Paying attention to your draw technique

Lots to learn here in this slow motion video of a drawstroke recently shown on Guns and Ammo TV.

It’s from a segment where the presenter defends the SERPA holster, dismissing anyone who claims the SERPA design is unsafe as “not being able to internalize keeping their finger straight and off if the trigger” or “don’t understand the four safety rules”.  Unfortunately the video shows the shooter coming within a fraction of an inch of trigger travel of a negligent discharge as soon as the gun’s muzzle is free of the holster.

There’s a lot to learn from this video, good and bad.

At 0:07 seconds, the shooter has a full firing grip on the pistol and the support hand is close to the body. That’s good.  His support hand is really low on his body though, compared to where it eventually needs to be.

You can see the holster and the belt push down as he pushes down on the gun while making that firing grip. That’s good too.

From 0:07 to 0:22 you’ll see the entire holster lift as he pulls up on the gun, because he’s using 2″ belt loops with a 1.5″ wide belt.  You can see the whole holster move up, the belt ride up in the belt loops, and even see the pants rise a little.  The belt is too loose, and the belt attachment on the holster needs spacers to close up the slots, or a different belt attachment entirely.  “One size fits all” means “fits none properly”.   You don’t want your holster to move at all when you draw.  That’s bad.

Part of the reason for the holster moving up is that the gun is still locked into the holster.  The button finally gets pressed to release the gun, and immediately the trigger finger starts moving to the trigger.  At that point in the draw the trigger finger should be up on the slide or at least on the frame above the trigger guard, not in line with the trigger, curling in as shown in the video.   I and many others believe that the design of the SERPA facilitates this particular gun handing error, which is why we don’t allow that holster to be used by students.

At 0:26 you see the trigger finger start curling to the trigger.  This is very, very bad. He also doing what we call “frame dragging”.  His trigger finger is laying completely against the frame.  As this article from Tom Givens explains, you don’t want contact between the middle joint of your trigger finger and the frame at all.

From 0:26 to 0:43 you see the gun coming up, with his support hand sitting motionless until around 0:35.  By this point the muzzle is high enough that the video makes it appear that he’s covering his support hand with his muzzle.   It turns out that getting that support hand way down low really didn’t make his draw any faster – moving it to the place where it’s going to mate up with the gun would be more efficient and prevent any risk of muzzling his own hand.   So that’s bad.

Many of these same problems can occur with a non-SERPA holster, so be aware of them as you do your dry fire draw practice at home.   There is much more to drawing properly and safely, at high speed, than “grab it and rip it out”. Many small details that have to be done in the right sequence, at the right time.  It’s not a skill you can practice in a 1 or 2 day class a few times and check off as “done” with no need to practice.    If you’ve never had formal training in how to draw, this video shows why you need it.  If you are an RO for IPSC or IDPA, this video has great examples of problems you need to look for, particularly with competitors who jump straight into shooting matches without getting any actual training in good technique (which is increasingly common, as many consider shooting matches as a cheap substitute for training.)

Dry fire draw practice is free and can be done at home. 5-10 minutes of dry draws a few times a week, with attention paid to proper technique, is important.  Without the practice, and without attention to detail, little problems can creep in that you may not even be aware of.  It’s very likely that the person shown in the video was not aware of what the slow motion replay revealed.

Initial Impressions: NRA’s new blended learning Basic Pistol course

In late February 2016, the NRA will convert its Basic Pistol course to a blended learning format, where most of the course (7+ hours) will be taken online, and the course is completed (and a certificate issued) after the student attends a range session run by an NRA Certified Pistol Instructor.  The Basic Pistol course is used in many states as the official training standard for issuing of carry permits, and switching to this format ensures that every student that takes the course is actually learning all the required material and spending the required amount of time on it.  It brings the Basic Pistol course closer to being a true, consistently delivered national standard.

When the Texas Concealed Handgun License (CHL) program was being created in 1995, the NRA basic course was not used, because it did not cover all the topics someone carrying in public needs to know, such as use of force, conflict resolution, or specifics of state laws.   Historically, NRA has had a problem enforcing quality control both at the instructor-certification level and at the basic delivery of certified courses level. The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) solved these problems by requiring that all Texas CHL instructors be trained by the DPS academy, and by sending the occasional undercover officer to CHL classes to monitor that the classes were being run properly. Texas CHL instructors caught failing to teach the required material or the required number of hours faced criminal charges, and their students would have permits suspended or revoked until they could re-take the course from an instructor conducting it properly. This approach worked because DPS, as a law enforcement agency, had legal authority to investigate instructors.

