Safety and Training

Tactical Mistakes and Myths — One Author’s Observations

Next to food, clothing, and shelter, the need for self-defense is prominent in our genes. You did not make many missteps in ancient times and live to complain. Working as a peace officer, beginning 40 years ago, I did not have a cell phone, pepper gas, or instant backup, and lived through some hairy ordeals. I bear the scars from some, but then, the Scot-Irish are born with a broken nose and scars on their knuckles.

Colt 1911 and revolver handguns
These are reliable handguns. The Colt 1911 has been fired thousands of rounds without an issue. The Smith and Wesson .38 Special is unfired and relies on a reputation at present.

I am not saying that there are folks who do not know what they are doing today, far from it. It is more difficult to be a cop today than when I first started. There is good training and education, for those willing to put forth the effort. As for civilian shooters, there are good schools but few attend.

The primary problem is the unlimited fake news, bad advice, and downright bull chips—some of it published in major magazines. The writer who has never met a gun he didn’t like is one problem. There have always been more cheap guns than good guns. The one commenting on things he knows nothing about is another. Gun shop commandos are another problem. There are actually very knowledgeable shooters in some shops, but from all gun shops. Some of these commandos prey on the neophyte.

If someone doesn’t carry a gun professionally, their advice isn’t worthwhile. You would be surprised how many ‘big name’ editors who pose with concealed holsters and fire handguns have never carried a gun concealed outside of the studio. Those of us who do not believe in little green men, and ignored Y2K and other hoaxes are not impressed. I think a big problem with many concealed carry permit holders is that they carry situationally.

Practicing firing from cover and recognizing cover as well.
Practicing firing from cover and recognizing cover as well.

They bolt the hogleg on when they are going to make a night deposit at the bank or looking at a used car in a bad neighborhood, whatever that is. The odds are slim of having an armed confrontation, but the possibilities are endless. The criminal population, with few exceptions, doesn’t go about armed as a matter of course. They heel up just before committing a crime. Therefore, citizens must be constantly armed to deter such an attack. If you carry at all, never be unarmed—save when there are legal restrictions.

Mental preparation isn’t there with many folks. They are not prepared for the ‘tyranny of the moment.’ As a police instructor once told me, the gun isn’t there to keep you from getting your ass whipped; it is there to save your life or that of someone else. As the old saying goes, when the mouth writes a check the ass can’t cash take your medicine. The gun isn’t there to fire from the ground at a retreating man or to murder a teenager you have picked a fight with and ended up with your soft-self kissing the asphalt. Even if you manage to bluff the jury and spend your life savings on gaining an acquittal, there is something called Judgement Day. Believe, live it.

There are people who seriously believe that simply presenting the gun will cause an attacker to wilt away. Well, perhaps. The person motivated by profit, the panhandler on the street, and the hugger-mugger are among these. However, you are not supposed to draw down on them in the first place. They present no lethal threat.

These are expanded and not expanded bullets from the authors testing.
These are expanded and not expanded bullets from the authors testing.

You had better have physical up close and dirty skills to handle less lethal threats. If you jump straight for the gun, the outcome isn’t going to be in your favor, one way or the other. There are men who will feed your gun to you if you do not have the motivation to use it. The handgun is to save your life. In self-defense situations, the attacker is bent on taking your life for his own reasons, and perhaps bent on causing human suffering for the joy of it. He won’t run, and may not run ever after being shot.

I think, the know-it-all who acts as if his head was only made to hold his ears apart is a danger to himself and everyone around him as he regurgitates bad ideas. There is no shortage in the shooting world. Many are tactical hypochondriacs and carry a high-capacity pistol and two or three magazines. They also carry tactical knives, which are just folding knives. These knives are all the rage, and there are schools that teach how to fight with them. I think some training, as an ancillary to the gun, is useful but may be covered in a few hours.

On the other hand, if you can box, you can use a knife. Boxing is a very important skill. I have a pretty scary knife scar given me by someone else. I respect knives more than most. Just the same, a three-inch lock blade isn’t very tactical. Mine opens boxes and does routine chores and at one time a similar blade was useful in searches, moving aside filthy material in dope houses and rooting around in vehicles.

Everlast boxing gloves and gear
These items should be part of your training gear.

