Who is this “Responsible Gun Owner” anyway?


You’ve heard the term.   Maybe you’ve used it yourself.  Both the pro and anti gun groups talk about them all the time.  Just who are these “responsible gun owners” anyway?

Opinions will vary of course, but here’s my take on five fundamental characteristics of a responsible gun owner.


1) Law Abiding

This might seem like a no-brainer, but you can’t be a responsible gun owner if you are breaking the law.  Even if firearms aren’t involved in your charges it diminishes confidence in your judgement and character.  Charges involving assault and drug abuse are especially damning.  Pay your child support, don’t drink and drive, don’t write bad checks, shoplift, defraud clients, abuse animals, or anything else.  Once you’ve got a criminal record your days of being a role model are over, short of some serious efforts at rehabilitating your reputation.



2) Follow Safety Rules


Depending on who you listen to you’ll find between 3 and 10 or even more safety rules.  The fundamentals are always going to apply here though.

  • Treat every gun as if it were loaded, until you have verified that it is unloaded
  • Never point your gun in an unsafe direction
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire
  • Know your target and what is beyond it

Always use a quality holster that holds your gun securely and covers the trigger.  Never carry without a holster.  Keep guns unloaded unless they are intended for immediate use.

Additionally mixing firearms and drugs or alcohol is a surefire way to fall in that “irresponsible” gun owner category.  

If your gun goes off when you didn’t intend it you can be sure safety rules have been violated.  You can talk about “accidents” all you want but in truth it was probably negligence, and could have been avoided with very little effort.  “Accidents” happen because of carelessness and negligence.  Genuine malfunctions that cause a gun to fire CAN happen, but are exceedingly rare.


3) Safe Storage

What constitutes safe storage might be different for everyone.  The apartment dweller with children living in the home might opt for one solution, while the retiree who lives alone might opt for another.

These are an excellent mix of security and quick access, but make sure to keep the keys out of reach
These are an excellent mix of security and quick access, but make sure to keep the keys out of reach

The key, regardless of the method used is to prevent unauthorized people from gaining access to your firearms.  Families with young children living or frequently visiting the home will need a secure locking container that can’t be easily accessed without a key or combination.  If keys are the method of entry they clearly need to be kept out of little hands as well.  Don’t count on hiding the keys to the gun cabinet in your sock drawer.  I recall many times as a kid finding a key then trying every lock in the house trying to figure out where it went.  Keep keys on a ring that is always with you.  Make sure combinations are sufficiently complicated that a child couldn’t easily figure it out.  Sequential numbers or combinations that are used for other things the children know about are too easy.

One of my favorite solutions are the bedside gunsafes that are on the market.  They’re well priced, generally around $100 and offer secure storage along with rapid access for authorized users. I’m not a fan of the biometric varieties, they’re prone to read errors too often.  Simple button press models are both secure and easy to open for those with the combination. These are sized for pistols, so long guns will need another storage option.  Safes, locking cabinets, and cable locks all work well for long guns if quick access isn’t a requirement.  Trigger locks are really not sufficient for safe storage.  They still allow the gun to be loaded and in some cases actually fired. Never count on trigger locks alone.

Cable locks are often included with new guns purchased.
Cable locks are often included with new guns purchased.

Keeping guns in the sock drawer, closet shelf, or under the bed is NEVER a good idea if children are going to be in the home.  It doesn’t matter how well trained they are and how well they understand the risks, children inherently make bad decisions.  I’m a huge proponent of firearms education for kids and I think it’s the number one safety factor for kids and guns.  Nonetheless limiting access to firearms unless they are adequately supervised is just a good idea.  Remember, it may not even be your child that you have to worry about, but one of their less educated friends who is visiting and succumbs to curiosity.

Short of the largest gun safes that are bolted to solid concrete floors, none of these methods will really prevent a dedicated attempt to gain access to your firearms.  Thieves, adult members of the household, and older teens can generally all figure out how to defeat storage options if given time and access.  If those are concerns for your situation more secure methods need to be considered.


4) Knows Gun Laws/Get Training

Much like number one, breaking the law, especially gun laws even unintentionally is going to get you in trouble.  I don’t believe that there should be any sort of training requirement for firearms ownership, but I do believe a responsible gun owner will seek out the training to make them safe and competent.

Know the requirements for carrying either open or concealed.  Know the laws of places you travel if you’ll be bringing your firearm along.  Know the rules regarding bringing firearms on airplanes, trains, buses, National Parks, restaurants that serve alcohol, around schools, banks, and anything else that might be relevant where you live, work, and visit.

Do you know if this sign meets the legal requirements for your State?
Do you know if this sign meets the legal requirements for your State?

We know many of the gun laws on the books are non-sensical, but you don’t want to wind up like unfortunate gun owner Shaneen Allen.  Allen is facing jail time because she didn’t realize her Pennsylvania carry permit was not honored in New Jersey, nor that the type of defensive ammunition she carried (hollowpoint, the best option for self defense) was subject to further restriction in that state.

Allen might be considered a perfect candidate for the “responsible gun owner” except that her ignorance of the laws in an adjoining state now has serious consequences to her career, freedom, and family.  That New Jersey’s gun laws are self defeating and inconsistent don’t make the consequences any less serious.

Another critical aspect of knowledge is use of force.  Know when deadly force is justified.  Know when a situation warrants drawing your weapon vs. when that just escalates the situation.  Understand when the right to stand your ground goes against the common sense solution of leaving a bad situation.


5) Good Ambassador

This is a more subjective measure than the others but one I feel is no less important.  Just what makes one a good ambassador for the firearms community?