NRA, as a national private sector organization, has never had the same ability to enforce policies on its instructors, but had a course (Basic Pistol) being used for state licensing. This change to blended learning is undoubtedly one that is necessary (from a legal perspective) for NRA, as it ensures that much of the course is conducted consistently and documents student training hours. Many active, ethical NRA instructors are unhappy about this change, and are seeking other certifications, such as with the new Second Amendment Foundation training program, or with the US Concealed Carry Association, that will allow them to continue running in-person training that meets their state’s standards without switching to the blended course.

When KR Training started operation back in 1991, the NRA’s Basic Pistol was a 10 hour course that included detailed instruction on every variation of action type of both revolvers and semiautomatic pistols, 2 hours of one-handed bullseye shooting and 2 hours of lecture on various NRA competition shooting programs.   That course was longer and more detailed than our typical student wanted. Most of them wanted a short course that improved their ability to use the specific gun they already owned, or they were new to guns and wanted a short course that would give them an opportunity to do a little shooting and maybe figure out what gun would be a good first purchase, primarily for self-defense.

Other instructors were having similar issues with the 10 hour course, and NRA responded by creating the First Steps program, which significantly cut the course content down, focusing on a single firearm action type in a 3 hour format. We used the First Steps Pistol format as the foundation of both our Basic Pistol 1 and Basic Pistol 2 courses, adding additional material on gun selection to Basic 1, and additional shooting drills practicing parts of the Texas CHL shooting test to Basic 2.  NRA did modify the Basic Pistol course down to an 8 hour course, but we continued using our own course designs.

Since 2008 I have worked for the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX). Our division (Law Enforcement and Security) has developed many e-learning and blended learning courses over the past 5 years, and I’ve been a beta tester for most of them.   As part of the change to the blended learning program, NRA provided instructors a link to preview the course, along with an updated lesson plan covering the material that still has to be taught in person to complete the course. I went through the entire course to see it from the student perspective, evaluate it from the perspective of someone familiar with other blended learning courses, and assess how it might fit into our existing courses. NRA has not yet told instructors what the final official price for the online course will be. One piece of information I saw about the course indicated that students would also be mailed a print copy of the student manual in hardback format, which may affect final cost.

Technology Implementation

I viewed the course on a typical urban home configuration: a laptop wirelessly connected to our home WiFi router, connected to a DSL line.   I used version 44.02 of the Firefox browser running on Windows 7. One of the first modules of the course went over all the platforms the course was supported on. They used HTML5 video so they claim the course could be viewed on an iPhone or Android. I did not test that claim. I did test some basic functions, like resizing the browser window while videos within the course were running, deliberately missing review questions, trying to skip over material, trying to exit videos before they had finished playing, and other tricks to try to get through the course faster, all of which failed. I did manage to induce one browser crash trying to do a second task (print a browser window to a PDF) in parallel with taking the course. After I re-launched the browser the course did not remember that I had completed several parts of the module I was in, and I had go back through about 10 minutes of material to get back to where I was when the crash occurred. I was unable to do screen captures or print screens. It appears that functionality is blocked, and trying to right-click and print to PDF from the curriculum window in the browser causes Flash to crash. So my original plan to include many screenshots of the course was abandoned in favor of taking a few pictures of my laptop screen with my phone.

The class uses a mix of static graphics, video, animated 3D models, and interactive quizzes that have to be answered correctly before you can proceed. The general format is the same for every module.

Global Complaint #1

It’s clear this course was designed to force users to spend the required amount of time on it, which makes perfect sense for users in the states where there are mandatory training hours. How they accomplished that is by making the course like an audio book. There will be text on the screen, and the audio file will read it to you. For someone who can read faster than the spoken word, this is incredibly irritating. Over and over again I would have already read the material on the screen and have to wait for the slow talking narrator to amble through all the words before I could hit “next”. At least an hour of the course time was spent in this annoying “sit and let me read to you” mode.

Global Complaint #2

The modules are broken up into tiny pieces, which is good when you want to go back and review a specific part. After you’ve been through a module, and you want to go back, if you click on the wrong topic, you are stuck going back through it, complete with “read it to me slowly” audio. It needs some way to recognize that you’ve already been through a topic so you can exit out of it promptly. There are an excessive number of content-free “transition” pieces where you have to wait on the narrator to tell you to hit “submit” or “next” to get to the next thing. Again, a lot of wasted time, bandwidth and animation. I expect a lot of users will encounter the same short-attention-span problem that I did, and will end up taking the course in parallel with one or more other tasks, since there is so much dead time & waiting built into the course flow. On the plus side, there was no apparent delays associated with waiting for videos to play or content to load. Perhaps that’s all hidden by the slow presentation speed of the content.

