Are You Headed For A Negligent Discharge?

firearm training portland


I have heard it said many times that when it comes to negligent discharges (NDs-there are no “accidents” with an inanimate object under our control), there are two types of gun owners.  Those who have had one, and those who haven’t had one…yet.

I can’t quite completely subscribe to this fatalistic point of view, however, it does serve as a sobering reminder that no matter how experienced, we can all screw up.  Here are a few tips to make sure you don’t have an ND, or if you do, it doesn’t harm someone.

Let’s start with a quick review of the 4 Rules:

  1. All guns are always loaded (or, always treat every gun as loaded).  2.  Never point at anything you are not willing to destroy (whether you “think” it’s loaded or not).  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire. 4. Know your target and what is beyond it (bullets will go through more stuff than you think).

With that out of the way, there are 2 circumstances where we may have an ND.  The first (and most common) is during administrative handling.  The common refrain heard after the BANG! is “I thought it wasn’t loaded.  Well, see rules #1 and #3.  Hopefully, #2 and #4 kept anyone from being injured.

Complacency is the biggest reason for NDs, not a lack of knowledge.  Always take the time to do admin loading/unloading functions in a deliberate manner.  DO NOT rush through it by rote or worst of all, do silly stuff like try to catch the ejected round in the air to look cool.  I saw a security contractor do that right next to me coming into the main gate at the Baghdad Airport…he caught the round, looked cool, then dumped one into the clearing barrel and then almost got fired from a lucrative gig.  Me, I deliberately cleared my pistol, my rifle, my driver’s pistol and his MP5 in about 30s by ejecting the magazines, clearing the chambers, and carrying on with my day.

The second situation where we can have an ND is under high stress.  Lots of studies have been done of LE officers in training scenarios as well as anecdotal events of LE officers having NDs while holding suspects at gunpoint.  Under high stress, our subconscious views the trigger as “safety” and our finger tends to get pulled to it even if we mean to have it up on the frame.  This tends to happen and we are unaware of it (again under high stress).  Officers swear they had their finger off the trigger and are shocked to see the video.  I’ve had it happen to me in training as well, my finger went to the trigger and the instructor pointed it out, I didn’t realize it at the time it happened.

How do we combat this tendency?  First is the old-school solution.  Thousands of repetitions and practice of indexing your trigger finger along the frame to build unconscious competence at that task.  Secondly, high stress training such as force on force scenarios where you will have instructor and/or video feedback.

A study was conducted of 308 negligent discharges in law enforcement.  75% of them happened during admin activities, loading, unloading, cleaning etc.  25% happened in high stress situations and 1/5th of those resulted in injury or death.

Many of the high stress NDs were due to the “startle response,” that is reacting to a loud noise by convulsing the hands into a fist or clenching the fingers.  This is why finger up on the frame is critical, not just off the trigger.  You don’t want your trigger finger to convulse into the trigger if you are startled.

Training tips from the study: (Bold comments added by me)

1) To help counter the startle response, “officers may benefit from exposure to high-stress training scenarios that incorporate unexpected and intense auditory, visual, and [physical] stimuli,” O’Neill writes.  -Force on Force Training!

2) When handling firearms for routine tasks, such as dry-firing or disassembly, “a critical step is making certain that ammunition is not in the chamber.”  –Remove the source of ammunition (magazine), then clear the chamber…IN THAT ORDER!

3) Maintaining finger indexing away from the trigger until intentional shooting is imminent is also critical. Unfortunately, “routine range practice may facilitate a strong-but-wrong response by conditioning officers to automatically position the finger on the trigger immediately after the firearm is drawn,”

Stay safe…and keep your finger off that trigger unless & until you want a loud bang!

Are There Any “Master” Gunfighters?

In objective terms when it comes to what most people would consider “mastery” level of skill; there are no “master” gunfighters. None, zip, zero.

All we have are some highly trained individuals who have also been in some gunfights.

This is because it takes thousands of hours to attain a mastery level of skill at something. Nobody has thousands of hours in actual gunfights. Our very best do have thousands of hours in training, and perhaps a few dozen hours in gunfights (Tier 1 Spec Ops).

