(This is part two in a two part series – you can read about my first day of defensive handgun training here)
It’s 6:00 a.m., still dark outside, and I haven’t done my homework. As I fumble for the ridiculously small off-switch on my alarm clock, I realize I also have a hangover. I knew I should have finished my reading last night after getting home, but another episode (possibly two) of The Walking Dead was more compelling than reading a training manual for armed security guards. Turning down the third glass of Merlot would also have been a good idea.
Hindsight be damned.
Not surprisingly, I’m not exactly thrilled at the prospect of spending the day in what’s essentially a concrete bunker. I console myself knowing that today’s agenda should be more compelling than yesterday’s – and yesterday’s class was indeed pretty damn fun. After a short amble with the dog and a somewhat rejuvenating shower, I grab my range bag and head for salvation – coffee.
I arrive at my local with enough time to get my reading done over a giant cappuccino. Sunday mornings at our household typically consist of Saturday Night Live on Tivo (as we’re too old and married to stay up past 11:00) and Meet the Press. It’s abundantly clear today is not a typical Sunday as I crack open the “Washington State Criminal Training Commission’s Firearms Certification for Private Security, Private Investigators, & Bail Bond Recovery Agents.” If Dog the Bounty Hunter can pass this sucker I can too. It’s not exactly le Baccalaureate.
Fortunately, the training manual is far more fun than I expected. A good portion of our required reading is a series of shooting decision scenarios that test your ability to think on your feet as well as one’s sense of ethics, morals, and legality. As John told us in yesterday’s class ‘every bullet comes with a lawyer attached’ so the legalities of a live fire scenario should not be discounted. I excerpted two of the 12 scenarios below. The parenthetical comments are my own.
Washington State Criminal Training Commission’s Firearms Certification for Private Security, Private Investigators, & Bail Bond Recovery Agents The scenarios that follow may be typical of those you encounter in real life. Put yourself into each scenario and in the space allowed write a description of the correct response or action you would take. In each scenario, make the decision to shoot or not to shoot. Scenario #1: You are a lone armed guard patrolling a warehouse on the night shift (this might be where I would turn the gun on myself, but I don’t think that’s what they are after). The warehouse is located in an industrial area, and it contains electronic equipment, including TVs and stereos. It’s 3:00 am when you hear noises in an area of the warehouse and move to investigate. You cautiously approach the area and observe two men stacking cartons near a door. The door appears to have been forced open. Both men hear you approach and turn toward you – their hands are empty and they do not move in your direction. Your response: Empty hands, no aggressive movement – no chance I’m shooting. This turns out to be correct. Much like a Teacher’s Edition of any text book, the answers are in the back. Scenario #2: You are an armed private detective trying to locate a teenage girl who has run away. You have information that indicates that she may be staying with several others in an apartment. You have arrived at the apartment, you hear shouting inside, but you knock on the door. The woman who answers the door is drunk and belligerent. You identify yourself and begin to ask her some questions when she turns away, leaving the door open, and begins to shout at a man who is standing in the living room. You have apparently interrupted a fight in progress. Suddenly the man pulls a large hunting knife from his belt and lunges at the woman stabbing her. She is screaming for help and bleeding. Your response: I’m pulling (or at least I like to think I would) as I’m not going to idly watch a woman be stabbed to death.
The next 10 scenarios play out similarly – a ‘Choose your own bleak adventure’ of sorts. These two were the easy ones; others are less clear. My lesson learned? Stay in school.
When I arrive at the West Coast Armory I head straight to the range. John welcomes us back, but seems a hint less cheery today. Perhaps he had one too many glasses of Merlot last night as well. We start the day with a tap and rack drill – a method to quickly clear jams in a firefight. Gun jams happen. And in firefight drills the guy holding a jammed weapon is holding, wait for it….. ‘a dead man’s gun.’ Should your gun jam, or be empty too long, you’ll get the distinct pleasure having all of your instructors bellow this in your general direction. It’s the school yard equivalent of being told you have cooties; only in this case your tormentors are armed grown-ups. The dead man’s gun scenario is one that will inform many of our drills for the duration of the day.
Like any good training, the best ones are practiced, but not too predictable. John and his co-instructors start passing around dummy rounds. Orange and plastic, a dummy round is different from a blank – it won’t make a sound. It will, however, behave like a jam. The trigger won’t break; the cartridge won’t be expelled. The panacea for this predicament is aforementioned ‘tap & rack.’ Now this isn’t the first firearm related term that sounded vaguely porny, nor, I suspect, will it be the last.
The ‘tap’ ensures that your magazine is securely inserted. Simply hit the bottom of your magazine with your palm. I’ve had a miss fire on more than one occasion as I simply didn’t get the magazine in all the way. Part two, the ‘rack,’ is pulling the slide back to clear the jam from the chamber (which automatically loads the next one). This drill, done quickly, is quite simple. We load a pair of blanks into our magazines to force the simulation and run through it a few times. The problem with this exercise is that we know where our blanks are loaded. To address this we buddy-up.
