It’s surely no secret by now that I am a huge proponent of “The Basics”. I suspect that’s due to the “engineer side” of my brain. I’ve been an engineer for nearly 40 years and certainly colors my thought processes. In fact, with a bit more effort, my first book on “Just the Basics” will be on the bookshelves by the end of the summer – consider yourselves warned!
That said, I believe that the best way to insure your survival, the survival of your family or a person in your charge is to build a solid foundation for your defensive skill set. There are a number of ways to build this foundation.
Again – no secret – I am a proponent of the NRA “Basic” courses – pistol, rifle and shotgun. They are excellent places to start for a new and inexperienced shooter. And, their more advanced coursework in Personal Protection both inside and outside begin to provide a solid foundation as a new shooter moves towards carrying a weapon full time for personal defense.
So let’s talk a bit about the building blocks – at least as I see them – to this “foundation” that will give you a better chance of survival should that day ever come.
Recognizing the “Issue”
First a new shooter needs to “dig the hole” for the “footing”. They need to actually recognize that there is a real need to carry a firearm for personal defense. I’ve shared this phrase many times in the past – yet it fits so well for the folks I see coming for first time training . . . they see that the fabric of the society they have grown up in is becoming “frayed around the edges”. They don’t feel quite as safe as they did 5 years – 10 years ago. As folks my age talk of spending the entire day away from home on bikes, hikes and at friends and watch the eyes of today’s parents go wide with fear saying things like “I’d never let my child do that, it’s just not safe!” Exactly.
New shooters, beginning to walk a path of being able to defend themselves must first come to realize that there is a need. I see this as preparing the space for the “footing”, the foundation.
Developing a will to survive
Most of the folks that come to me for initial training have not been faced with a “live or die” situation. Or, if they have, it’s typically related to a medical issue and not a violent encounter. As a defensive firearms instructor – I am often the first to raise this issue in their mind . . . are they willing to actually fight for their own life? Some have to chew on this a bit. If you ask if they are willing to fight for the life of their child – little hesitation is seen . . . but for themselves? That can cause a true pause for reflection.
Add to that the next question . . . “Are you willing to take a life to defend yourself?” Here the pause can get even longer. Moral issues (the taking of a life), societal issues (defending your actions to friends or in court), emotional issues (how do you justify taking a life to yourself) . . . these and more come into play when deciding to build a foundation for personal defense as well as in exercising that option should the need arise.
Does the new shooter before you want to live to tell the tale? Have they even given it any thought? It is a critical element in their “foundation”.
Knowledge of your weapon
How much do you really need to know? Bottom line – how to load, clear malfunctions, aim in both intimate contact and sighted fire – and that’s about it. Rob Pincus has an interesting video where he takes a person who has never handled a handgun before and in 20 minutes has him achieving combat effective hits on a target around 15 feet away. I would view this approach as the “minimum”.
For the engineer side of my head – I really want a new shooter to be familiar with all the different types of actions for handguns as well as rifles and shotguns if they are part of their defensive mix. I want them to know how to clean them, inspect them and care for them. I want them to “know the words” that are used to describe everything from the backstrap to the muzzle.
I want them to be able to clear all typical malfunctions and to have a reasonable idea why each of them can occur.
If a defensive shooter does not know the weapon he/she is using to defend their life – it may turn into nothing more than a club . . . not good folks, not good!
Know your ammunition
For me, defensive ammunition resolves itself to a very small handful of rounds – Hornady Critical Defense, Critical Duty and Federal Premium HST. For me . . . today . . . those are my choices. I choose hollow points because I want to insure that the damage is limited to the threat before me and not any innocents beyond. I want all the energy to be dissipated by the individual intent on doing harm to me, my family for a friend.
Your choice may be different – and that’s just fine. But I believe you should know the “why” of the choice rather than just saying . . . “Well, that’s what Bill – or Frank – or Joe said to use!”
When a new shooter begins to carry there is a broad variety of gear that comes into play – belts, footwear, concealment garments, purses, holsters, magazine carriers and a spare magazine, flashlight, defensive knife – it can feel overwhelming. But, they are incredibly important choices. Take the time to do your research to insure that each choice is right for you, your method of carry and your defensive firearm.
Coursework and Training
Taking on-going coursework is a lifelong task. I’ve had this discussion on this blog multiple times . . . take some type of coursework each and every year. And while I certainly enjoy returning students – variety in your instructor selection is important as well. It exposes you to new methods, different points of view and broadens your relationships in the defensive shooting community.
Training is the work YOU do on your own on the range or on your dry-fire range. Again, it’s a topic I hammer on frequently. It’s a MUST . . . a HAVE TO . . . and the key to your ability to integrate the elements above into your own specific foundation.
Build your foundation. Use good materials. Understand how they all go together. And once complete – keep it in good repair . . . you don’t want it to crumble just when you need it most.