Sunday, February 12, 2012

Thoughts on Limits Imposed by Training

It’s easy to watch a fictional TV show (isn’t that redundant?) about a mass shooting and think, “If an armed and trained person were present the outcome would have been different.”  It’s not a giant leap of mental agility to change that thought to, “If I was armed and present…..”  Personally, I hope you and I never have to find out if we would have made the difference.  Still, the program got me thinking about training.

Most handgun training has two common features:
  • Carrying strong side on the waist band.
  • Shooting starts with an audible command like, “Up!” or “Go! or “Beeeep!”

Off the range, many of us carry concealed in some other manner than at the waist.  I confess to using an ankle holster or an occasional shoulder holster. 

Wear it under the sock.     The wear indicates it has been carried a lot, but I can tell you it's only been used in practice.

I know several people who carry with a pocket holster or fanny pack.  These carry methods are more comfortable and easier to conceal. We don’t expect to get in a gunfight, but we are willing to be prepared for that possibility.  

So…, do we come to an accommodation or mental adjustment in which the gun simply registers as a weight?  I don’t suggest we become reckless or careless, but that lump of steel begins to be perceived differently as compared to the same piece of rescue equipment holstered on your strong side waist.

This is complicated by Pavlov’s dog.  Simply, a stimulus (the range timer buzzer) is associated with an action (drawing the gun and shooting) which results in a reward (getting to shoot and an attaboy from the range officer/instructor/friends) which makes us more attentive to the stimulus (the timer buzzer) which.….  Well, you get the idea.  It’s a cycle that feeds on itself.  The problem arises when we ask what’s the effect on performance when the stimulus is absent?  Do we hesitate?  Do we ignore the stimulus?  Can we be self actuating?

Of course we can.  We’re not little robot dogs that wouldn’t eat when food was presented.  Even Pavlov’s dogs wolfed lunch down in the absence of a ringing bell.  But in the absence of the stimulus which authorizes us to draw and engage, our performance will suffer.

In an emergency would we reach for the missing gun at the waist band?  Would we remember the gun on the ankle?   I used to play martial arts at one studio, but took a one-day self-protection course at another studio.  It turned out I was the only attendee not from that dojo.  The instructor was lecturing us about avoiding trouble and de-escalation.  To prove his point he fixed his gaze on me, put a “I’m going-to-rip-you-a-new-one” look on his face and stepped toward me.  I immediately stepped back and to the side and reached for the non-existent gun on my right hip while explaining, “I don’t want any trouble.”  Good thing it was just a “teaching moment.”

Why?  I did this because I spent a weekend training at a shooting school and that was one of the drills: step back, draw your weapon and attempt to disengage.  In four hours in one weekend I had conditioned myself to a specific response to a stimulus.

Working only with strong side holsters and carrying differently is a trap for the unwary.  If you carry in multiple modes you need to develop skill sets for all of them.  Have I figured out how to ankle draw when kneeling?  Or standing on something slippery?  Or in a car or when moving?  Or when…. I suggest you ask yourself the same type of questions.

Why not carry the same way all the time?

It’s a good question and I have only my opinion on that.  A strong side holster could be a potential nightmare when you take a fall while cross-country skiing.  An ankle holster wouldn’t work if you’re wearing hip boots fly fishing, and it looks funny when you’re in shorts.  Your carry mode is derived from your attire which is a function of your activity.  Lots of activities?  You’re going to use several carry modes.

My mindset tells me how I expect to behave in 'shooting spree' situations, but I wonder how long (in terms of seconds) it will take me to get to that mindset.  Especially when everyone around you seems to be losing their heads and you have to recognize what’s happening and respond and nobody has given you the start beep. 

What can we do about that?
To Be Continued

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