Until this point I’d been a very good Seattleite. I hadn’t engaged any of my classmates in conversation. Two of the guys in class were buddies who came together. The rest of us kept our polite distance from one another. The gentlemen with the ‘evil dead’ knuckle tattoos enjoyed a wider berth than most. Soccer dad with the unusually large white sneakers seemed nice enough. We exchange magazines and rounds and take turns loading one another’s guns taking care to not let the other see where the blanks are being loaded. The moment strikes me as curiously intimate. I’m likely alone in thinking this.
We approach the line when our numbers are called, ready our stance, and wait for the call. I fire successfully for my first three shots, but my fourth jams. As instructed I tap the clip with my palm firmly, rack the slide ejecting the dummy round, and continue firing. All in all, pretty easy. Like many drills we start adding more and more complexity – attempting to emulate real scenarios. To build on this drill we work speed reloads and tactical reloads into the mix.
A speed reload is what you see in the movies minus the flock of doves you might see in a John Woo film. As you fire your last round you simply eject the magazine onto the ground while simultaneously loading another magazine in a carefully rehearsed sequence; assuming you have a magazine stored on your belt of course. In a belt clip, spare magazines should be stored with the top of the magazine face down. As you reach for the magazine keep your index finger over the top of the first round, rotate your hand toward your body, and load the magazine in the now empty slot. The speed reload is really only appropriate, obviously, when speed is of the essence – you know, when people are actively trying to kill you. Otherwise, you don’t want to dump your empty magazine in the dark or possibly in the mud or snow should you need it later.
The tactical, different from a speed reload, reload calls for ejecting your magazine with one hand (and not dropping it) while simultaneously loading a new one. It requires a bit of repetition to get down, but starts to feel natural over time. We rehearse these drills on the line a few times without firing and then introduce live fire training. The first time I fumble my magazine and drop it on the ground. I leave it there. I picked up a magazine once while on the line the day before and was told in no uncertain terms to leave it on the ground until the firing exercise was complete. After a couple of rounds for each team we blend the drills; reloading our partners’ magazines with hidden dummy rounds so we can work tap and rack and speed and tactical reloads all together. Everything is going well until we add the next component – movement.
John’s good at imparting simple advice. What’s important in a firefight is not shooting the other guy – it’s not getting shot. So keep moving; particularly if you’re not actively firing at your target. This relates directly to our drills of the day – in the event of either a jam or a need to reload, movement is crucial. We start off in a very structured fashion. Each person on the line already has a fairly wide berth so a single step to the left or right isn’t going to be an issue – provided we’re all going in the same direction. John initially instructs us to step to our left during the drill when we need to reload or encounter a dummy round. We successfully manage to complete this drill; moving at varying times as we exhaust our respective clips, do tactical reloads, and then exhaust another. No one falls down, no one bumps into one another, and most importantly, no one gets shot, but the Benetton models gracing our paper targets. All well and good.
For the next drill we’re not instructed which direction to move. The more left brain oriented members of the class (myself and anyone with an engineering background) seek clarification. The prospect of bumping into a neighbor while firing seems like a bad idea. This is by design of course. John wants us bumping into one another. After all, you can certainly bump into things during a real scenario. This is the first time my spidey-sense tingled in the class. While I see his point, no one in our class really knows what the hell they are doing and the opportunities for an accident seem rampant. Despite my reservations, I acquiesce.
For my first go I manage to steer clear of my classmates; one moving to the left with me the other moving toward me but we don’t actually bump into one another. We simply fired away alongside one another; in my first proper buddy cop moment of the day. What’s fun as that with each dynamic element, and by that I mean one we can’t entirely predict, the buzz on the range grows appreciably. We’re moving beyond just standing and firing on command. We’re now weaving multiple tactics into each firing sequence and doing so in an unstructured way; reacting to conditions we know are coming, but with unclear timing. It’s the first drill that feels like applied learning.
After several rounds for each group we head back into the class to talk accessories. As I mentioned in my previous post, gear is a treasured topic for newbies. And while I would certainly be considered a gadgets and gear guy in my own right, I’m not terribly excited about learning which tactical flashlight or pepper spray to buy. Not surprisingly, Insights Training offers a class on defensive pepper spray. A stocking stuffer for Mom perhaps. After discussing the merits of various small flashlights and the proper manner to measure blade length to avoid legal entanglements, the topic quickly turns to gun modifications.
