I recently had the opportunity to attend a CCW refresher class. This class is mandated by my Sheriff for all permit holders, as a prerequisite to renewing a permit. It was really interesting to get a refresher on what the “average CCW applicant” looked like. I’ve spent so much time around dedicated, highly trained, and well practiced shooters that I’ve become accustomed to people with a high level of proficiency and knowledge. Seeing “John Q. Public” up close was a good reminder that it’s not always this way.
I saw and heard lots of crazy stuff and wasn’t real happy with the instructors because they missed a lot of things that they should have been seeing and correcting. I stepped in a few times when it was necessary in the interest of safety, but had to grit my teeth for most of the rest. In the end, I was really glad to be done with all of it, and thankful nobody got hurt . . . especially me!
you’re the expert
I thought I’d mention a few highlights for you because the truth is that all of you are instructors too. You are the “gun expert” for the people in your life, and will certainly find yourself teaching somebody something about guns someday. It would be good for you to think about some of these things to be ready for that opportunity.
let’s meet “TAGO”
With that in mind, here’s a dozen thoughts for you to ponder about the uneducated and non-dedicated gun owners out there, and some lessons to take from them:
-The average gun owner (we’ll call him “TAGO” from now on) doesn’t know what he’s doing. TAGO (who’s not always a guy, but let’s stick with male pronouns for convenience) doesn’t know or abide by the basic safety rules that we strive to follow, without exception. He doesn’t know how his gun operates, or how to fix it when it doesn’t. He doesn’t know the right way to hold it, load it, fire it, reload it, operate the safety, or (God forbid) take it apart for cleaning. He probably doesn’t even know the model or type of gun he has. Ask him, and he’ll tell you he has a “9 mil” (maybe a “Glock 9 mil” if he’s really sharp) but doesn’t know much more than that. LESSON: Never, EVER assume that TAGO knows anything. Start from Brick #1 every time, with the basics of gun safety, and show him how you want EVERYTHING done—handling, loading, unloading, firing . . . the whole works. Assume he’s a blank slate, and start from there;
-TAGO thinks he knows more than he does. Unfortunately, TAGO isn’t a blank slate. He already has lots of bad habits, but doesn’t know that they’re bad habits. This makes him extra dangerous, especially if you get tricked into believing that he’s competent. LESSON: Don’t trust him. Watch him like a hawk. Be ready to intervene at any time. The injury you prevent might be your own;
-TAGO doesn’t practice. He doesn’t know his gun, because he doesn’t practice enough with it. He’s not comfortable with the basics of handling or shooting it, so he’s going to be a little task saturated and overwhelmed when it’s in his hands. He can’t operate it smoothly, safely, or efficiently, even at a conscious level. LESSON: Watch for signs that he’s overloaded. Be ready to intervene, because he might be using so much mental energy trying to remind himself how everything works, that he won’t pay attention to where it’s pointed or where his trigger finger is. Be ready to provide helpful instruction on the best ways to operate the gun without offending him;
-TAGO buys junk. The gun may or may not be junk, but everything else probably will be—the cheapest ammo, the cheapest holster, the worst accessories, the wrong accessories. There may be a higher than normal rate of gear problems and malfunctions. Look for improperly-fitted grip sleeves, the wrong holster for the gun, ammo that is unsuitable, etc.. LESSON: Things get more dangerous when TAGO has a gear failure or experiences a malfunction—a LOT more dangerous! Be ready to intervene if he hits a speed bump. It’s best if you fix the problem first, then talk about it (or demo it with an unloaded gun) later. Don’t try to talk him through fixing things with a loaded gun in his hand or holster—safe the gun, fix the problem, then debrief it afterwards;
-TAGO doesn’t take care of his gear. Even if he buys good gear, he doesn’t take proper care of it. That nice pistol will burp if it’s dirty or not properly lubricated. Adjustable stuff won’t be properly adjusted. Batteries will be dead. Screws will be loose. Loose ends of straps will migrate into the wrong places. Accessories will fall off. LESSON: Keep some oil and screwdrivers handy. Inspect gear before you start shooting, and look for hints of problems to come;
-TAGO doesn’t know how to safely draw or holster. Good Lord! I thought a few folks were practicing to kill themselves in the class. The instructors wisely required a cold range, but failed to correct severe deficiencies in drawing and holstering techniques. I saw lots of fingers on triggers as guns were put away, lots of “palming” the gun as it was put away, poor muzzle discipline on the way out/in, lots of people pointing guns at their off hand as it opened or steadied the holster for the gun to go back in, etc.. I saw LOTS of clothing interfere with holstering, and I’m convinced a few guns would have gone bang if they had been loaded. I don’t think anybody in the group of 30 students (besides me) had ever been taught how to draw and holster their firearm. LESSON: Drawing and (especially) holstering are two of the most dangerous things you can do with a loaded handgun. These actions are ripe for an accident if you’re dealing with TAGO, so teach him how to do it right (starting with an unloaded gun, and moving on to loaded gun only after he demonstrates good technique and safety) and watch him like a hawk! Go slowly here with TAGO—you don’t want him trying to go fast. Safe is more important than fast;
