by Marty Hayes, J.D.
Recently the question came up regarding what type and scope of training an armed citizen (and specifically a member of the Network) should have? In response to this question, I decided to write the lead article for this month’s journal. The ultimate goal is to have the armed citizen in a position to be able to handle just about any type of situation they may find themselves in, and then to be able to justify their actions legally. With that in mind, and with the eventual need to justify their actions legally, we must understand that there are three main categories of training needed by the armed citizen. These are:
- Gun safety and marksmanship,
- Tactical training, and
- Legal training.
We will separate the issue of training into these three important categories, and over the next three months, explore these topics in-depth.
Gun Safety and Marksmanship Training
If you are in a state where mandatory training is required before being able to apply for a concealed carry license, then you have likely been exposed to gun safety and marksmanship training if your course had a shooting component, and if not, then at least gun safety training in lecture form.
The successful completion of state-mandated training allowed you to get your concealed carry license, but it did not train you sufficiently in either gun safety or marksmanship. That is because simply cognitively understanding the Four Universal Gun Safety Rules does not mean you will perform them all the time, especially when under the stress of a life-threatening event. It takes hours of range work (or dry fire work if a range is not available) to train your body to handle guns safely.
Every time you pick up your gun, your body needs to reflexively not point it in an unsafe direction, needs to not have your finger on the trigger, and if your gun is equipped with a manual safety, then your body must have registered one of your digits to take the safety off in a moment, but to keep it on until you need to fire. You must build physical habits that control your handling of the gun. This is not accomplished by attending a 15-minute lecture on gun safety. It means finding a competent instructor to teach you the physical manipulation of the gun and then spending enough time to inculcate the habits.
How long must you spend in this endeavor? That depends primarily on where you are at now in your gun handling skills, and to a lesser extent, your ability to learn physical skills. Some people pick it up very quickly, others struggle.
As far as marksmanship goes, for the purposes of this writing, I am including the entire array of skills one might need to call upon in a defensive handgun encounter. Those skills include, but are not limited to the following:
- Reloading skills,
- Target transition,
- One-handed shooting including weak-handed shooting,
- Shooting at moving targets,
- Shooting while moving, and
- Low light skills, meaning doing all the above in the dark. (Learning this skill is illustrated by a photo of night shoot drills at Gunsite’s Revolver 250 class, which gave students experience using flashlights and handguns together in the dark.)
Let's break these down into their individual components.
Accuracy means being able to deliver fight-stopping hits when called for, which of course depends on the circumstances. You will hear many instructors say that all you need to do is hit a man-sized target at 7 yards, as that is where the majority of reported incidents occur, but remember just a short year ago, when Texas churchgoer Jack Wilson, part of his church’s security team, needed to stop an active shooter in his church? That required a head shot at 17 yards, under tight time constraints, and while the fellow was shooting people. Fortunately, Wilson was highly trained, and was able to make that shot with aplomb. Are you able to make that accurate of a shot? We don’t have to just worry about being the victim of an arms-length attack.
The skill of speed is also important, as Wilson demonstrated. He was able to draw, acquire his target and fire a disabling shot in about 5 seconds. To do this, he drew in under 2 seconds, lined up the sights in another second or so, and pressed the trigger smoothly and deliberately until the shot broke, all without disturbing his sight picture. In addition to the time from his draw stroke to his first shot, if needed, he would have had to control recoil and continue to fire. The trend to 9 mm for the armed citizen means that unless one is aiming for the head, likely more than one shot will be required to stop the threat. That doesn’t mean quarter second times between shots, but certainly less than a half a second between well-aimed shots is doable for most people. After all, one must be able to tell if the shots are doing any good, and to know when to stop shooting.
Reloading falls primarily under gun handling and with the high capacity guns available these days, the ability to perform a sub-one second reload is probably not worth the time required for sufficient practice to be able to accomplish that, but it is important to be able to competently exchange magazines, especially when considering magazine changes are a primary part of resolving a handgun malfunction.
It has often been said that attackers come in pairs, or perhaps even more than two, so you need to understand how to effectively deliver disabling hits on more than one target. Training to engage and hit multiple targets is absolutely necessary, and I am happy to report that most training programs I am aware of include this in their basic defensive handgunning class.
