls he has seen trip people up, and offer the benefit of his experience to help new armed citizens overcome the challenges that discourage many. Our conversation follows.
eJournal: With summer well underway, members are facing the challenge of staying consistently armed for defense of themselves and their families. Often in hot weather, we dress in lighter clothing that does not conceal guns as well as our winter wardrobes. Who better than you, now a Florida resident and earlier, for many years, living in Memphis, to provide leadership and encouragement on staying armed and staying safe? It is a temptation when temperatures spike to ask, “Do I really need to wear this gun today?”
Givens: That could be a decision with literally life-changing ramifications.
eJournal: When people decide that they can’t carry all the time, what are the leading reasons they give?
Givens: Usually it is because they are going places where, during the course of the day, they are not supposed to carry. I have worn at least one gun every day for over 50 years. I have just kept it covered up and minded my own business. The key word in concealed carry is “concealed.”
eJournal: A trick you mentioned to me many years ago is realizing everyone else is more interested in themselves–even, for example, a gun-hating grandma you need to visit. You have said some interesting things over the years that suggest we are hyper focused on the gun but no one else is.
Givens: The person you are worried about is not looking for people wearing guns. It never occurs to them. Guns are not a part of their daily lives so they don’t look at somebody and think the lumps and bumps under their clothing are a gun. It is not unusual to have bumps and lumps, and anyway, you would have to be looking for them. As I’ve said, I have been carrying a gun for the last half century and nobody ever stopped to question me about it – not one time! That is because I keep it covered up and I mind my own business.
Can wearing a gun every day be a pain in the butt? Yes, it can. Can being caught without it be an even bigger problem? Yeah, it can. I forget who first said, “It is not the odds we are concerned with; it is the stakes.”
I remind you, it is not just your life. I have always thought it was really selfish when people say, “It is my own life.” Well, most people have a spouse, children, other dependents, friends and coworkers, who would all be affected by their sudden death or their sudden disability.
eJournal: Good point – if you are seriously injured, who is going to have to take care of you? There’s a broader range of consequences about which to worry.
Givens: Not just death! If you are disabled, you are not going to be able to work anymore. If your income is suddenly removed, how is your family going to cope? How are they going to keep a roof over their heads, and feed, clothe and educate the children? There is a lot more to it than most people realize. When someone is murdered, it does not just affect that person. Likewise, if someone is crippled for life, it does not affect just that person. There is a huge ripple effect.
If I was too lazy, stupid or complacent to wear my gun today, I would also be concerned that my spouse or my child might be murdered or abducted right in front of me. If I was unable to stop it, I would have the rest of my life to deal with that. To me, that would be worse than being killed. That would mean a lifetime to regret over not being able to do anything.
Can wearing a gun today be a pain for me? Yes, but if I need it today, I am going to need it really, really badly. I don’t want that to happen. Carrying it is just not that hard.
When people put a gun on for the very first time, of course it seems awkward! For our readers who have children and grandchildren, I would be willing to bet that none of those babies were born with shoes on. [Laughing] It’s very rare! At some point in their child’s life, they found what they thought would be comfortable shoes and put them on the child. What did the child do? The child threw a fit and kicked them off.
The child threw a tantrum because it was a novel stimulus. The human brain hates a novel stimulus worse than anything else. There is nothing to compare the stimulus to; the brain has no frame of reference, so it makes it uncomfortable.
The dutiful parent puts the shoes back on the kid, the kid throws a fit, kicks them back off and they repeat that process. Then, over time, the tantrums become a little bit less intense, then, eventually, the kid becomes acclimated and wears shoes like you and me. We put our shoes on in the morning, go to work, wear them all day, come home at night and take them off. We don’t think about shoes throughout the course of the day. They are just there.
The same thing applies to a handgun. When you first put it on, the brain goes, “It is horrible; it is terrible! Get it off! Get it off!” A responsible adult is going to have to say, “No, put it back on. You have to wear it to get used to it.”
It will take about three weeks to get acclimated to something new like that. After you have worn it for about three weeks, you will not notice it. I have worn one of these things attached to my belt for so long that if I don’t catch it with my elbow through my shirt, I can’t feel if it is there or not. Basically, that is the idea. You wear one every day in the same place, just like your clothing. I think about my gun the same way I think about my shoes.
eJournal: The attitude is that the gun is just utilitarian. It is neither frightening nor pleasing and it is not going to make you behave any differently throughout the course of a normal day. The gun you carry is not creating any emotional reaction in you whatsoever.