-TAGO has a crummy holster. Making things worse, TAGO probably has the wrong holster for his gun, or a cheap piece of junk that’s not even good enough to be a decent chew toy for his dog. LESSON: If a gun doesn’t fit properly, or the holster doesn’t cover the trigger guard, or the holster won’t allow him to get a good firing grip on the gun, or the holster uses a retention device that could be a safety issue (i.e., a strap that might cause an accidental discharge, a trigger finger-operated lock like the SERPA), or it collapses when the gun comes out, or . . . whew! . . . just don’t let your student train with it! Replace it with something good and safe, and maybe have some loaner holsters on hand;
-TAGO doesn’t know where to put his holster. I can’t begin to list all of the horrible mistakes that were made in holster placement. I’ll just say that it was sad, comical, and frightening all at the same time. LESSON: It might seem obvious to us, but you’re gonna have to help TAGO out and show him where to put his holster on his belt. Not only for efficiency and comfort, but safety. Hint: The small of the back is a bad idea. So is wearing a right-handed holster with a forward cant on your left hip. It’s also a bad idea to shove a belt holster into your front pocket. Yeah, I saw it;
-TAGO doesn’t have a belt. Silly me, I forgot. TAGO often doesn’t think you need a belt. That’s what the cheap metal spring clip is for, right? If I just stuff the scabbard into my pants, it kinda stays there in place . . . unless I move or breathe. LESSON: No belt? No drawing practice. Crummy belt? No drawing practice. Work from the bench or low ready, instead. A good belt is a necessity if you’re going to use a holster. It’s a safety thing;
-TAGO doesn’t know when he should and shouldn’t shoot. The CCW class doesn’t help a lot. Most students walk away without really understanding when they are legally justified to shoot in self defense. LESSON: TAGO often thinks he is justified in shooting when he’s not. You need to be a sanity check and put a muzzle on that dog. There’s no shortage of good training and resources out there, when it comes to the law of self defense. Make sure you’re up to speed, so you can help educate TAGO and save him from himself;
-TAGO doesn’t understand how fast and confusing a violent attack can be. He thinks he’ll have plenty of time for everything—to draw and fire, to retrieve his gun from his truck (or her gun, from the bottom of a purse), to chamber a round . . . you name it. He doesn’t understand that he will almost always start out behind the curve, and it may be over before he can get his gun out. He overestimates his abilities, and doesn’t understand the dangers of armed confrontations. He thinks his gun will always trump a knife or a beatdown. LESSON: You need to deliver a dose of reality and urge him to improve his situational awareness in public, so he can see threats coming and avoid them. Teach him that the reality of armed defense is different than what he “knows” from TV, and help him to understand that it’s always better to avoid the fight;
-TAGO thinks his gun is a talisman. TAGO thinks the mere fact that he’s armed will keep him safe, even if the gun is practically inaccessible, or he’s not trained and proficient with it. In the worst case, he thinks open carry will scare the bad guys away. LESSON: The real weapon is the man, not the gun. Your gun will quickly become your enemy’s gun, if you’re oblivious, stupid, or aren’t skilled enough to pull things off. You can’t buy competence, it takes work.
the good news
The good news about TAGO is that we can usually fix him. Most often, he just hasn’t had someone who knows what they’re doing show him the ropes. He’s not a bad guy, he’s just ignorant.
If we approach him in a friendly and helpful manner, he’ll probably listen. He may not understand what he’s doing wrong, but will probably be eager to fix it—with your courteous and patient help—once he understands that there’s a better and safer way.
So, your task as a RevolverGuy is to be careful around him, and to do your best to help and educate him in a friendly, constructive manner. If you don’t feel comfortable with teaching him yourself, steer him towards reputable trainers who can do it right. Model the good behavior that you want to see in TAGO, because we don’t need more like him in the gun community. The rest of the world will judge us by his behavior, so help him along, for his sake and all of ours.
If he won’t listen though, give him a wide berth. You don’t want to be around a fool who has access to dangerous tools. Nothing good can come of that, so avoid the situation entirely. That might mean packing up and leaving the range early, which could be disappointing, but not nearly as much as getting hurt.
Keep an eye out for TAGO and be careful out there!