Have you ever seen those YouTube videos where a guy gives some girl, probably his girlfriend, a powerful gun to shoot without any prior instruction or training?  That guy isn’t a good ambassador.  What about the Open Carry activist that brandishes a rifle while demonstrating at local businesses?  Not winning any converts there.

Open carry advocates making a good impression
Open carry advocates making a good impression
OC done wrong.  Sloppy dress and a rifle in a "brandishing" condition isn't making any fans
OC done wrong. Sloppy dress and a rifle in a “brandishing” condition isn’t making any fans

A good ambassador is one who introduces people to firearms in a safe and enjoyable way.  They make the case for why they carry eloquently, and can discuss politics without racial diatribes or name calling.  If they choose to open carry they do so in a manner consistent with their reasons, their locale, and their intent.  They educate themselves and they educate those around them.  They’re the type of gun owner that demonstrates that gun ownership transcends barriers.  They demonstrate that gun ownership is a right that is important to, and should be exercised by members of any political party, gender, race, or sexual orientation.



Not all of these opinions are going to be embraced by everyone, and in some cases with very good reasons.  However as we strive to educate the uninformed and exercise our rights we need more people that fit these categories, and fewer that give fodder to those that seek to restrict our rights in the name of “common sense” and “safety”, when their agenda is anything but.


Shoot to kill?

Shoot to kill?



While teaching a class of security guards recently a new guard asked the question “Do you always have to shoot to kill?”  The question arose as we were discussing the laws pertaining to the use of deadly physical force (commonly called lethal force).  One thing that is interesting to note is this was for an unarmed security guard class, but State guidelines mandate training in deadly physical force.  That’s because it’s well understood that merely being unarmed does not preclude one from being able to apply deadly force.


The answer to that guards question was of course, “No”.  In fact the goal is never to shoot to kill but only to shoot to stop.  The law understands that the most effective methods of stopping a determined assailant are likely to result in death even when that isn’t the intent.  With that in mind, the justification for using such lethal force is very highly defined and typically only justified when threat of death or serious bodily harm is imminent to you or to a third party.


So if our goal is to shoot to stop the threat, what does that mean?

A “Stop” is achieved when the aggressor is no longer capable or willing to continue to do you harm.  It’s important to note that once the threat no longer exists the justification to continue to use force also no longer exists.  That means once the threat stops, you need to stop shooting.  If you continue to use lethal force against someone who is clearly no longer a threat it is no longer justified.  In fact, you have now become the aggressor and are the one committing a crime, namely manslaughter.


Three types of stops

There are only three ways to stop an attacker, and only two are truly reliable.  These are the psychological stop, CNS, and loss of blood pressure.


Psychological stop


This is actually the most common type of stop but is also the least reliable.  A psychological stop is created when the attacker is no longer willing to continue the attack.  In many cases the mere presence of a gun is enough to cause this type of stop, a shot doesn’t even need to be fired.  These stops represent non-determined attackers however, not the kind we are discussing here.  Determined attackers are those that continue even when the presence of a gun is known or after shots have been fired.

When shots are fired approximately 35% of the time an attacker who is hit in any part of the body will quit whether they were capable to continue their attack or not.  Even bad guys figure out that once you get shot, you should stop doing those things that got you shot in the first place.


CNS or Central Nervous System Stop


A shot to the central nervous system (brain, brain stem, upper spinal cord) is the most reliable and effective type of stop.  A shot placed in the brain stem results in instantaneous incapacitation.  They can’t run, fight, or pull a trigger.  These are also the most difficult shots to pull off.  The target is small and the chance to miss is high.  A miss means that instead of stopping your target they get to continue attacking, possibly with disastrous consequences for you.


Loss of Blood Pressure


This is the common and recommended method to stop an attacker in a self defense situation.  When blood pressure drops low enough the body and brain shut down resulting in unconsciousness and incapacitation.  Given time, a gunshot wound almost anywhere on the body can cause sufficient loss of blood pressure to cause unconsciousness (and eventually death).  However as life and death encounters are usually measured in seconds, we need to create this loss of blood pressure as quickly as possible.

The most reliable way to do this is to place several well placed shots to the center of mass, or torso of the target.  These shots to the upper chest have the chance to impact several large arteries, blood bearing organs, and the heart.  Even with a direct shot to the heart an attacker can have between several seconds and two minutes before they are completely incapable of continuing the fight.  In those seconds an attacker can still pull a trigger, plunge a knife, swing a hammer, or commit other lethal acts. In order to speed the process multiple on target hits must be achieved.


How many shots?


There is no defined number of shots, or hits, that will be effective in all defensive shootings.  As mentioned some attackers may stop after just one hit.  Others have been known to soak up eight, nine, or even more hits and still continue to fight.  Real world shootings show that approximately 80% of attackers are stopped after two to three shots.  While this is good to know it doesn’t mean we should stop shooting after our third shot.  You continue to shoot until the threat has stopped.  That can mean the attacker is on the ground unconscious or dead or it may mean the attacker has stopped in his tracks, dropped any weapons, and is trying to surrender.  When the threat stops, then we stop shooting.  

This reminds us that our drills shouldn’t condition us to just shoot two or three shots and then check our targets.  Be sure to vary your defensive drills to include strings of fire that include five, six, seven, or even more shots.


What about warning shots or shooting to wound?

Both are not only bad ideas, they are actually illegal.