One-handed shooting, both strong hand and weak hand, should also be included in a good two-day defensive handgun course. Usually this entails an introduction to the skill, then relying upon the student to take the correct skills learned and go home and practice. It takes about an hour or so to go over both strong hand and weak hand shooting in a normal course. More advanced courses should increase the training time, including drawing one handed with each hand, reloading and clearing malfunctions one handed.
One of my favorite subjects to teach advanced students is the combination of engaging moving targets and shooting and moving. When learning basic skills, it is best to separate them, such as teaching a block on just shooting at moving targets. After all, bad guys don’t just stand there and say “shoot me” and while I am not sure if there are solid statistics to say how many defensive handgunning situations involve shooting at moving targets, I believe the number would be high.
I can remember starting to work on the concept of shooting and moving during defensive handgun training about 25 years ago. I think Clint Smith deserves the credit for developing this skill, to which I was first exposed when my wife, Gila Hayes, came back from Thunder Ranch. My first attempts to incorporate this into range training had the students move while drawing, then stopping and delivering hits. This is a good skill to have, along with drawing and shooting while moving. (In the photo, students watch carefully as Ed Monk, right, demonstrates moving and shooting in his Active Shooter Threat Response class.)
The skill of moving away from the threat while shooting should be considered as an advanced skill, and is not likely seen in your basic defensive handgun course. In my opinion, it has replaced the “shooting from retention” drills. I have to ask: why on earth would you stand arms-length away from someone trying to kill you, when you can take a couple steps back, create distance and deliver hits in exactly the same amount of time? Several decades ago, not long after I started teaching drawing and shooting while retreating, a student used that very skill to save his life and kill his attacker. He attributed his survival to learning this skill at The Firearms Academy of Seattle, something I will proudly take to my grave.
A vast number of criminal attacks happen in low light situations. Thankfully, not pitch dark, although if attacked in your home at night, it could be pitch dark. Consequently, training in low light with and without a handheld flashlight is paramount to your survival.
Where to Get this Training?
I suspect the average reader is kind of overwhelmed right about now, thinking there is no way I can manage to take training that covers all these topics. I say to you, it is simply a matter of priorities. To accomplish all this, there are a couple of things that you can do.
If you want the confidence to handle any type of self-defense encounter, you must dedicate a portion of your income to training. When I was a young cop in the early ‘80s, I read a magazine article advising that an officer should set aside 10% of their income for survival training. I did it! After all, as a young cop, I had my first job that actually paid a decent salary, and to set aside 10% to increase the odds I would make it to retirement seemed doable. I took that advice to heart, and whenever a training course or needed piece of equipment (like a bullet-proof vest) came to my attention, I personally paid for it.
Now that I have made it to an older age, my goal is to still invest in my survival, and I do that by taking remedial training courses to keep my skills as sharp as possible. (In the photo below, I'm seen shooting left-handed several years ago, when I completed a week-long Gunsite class shooting all the drills with my non-dominant hand.)
The second challenge for many is to find the right instructor with whom to study or the right school at which to start training. So, let’s explore how to find a school or instructor.
If you can find a good local training school, you can eliminate the need to travel, one of the most costly and time-consuming aspects of training. When I started The Firearms Academy of Seattle back in 1990, my goal was to offer all these skills in our program. That curriculum has evolved into a multi-class format, which one can take two days at a time on the weekends.
It was my goal to develop a school which had a great regional reputation, to get as many people trained as possible, not necessarily make the most money. I am happy to say I accomplished that goal and, in fact, I have recently sold the Firearms Academy of Seattle to one of my instructors, Belle McCormack. She has promised to keep the dream alive and I believe she will be successful. There are now hundreds of schools like Firearms Academy throughout the nation, and many are run by Network Affiliated Instructors.
Before you start laying your money down, do your due diligence and check them out. Call and talk to the lead instructor/owner. Research the school on the Internet. Check Yelp and the BBB. Ask for references, and ask for the instructor’s training resume, also known as a curriculum vitae or CV.
Additionally, the instructor or school should plainly explain what is covered in the course or courses for which you are considering signing up. If not, send them an e-mail link to this article, and ask them if they cover the material discussed. Likely not all the subject areas will be covered, but I suspect you can get a good majority through the right school.
The foregoing sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? Well, it is, but, you see, you are making an investment to live the remainder of your life in a state of calmness and confidence.
