Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ballseye's Firearms Training & Tactics - My Way Or The Highway Absolutes...

...are just about absolute bullshit balderdash when it comes to training someone in how to use a firearm, and when it comes to using one to protect yourself. Whether or not you should aim with your sights in a gunfight is a real hot question among firearms instructors, shooters, law enforcement officers, gun bloggers, and so one. It simply amazes me that so many folks will either argue yes you should virtually always use your sights (except when in contact distance with your adversary), or no you should not use them in almost all situations out to 25 yards. Now I realize everyone has an opinion, heck what I am about to write is going to be my opinion. Yet, just like everyone has a behind, they do not need to show off their behinds to everyone as if their behinds were perfect in size and form. Neither does anyone need to make their opinion known to everyone as if it was as absolute fact. That is especially so when it is out and out factually and tactically wrong as to its absoluteness. When someone does that it is just so much testosterone or estrogen driven balderdash.

A blog I was reading got off track of the sight thing, and wound up making, what is, in my opinion, an over generalized statement, a statement of absoluteness regarding your, my, any one's competence to carry firearms. When someone in essence tells us that you have no business carrying a firearms for self defense if you can not get a hit on target with each and every shot you fire, well I get fired up and take a shot at statements like that. Of course that statement was made with the implication behind it that if you use your sights you would not miss. A person who tells you a thing like that, and who implies the other, is telling you their opinion but in such a way as to make it an absolute. Opinions are not absolutes. My guess is that the person telling you such is either an self-inflated pompous blowhard, or is someone who means well but does not have enough practical training and or experience to know otherwise. I have received a lot of firearms training, and I have been there and done that practical experience wise more than once and even my opinion is not an absolute.

I have been shooting handguns for over 29 years. I have received distinguished expert status with them many a time. I have attended several firearms training courses. Some of them, in rough chronological order, were: U.S. Border Patrol Academy, a California Highway Patrol tactical course, U.S. Customs Patrol Academy, NRA Police Firearms Instructor training (rifle, shotgun and pistol), U.S. Customs Investigator Training Academy, NYPD Armed Encounter Training, U.S. Customs Service MP-5 Submachine-gun training, NYPD Tactical Entry Training, U.S. Customs Service MP-5 Submachine-gun Instructor training, U.S. Customs Service Firearms Instructor Recertification training, Federal Air Marshal Training. I also have received firearms training at least 4 times per year in each of those 29 years, and that is in addition to the above mentioned training courses that I attended. The quarterly training includes such things as weapons retention, weapons take away, cover and concealment, officer down, one handed reloading, defense against a knife attack, low light shooting, push off shooting, hip shooting, point shooting, and tactical exercises using the aforementioned techniques. Overall, I was a firearms range officer and firearms instructor for about 14 years, and have been training and shooting on my job for over 29 years. Those are my credentials training wise.

I also have limited practical experience. I have drawn my gun on several occasions, thankfully without having to fire it. Sadly though I have also been forced to fire my gun at least three times in self defense. The first time was in the line of duty, and I missed the guy at whom I was shooting. Funny how no one, and I mean absolutely no one at the time, even suggested that I was not worthy of carrying a gun because my shot had missed. Second time was a warning shot. Yep, a strictly forbidden by the Border Patrol firearms policy warning shot, and according to my Patrol Agent In Charge when interviewed by the press, it saved my life as far as he could tell. The third time I shot in a scary situation, well let's just say that is how I got the name Ballseye. Each time I was in those situations it was scary.

The first time I was almost blinded; but luckily only had the slightest scratch on the white of my eye and inside my lower eyelid rim. I was under attack from 5 or 7 guys throwing rocks and chunks of concrete at me, and they came darned close to hurting me badly when one piece hit my windshield and glass went in my face. My vehicle stalled and I was broadside to them. I was scared and my vision was blurry - but I took the best opportunity I had to save myself from serious bodily harm or death. I aimed in and fired. What would you have done? Was I wrong to have done so? I actually had my shot aimed in and the guy moved just as I fired because he was throwing another rock at me and I missed. Yeah it was darned difficult with the glass in my eyes, but I was able to aim with the sights and cranked one off. I was found to have been 100% justified. I was not even required to attend any remedial firearms training. Can you imagine that.