The notion of a ‘warning shot’ is popular in movies but of course movies need to tell a story, not deal with consequences in real life.  Bullets fired don’t disappear, they go somewhere.  Bullets fired in the air fall down again.  Bullets fired against the ground can ricochet.  Bullets can go through the walls and floors of most homes.  Firing a warning shot is dangerous, irresponsible, and illegal.  The shooter is responsible for any death or injury that occurs from that warning shot.  Additionally the presence of a drawn gun itself is a ‘warning’ to any potential attacker.  If they ignore that and still decide to pursue their attack a shot fired that doesn’t hit them is unlikely to be more convincing.

Shooting to wound has additional problems both legally and tactically.  Shooting non-vital areas represents an attempt to cause a psychological stop.  As mentioned before these are the least reliable method because the attacker is still capable of continuing the attack.  Even if they choose to stop at that time, they can resume the attack later when they might feel the situation is more in their favor.

ANY shots fired from a gun at another person can result in death. A shot in the leg can be as lethal as a shot in the chest. From a legal perspective if the threat was not sufficient to justify lethal force then no shots should be fired at all.  Even non fatal gun shot wounds are likely to cause permanent life altering injuries.  Paralysis, limb damage, organ failure, and more are all typical in the aftermath of non-fatal shootings.  If the threat was not sufficient to warrant deadly force, the shooting would not be legally justified.  If the threat was sufficient to warrant deadly force then shooting to wound would be unlikely to cause a “stop” quickly enough to prevent serious injury or death to the defender.

This is not even addressing the difficulty in trying to get shots on such small moving targets as legs, knees, arms, and shoulders.  In life threatening situations we talk about ‘defensive accuracy’, basically being able to hit a roughly 9” circle corresponding to the vital areas in a human torso.  (Imagine a paper plate placed over your chest).  This relatively large, stationary target is hard enough to achieve under range conditions when the shooter is prepared, comfortable, and not under the influence of adrenaline, shock, and fear.  One common adage about defensive shootings is that “you’ll only be half as good as your worst day at the range.”  

Analysis of real world shootings show this to be true.  Hit rates by cops against criminals are often less than 50%.  In the famous shooting of Amadou Diallo four New York City police officers fired a total of 41 shots, only hitting Diallo 19 times.


Shoot to stop, shoot center mass, and shoot until the threat has ended.

Caliber Selection – The Case for 9mm.

What caliber should I carry?  What factors should I look for when choosing a caliber for self defense? 

I hope to give you the information in this article to answer these questions for yourself and explain why 9mm was the right choice for me and maybe for you too.

Not all calibers are suitable for defensive use

First, what do we mean when we talk about caliber?

When we talk about caliber we are normally referring to the different types and sizes of ammunition, based on the diameter of the bullet.  It can be confusing because caliber might be expressed in metric, such as 9mm or in decimal inches, like .45 ACP.  It can get even more confusing because sometimes there can be more than one type of ammunition that goes by the same caliber yet they are completely different and cannot be fired from the same guns. (like .357 Magnum and .357 SIG)  We’re going to simplify it and just talk about the five main calibers for self defense in semi-automatic pistols.  This is NOT a discussion about “stopping power”.  All of the calibers below have shown effectiveness in real world defensive use and they comprise the vast majority of self defense options being carried today.  Revolver specific calibers are not being discussed here either, as the differences between the gun platforms make meaningful comparisons difficult.


The top five

  1. 9mm
  2. .40 S&W
  3. .45 ACP
  4. .380 ACP
  5. .357 SIG


These five calibers, especially the top three capture the largest percentage of concealed carry and police issued defensive ammunition in the country.  Each is adequate for self defense and capable of meeting the FBI standards set for defensive ammunition when using designated loads. I say these are adequate, because truly no pistol round is really GOOD at stopping a threat.  With minor variations all pistol rounds require multiple hits to reliably stop a threat, and the placement of those hits is as critical a factor as anything else. Each caliber has its positive and negative sides, and selecting the correct balance for you is critical to finding the caliber and pistol you want to carry.

Glock makes pistols for all common defensive calibers and are an excellent choice.
Glock makes pistols for all common defensive calibers and are an excellent choice.

 What are the traits of a defensive caliber?


A defensive caliber is a compromise between power, control, and capacity.  I’ll also add another two factors that I think need to be considered, those are cost and carry or conceal-ability.


Power is the measure of how much energy the bullet is going to deliver to the target.  More power usually means more penetration and a bigger wounds.  Increased power also brings with it more recoil, greater muzzle flash, and more noise.


Control is a measure of how quickly you can bring the gun back on target after firing a shot, and get off a second aimed shot.  While other factors play a role in this, generally lower power rounds with less recoil will allow for greater control and faster follow up shots.


Capacity is referring to how many rounds of ammunition a gun can hold.  Bigger bullets require bigger guns to hold the same amount of ammunition.  This adversely affects conceal-ability which is going to be an important factor for some people.


.357 SIG

357 SIG has a distinctive look, with the necked down casing
357 SIG has a distinctive look, with the necked down casing

Generally the most powerful loading on this list, the .357 SIG is a very effective round in use with many law enforcement departments and federal agencies across the country.  This round is kind of a hybrid, using a .40 S&W case with 9mm sized bullets. It fires bullets at very high velocities and they hit with a lot of force.  Recoil is sharp due to the high velocity, and the muzzle flash upon firing can be startling especially with shorter barrels.  It’s a good choice, but is probably the least common among civilian concealed carriers.  There are fewer low profile guns in this caliber than some of the others, and the cost and availability of the round can be prohibitive.  While prices will vary, at the time of the writing of this article common practice ammo was running .51 cents a round.