Smaller folding knives are not very useful for combat and you have to look long and hard to find an incident when they have been used. They are good to have for handgun retention and a fast swipe across the offender’s arm. They are only what they are. Don’t build a training program around such an ineffectual tool. Instead, devote valuable time to open hand and firearms skills.

A lot of folks engage in dubious training. I recently observed a video (I do university level research and consult with trainers with credentials but occasionally watch such things in a state of boredom. My blood pressure is perfect, and I cannot allow it to rise over such things) posted by a local shooting school. The owner has been to a lot of other schools and that is it. The student stood flat footed, squared to a target, with his hand on the gun. He moved the gun two or three times in the holster, the buzzer sounded, and he drew and fired. Not very impressive.

The proper technique is to keep the hands held high, and as the buzzer sounds the elbow shoots to the rear and the handgun is scooped out of the holster. The handgun is driven to the target. Cooper was teaching this a long time ago. Another favorite is the instructor who picks a girl out of the class and demonstrates throwing her to the ground. I think that a sparring partner needs to be your own size. It is also good to have a sparring partner trained in different disciplines. It makes for interesting training.

CRKT tactical knives
The CRKT fixed blade knife is the middle is for serious use. Folders, not so much.

Quite a few shooters think they are a better shot than they really are, but no frame of reference because they have not been to shooting schools past earning their CWP, and they do not shoot in competition. I do not own a race gun, but IDPA is great fun and ideal for CWP holders. Very few shooters firing on the static range fire past seven yards. They fire at their own pace at targets they are squared to.

The prime shortcoming of most students is a lack of familiarity with the handgun. They stutter, attempting to rack the slide, load a magazine, work the slide lock, or unload the piece. God help them if they have a malfunction!

A big problem I have with a crowd of writers is the absolute hogwash that the small calibers are OK for personal defense. In my estimation—and I have much experience and formal education and decades of research behind my conclusions—the calibers below .38 Special and 9mm are practically useless. Never would I trust my life to a .32 Magnum or .380 ACP pistol. The .38 Special and 9mm Luger do not, and will never equal the .40 or .45. But they can be enough.

If you deploy the Buffalo Bore .38 Special 158-grain lead hollow point or the Buffalo Bore 9mm 115-grain +P or +P+, then you are as well-armed as you are likely to be with a handgun. But the larger calibers have the edge. That is physics.

COmpact 1911 pistol and revolver
There are compact versions of defensive handguns that pack well and are easily controlled.

The proper mindset is important. Recently, my dearly beloved and I set enjoying breakfast in Tryon, North Carolina. We were mulling over a cross-country drive and a travel book. I mentioned that while I am prepared, and make my living teaching and writing about personal defense, I felt that we could ride from the Outer Banks to Oregon and never have any trouble or a confrontation. This is because I have the mindset to spot trouble and know the warning signs. Situational awareness is important.

I have proven this theorem the past few years as we traveled in France and the Caribbean unarmed. While armed in the United States, I have had no trouble in some time. That is the mindset to foster. If the time comes, I am ready, but I will avoid it if possible. As for the reality of trouble, check the papers and news every day. It is there in abundance. I think too many shooters focus on the handgun and not the training. The skills you have will carry the day if you have a powerful and reliable handgun.

A final shortcoming I see, especially with the younger generation, is what seems an inability to discern quality. They see clone guns and poor copies and find them as desirable as the real thing. Beretta, Colt, Glock, and SIG did not win military and police contracts on a whim. These are service grade handguns. Take your time, study, use the logic ladder and consider the implications of a bad decision.

These were the observations of the author. What tactical mistakes and myths have you observed or experienced? Share your answers in the comment section.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog. "The Shooter's Log", is to provide information - not opinions - to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decicions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (69)

  1. Ex LEO and pistol instructor here…..I disagree with the notion of only carryin 45 or 40. I carry a 380. It is very accurate, easy to shoot and with proper ammo very potent. Most events are at 10 yards of less, even at that distance…..a 40 or 45 will probably be a pass through and where will the bullet stop. So much emphasis in recent years is on penetration, it is important but over rated…IMO. I have carried on the job……45s, 40s, 38s and 357s………and I still only carry a 380. The circumstances that I could have encountered during work is completely different that what I would expect to happen now. No cars, windows, engine blocks, door frames or body armor to penetrate. So you carry your choice, but remember that you are not only concerned about the perpetrator in front of you, but anyone that could be injured from a bullet after it has done its job……..