The second time time I fired my weapon in self defense was not at a guy but just over his head, actually aiming at the side of a concrete building. Close to his head though, I saw his hair go swoosh from the muzzle blast. Why? Darned if I know why I gave him that warning shot. Maybe because he was unarmed. I do know that I was already hurting bad at that point. I had several minutes prior had one hell of a fight with a guy I was arresting, and he drop kicked me from his position on a fence a few times in my chest. I got him though after whacking him several times with my portable radio as he tried to entangle me in the barbed wire at the top of the International Boundary Fence. Then, the guy whose hair I had not yet parted with the warning shot, and a few of his amigos in crime tried to get my prisoner away from me and in doing so beat me up pretty good. So I had gotten two good beatings, and was feeling pretty miserable, and probably not thinking to well at the time. Funny though, wound up I did not have a noticeable bruise on me when I went to the hospital that night, just some redness and a scratch or two. It was one heck of a couple of beatings though I can assure of that. Next day I did cough up copious amounts of blood from the beating I had taken, and was diagnosed with a fractured sternum, then with a fractured Zyphoid Process, then with nothing if only because the docs were aresehats. My sternum and Zyphoid process had both been cracked as I learned later for sure.

So when this guy came at me the second time, and was urging his buddies to come and get me a second time, but this time to kill me, why a warning shot? I do not know for sure. I was young, I was scared, I did not want to have to kill anyone, I hoped with all my might that he would run away and so would the other guys, and I think that somewhere in that jumble of fast moving thoughts that course through your gray cells at such a time I figured if I shot him maybe it would enrage the others and they would kill me but if I scared him off they would be scared off too, and I had been beaten up and was feeling like shit and not thinking right. I fired, he fled as fast as any man I have ever seen run, climb a fence, and run some more. His buddies, they fled too. It worked, but I now would not recommend it, and I would probably never do it again. Next time - two to the chest and maybe one to the head.

The third time, the shot with which I connected, I was off duty and out for a walk. Two guys pull up in a car, one gets out with a crumpled up sweater in his hands, pulls the sweater back with one hand and exposes a rifle barrel. Then he says: "Don't move mother fucker". I was just about shitting myself because it looked to me as if a guy had just leveled a 30 caliber rifle barrel at my gut and told me what he did. It was obvious I was in a life threatening situation and was about to get hurt badly. So what did I do. I moved, so did he he, I shot without ever getting the pistol anywhere near the level of my eyes to sight it in. I shot almost as soon as the gun cleared leather and was pointed at the bad guy. Guess what, I hit him too, or to be exact the bullet hit him. Yes it wound up giving me the name Ballseye because of where it hit him. Went in his right thigh, deflected to his left. Yes it came out of the thigh and kept going, right into his scrotum, then exited the sack, and then entered the left thigh and traveled down toward his knee where it lodged. Was it the best placed shot in the world - nope, but it stopped him from doing me harm, and I suppose gave his cousin who was his accomplice second thoughts too. My second shot definitely gave the cousin second thoughts and even though the round was demolished by hitting the windshield, he took off in the car in reverse.

Would I have been a really bad guy who did not deserve to carry a gun had I missed the shot altogether - hell no. Would it been bad had I killed an innocent person a block away, sure it would have. Would I have been justified in having shot without using my sights even if the result had been an outright miss with maybe a hit on an unintended target. Yes I would have been justified even if the result had been a bad one. Why, because I had been trained to shoot without using sights close in. I was trained to shoot like that for speed when needed and this guy had the drop on me. I was trained to shoot like that to avoid having my gun taken away and this guy was close to me. Less than 7 yards, probably closer than 3 yards, maybe as close as about 7 feet. It was hard to tell once the adrenalin got flowing and to tell the truth it has been so long I have forgotten what I thought back then about distance except he was too darned close to me. I shot, I hit him, just as trained for doing. Nope not a great shot for a paper target or a competitive pistol match, not one at at center mass, but by using vertical tracking and firing as soon as I had cleared leather it hit him, and it hit him hard and hurt him badly - no sights involved in how I aimed - but yes it was a form of aiming. If I had fired a second shot at him by vertically tracking up to center of mass, as I did track with the pistol, I would likely have killed him but it was almost instantly obvious he was not as much a threat as he had just been a moment before, so I avoided making the mistake of tunnel vision and looked to his accomplice who was just turning in his seat to exit their car with a handgun in his right hand. Another shot fired, this one hitting the windshield of the car right at the level of the driver's head somehow, and both fled. I never used my sights as I recall although the second shot was point shooting if I remember right.

Could I have missed. Sure I could have. Would it have been due to me not using my sights, I think not. It would more likely have been due to the absolute super rush of adrenalin in my system, or to the fact that my sphincter muscles were squeezing together hard to hold in my bowel contents (the pucker factor), or because some other muscle group was keeping me from wetting my pants, or simply because I was scared almost shitless and wanted to run away or cry like a baby. What if I had used my sights. The split second more to raise my pistol to eye level, and the couple to few more moments to focus on the sights and align them on target, and then squeeze one off would likely have gotten me killed if the guy had a real gun, and it would also have allowed his cousin time enough to get the drop on me. It turned out the first guy was holding a pipe making it look like a gun. Pretty convincing too because it had about a .30 hole in the end of it. Oh well. I did it right, and I got him, and I was unharmed by either him with his fake gun, or his cousin with his real revolver. Yes it was real. Wound up they had robbed someone before me, and that guy described to police the bullets he had seen in the chambers of the cylinder of the revolver.