Givens: It is just a tool that I need to carry around. I have a spare tire in my vehicle. I have a fire extinguisher in my vehicle, and I have a first aid kit in my vehicle. It is all the same mentality. Whatever comes up, I have got the tools to deal with it.
eJournal: I’d like to return to something you said a little earlier that I think offers the benefit of experience to those who are just getting started. When you were talking about acclimatization, you commented that the gun was carried in the same location on your body every day, all the time. That can be quite a challenge. How negotiable is the ideal to carry your gun in the same way, in the same place, all the time?
Givens: It doesn’t have to be. It just facilitates getting used to it, but also having the gun in the same place all the time works with repetitive practice for the automated response. If you always reach for the same place, you are a lot more likely to reach for that place under real stress. If I am in a bit of a hurry, I don’t want to have to pat myself down to look for my pistol. I have seen people who swap it around reach for the wrong place under stress, so it is something to think about.
Obviously, certain body builds and in certain environments, a person may have to change. I think if you are going to wear your gun in a different place today, it would be a really good idea to not necessarily make a full practice presentation, but to get to the first step where you have cleared the garment and have gotten a firing grip on the gun in the holster. You should do 20 of those before you ever leave the house in the morning, so, then, the last thing in your brain is where your pistol is that day. I have worn one in the same place for so long, that I can tell you, having had to move against force on force encounters, I have always reached where it should be first. The whole idea of repetitive training is to make it an automatic response.
I think it is optimal for people to wear it in the same place but not everybody can do that. Everybody has got to deal with their own environment, their own body type, and the restrictions of the various places that they have to go throughout the day. There is not one answer that fits everybody. For most of the questions in our line of work, the correct answer is, “It depends.”
eJournal: Your suggestion of 20 repetitions of a partial, first stage of the draw stroke is a great idea even if we are not changing where we carry the gun that day.
Givens: It is like most everything else with motor skills: if you have done a few what we call first step presentations – clearing the garment, getting a good firing grip–and you have done 20 of those this morning, that is only a few hours ago, so it is right there on the surface of your nervous system. You will be a lot more likely to be able to pull it off. If I were to move the gun around, I would definitely do that before I left the house.
I have people tell me all the time, “I am smarter than that, I would know where the gun is.” Yeah, they have not had to access it under any real stress. Stress makes you a lot dumber.
eJournal: A lot of us, thank Goodness, just do not have first-hand experience with life and death situations, so the affects of stress is theoretical. We look to people like you and ask, “What was your mental state?” We look to those with experience and hope we can do as well if gaining our own experience is unavoidable. Applicable experience is a hard-won commodity. What about getting it through classes?
Givens: A properly done force-on-force scenario puts you in a plausible situation like a carjacking or a robbery and makes you have to work your way through it. That gives you what we like to call a synthetic memory of a confrontation like that, which makes it a lot easier to deal with if it actually comes around.
A good example of what I am talking about was the National Tactical Invitational event (NTI) that they put on in Pennsylvania for 25 years in a row. It is no more, unfortunately. It was an annual event, well designed, with a lot of live fire and a lot of scenario work. When you did scenario work you were in what they called the village, which was walled in, with several freestanding buildings with plenty of role players. It was a very realistic setting.
There was only one way in and out, they would literally search you to make sure you didn’t have any kind of live weapon then they would give you a face mask and a Simunition® gun and Sims rounds. You would then go in the village and spend three or four hours in there. To keep you from just sitting in a corner they would give you tasks to perform like take a check to the bank to be cashed, go to the pharmacy to fill a prescription or maybe take a document to your attorney’s office, which would force you to move through the village and interact with the role players.
It was just like any other village in the US, most of the people you encountered were benign people just doing their jobs, but you might run into a predator, and if you did, you had to handle the situation. There was some ambiguity: sometimes the best way to handle it was to talk your way out, sometimes it required you to use your weapon.
The first time I attended, I really did not know what to expect. I got there and had to take off my carry gun and my ammunition; I had to take a J-frame revolver with Sims rounds in it. I didn’t have a holster for it, so I just slipped it in my front pocket. We reached a point in the village where I became convinced that I had to draw my gun, I swept my garment back and closed my hand around air where my pistol should have been on my belt: where it is day in and day out and has been for decades. I realized it was in my pocket so I reached into my pocket and by then the guy had the drop on me.
There is a very important lesson there. Your mind is tied up dealing with the scenario, dealing with the bad guy and intellectually I knew that my gun was in my pocket but I always carry on my hip at about 3:30 on the belt. Intellectually, I knew there was a gun in my pocket but my hand went to the place it was programmed to go. I think that is an important lesson.