  2. My passion for shooting started in the Boy Scouts and continues into my retirement, a total of over 50 years. I spend 35 years in law enforcement, 6 of which in charge of the firearms training program for a regional academy, department SWAT team and monthly quals. I ran a firearms training COMMITTEE because one person’s opinion is not enough. There ARE defensive firearms training experts in Law Enforcement, the Military, gun store owners, range masters and gun enthusiasts but none of these professions necessarily makes one an expert. With 35 years, specific responsibility for firearms training and 5 Gunsite classes under my belt I feel only qualified to steer you towards experts. Here is an accumulation of advice from others, much better versed than me.

    The author is right. There are a lot of “posers” out there. Do your homework, check the reviews. See who has been at it a long time. When it comes to weapons manipulation and basic shooting skills, experienced and competent instructors can help. Not everyone who shoots well can teach. When it comes to every day tactics in an urban environment, law enforcement does it daily. Some military have house to house experience in modern times but the rules of engagement are different. Survival is 3 pronged, physical (staying alive), psychological (mindset and aftermath), and legal. Win the civil suit and don’t go to jail.

    A couple of observations from the article and comments:
    IDPA, IPSIC, SASS and other shooting organizations are fun and will probably offer you shooting experiences potentially more realistic than a square range and paper. Understand, however, that if you are at all competitive, watch that you don’t develop a “gaming” mindset and teach yourself bad habits. Gaming and combat tactics and mindsets are not the same. Under stress, you are likely to do the things you practice.

    As to caliber and ammo. Read Martin Fackler, US Army Surgeon and expert on ballistics and the human body. Shot placement IS more important than caliber, however, there are diminishing returns when you get below a certain caliber. Although they can kill, handguns are generally NOT one shot man stoppers. As mentioned by others here, there are many examples of subjects taking multiple rounds and continuing their assault. Hitting the “apricot” (medula) is the only sure stop, but unlikely with a handgun against a moving target. Granted some people fall down from non-fatal wounds but you can’t count on it. A fully oxygenated brain can function for a few minutes, even with a .45 calibre hit to the heart at almost point blank range (happened to a former LEO partner), allowing the assault to continue. This is especially true for persons under the influence of drugs/alcohol, mentally ill and street hardened, highly motivated persons who can fight through pain or don’t feel it.

    Deep penetration and large holes are better than shallow, narrow ones.
    The more rapid, copious bleeding you cause, the faster they go into shock. Yes, a .22 can kill you, eventually, but you want the attacker to STOP as quickly as possible. Both the military and FBI have reverted back to 9mm because of the higher capacities meaning more rounds available to do the damage.

    Several studies have shown that .380 and smaller produce less penetration and smaller wound cavities than 9mm and above, especially when going through intermediate substances like clothing, glass etc. Not saying they can’t work, but probably less effective. Many assaults have been stopped with 9mm, .40 and .45 calibre weapons. There are a number of reasonably priced options for lightweight, subcompacts in these calibers. When choosing, pick the one that you can consistently get multiple rounds, rapidly, into a reasonable group, center mass. If you are shooting 4 inch groups, speed it up. Most gunfights take place at a distance of less than 9 feet. Mix up your distances but spend time where it counts.

    Lastly, back to legal. Call me all the names you want but all of my concealed weapons have tac lights. I don’t want to shoot someone based on mistaken identity or mis-identification of threat cue. Survival is physical, psychological and legal. Avoid a deadly force encounter if at all possible without putting yourself or another at risk. Take nothing at face value; try it for yourself in a safe environment. If you are my age, have arthritic knees and cannot squat for long periods of time, the car door may not work. You will eventually stand up like the guy in the picture, exposing your head and torso. When you think you’ve got it down, try some force on force training (paint ball/simunitions) and see how easy it is to get hit and how NOT behind cover you really are.

    Take qualified training classes, practice and be safe!

  3. I SLAPPED a guy with a .45 once. Other than THAT one time, I have NO respect for pistols as SELF-DEFENSE.

    Yes, I have ONE. It’s ALWAYS loaded, cocked, and ready. And no, it’s NOT a slow-slow super-ex-expensive Semi-stupid auto. Like YOURS. for instance.

    If I EVER need a firearm for my defense, it must be as quick as my eye and my hand, and I will kill you while you are touching the slide..

    If you’re hanging with ME, keep your hands away from your True Love on your belt.

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