So, the best we can do is draw upon the best training available proven to consistently result in superior outcomes in combat.  You need to train the mechanical skills of marksmanship and weapon manipulation to unconscious competence (at least 5,000 repetitions).  Stress inoculation training such Force on Force, high stress training environments (getting screamed at ala Drill Sergeant), high work (rappelling etc.), and water work (combat swim tests etc.)  Other great training methods: video simulation, combat mindset lectures, tactical casualty care, shoot house and maneuver live-fire training.

How do you get 5,000 reps of something like drawing and firing a shot? Same way you eat and Elephant!

It takes under 10 minutes to practice 100 draws (10 sets of 10).  Do this every weekday and you’ll be at 5,000 reps in only 10 weeks…and you have weekends off!  Do it only 1x per week and you’ll still reach the unconscious competence level in under a year.  If a year seems like a long time…are you any better this year at drawing than last year?  If not, no time to start like now!  Dry-fire is free and you don’t have to leave the house, don’t let another year go by without improving your chances of survival and protecting your family, no excuses.

-Stay Safe


Your car may be a better self-defense tool than your gun!

I just watched a video from Israel where a person was attacked by someone with a stick/club while getting out of their vehicle.  They jumped back in the car (leaving the door open behind them), then took about about 5 seconds to get their gun, then shot the assailant to death.  The immediate question popping into my mind was “why didn’t he lock the door and drive away?”  Or, at a minimum, shut and lock the door putting an excellent barrier between them and the stick-wielding attacker, then grab the gun and exit the other side of the car (with a 2-ton obstacle between them.)

On a gun forum, another video was being discussed where someone out of the blue jumps on the hood of a car, then runs off.  Immediate responses revolved around the gun, how to best draw while seated in a car etc.  Again, my response was just drive away!

If you are attacked in a vehicle, your first response should probably be to try and drive away or use the 2-ton machine as a weapon.  Sure, we can think up hypothetical “what-ifs” where that may not be an option, but in most cases, it is the best option.  The problem is that most people view guns as their only means of protection in a deadly force scenario and then try to get a gun out to the exclusion of potentially better options!

If you are aware of your surroundings and leave some space between the car in front, you should almost always have options to use the vehicle to get out of danger.  In Executive Protection training as well as in practice as a protective detail team leader in Baghdad, we used the vehicles to get out of sticky situations.  This is despite having multiple people in multiple vehicles with body armor and full-auto weapons among other things.  Guns were a last resort, not a first option.  How much more so should it then be for a lone civilian with a puny handgun!






Here are some practical tips for vehicle operations in a deadly force encounter (in no particular order).

  1. Keep the doors locked at all times.
  2. Maintain situational awareness….this will also protect you from the biggest danger, accidents! When stopped, think about how you would get away in an emergency car-jacking attempt.  Which direction, onto the sidewalk and around?  Reverse?
  3. Maintain distance from the vehicle in front, enough to turn around them. Generic rule is you should be able to see their rear tires.
  4. Rubbing is racing! You can play “bumper cars” if you have to, to get out of there.  Your car can push a vehicle in front, you can jump a curb, run over small bushes or signs.  Paying a $500 insurance deductible (and even a ticket) beats dyin’ any day.  Again, we are talking about a situation where you think bodily harm is imminent which outweighs the minor property damage.
  5. Don’t run on fumes, keep enough gas in the tank to get away and to a safe location. Depending on where you live, this could be some distance.
  6. Consider training on defensive driving and/or a shooting course involving vehicles.

-Keep alert and stay safe!


Is Fitness Important for Self-Defense?

As I’m hitting a high-point for the year in my weight, I’ve been thinking about nutrition and fitness a lot more lately. As an aside, nobody (not even fitness pros) look perfect all the time. Our bodies make a static-state impossible, progress (forward and negative) is never going to be linear in terms of weight or strength so let yourself off the hook for natural swings.

OK, so back to personal protection…how important is fitness? I bet you think I’m gonna say “extremely” important. Nope, it isn’t very important at all! Once we get the Hollywood myth of extended fights (gunfights or hand to hand) out of our mind, we realize the reality of true criminal violence is that (one way or the other) it is going to be over quick. How quick? Well, from a few seconds to under a minute in most cases.