I don’t think anyone will actually be able to get through the entire course in one session. It ended up taking me multiple sessions over 5 days to get through all the content, and was as much fun as taking an online defensive driving class. Like those online courses, it’s full of frequent requirements for user interaction, which does keep the user from just hitting “play” on a video and dozing off.

Global Complaint #3

Left handed shooters are basically ignored by the course. There are no demonstrations of any skills performed by a left handed shooter, and there’s no discussion of the differences in techniques left handed shooters may have to use to operate controls on various handguns. Similarly, in the gun fit section, handed-ness is not addressed as a factor in gun selection other than the vague “make sure you can operate all the controls”. They also recommend that cross-dominant shooters learn to shoot left-handed. That’s not a realistic option for most right handed adults that are left eye dominant, as they have significantly less dexterity, hand strength and capability with their left hand, most gun models are significantly harder to operate left handed, and left-handed holsters are much harder to find as retail “in stock” items.   As a right-handed, left-eye-dominant shooter that made IPSC Grand Master shooting that way, and as someone with 25 years’ experience teaching adult handgun classes, I strongly disagree with NRA’s position that the best way to teach right-handed, left-eye-dominant adult shooters to shoot handguns is to require them to shoot left handed.

Course Content

The content is not just an online version of the existing Basic Pistol class. A lot of little things have been updated or improved, and all but one of the specific complaints I have about the content are minor.   The best thing about the course is its completeness. For someone that takes the time to go through all the material, it offers a decent foundation in all the things a beginning pistol shooter should know.

My understanding is that the e-course also has a scored online exam, but the preview link given to instructors did not include access to that part.

I had no complaints with Modules 1 (Introduction) and 2 (Pistol Characteristics).

Module 3

In Module 3 (Using a Pistol), there is a 3D animated model of a single action revolver that students have to load, fire and unload by clicking on parts of the gun and on rounds of ammunition shown onscreen. My complaint with this part is that the single action revolver shown is chambered in .45 ACP – not .45 Colt (the traditional caliber) or .38 special (most popular caliber used in cowboy action shooting), and the loading/unloading process shown is only correct and safe for a modern single action gun with a transfer bar. The hammer is not pulled back to half cock to load and unload, and the gun is loaded with 6. When I teach that topic I err on the side of safety, teaching proper technique for older, non-transfer bar, only-load-5 models, because that’s safe for all owners of SA revolvers.   Unless the in-person instructors go over the differences and explain the risks of carrying an old style sixgun with a round under the hammer, students could end up learning potentially dangerous information in this section.

I was pleased to see the overhand grip technique for racking the slide shown in the Module 3 section on using a semi-automatic pistol. Finally, the NRA has caught up to what the private sector schools have been teaching for the past 20 years. That technique is not used for the malfunction clearing demonstration in Module 8, though.

I had no significant complaints about Module 4 (Ammunition) or Module 5 (Intro to Shooting a Pistol).

Module 6 – Shooting Positions

The section on benchrest shooting seems to last forever, and the technique they show has the wrists, but not the frame of the pistol itself, supported by the sandbag. The method they show does not prevent the shooter from dipping the muzzle during the shot. Using something like a Pistol Perch, that supports the front of the gun, as shown in the picture, is actually the best way to check the zero on a pistol and teach good trigger control isolated from other fundamentals.

 perch  benchrest


They are still including the Weaver stance in the course, but at least in this version of the material, both Isoceles and Weaver are demonstrated with technique that looks more like what the private sector schools that teach those skills actually recommend. That wasn’t true in the Personal Protection Inside/Outside the Home books. The graphics associated with the explanation of differences between Isoceles and Weaver do a nice job of showing the differences in arm tension.

Lesson 7 (Pistol Shooting Errors)

This module offers some well-intentioned material that goes into a lot of details. The first topic, Zeroing Your Pistol, again is clearly focused on the target .22 audience, with its direction to make sight adjustments to target sights to dial the gun in exactly. The problem of fixed sights is primarily explained by graphics showing a .38 snub revolver with fixed front and rear sights, instead of a typical semi-auto with a fixed front and windage-adjustable rear sight. I think this was a major mistake, since the vast majority of adult gun owners that will be taking this course to meet state concealed carry license requirements are going to have a modern semiauto. The most important point new shooters need to hear on that topic, which is “if the gun is shooting low left, and you are right handed, the problem is not the sights, it’s the user!” is not emphasized at all. The course does do a good job of discussing point of impact differences related to different bullet weights and types of ammo.