.40 S&W

.40 S&W is often considered to have the best, or worst qualities of 9mm and .45 ACP
.40 S&W is often considered to have the best, or worst, qualities of 9mm and .45 ACP

Currently the most common caliber in use among law enforcement, this round is often seen as a compromise between the high capacity of the 9mm and the greater power of the .45 ACP.  Another good round with plenty of guns available in this caliber, it offers a good mix of power and capacity in an easily carried gun.  Recoil can again be sharp and unpleasant for people with smaller hands, weaker wrists, or who just aren’t used to shooting that often.  Getting follow on shots quickly and accurately can be done with sufficient practice.  Common practice ammo is currently about .34 cents a round.


.45 ACP

The 1911 is a shooters favorite
The 1911 is a shooters favorite

A favorite among many shooters, this is the largest caliber on the list and is the original caliber for the much revered 1911 series of pistols.  The largest and heaviest bullet, it also is the lowest velocity in most loadings but still has significant power.  Recoil is heavier than in 9mm, but is mitigated somewhat by the generally larger, heavier pistols it is fired from.  Capacity in smaller, more easily concealed handguns is going to be much lower than most of the other options.  Recoil will also be much more noticeable in these smaller pistols.  Practice ammo for .45 ACP is currently around .35 cents per round.


.380 ACP

The .380 is a very small, light round that is considered right on the edge of defensive power
The .380 is a very small, light round that is considered right on the edge of defensive power

While I said that all the rounds on the list were “adequate” for self defense, .380 ACP is only marginally so in most loads.  With the proper bullet selection it can perform well enough but it is the lowest power and lowest performing round of the bunch by a wide margin.  The .380 has one great advantage however, it can be chambered in the smallest, most easily concealed pistols of any caliber on the list.  Pistols chambered in .380 are small enough to be carried in the pocket of normal pants (with a proper holster) requiring no changes to your wardrobe in order to conceal it effectively.  While not issued by any law enforcement agencies as a duty caliber it is frequently carried by police as a backup weapon and by ordinary civilians who don’t want to make major changes in order to carry a pistol.

Some of the smallest pistols available, like the Ruger LCP come in .380 ACP
Some of the smallest pistols available, like the Ruger LCP come in .380 ACP

As much as the small size of the guns available for this caliber are it’s greatest strength, it brings with it some negatives of its own.  Due to their small grips and light weights these guns can have more perceived recoil than more powerful rounds fired from heavier guns.  The sights on these guns are also often very basic, and the small frames make holding these guns in a stable grip more challenging.  This can lead to follow up shots being more difficult to acquire than you might otherwise think.  Practice ammo in this caliber is about .42 cents a round, much higher than you might expect for such a small and low power round.



The Glock 17 is one of the most common weapons carried for duty and self defense
The 9mm Glock 17 is one of the most common weapons carried for duty and self defense

This is the most popular handgun caliber in the world, and it is in use by many law enforcement departments around the country.  It is the most common round carried by civilian concealed carriers as well thanks in part to the enormous number of quality pistols that are available for it.

Firing a small, but high velocity round it has good power but low recoil, with perceived recoil being about half of most other calibers on the list.  Pistols chambered in 9mm normally have the highest capacity compared to other pistols of the same size, and 9mm pistols can be had that are only fractionally larger than even some of the smallest .380 pistols.


Low recoil lets you get back on target quickly and follow up shots are the easiest to come by.  Practice ammo averages around .24 cents per round currently, the lowest cost on the list by nearly a third.


Why I think 9mm wins


All of the calibers on the list make a good choice for defensive carry.  Factors such as your size, strength, any physical handicaps, and relative experience level might make one or the other calibers more suitable for you.

All other things being considered however, no matter how good you are shooting one of the other calibers you could be better with the same amount of practice firing the 9mm.

The combination of low cost, low recoil, and high capacity make 9mm a winner for me.

The cost differential between 9mm and the other offerings mean I can shoot in training between 30-100% more than other calibers.  To put that in perspective if I was scheduled for a training class that fired 300 rounds ammunition would cost me approximately $72.  Shooting that same course with other calibers would bring my ammunition bill between $102 and $151.  That’s a significant price increase, and if my training budget were fixed I might be able to shoot twice as often with 9mm compared to .357 SIG.

Monthly range sessions now become bi-weekly range sessions, keeping skills sharper.  Softer recoil means I can shoot longer with less fatigue to my hands.  I can shoot drills twice as often for the same cost and without wearing myself out. Follow up shots are faster and more accurate for the same amount of practice compared to other calibers.  9mm also offers a lower physical threshold for shooters.  This may not be a concern for the young and healthy but for elderly shooters, women, or those with disabilities it may be the ONLY good defensive caliber they’re capable of shooting with any reliability.

In short, 9mm lets me be a better shooter, faster, more accurate. The skills of the shooter mean more than the size of the bullet, and whatever helps in that regard is a winner.


UPDATE: Just days after posting this article the blog The Truth About Guns reported on the FBI decision to switch to 9mm.  Quoted in the article is their reasoning, identical to the points I’ve outlined here.

“It’s not that the .40 S&W failed to deliver the terminal performance they wanted. It’s just that the new breed of 9mm ammunition can deliver similar performance without the generally snappier recoil and the accelerated wear (on both pistol and shooter), at a more affordable price. The fact that the new pistols can house more of the cartridges in the same sized gun is an added bonus.”


What To Bring To a Firearms Training Class

Do you know what you need to bring to a firearms training class?  When you signed up for your class your instructor probably sent you a list of required items that included your firearm, eye and ear protection, a quantity of ammunition, and maybe some information about the availability of meals at the location.  While those bare minimums might get you through the class they don’t ensure that you’ll be comfortable, enjoy your time, or get the most out of your training.


