My friend Kathy Jackson had an interesting post on Facebook this week. She's one of the pre-eminent firearms trainers out there today, specializing in training women on the safe use of firearms, and I take her opinions very seriously.
In some parts of the shooting world, it is popular to say that competition shooting "will get you killed on the street." You know what will really get you killed on the street? Not knowing how to effectively draw and use your gun!
When competition encourages you to practice important gunhandling skills that your range otherwise won't allow, like drawing from concealment or shooting very fast or shooting multiple targets, and also lets you test those skills under time and performance stress, it is a good thing. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise!
(Nuance: just be sure you are practicing techniques that are also friendly for self defense and not *only* appropriate for competition. And remember that in both venues, you must know the rules of the road before you drive the gun.)
I've never felt that competing in practical pistol or 3 gun has interfered in any way with my tactical training. If anything, it's made me a better student. Every single stage in a competition is a new challenge: There is no "Ok, I got this, I can stop learning now" moment in competition, because you will lose if you try that during a match. You are always watching your hits, thinking about your movement and trying to plan what to do next during a stage, and that same mindset comes in very handy when learning a new self-defense technique.
Plus there is the element of stress inoculation. Every self-defense class I've been in has had an element of competition, be it directly as in a one-on-one shoot off, or indirectly, to see if you can deliver the shot when needed. 8 years of competition has pretty much made me immune to the stress of having to deliver the shot when needed in a class, but will that same immunity show up if, God forbid, I need it on the street?
Dunno, and I hope I never find out. I do know I'd rather go into such a thing with a measure of confidence and the ability to adapt quickly than without such things.
I've pretty much had it with the phrase "gross motor skill" as it applies to firearms training. The original idea behind this phrase was that "gross motor skills" are more natural and therefore easier to use correctly in a stressful situation like a gunfight. Unfortunately, this has morphed to where "gross motor skill" is shorthand for "What *I* teach is useful in combat, what others teach isn't".
You know what a "gross motor skill" *really* is? Running. Making a fist. Flinching. Raising your arm. Anything else, anything that involves manipulating your gun and putting accurate fire on the target is a complex motor skill. You can train your gross motor skills like the dickens, but if you jerk the trigger off-target when it counts, you miss the shot, period full stop.
Furthermore, I've found that the chatter about gross vs. complex motor skills to be pretty much confined to the "tactical" training community. I've found that competition shooters rarely talk about such things, and I think that's because that the artificial stress of competition teaches what physical skills work well to deliver the shot, and which skills don't, and trying to label those skills as "complex" or "gross" to be a waste of time.
Part of this is because no one is shooting back at a practical shooter during a course of fire, so we don't need to worry about being injured with a gun in our hand, but part of that is also because we've learned that a breakdown of ANY of the physical tasks required to deliver the shot on-time and on-target, be they gross or complex, results in a missed shot. There is no dividing line of skill types, there is only targets that are shot quickly with hits on target, and targets that are not.
So enough of the distinction of muscle skills, and learn to see quick, accurate and effective defensive shooting as an integrated process and not jumbled, confusing mixture of physical skills.
The popularity of the AR-15 has zoomed to new levels in recent times. From the buying sprees brought on by worries of new legislation to the rise of shooting sports like 3 gun, the AR now has has a permanent home in America's gun safes. If you're one of the thousands (if not millions...) of people who have purchased an AR in the past few years, you know how easy it is to re-configure an AR to your specific needs. But what makes a good AR? What makes one rifle stand out from the others?
The AR is built from the ground up to be flexible and expandable. An AR lower is a blank slate and can be turned into an almost limitless variety of guns. If you've got an AR that has been sitting in the gun safe unused, maybe it's time to give it a makeover and turn it into something that gets taken to the range or out into field more often. Thinking about hunting? A .300 Blackout or 7.62x39mm upper is a good choice for deer hunting, or stretch out your reach with 20" heavy barrel and take a look at long-range varmint or predator hunting.
Maybe you see your AR as a defensive tool, a task for which it's almost ideally suited. A laser, rail-mounted flashlight or red dot scope can turn a plain-jane AR into a rifle that's set up to defend your life and the lives of the ones you care about.