People tell me, periodically, when I mention this sort of thing, “Oh no, I am smarter than that. I know where my gun is,” but I would suggest that under real stress and pressure, you might not be quite as smart unless you have done a whole lot of repetitive training to have a reflexive response. It is hard enough to deal with an evolving situation without worrying about where did I wear my gun today?
eJournal: it is interesting to hear you talk about the stress at the National Tactical Invitational, because when we participated, we always knew on an intellectual level that we would go home when it was over. I remember one particularly complex gas station scenario that had it happened in real life, would have given no assurances of going home afterward. For all the excellent experience it creates, scenario training is still a mere fraction of the fear and confusion one would feel in real life.
Givens: Actually, it was not a fear issue at the NTI, but it is the vast complexity and not having enough mental bandwidth to split among different things. In a real life and death encounter, you can simplify things. I wear the same model of gun, in the same holster all the time. That way, all my repetitions transfer directly to what I carry every day. I work at the range out of my carry holster with a gun that is identical to my carry gun to try to minimize the variables that I have to deal with under pressure.
eJournal: How firmly determined are you that your students should carry in a belt holster? What about carrying in pocket holsters, ankle holsters, or alternative carry devices?
Givens: Well, if you’re carrying an ankle gun or a pocket gun, it is probably not your primary gun. That’s true for a pocket gun, especially. How much time do you spend sitting at a table, at a desk or in your car? That is probably 85% of your waking hours and you cannot draw a pistol from your pocket from any of those positions. If you are right-handed and your pistol is in your right pocket, and in a fight if you take a round in your right elbow, I would like to see you get your pistol out of your right pocket with your left hand. It is not going to happen.
To me, a pocket or the ankle is a great place for a backup gun but not necessarily your primary gun. If it is on the belt you can get to it with either hand and you can do a lot more. You can get to it while you’re seated; you can get it while you’re moving: you can do things you just can’t do with an ankle rig or a pocket rig. You can’t draw from an ankle holster and get off the line of force at the same time, for instance. You can do that with a belt holster.
Are there going to be exceptions? Yes. Just like with anything else, if we are talking about optimization and if, literally, my wife’s life and welfare was at stake I would choose what’s optimal. I would rather have the gun where I can get to it, whatever the circumstance.
eJournal: Taking that problem one step farther, we also have to confront the practice of stashing a gun off body, for instance, putting it in the center console when you get in your car.
Givens: A gun in your car is not going to do you much good. If you think about it, it is really hard to come up with a situation in which you could legitimately defend yourself with a gun in the glove box or in the console. In most of those cases, the correct answer would be to simply drive away.
In the words of the late, great Pat Rogers, “Your car is not a holster.” If you are out of the car, and your gun is in the console or the glove box, it might as well be on the moon! It is not going to do you any good! If you think you are going to be involved in a deadly confrontation, go to your car, unlock the door, open the glove box, get a gun, go back and shoot somebody in self defense, you live on the wrong planet. There is, in fact, a legal term for going to your car, unlocking the door, opening the glove box, getting a gun, coming back and shooting somebody. It is called premeditated murder.
So many people think that a pistol is a magic charm, so they put it in the glove box so no evil will befall them. A gun is not going to do you a bit of good in the glove box, but that is the primary source of guns for bad guys. Coincidentally, I was just looking at some numbers yesterday. In the first nine months of 2021 – last year – 1,286 pistols were stolen from parked cars in Memphis. 1,286 in nine months; that’s about 1,500 a year.
Houston is a much bigger city. I looked at their numbers for 2021, and for the entire year, they lost about 3,600 pistols out of parked vehicles. If you think about that, every single one of those was stolen by a criminal. By definition, people who break into cars and steal stuff are criminals, which means all 3,600 of those guns in Houston in one year or 1,500 of those guns in Memphis in one year, went directly into the criminal pipeline. They were traded for drugs and sold to gang members who used them in drive-by shootings and robberies, and all that was facilitated by idiots leaving guns in cars.
People talk about the gun show loophole, but according to the Justice Department less than 1% of crime guns are purchased at gun shows. The vast majority are acquired by breaking into cars and stealing them. Criminals couldn’t do that if people didn’t leave guns in their cars! If you are wearing your gun when you get out of the car, the gun goes with you. If you are leaving the gun in the car, then you may well not have it when you come back. The best-case scenario there is that they stole it and hurt someone else, not that they are waiting for you to come back and shoot you with your own gun.
eJournal: Sometimes the bad results happen really quickly! One of the worst tragedies relating to guns left in cars in the Pacific Northwest occurred about ten years ago when a toddler killed his 7-year old sister with his father’s gun which had been left in the cupholder of the family van. If memory serves, a police officer and his family were on their way to a wedding. The parents stopped to get something at a convenience store. They were only out of the car for just a moment and this horrific thing happened because a gun was left unsecured in the car with the children.