John’s not big on gun mods. His line of thinking on this matter is similar to mine on car mods – if you need to spend that much money on modifying your firearm – just buy a better firearm. Throwing red meat to the class, we discuss John’s single firearm modification – the electronic sight on his Glock 19. John passes a sight around the class so we can all have a look. While electronic sights are helpful they do have some drawbacks; namely they won’t resolve on tinted windows. So, if you’re trying to fire into a limousine, your target will not appear. This is my cognitive dissonance moment of the day. I found this bit of knowledge simultaneously practical and entirely ridiculous. Upon reflection, much of my recent training meets this criteria. Perhaps this should be the name of my book.
I tap my foot throughout the gear chat impatiently waiting for my classmates to exhaust their never ending series of what-if scenarios. It’s clear by his tone and demeanor this varietal is not John’s favorite line of questioning either. Every generalized statement is met with a carefully crafted edge case – at this point I feel like I’m back at work and working with an engineering team on defining requirements.
We conclude our classroom talk with a discussion of covering and challenging. John offers up a scenario for the class. Looking around the room I see body language change. Seats are scooted forward, glints fill the eye, the more zealous even nod to themselves. It occurs to me that some of these guys think of their concealed permits as a license for something they get to do rather than something they may have to resort to. In John’s scenario a would-be assailant opens fire in a crowded restaurant. The why isn’t important. What’s important is how you conduct yourself; not only to secure the safety of your loved ones, but also your own safety when the police show. You don’t want to be mistaken for the bad guy; nor do you want a wrongful death suit.
The commands for when you draw on someone in such a scenario are clear and very precisely worded – the difference between perception and reality can lead to an extra bullet or a jail cell. The commands are:
- Police! Drop that weapon!
- Get your hands in the air. Do it now!
- Don’t make me use this gun!
- Police! Call the police!
- Look around you. Did he hurt anyone else?
- Stay away from him. He’s still dangerous!
- Police! Call the police!
While this might look like an attempt to impersonate a police officer, the phrasing is quire deliberate. Bad guys don’t shout to call the cops. Also, witnesses see different things and if you’re drawing down on someone right after a bunch of people got shot they’re likely to assume you are the bad guy. The next two phrases reinforce this notion – “Did he hurt anyone else? He’s still dangerous.” With every word you provide instruction and also establish yourself as the good guy.
Armed with our trusty phrase book we make our way back into the range for our last drill of the day. If you read my day one post you may recall that all of our targets we’re held aloft by a piece of string running the full width of the range. This becomes important in a moment. We gather in the room and my group, the odd numbers, step toward the line. We’re preparing to merge our most recently learned tactic, the cover and challenge commands, into our repertoire. As we prepare our stance and ready to draw John shouts the command – “Gun!” I draw my firearm using my carefully rehearsed technique, form my sight picture, and take my first shot severing the string and dropping everyone’s targets to the floor. The class stops immediately. I was the first to shoot and it’s very clear to those nearby that I’m responsible. In case it wasn’t clear, one of my classmates says my name loudly (taped to my back…) in a sing-song tone. Fabulous. In an attempt at levity I inquire if I now have high score. Laughter, ever my savior in an awkward moment, ensues.
John’s assistants tie off the severed string, fix the targets, and we continue our drill. I admit to feeling a bit silly shouting these commands while doing tactical reloads and checking my blind spots. Judging by the volume levels of my classmates it’s clear there are two camps. There are those who feel like I do and those that relish the moment to express their mock authority in a simulated fire fight. These, not surprisingly, are the same folks who seem to levitate off the chair during any discussion of a mock scenario. After a few rounds for each group we wrap our range session and head back to the classroom for our test.
When we arrive back in the classroom John reveals that there is, in fact, no test. I’m crestfallen. An actual test would have bolstered my zeal for credentials. We’ll receive our certificates just for attending. I small collective sigh emanates from the room.
Before we go there’s a brief sales pitch on the next series – Intermediate Defensive Handgun. I’m keen on taking it after thoroughly enjoying myself this weekend, but make a mental note to hold off on this class until after I purchase my next handgun – the Walther PPK. There’s plenty of time and I want to try my hand at a new pistol for the next class. Also, delaying the gratification makes things more fun.
The coursework in Intermediate Defensive Handgun includes:
- Rapid assumption of shooting positions such as kneeling and prone, which will allow the shooter to gain more accuracy and protect themselves from being injured
- Tactical management (“pieing”, “quick peek”, and “roll out” techniques) of danger areas such as corners, doors, and stairwells such as when protecting the home
- Shooting around cover, braced cover positions
- One handed shooting, drawing, and reloading, and clearing malfunctions with either hand
- Ground fighting and recovering from the ground
- LFI’s “stressfire techniques” like the stressfire star, rescue pivot, reverse to weaver, reverse to kneeling, etc.
- Pivots (turning left, right, or 180 degrees) while drawing and shooting
- Challenging/covering opponents
I collect my certificate and make my way for the door. Right then I have an absolutely brilliant epiphany on my next post. I can hardly wait.