In the fitness world, we would consider this “anaerobic” which means without oxygen.  The energy you use for a short burst comes from the glycogen already in your muscles (and a burst of adrenaline won’t hurt!)

So, you don’t have to be in great shape to fight for a few seconds up to a minute and since you should be striking using your body mass (Not strength) and target vulnerable parts of their bodies, strength is not that important either.  Alternatively, you may be using a tool such as a gun or knife that does the injuring.

So, if fitness isn’t that important for self-defense why does it matter? First of all, while you probably won’t have to fight long, you will need to MOVE QUICKLY! If you are so overweight you cannot move quickly and in balance, then you are at a severe disadvantage in any violent situation.

“But I carry a gun!” So what?  You had better be moving (off the “X”, or to cover) if you want to survive.  Further, the hit of adrenaline along with the sudden burst of activity could cause a heart attack in a severely de-conditioned person.

To sum up: you don’t have to be in shape like a MMA fighter to prevail in a violent conflict. 30-40 extra lbs. aren’t a huge deal so long as you can move quickly and in balance.  Training will by far the deciding factor here (do you have any professional firearms or self-defense training?)
However, if your lack of conditioning and weight, makes quick and balanced movement difficult then you will be at a huge disadvantage. Since the odds of dying of heart disease or related complications due to obesity far outweigh the odds of dying due to violence, you should get in better shape for those reasons alone. I’ve seen what the end looks like for people dying in hospitals due to diseases related to their obesity…it’s not pretty. On the other hand, if getting in shape to protect yourself and family provides better motivation then use that!  Good luck in safety and health!


Striking with Bodyweight

Whenever you strike, it is important that you get all of your weight into it. This makes strength a lot less of a factor. If you are targeting a vulnerable area of their anatomy and driving all of your weight through it, that gives you the best chance of causing an injury, even if you are a 120lb female.

I’m posting a short excerpt from a training course where I demonstrate this principle. The proper strike is at the very end of the clip (the initial one has more distance so they can see what I’m doing better). Note the starting and finishing positions of the dummy and myself (the other dummy :rofl: ). See how I finish standing where they were with my center of mass totally displacing them? All my weight was focused on the handgun muzzle and went into their throat. Devastating (and lethal) strike, no matter what you weigh or how strong you are.

Note:  If we are striking with the firearm (instead of shooting them), the gun is probably empty or has jammed.  It is faster to just strike them, then try and reload or clear the jam (while they are still attacking us).

Whenever I watch someone strike, I always take note of where their CG is in relation to a marker in the background to see if they truly step in and get a good weight transfer. 90%+ of the time, they lean in and maybe take a half step, but they do not drive in and get all of their weight in the strike.

This is how a much weaker person can realistically injure a much stronger attacker. Pit your body weight against something weak on them. Eyes, throat, groin, knees, ankles etc. and so on. Nobody can take a 135lb barbell thrown on their knee. So, they can’t take a proper weighted heel-stomp through the knee either by a 135lb person driving all the way through…same physics.

The Best Training Methodology continued

(Image: “Force on Target” training-view through red dot optic at clothed 3D target in home.)

Partial List of Training Methods:

Dry-fire: practicing with your firearms without live ammunition, with or without inert dummy rounds.

Benefits: No cost and high versatility! Any skill, course of fire, technique or tactic (to include complex maneuver and CQB) can be done dry and done anywhere.

Good for: trigger control, marksmanship, gun manipulation, tactics/technique rehearsal, scanning in a 360deg. environment. (Skill development)

Not so go for: Recoil control, target feedback.


Benefits: you shooting your gun with live ammo exactly like you would in a gunfight.

Good for: Marksmanship, gun handling, recoil management, tactics and techniques. (Skill development, advanced drills or competition may add some stress and decision making components)

Not so good for: Retention shooting, 360 scanning, extremely resource intensive (need a range) and costly ammo. Usually not realistic settings. Not good for stress-inoculation (except at the most advanced levels in advanced facilities), doesn’t address mindset.

Force on Force (FoF): Training with another human serving as a role-player.