The introduction of the Sig Sauer pistol brace has brought on a renewed interest in AR pistols. A short-barreled AR pistol makes an excellent gun for close-range self defense, and they're a heck of a lot of fun to shoot as well.
Creating an AR that's suited to your needs is just half of what makes a good AR: The other half is making sure your AR is up to the task.
If you've gone car-shopping recently, you've noticed that cars are starting to look pretty much the same. The same platform that Chevy uses for its small cars is pretty much the same that Buick and Cadillac also use for their cars. Same is true of many of Ford and Lincoln cars, or many other brands as well.
While the mechanicals make look the same, the fact is, those cars drive very differently. Each manufacturer tweaks the basics of the car to meet their audience, sometimes with cosmetics, sometimes with performance tweaks that turn a plain-jane family car into a snarling beast.
The same is true with AR's. You can buy great AR's for a very reasonable price that work day in, day out, or you can pull out all the stops and buy something that's built to handle the worst that life can throw at you. A $700 AR and a $2000 AR may look the same, but the care that's taken to build those two rifles will show up under stressful use. There are other differences besides fit and finish, of course: A gas piston action (one that uses a pushrod to move the bolt) usually costs more than a direct impingement (DI) system that uses the propellant gases to cycle the action. Piston action AR's, as a rule, can go longer in between cleanings than gas guns can, but direct impingement guns have served in the U.S. military for decades, making them a very viable choice for almost every potential AR owner.
A well-built AR is like a budget AR taken to new levels. A high-end AR like a Patriot Ordnance Factory or LWRC gun are built to satisfy the needs of demanding customers like America's most elite military and law enforcement units and represent the state of the art in AR's. They're not for everyone, but if you demand a little bit more from your rifle, they may be right for you.
When it comes right down to it, what makes a good AR is up to you: Only you know what your budget is, what your needs are and what level of craftsmanship you demand, and that same flexibility and adaptability is a big part of why the AR is so popular. The AR platform allows you to build the gun of your dreams, and then change that gun when your dreams change. For that reason, (and many others) the future of the AR is bright indeed.
Secret #3: Know How to Operate Your Defensive Firearm and Train With It Regularly
There's a cliché in firearms training that goes "When your life or the lives of people you care about are on the line, you’re not going to rise to the occasion. You’re going to fall to your lowest level of training."
Yes, it's a cliché, but clichés don't become clichés because they're untrue. A gun isn’t a magic talisman of self-protection: It confers no special abilities of marksmanship onto its possessor and grants no ability to protect a life beyond the will of it's owner and his/her capabilities. Owning a gun doesn't actually make you safer any more than painting racing stripes on a car makes it go faster.
Knowing how to defend your life or the lives of your loved ones isn’t a skill we’re born with, but it is one you'll need to acquire if you own a defensive firearm. You didn't acquire the skill of dealing with rush-hour traffic during your driver's license exam and you're not going to acquire the skill using your gun as a defensive weapon at your CCW class either.
Volumes and volumes have been written about what makes "good" firearms training, and making the decision with whom to train can be confusing. Heaven knows there are a lot of bad trainers out there (and I've trained with a few myself...), but in general, a instructor who is accredited with a national organization like the NRA would be the first thing I'd look for. Beyond that, I would suggest getting a small amount of training from a diverse amount of trainers before making the commitment to a week-long school or similar course.
Why? Three reasons.
Variety. I've taken classes that are rooted in the Modern Technique of the Pistol, which dates back to the mid-60's, and I've taken classes that offer the latest in cutting-edge pistol and rifle instruction, and none of what I've learned in those classes has stepped on or diminished what I've learned in other courses. "Tools in the toolbox" is another cliché, but having a wide selection of skills allows you to adapt to a wide variety of situations.
Legal. Every person who trains you is a potential witness for your defense if you have to use your firearm and wind up going to trial. Think back to the George Zimmerman trial: Mr. Zimmerman had only one person testifying as to how well he was trained with a firearm. Would you rather have one person testifying about the extent of your firearms training, or twelve?