Our goal here today is to make sure you know not just those must have items, but also those nice to have items that will ensure you have a safe, positive, and enjoyable experience on the range.






Eye protection

Hearing protection

These are simply must haves.  Without these you won’t even be able to participate. Eye and ear protection is mandatory for any range where guns are being fired.  Ammunition counts may vary, from as little as 50 rounds for basic classes to several hundred or more for advanced multi-day courses.  Firearms seem like a no-brainer but many students appreciate a bit of familiarization with firearms before making their first purchase –  a wise move that can save them significant money in the long run by teaching them to select the correct firearm for them the first time. Many times a gun can be rented from the range or your instructor if prior arrangements are made.

gun ammo
Make sure the type of gun you plan on bringing is appropriate for the class.

Additional items might be added to the required list depending on the nature of the course. Some classes will involve drawing from the holster or making magazine changes in a tactical environment.  Holsters, spare magazines, and carriers would be required for such a course.

Be sure to ask if the type of holster or equipment you intend to bring is allowed for your class. Some courses have restrictions against certain types of holsters like the Serpa, shoulder holsters, cross draw holsters, or drop thigh rigs.  If you are traveling outside your home state make sure that the type of gun you are bringing and the magazines don’t run afoul of any local laws.

A few quick thoughts on eye and ear protection.  Bring at least two pairs of safety glasses, one tinted and one clear.  Lighting conditions will change throughout the course of the day and with weather so having glasses to match will make seeing your target a lot easier.  I’ve had sessions at the range saved by having clear lenses when I thought it was going to be sunny, but turned out to be very overcast.  Likewise squinting in the noonday sun is going to distract from you learning what you came for if you didn’t bring tinted lenses.

If you wear glasses and they don’t have safety lenses consider contacts or goggles you can wear over your normal glasses.  Hardware and tool stores are a good place to look for items like these.

For hearing protection the cheap foam earplugs actually work great.  They have some of the best noise reduction rating of any option available, they’re dirt cheap, and you can find them in almost any store.  Their biggest downside is that they aren’t really reusable and once you’ve taken them out a time or two they get pretty nasty.  Fortunately they are cheap and you can just use a new pair.  Do learn to put them in correctly however, they should sit deep in the ear with very little of the plug visible from the front and none from behind.

Flanged silicone plugs also work well and can be used over and over.  They should be fitted the same way, setting deep in the ear with only the stubs sticking out.

Ear muffs are another common option that are more comfortable than plugs and can be removed and replaced more easily.  If you have sensitive hearing or if the noise is particularly loud like at an indoor range or when shooting large caliber rifles muffs and plugs can be doubled for additional protection.

Slimmer, contoured ear muffs will interfere with shooting rifles less.

There is one problem with all of these solutions and that is that they muffle not only the loud noises but also the quiet ones.  It can be difficult to hear the instructor, range commands, or safety information when wearing hearing protection.  I recommend electronic ear muffs that amplify low sounds but cut off and dampen any sounds over 85 decibels.  As a student you’ll be able to hear the instructor without removing your hearing protection.  As an instructor I can hear students on the line much better making for a safer and better environment for the class.  Even if plugs are worn beneath the electronic muffs you can still hear normally, as you can dial up the gain to amplify those soft noises while taking advantage of the increased protection when the guns begin to fire.




Long pants

Knee pads

Elbow pads

Seat cushion or folded towel

Lunch or snacks





Magazine loader

Shooting mat

Cleaning kit

Extra ammunition

Spare gun


Not every item will be needed every time for every course, but having them with you might mean the difference between being miserable and having a good time.

If you’re going to be shooting at an outdoor range always plan for the weather.  Expect it to be both hotter and colder than you first thought and bring spare clothes accordingly.  It’s not uncommon for there to be a 30 degree temperature difference between the start of class at 7:00 and the end of class at 3:00 or 4:00 pm. Few outfits will be suitable for both extremes without being able to take off or add layers as necessary.  Sunscreen might not seem like a necessity depending on your locale or time of the year, but remember you may be standing outside for several hours with no shade in sight.  Under those conditions even relatively weak sun can cause burns that are easily avoided.

Many classrooms have metal or hard plastic chairs, and shooting benches are often wood or concrete.  A nice soft seat cushion (or thick folded towel) will make hours in the classroom so much more bearable.  A towel can also be used later on the range as a pad for kneeling or going prone, or even just to mop sweat off your brow on a hot day.


Many ranges are also on the outskirts of town and dining options might be limited.  The range facilities usually won’t include food but vending machines are often available.  Most instructors will bring water, but I always advise students to bring their own as well.  If you plan to bring a lunch be sure to ask if there will be a refrigerator, microwave, or anything else you need to keep and prepare it.  If not plan to pack your cooler or bring a lunch that doesn’t require refrigeration. MRE’s are great for this and can bring some nostalgia back for those military veterans in your class.

Elbow and knee pads are useful if you’ll be shooting from the kneeling or prone positions. Gloves make handling hot barrels or getting down on rough ground a lot more bearable.  A shooting mat can make extensive prone shooting a lot more comfortable.

The authors gear is well used and a little beat up – much like the author.

A cleaning kit can go a long way to helping a gun run smoothly during a long class.  Dirt and carbon build up and lubrication can run dry.  A quick wipe down and lube during lunch can prevent frustrating failures during your class that take away from the techniques you are trying to learn.  Cleaning rods can also be used to knock out stuck cases or squibs rounds if such a failure were to occur.