Benefits: Primarily stress, it tests the skills you developed with the methods above under a much more stressful and open-ended (to the trainee) environment.

Good for: Stress inoculation, each time gets easier and you can access more of your skill under stress. Decision making, Mindset, overcoming inhibitions against using deadly force.

Not so good for: Skill development. Resource intensive (not possible to do solo). You really need to have someone knowledgeable in how to run FoF training for it to be effective. Protective gear can be very restrictive and detract from realism.

Force on Target: This is using other than live ammo on targets.

Benefits: Realistic settings. Any location (even your home) can become a training area. Based on the technology used, worse case set a piece of plywood behind the target.

Good for: Training any skill that you would practice dry or live, but in a realistic 360 deg environment without any live fire safety range-isms. Can also be made more stressful than you can safely do live-fire.

Not so good for: Raw marksmanship-recoil isn’t the same as live fire. Requires some sort of technology (airsoft, laser cartridge, marking rounds etc.)

Video Simulation: Interactive video scenarios with feedback from laser shooting guns.

Benefits: 100% realistic environments and situations with the filmed actors.

Good for: Decision making under mild-medium stress, skills under mild-medium stress. Helps with mindset/overcoming inhibition. The simulation operator can select different endings/branches based on the trainees choices. 300 deg simulators almost fully simulate a 360 deg. environment. Can also be used for marksmanship in place of live-fire.

Not so good for: Movement, use of cover (both will be severely curtailed in the typical simulator) Raw marksmanship training, dry and live are better. Costly, most any home-version is still out of most budgets (or so basic it won’t offer much of the benefits above). The military/LE versions are six-figure affairs, so you must find a facility that offers it.

Finally, we have learning methods such as lectures, videos, and books, articles, internet forums etc. These can be used to educate you on skills, tactics, and techniques that you can practice via the methods above. They can help with mindset and overcoming inhibition as well.

An example of putting it all together.

Skill-use dry fire at home combined with live-fire range training to practice marksmanship, gun-handling, scanning, use of cover, movement.

Skill-use airsoft or laser cartridge (Force on Target) to practice the above at home with target feedback and to practice skills/tactics not as safe for live-fire. Retention shooting, home clearing, use of cover in your home, etc.

Stress-use airsoft or laser cartridge to train more stressful drills like your partner setting up clothed 3d targets (shoot and no-shoot) and you clear the home. As an aside, I did this once with my wife and when she came downstairs a final clothed 3D target was holding a replica AK to my head as I was sitting on the couch. She had to make an unexpected hostage-rescue shot with her live husband as the hostage! (I had eye-pro of course, she hesitated for just an instant…and made the shot)

You can have a partner gently push-pull you around a bit while you engage targets. FoF training (provided you have the knowledge to do it safely and effectively).

Mindset and decision making under stress. Find out if there is a video simulation facility in your area. For the cost of a typical date, you can get a couple hours of great training. Seek out good materials on the topic. The books “On Combat” “The Gift of Fear”, “On Killing” and others.

Here is the best book on Reality Based Training IMO (especially FoF) and a vital part of anyone’s reference library who is serious about realistic training. “Training At The Speed Of Life” by Kenneth Murray

Here is where to get very realistic targets to include the 3D plastic ones for under $40 each (they last a very long time)

The best training Methodology (what do you mean live-fire isn’t always best?)

This post and the following are going to be about what training methods and/or technologies are best suited for a particular skill or attribute. Contrary to popular belief and a whole bunch of institutional inertia…live-fire isn’t always the best, and is sometimes the worst, method to use for training certain skills or attributes. It isn’t a best-worst dichotomy either, there may be a best solution that is unfeasible, so find a second-best.

I’ll give an example of what I mean. I was watching a well-known trainer demonstrate retention shooting on YouTube. When it comes to the live-fire section, he simulates a strike to the target with his offhand while drawing into retention. He then (for safety) places his offhand behind his back and has a partner confirm the angles are safe, then fires his live rounds. He said that you don’t have to do this live-fire, you can get 90% of the effectiveness with airsoft etc.

Think about that…is it true? Would a tool like airsoft only be 90% as effective at training retention shooting as the whole hand behind back, partner safety check, protocol?