Now before you go and start accusing me of blowing my own horn, or of being full of myself, allow to to tell you why I pointed out all of the above about myself. It is because that is my training and experience, well some of it. I have lots more experience using guns as when going on raids and such but thankfully not having to shoot them. Those are my qualifications so to speak. With my qualifications in mind - I think I am somewhat qualified to say what I am about to say.

Folks I just cannot stress enough there are practical times not to use sights, and practical times to use sights. Just because someone is more than arms reach away from you does not make it necessarily so that you use your sights. Just because someone is an arms reach away, or 3, or 4, or 6, or 9, or even 21 feet away does not always make it safe for you to bring your gun up and out in front of you to use the sights. Anyone who tells you that you should always use your sights at any of those distance is, I think, foolish. It may be great for shooting holes into paper, but it can be something very different when facing a bad guy.

Sure, you should learn how to shoot first using your sights. Then once you are a fair to good shooter that way you should graduate to learn how to point shoot. Then once you are pretty fair to good at that, learn how to shoot from the hip (no like like in old west movies at a guy 30 feet away but as in when you do not want to offer your pistol to the bad guy who is close enough to grab it), and learn how to do push off shooting. Learn some honest to goodness self defense shooting for all ranges from touching your opponent to out to at least 25 yards away. Get training from a certified tactical instructor, or at least someone who had such a certification in the past. They will show you more than one way to plug a scoundrel who is apparently intent on doing serious bodily harm to you. That will include when to use sights and when not to use them and you will learn there can be various times that the two methods can overlap and you need to decide to use sights or not to use them based upon your own best assessment of the situation as it is happening. By learning varying methods you are allowing for yourself to be able to improvise among those methods when you need to based upon any situation in which you may find yourself.

Try to stay away from all the all knowing testosterone or estrogen driven super gun guru types who generalize about such situations. You know the type, the ones who claim to know it all, and claim or imply that they are worthy of carrying a gun because they can hit anything at which they shoot each and every time they shoot, and who wind up telling you that it is absolutely their way or no way. They may just get themselves or you killed. The thing about shooting in defensive situations is that there is usually more than one way, and are sometimes several ways to do it. You may also find though practical experience that you will be able - after being trained well - to improvise upon your training and come up with a solutions that will work in situations that were not addressed in your training. No I do not mean one single solution that will work in each and every situation, but that by having learned varying methods you will have allowed for yourself to be able to improvise among those methods when you need to based upon many a situation in which you may find yourself, even those for which you have not specifically trained.

Before you can do that you need to realize that you cannot improvise based upon your experience and training if your training and experience have been to do the same exact thing each and every time. You see, in the real world the solutions may be a bit different each time just as are the situations in which you may find yourself. Will that solution ever wind up being the absolute one way that some firearms guru type has insisted is the only way? Sure it will - maybe even more times than not - but you probably can safely bet your last pair of clean undies that when you are in a situation that makes the pucker factor fail it will not happen exactly that absolute one way. The law of averages is just not wired that way, and a check of the facts surrounding a large number of shootings will bear me out on this one. A different day, different time of day, different place, different attacker, different number of antagonists, different lighting, different weather, different distances, different positions, different weapons, and so on, will make each and every situation, and your response(s) to it, different. Heck you may have taken a fall in a bad encounter and bent your front sight - what would you do then if you only knew how to shoot by sighting in. Think it cannot happen - well if that is what you want to believe keeping thinking that way, but only think that way if you lead a charmed life. If Murphy is one of your buddies though, then be prepared for the worst.

So why not make yourself ready for that worst case scenario, or that different set of circumstances, and go out and sign up for some self defense handgun training. Then once you have completed the first course sign up for another with another instructor at a different range, or at least for a different level of instruction from the same instructor if you cannot find another instructor. If the instructor is worth what you are paying for the course you will learn a bunch of different ways to shoot using and not using your sights, and if he does not teach you along those lines - well then look for another instructor and see what he or she teaches you. The varying methods they teach you, combined with a little bit of smarts and good situational assessment by you, combined with a lot of practice on your part, may someday keep your undies clean, and you from bleeding, because you got it right before you were all puckered out and all shot up.

All the best,
Glenn B


Rita Loca said...

"What would you have done? Was I wrong to have done so?"

I would have done exactly what you did! Anyone who has ever been confronted by an angry mob, or actually under gun fire, would do the same thing.
While living in a very gang infested barrio in Venezuela, I tried to convince my friend to get a gun and keep it in her house, she was 'afraid' because she had two small children. One night, a gang got the 4yr old daughter and if not for the bravery of our neighbor, she would have been taken. The next day, my neighbor bought a gun.

James R. Rummel said...

Good post!