On the extreme side, sometimes the gun you brought just flat out breaks and can’t be fixed with the materials available.  Having a spare gun with you can salvage the class – and the hundreds of dollars you might have spent on it.

Extra ammunition is always nice.  Though most instructors keep within the round count sometimes you may want to shoot particular drills more than was required.  Going at least 50 rounds or 10% over (whichever is greater) is rarely a bad idea.  A magazine loading tool will save your thumbs and make your experience a lot more enjoyable.

Your thumbs will appreciate a magazine loading tool if you’ll be firing hundreds of rounds.

Finally, don’t forget the staples of school children everywhere and bring a pen, notebook, or highlighter.  Some classes will have handouts, booklets, or other material as part of the course. Being able to mark down specific passages or areas of interest will be helpful.  Regardless much of the most important knowledge will come from your instructor directly, so the ability to be able to write down their advice, suggestions, or answers to your questions is priceless.

Testing Defensive Carry Ammo


You’ve read all the online reviews, watched the YouTube videos, and examined the gel tests. You’ve selected what you want to be your next carry ammo. Now it’s time to test how it performs in your gun.

How many rounds? What are we testing for?

Let’s answer that first question last, because the second question is really far more important.

We are testing for three things:




Feed is the action of the bolt stripping the top round off the magazine and feeding it into the chamber. This is an important test with any new ammunition as it is a complex set of steps involving the action of the slide, the magazine, feed ramp, and bullet profile. As such it’s important to test every magazine you intend to use for carry purposes with the new ammunition.

Function is everything that is involved in ignition, firing, and extraction of a round. This cycles back to feeding at the conclusion of the firing cycle.

POA,POI refers to Point Of Aim/Point Of Impact. With bullet weights and muzzle velocities differing from training ammo your point of impact might be quite different than your point of aim. Ideally your sights are set for a POA/POI with your defensive loads. Let your practice ammunition be slightly off, or look for a practice load that closely mimics your defensive load.

Since defensive ammunition is expensive it is best to establish a protocol that will effectively test those factors with the fewest possible rounds. I use the following protocol when testing new ammo. You’ll need:

-Three magazines (or less, adjust as necessary)

– 40 – 50 rounds of your defensive ammo

-100 or more rounds of practice ammo (how much more depends on your magazine capacity)

It’s best to test with a gun that isn’t very dirty, but not quite freshly cleaned as well. I like having run a few magazines through previously, but I don’t want it so dirty that it might cause problems that get falsely attributed to the ammo.

Load each magazine so that the very bottom round and the top three rounds are your new ammo. Make up the additional rounds for a full magazine with practice ammo, so in a 12 round magazine it would be 1 test round, 8 practice rounds, 3 test rounds. We use this protocol because magazine issues like weak springs, bent feed lips, and other problems will be exaggerated at the the extreme ends of the spring travel, either fully compressed or fully extended. You’ll want to chamber a test round in your gun before loading the full magazine each time.

From a benched position, at 7 yards fire three slow, precision shots at your target. Take careful note of your point of aim and point of impact. Expect it to be different than what you have when shooting practice ammo or other carry ammo. Complete the magazine shooting rapid doubles or triples at the target. Our form tends to break down during rapid fire strings, so you’ll see if things like limp wristing or your grip shifting create feed problems. Take note of any failures you experience, which magazine it was and whether it was with the test ammo or training ammo. Repeat for all three magazines, taping or replacing targets as necessary.

If you have adjustable sights make any adjustments needed for point of impact between strings based on the three shot groupings at the top of every magazine. With fixed sights you may have to learn the proper hold for accurate shot placement.

Repeat at least twice for each magazine. If you experience any failures during this testing that involve either the firing or feeding of one of the test rounds load that magazine with only test rounds and try again. Depending on your comfort level for reliability you may consider using that ammunition as your daily carry round if no further malfunctions occur. If you experience more than one failure, especially failures from multiple magazines you have more to consider.

If your gun is reliable shooting other ammunition from the same magazines it may well be an ammunition compatibility issue. If the problem is confined to one magazine, especially in non-factory magazines that might be your problem. Additional testing will be required to figure out exactly what is going on and you might choose to try a different defensive carry round altogether. Different bullet weights, tips, and profiles could solve your feed issue.

Using this testing method a 50 round box of ammo is good for 10 magazine cycles, or testing three magazines three times each, with one magazine getting a fourth cycle. For me this is enough to feel comfortable that the ammunition will feed properly and plenty of rounds to let me dial in my POI/POA.

High Compressed Ready – Get the most out of range time


If you’re a self defense minded shooter, you know there’s no substitute for realistic training. Drawing from the holster, acquiring your target, and placing several rapid, aimed shots to center mass is what we train to do. The problem of course, is that most of us are limited to shooting on public ranges where things like drawing from the holster are often prohibited. So how do we maximize range time and make it more than just punching holes in paper?

Enter the High Compressed Ready position. HCR has a lot of merits as a position in its own right. Unlike the normal high ready or low ready positions, the arms are drawn in, the pistol is tucked to the chest oriented upright and in a proper two handed grasp. HCR is a good retention position, limits the arm fatigue extended ready positions can cause, and allows for rapid “punching out” to the target rather than swinging (and possibly over swinging) to the target as in low ready. Unlike the the low ready position, you can fire from HCR using point shooting techniques and the pistol can’t be ‘checked’ on the way to acquiring your target. In tight quarters like transitioning through doors and hallways HCR keeps your pistol ready to deploy without hindering your ability to navigate.