We cannot go halfway if we are going to go armed! A partial commitment may be one of the biggest problems for a beginner who hopes to ease their way into the armed lifestyle. In a way, I’m sympathetic: it is daunting for someone who has never carried a gun to start carrying it 24/7. Nonetheless, a partial commitment can lead to tragedy.
Givens: If you are not going to wear it, it would be better if you just leave it in the gun safe at home. Either wear it, or don’t! You may need it! If you can go and get it, why the hell would you go back?
eJournal: Is the urgency to be prepared greater today than in decades past? Now, we have the fallout from defunding police, dangers from wholesale release of felons during the pandemic, and increased numbers of resource predators, or so it seems. Is it more urgent today that people carry a gun consistently?
Givens: There is definitely more violent crime and we are going up toward another peak. If you look at violent crime over a long period of time – let’s say for 100 years – it goes up and down, up and down. Right now, we are headed toward another crest. I don’t think the average person realizes how little the police are going to be able to do for them. Between budget cuts and people bailing out and taking early retirement, a lot of departments now have field training officers with only two years’ experience, who would have been considered rookies in earlier times. They are teaching newbies now.
Response times are longer and police are more reluctant to hustle over and get involved than they would have in the past. That’s certainly understandable in the political climate right now. I think people are pretty much on their own. Going back to what I said earlier about stakes and odds, if you are the one person in 1,000, or the one person in 10,000 it makes little difference. It is still you. You are still on the hook.
I have had students involved in shootings in pretty unusual places and it wasn’t any less of a problem for them because they were in a place where they were less likely to need a gun. You know, you mentioned earlier people going to their grandmother’s house? One of my students was involved in a shooting when he went to visit his mother. He was sitting with a whole bunch of children in the front yard. He knows the answer to the question, “Why would you wear a gun to go visit your mother?”
eJournal: Remind us what happened, if you would please. I heard you speak of this before, maybe at a Tac Con, but I have forgotten some of the details.
Givens: My student was sitting outdoors just reading a newspaper with the kids playing around him. A teenage kid in the street was creating what law enforcement would call, “a disturbance.” The kid went away and our guy went back to reading the paper. The kid came back about 10 minutes later and started shooting at my friend with a pistol.
He got up, drew his pistol, moved away from the children to draw fire away from them, returned fire and hit the guy. Had he not been armed, either he or the children could easily have been killed. He also had to take a fairly long shot. The teen was firing into the yard from the sidewalk on the other side of the street. My student told me, “When I had to shoot that guy all the way across the street, it never occurred to me that I was a statistical exception. I just had to deal with it.”
Sitting in your mother’s front yard minding your own business is not a high-risk behavior. But it wound up high-risk, nevertheless. We just don’t get to pick the time and place. You know, if I knew in advance that I was going to need a gun in a specific time and place, I just wouldn’t go there!
The whole idea that I am only going to wear a gun if I think I am going to need it is, to me, just laughable! I just can’t restrain myself, I burst out laughing when someone tells me, “I only wear my gun when I go places where I might need it.” Well, why in the hell are you going there? If you think you need a gun to go there, why would you go there?
When someone tells me, “I only wear a gun when I might need it,” I say, “If your crystal ball works that well, let’s go to Las Vegas, buddy. I will make sure nothing bad happens to you while we’re there and we will split the money you win.” So far, no one has taken me up on it, so that says to me that they are just trying to rationalize being lazy. When you wear a gun because you think you are going to need it today, you are telling me you actually think you can predict the future and I just don’t find many people who can do that.
eJournal: I like the way you make us laugh at ourselves so we see how silly we have been and correct our mistakes. A scolding can make a person dig in even deeper but make us laugh at how we’re fooling ourselves, and seeing that, we can make good changes and better choices going forward.
Givens: I can laugh at anybody. I laugh at myself! I have been carrying a gun for so long that if I went out without it and I got murdered, I could never look anyone in the eye again.
eJournal: [Laughing] No, you probably wouldn’t be looking anyone in the eye.
Givens: I would have to have a closed casket funeral because I would be so embarrassed.
eJournal: Thanks to all the lessons you’ve taught us over the years perhaps all of us can avoid being in such an embarrassing situation, too. But seriously, you are a wonderful resource and I appreciate both your efforts as a Network advisory board member and as an instructor and mentor to armed citizens through your books, articles and classes.
Learn about Givens’ classes at https://rangemaster.com and don’t miss his most recent book, Concealed Carry Class (https://www.gundigeststore.com/product/concealed-carry-class-the-abcs-of-self-defense-tools-and-tactics/) which is available in paperback or as a downloadable eBook.
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