Traveling to Training and Traveling Instructors
In addition to local instructors/schools, there are a plethora of traveling instructors making the rounds. Some are more successful than others, and some are much more valuable than others. Many times, one or more such instructors are within a day’s drive from your home and would be a cost-effective way to get top-notch training. Top tier traveling instructors include three of our Armed Citizens’ Network Advisory Board, John Farnam, Massad Ayoob and Tom Givens, and there are at least a dozen more I could name, but that risks offending someone I forgot, so suffice it to say that a little research and discussion with your gun buddies should get you started.
There are also nationally-recognized schools armed citizens can attend, including the oldest and most well-recognized, Gunsite Academy, located in Paulden, AZ. I have attended many of their week-long courses and will continue to as long as my body holds out. Tuition is comparable to the cost of a Caribbean cruise, so when I schedule one of these weeks, I just say I am going on another cruise! Another great destination place is Thunder Ranch, with Clint and Heidi Smith. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the school I founded and until recently ran, The Firearms Academy of Seattle, Inc. which offers a week-long course once a year, so people who had heard about the quality of training can take advantage of a full week of training and cut down on travel expenses.
Training after Training
The purpose of most training is to teach the student specific techniques and to give enough repetitions so the student has it down, but if you walk away and do not continue the training, those skills you learned in your training will waste away. Now, many people take the easy way out and simply keep taking training, sometimes repeating the same course over and over. There is nothing wrong with this; most trainers depend on repeat customers to make their businesses profitable. I would recommend, however, finding a shooting range where you can practice newly-learned skills on your own, saving your training dollars for advanced tactical and legal training.
Additionally, you can expand your shooting skills by participating in competition shoots, specifically IDPA matches. You can track down local clubs at IDPA.com. Matches are typically held on a weekend day and take 4-6 hours to complete. At these matches, you will shoot 4-6 stages, where you will have a chance to practice your shooting skills. In addition, you will likely be exposed to some variant of moving targets, and other scenarios where moving and shooting is called for. While not a training venue (no one is teaching anything), you can use the experience to assess your skills and use the exposure to better shooters to learn how to shoot better.
Back in the late ‘80s I pretty much trained myself by watching IPSC videos and going to IPSC matches. It wasn’t until 1990 that I took my first formal class. Nonetheless, I would not recommend IDPA as a competition endeavor, unless you want to run around with a gun in your hand. Most matches incorporate a lot of moving between shooting positions, to build up stress, but this rewards speed of movement instead of shooting skill. If your ego can deal with not placing in the top of your class because your body doesn’t move as fast as others then by all means go for it. If you find IDPA is not your cup of tea, check out Action Shooting International founded by my long-time friend Sandy Wylie. They offer a similar experience, but without a lot of the running and gunning. It is a great way to get started.
When Are You Good Enough?
Many years ago, I developed what I called the FAS Handgun Master Test. This was a skills assessment device where students could take the test and see where their skills were when compared to a set standard. It was kind of the same idea as a police qualification, but incorporated the different skills we have discussed here. The test is as follows:
- Draw and fire six rounds in 30 seconds at a target 15 yards away. All shots must hit in the A-zone of an IPSC target.
- At 7 yards, draw and fire one shot on each of three targets, reload and fire another shot on each of three targets, then reload again and fire one shot at any of the three targets. Must have all C-zone hits, in under 12 seconds.
- At 7 yards, fire six shots into the A-zone in under 6 seconds, one handed strong hand. Repeat for weak hand.
- At 7 yards, draw and fire at a moving target, firing three shots in approximately 3 seconds. Repeat for a total of six shots, all A-zone hits.
- Repeat drill #2 in low light conditions, but at 5 yards.
The above test covers all the components I outlined at the start of this article, with the exception of moving and shooting. I dropped it from the Masters Test a few years ago because it took a lot of time to administer, and students who passed the other five components could easily handle the moving and shooting.
When a person can shoot the above test clean without prior practice, they should be confident that they can handle just about any critical incident life might throw at them. The luxury of having this type of skill is that you are much less likely to be selected for victimization, as your confidence and awareness of your surroundings will act like a suit of armor to protect you from being selected by the normal predator, because there are many easier targets to prey on.
In next month’s eJournal, we will discuss tactical training, the second aspect of training for armed citizens.
To read more of this month's journal, please click here.