As a training aid, High Compressed Ready is useful because it is identical to the 4th stage in a 5 stage draw technique. (1. Grip the holstered pistol. 2. Draw the pistol straight up. 3. Rotate the pistol forward. 4. Bring the support hand and the pistol together, acquiring a firing grip. 5. Punch the pistol out to acquire the target.)

While we can practice these draw steps through dry fire practice at home, we hit a roadblock when it comes to actually incorporating the live fire aspect. By utilizing HCR, we build a bridge between our dry practice and our live fire, helping to cement those necessary neural pathways to build muscle memory.

Next time you’re at the range, instead of starting from a normal firing position, begin in high compressed ready. You can add more value to this training with the use of a partner who can give you the command to fire, forcing you to pay attention and adding a level of stress and anticipation. You can also use a par timer to cue you to fire. Several shot timer apps for smartphones also exist that will allow for a randomized delayed start.

A partner can also be useful to call out how many shots you need to take on the target. We don’t want to get in the habit of always training doubles, singles, or any other specific patterns of shots. In a true life scenario we need to continue to shoot until the threat is stopped. That could be one round or it could take a whole magazine. Varying your shots during training helps to break habits of “fire two then look.”

Finally, add another dimension to your training by adding two targets to your target frame. If your frames are not large enough for two full size silhouettes use two smaller targets and bring your frame a little closer to compensate.

two targets

Suggested drills:

5 yds (9 rounds)

From HCR, fire:

Three rapid aimed shots

Return to HCR. Repeat three times.

7 yds. (15-20 rounds)

From HCR, fire:

Two rapid aimed shots

Assess from high ready.

Fire two additional shots to center mass, or one additional shot to the head.

Return to HCR. Repeat 5 times

10 yds. (or 7 if using smaller targets) (25 rounds)

With two targets on the frame, from the HCR, fire:

Two rapid (double tap) shots at the left target, three rapid aimed shots at the right target.

Assess from high ready.

Return to HCR. Repeat 5 times, alternating first shots between left and right.

For approximately one box of ammo you can bring your dry fire and live fire skills training together to simulate a more realistic defensive shooting scenario.

As always if you find your shots consistently settling in to groups you can cover with your fist, speed up your shots. If your groups are larger than what could be covered by a paper plate, slow down some until those groups tighten back up. Remember in defensive shooting we aren’t going for bullseyes, but rather ‘defensive accuracy’ which is making rapid hits to the targets center of mass.

defensive accuracy

Good shoot, Bad ammo?


Recently two radically different bullet designs have taken the internet by storm, garnering a tremendous amount of attention all out of proportion to what the products seem to deliver.


G2 Research released the R.I.P. or Radically Invasive Projectile, a mean looking bullet with a tooth edged hollowpoint designed to splinter upon impact and create multiple wound channels. A solid core remains which continues to deliver a more traditional wound channel in the target.


Also new to the market is Advanced Ballistic Concepts Multiple Impact Bullet. This is essentially a three lobed bolo round, connected by a fine wire. In addition to multiple calibers they also offer this ammo in three levels of “lethality”. More on that terrible idea later.

The design theory behind this bullet is that it instantly expands upon leaving the barrel to a diameter between the lobes of 14 inches, thus reducing the need to precision aiming and increasing hit probabilities.



Let’s take these bullets one at a time and discuss what’s good and bad about them.


First up is the G2R R.I.P. bullet. This thing has been a hit all over the internet in recent weeks but will it live up to the hype?


I do have to applaud G2R for at least releasing videos that appear to show their ammunition performing under similar conditions to the FBI protocol testing. In their videos they show the RIP bullet entering ballistics gel after penetrating plywood, sheetrock, and auto glass. They also show several instances shooting in to bare ballistics gelatin, and that’s what has me the most worried. Their own video shows that even with a center mass hit, several of the ‘trocar’ petals are seen exiting the gel block and continuing on a tangent to the target. It real world applications not only are these fragments no longer creating damage inside your intended target they’re creating a tremendous liability of hitting others. Off center hits, the kind likely to occur in a defensive shooting situation are even worse, with more petals exiting sooner, dissipating energy and increasing the odds of hitting other victims. The remaining solid plug now appears to generally over penetrate the target due to no longer having the resistance of the removed trocar petals. With no expansion of the remaining solid plug it continues to bore a narrow wound channel that doesn’t fully release its maximum energy inside the target. Upon exiting there now exists the possibility of hitting even more unintended victims with this remaining piece of the projectile.

One of my final complaints with G2R’s new RIP bullet is this bit of marketing.


“Imagine a Hole saw. The hole saw action that occurs at points of entry into different mediums reduce initial drag which allow the hollow cavity in the center of the projectile to rapidly pack.”


At first, this seems reasonable. The bullet does in fact look a little like a hole saw, we know bullets rotate due to rifling in the barrels, so what’s wrong with this? Well, pistol barrels typically have twist rates somewhere around 1:10, or you get one revolution of the bullet for every ten inches the bullet travels. So now, imagine a hole saw. Now imagine trying to cut through ten inches of material while only rotating the saw once. This is a basic fact and it’s clear that the designers of this round have to be aware of it, so this represents a flat out lie in their marketing material just because it sounds good. Their bullet is penetrating because of crush forces just like every other bullet, but they’ve marketed a deliberate lie. Because of this I doubt every other claim they’ve made even where it might objectively seem reasonable.


What about the Multiple Impact Bullet?