The truth is the opposite in my opinion. You can get near 100% effectiveness with another method that isn’t live-fire. Not only can you strike and shoot from the exact same position as if it were real without a safety concern, you can even swap the unrealistic 2d paper target for a 3d “BOB” striking dummy and strike it full-force. Better yet, use a human partner! (don’t strike them full-force though 😉 ) I think a dummy gun, dry fire with an inert plastic barrel inserted (if using a partner), airsoft, laser cartridge, safe at contact range blanks, or Simunition FX (or similar) marking cartridges are all superior training methods for practicing the skill of retention shooting than live-fire.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever live-fire the retention position to see what it is like in terms of recoil etc. and to shoot your gun live from that position…but that is a poor method to learn and practice the skill due to the artificial safety limitations.

There are Three attributes needed to survive a gunfight (aside from luck).

Skill-this is how well you shoot, manipulate your firearm, and use tactics. This is also typically the attribute focused on by most live-fire training almost to the complete exclusion of the next 2.

Stress-This is your ability to actually make use of your skills under the extreme stress and physiological/psychological effects of a violent situation.

Mindset (willingness to kill-killing enabling factors). This is your actual willingness to use deadly force. You could have the skills, and have them stress-inoculated so that you can access them, yet either choose not to (pacifism), or be unable to overcome the inhibition of killing someone.

The next post will cover different training methodologies and tools/technology, what they do well, and their limitations. I have always felt that money and resources is no excuse not to have extremely realistic training. By mixing and matching the different methodologies with a healthy dose of imagination, you can get world-class training/practice on any budget.

3rd Takeway from FoF Training

Last time I posted about 2 top takeaways I observed from the students at the FoF course. There was a 3rd standout observation, but it didn’t fit with the other two and I didn’t want it to distract from those.

The 3rd takeaway was to make good use of force decisions. A lot of students (male) ended up drawing their gun on a belligerent, but unarmed, female. While there could be an occasion where a male could reasonably be in fear for their life against an unarmed female, you need to be able to state exactly why, and why some other alternative (like retreating) would put you in more danger. Also, on more than a few occasions, role players got shot who were not presenting a deadly fore threat at the time as well as more “brandishing” incidents in general (drawing the gun before it was a clear deadly force incident).

This happened for multiple reasons. The first is a training environment issue. The students assumed that since they have a “Simmunitions” gun in a FoF scenario, that means they are supposed to shoot. Going along with that, they want to use the gun because that is what they are paying for.

However, probably one of the biggest disservices an instructor could make would be to condition the students into only one response, that deadly force is always (and the only) option based on poor scenario design.

Another reason has to do with not treating the scenarios as real. At one point I asked why the student pointed the gun at a role player. “Because they got too close to me” was the response. I then asked if they drew their gun out in public every time someone gets to close to them like at the mall etc. “No….” I also own some of this, I will better explain the environment and conditions for future classes to make it clear how they should look at the scenarios.

Finally, just plain ‘ol stress. The drill where these issues came out the most was a decision making drill with 3 role players all doing different things at once (some threatening, some just annoying, some no threat at all). This forces the student to take in a lot of info and make decisions. It is supposed to be stressful. Under stress (and the expectation that things might get violent), our subconscious reaches for safety, in the form of the gun if we have one. Under stress we tend to have our hands go to the gun and our fingers get drawn to the trigger prematurely as if by a tractor beam whether we want it to consciously at that point.

Finally, a mirror-image problem of to being too quick to draw or shoot (when deadly force isn’t warranted yet) is a hesitation to shoot when it is. I noticed this the most when the role-player had an impact weapon or a knife (safe training versions of course!). Students giving them way too much leeway and letting them get way too close after they indicated they meant to harm the student and made a movement forward. Once you see they have a deadly weapon and they make an aggressive move, don’t hesitate!

How can you apply it in your training? Use photo-realistic or 3D targets that have guns or knives so you are conditioning yourself to only use deadly force when legal to do so. Also, have a partner work in no-shoot targets for you to practice rapid observation and decision making. Practice giving verbal commands and retreating on occasion instead of always shooting every target every time in training.