Cost. Money doesn't grow on trees, and the cost of a week-long class in ammo, fees and time off can be intimidating. Making a week-long commitment to a class that ends up teaching you little of value is a waste of time and resources.
Beyond that, learn how to use your gun. Don't just go to a range and punch holes in a paper target, but consider all the steps needed before, during and after the shot. Does your gun have a safety? How easy is it to use? Can you easily reach the safety without looking at your gun or shifting your grip? Is your gun a double action/single action semiautomatic that has a different trigger pull for the first and second shots? How easy are the sights to acquire after each shot? Do the magazines stick in the gun when the release button is pushed?
These are just some of the details that make little differences on the range but make a big difference when your life is on the line.
In addition to this, consider going to at least one practical pistol match. Nothing will teach you how you deal with stress like a Range Officer saying "Shooter ready? Standby!" and having a timer buzzer go off in your ear. What should be easy ("Walk over there, shoot two each holes in those two targets, then walk over there, shoot two more targets") suddenly becomes a nigh-impossible task under a massive adrenaline dump. In addition to the adrenaline inoculation, shooting a practical pistol match will quickly teach you how well your gun and gear works under stressful conditions. A practical shooting match like USPSA or IDPA isn't the "real thing", but it's the closest that 90% of us who don't carry a gun for living will ever experience to the real thing. Because of that, and because they're really fun to shoot, it's an eye-opening experience for anyone who owns a gun for defensive purposes.
The bottom line is, you want to survive a violent armed encounter, and your loved ones want you to survive a violent armed encounter as well. Owning a gun is just the first step; mastering its use is the journey.
Jim Glennon has a thought-provoking article on LawOfficer.com.
Think about what many officers do when it comes to range practice. They begrudgingly report to the range, take off their jackets, maybe their body-armor, stretch their arms, put on their “ears and eyes”, get themselves in the right frame of mind, maybe practice drawing and aiming, and then finally, when physically and mentally prepared they raise their hands and say “Ready.” Which is exactly how real gunfights happen.
I shoot USPSA and/or IDPA at least two times a month, and I've had over 200 hours of firearms training at this point in my life, and I was "Ready" for every single shot I sent down-range.
There's many good reasons why this happens, and safety is the biggest. Chaotic activity is the norm in a violent encounter, but chaotic activity on a shooting range tends to get people killed. This is where airsoft has been such a boon to "civilian" firearms training:, allowing us to safely use force-on-force training to practice and prepare as close as we can to the "real world".
If all you do is punch holes in a paper target, consider shooting IDPA or USPSA. If you compete, why not mix in some "tactical" courses to break you of the double tap habit? If you train, expand your horizons with some force-on-force or a friendly airsoft duel.
The life you save may be your own.
Dave Spaulding (who knows more about safely teaching how to use a firearm than just about anyone else on the planet) talks about grip and stance under less-than-ideal conditions.
One of the things that annoys me about 90% of the “tactical” training classes out there is that they teach a “perfect” grip and stance in their classes. It's good to learn such things as a reference for later training, but the fact of the matter is, you will probably never, ever use a "perfect" stance if (God forbid) you need to defend your life with your gun. Real life is not a shooting range: There’s a zero percent chance you’ll be wearing hearing protection or standing on a well-lit range if/when you need to use lethal force, and the stress you’ll be under when you do so is nothing like the stress of shooting a paper target at your local range.
This is one of the reasons why I encourage new gun owners to shoot at least one practical pistol competition: They'll get a much better understanding of how their body and gear react to stress and they'’ll see the need to close the gap between their skill level shooting in the relaxed environment of a square range versus their skill level under the artificial stress of competition.
“A shooting match isn’t a gunfight, but a gunfight is certainly a shooting match.” – Massad Ayoob.
We haven't *quite* got them on our shelves just yet, but if you follow us on Facebook, you'd know that Sig is shipping the brand-new P320 out this month, and as soon as we get them, we'll put them up on our website.
In the meantime, here's SIG's Robby Johnson showing us just what the P320 is capable of doing, in the right hands.