Similar to the RIP bullet this operates by splitting the projectile in order to create multiple wound channels. They’ve taken a different approach however and they have their projectile split upon exiting the barrel, with the fragments remaining attached via a cable to create a three lobed bolo projectile. They’re marketing this as increasing hit probabilities, but they’re also increasing probability of a miss with with at least one, if not two lobes. Their own own targets demonstrate how these lobes miss, and should the tether part those are now projectiles loose to hit unintended victims. Instead of precise shot placement you now have a large area that you have to mentally try to compensate for.


Should your target be partially behind cover this large, 14 inch spread now means you’re more likely to hit that cover, spoiling your aim and depleting the bullets energy. With a traditional round you’d be able to target the area that was exposed, missing the cover without fear of it ruining your shot. In any confined space like inside any home or business the multiple impact bullet is going to cause far more potential for collateral damage and disrupted shots.


What about penetration? We really don’t know how well it penetrates. All the videos on their website show the bullet hitting paper targets. One video does show them shooting the 12 ga version of their round at watermelons in a plywood box. While the melons were pulped the plywood seems to have stopped the round. In smaller calibers this effect is going to be even more pronounced. While limiting unintended penetration in a self defense situation is a good thing, we still sufficient penetration on our targets. Based on their own videos and the design of this round it seems like it would turn things that are traditionally only “concealment” into cover for the bad guys. Common furniture like couches and chairs, interior doors, or even things like floor lamps seem like they would be able to catch this round and prevent you from hitting your target. Firing down a hallway or other narrow corridor now has the chance of hitting the wall and spoiling your shot. Hampering yourself in defensive situation is never a good thing. This however, is not the worst thing Advanced Ballistic Concepts has come up with.


What is the “Smart Stack?”


It’s a dumb idea. Advanced Ballistic Concepts has taken their Multiple Impact bullets and designed them with three levels of “lethality”. They have what they’re marketing as their fully lethal round, the Stopper, but they also have two additional levels aka the “semi-lethal” Stunner and less lethal Stinger rounds.

They claim that by using lower density materials they can control penetration depths to create rounds that can be fired from the same gun in sequence, with increasing levels of lethality (their “smart stack” concept).

There are some MASSIVE problems with this idea however. By their design, you load the less lethal first, then the semi- lethal, then finally the fully lethal rounds. You can continue to fire until you achieve a stop on the intended target.

The idea of less lethal rounds in shotguns is something that law enforcement has been using for quite a while. However in nearly every department across America there is a strict prohibition against using the same shotgun for both lethal and less lethal rounds. These restrictions exist because the likelihood of accidentally firing a lethal round when only non-lethal force is justified is too high. Conversely, when lethal force is needed then the risk of firing a non-lethal round and thereby not stopping your target is unacceptable, jeopardizing the safety of the officer and others.



From a civilian standpoint it’s even more clear. Typically a civilian is only justified in firing a weapon when imminent harm exists, and deadly force is authorized. The law makes no distinction about the type of ammunition being fired and ANY round fired has the capacity to be lethal, thus the move to less lethal as terminology as opposed to non-lethal. Numerous people have been killed by rubber bullets due to being struck in the head, neck, or other vital areas. The “semi-lethal” category of round makes the murky territory of “less lethal” downright muddy. The manufacturers claim that by using lower density materials they can control penetration to cause superficial wounds, lacerations, and other injuries that are not immediately lethal. They acknowledge that without immediate medical attention the chance of death is highly likely. It’s obvious that any shot to the head or neck with this semi-lethal round would likely be fatal before medical attention could arrive. Marketing aside, this is a lethal round and as such should only be fired in a true deadly force encounter. Since even Advanced Ballistic Concepts recognizes that it’s not the most effective round for a lethal encounter, just why does this round exist?




With both of these rounds there is an increased risk of hitting unintended targets. You are responsible for every projectile that leaves your gun, including those fragments that might separate once they hit their target. Rounds like the RIP offer no true increase in stopping power over a quality hollowpoint but do increase the chance of petals exiting the target and hitting unintended victims.


The Multiple Impact Bullet takes liability to a whole new level, not only dramatically increasing the chances of missing your target with at least one lobe which can separate from the tether and hit others, but also by encouraging shooting in unjustified conditions with their marketing of their less lethal and “semi lethal” rounds.


In addition, I am reminded of the Texas case in which an elderly gentleman was forced to defend himself in his car against a younger assailant. The prosecutor in the case tried to use the defendants choice of using “deadly” hollowpoint bullets as proof that he was just itching to shoot someone and was looking for a confrontation. Through the use of expert testimony it was able to be proven that hollowpoint ammunition was in fact the recommended ammunition for self defense, and it was in use by the local police jurisdictions as well.

With defensive shootings garnering national media attention I can see current prosecutors looking to send a message and make a name for themselves resorting to similar tactics. Unlike hollowpoint ammunition however, no expert witness could argue that there was any prevailing wisdom in the use of these gimmick rounds, nor could any police departments be located that were using this as issued ammunition. That would leave the shooter in a position of having to justify to a jury, the need for a round that was deliberately marketed as extra dangerous, deadly, and devastating. Overcoming the impression of a bloodthirsty vigilante looking for a fight is already difficult just because you choose to carry a gun. Adding this ammunition to the mix might well prejudice a jury against the defendant, regardless of the actual circumstances of the shoot.




Save your money on this ammo and purchase any one of the quality defensive hollowpoints available. They’re time tested, proven designs, many of which are in use by law enforcement. Skip the gimmick, spend the time on training so you can fire that accurate shot under stress with quality ammunition and you’ll increase your chances both during and after the shoot.