A section on how to score a target is included, going into detail explaining how an NRA competition target is scored. Is that really essential for a new pistol shooter? Probably not, but for someone that has to qualify on a state-mandated shooting test, the material is good to know.

The inclusion of material on many different types of aiming, trigger control, hold, grip and breath control errors was excellent. This section would have been significantly better if they had recorded high speed video of shooters actually committing the errors being discussed.   Perhaps in an update to the course that material could be included.

Module 8 (Pistol Stoppages)

The worst error in the course is in Module 8. In the video for Topic 2, Clearing Pistol Stoppages, the person handling the pistol starts out with their trigger finger properly indexed on the frame, but right before racking the slide, places it on the trigger guard right in line with the trigger, pressing on the trigger guard in such a way that if the finger slipped off, it would go right to the trigger and cause the gun to fire.

malf 1malf 2

This is a terrible example to set for students, and if a student copied that behavior on the firing line in one of my classes, I would correct them on it, with an explanation of why that trigger finger position is not safe. This video needs to be updated immediately to correct this significant flaw.

Another serious problem in this video is that the gun is tilted the wrong way, with the ejection port pointing up. In this position anything that needs to be ejected from the pistol is going to fall back down into the port when the slide is cycled, making the malfunction worse. Had this video been produced showing the shooter clearing an actual malfunction, instead of simply racking the slide, that flaw in technique would have been exposed when it failed to solve the problem.

Normally the tilt, tap, rack technique is taught by tilting the gun the opposite direction, so that the magazine base is facing centerline, and the ejection port is facing down (for a right handed shooter). That places the magazine at the best angle to be “tapped” by the support hand, and puts the ejection port at the best angle to actually eject the offending fired brass or failed round. That technique, when performed by a left handed shooter puts the ejection port facing upward – which should have been addressed and demonstrated as part of presentation of this material. (The challenges of left handed shooters trying to operate magazine release, slide lock/release, and disassembly levers on guns that are lefty-unfriendly was also not addressed, but is a problem that instructors teaching the range part of this course will also have to address.)

If/when I teach the range part of this course, I will have to spend time explaining to students that what they saw in the online course was wrong, and why.

Module 9 – Pistol Cleaning and Maintenance

I made a note to myself during this section that nowhere in the course was there any discussion of the potential hazards of lead exposure, particularly when shooting at an indoor range, and the specific risk to pregnant women and nursing mothers. They do discuss the hazards of lead exposure as they relate to gun cleaning in this section.  In the instructor lesson plan for the in-person part of the course, there is direction given to instructors to advise pregnant women/nursing mothers to consult with their physicians prior to attending. The problem with this advice is that most physicians I’ve talked to about this issue know less about it than many shooting instructors. At a minimum, the online course should include that direction to ‘consult with your physician’, to ensure that students that need that advise get it *before* they register and pay for a course and show up at the range.

One of the best places to clean a gun is at the range, so you can test fire it after you reassemble it, which is particularly useful for peace of mind if that gun is used for self-defense. That suggestion is not in included in this section but it’s one that I make in classes where gun cleaning is covered.

The course briefly explains how to clean a magazine, without actually showing how to disassemble and re-assemble a magazine. A video showing that would have been very useful.

Module 10 – Selecting Pistols and Ammunition

No mention of pistol capacity, or trigger pull weight as selection factors. Single action revolvers are referred to as “single action revolvers” but double action revolvers are simply referred to as “revolvers”, which I think would confuse a beginner.

The list of accessories someone might put in their shooting bag was very good, and I was pleased to see a shooting timer and tools on the list. I would have liked to have seen “additional spare magazines, each marked with a unique indicator such as a number or a letter”, with explanation as to the benefits of owning more than 1-2 mags for your pistol, and the reason for marking them (to tell them apart, particularly if one is damaged or has a worn spring and begins causing malfunctions).

Module 11 – Maintaining Your Skills

It included the material on the Winchester Marksmanship booklet, which is under-used and under-appreciated, as well as all the expected propaganda for all the associated NRA courses and programs. They actually under-sell the follow on NRA courses in this section, failing to explain what topics are covered in Personal Protection Inside the Home and Personal Protection Outside the Home. A short video showing shooters running some of the live fire drills in those courses would have been very appropriate and useful in motivating students to return for follow on training.

In the section on “plinking”, they do not explain how to identify a safe backstop or safe shooting direction for this type of informal shooting. Failing to understand how far rounds can travel, and that rounds can bounce off hard ground, particularly when fired at shallow angles, as well as basic concepts like not using trees or cacti as target stands, and basic safety measures related to use of steel targets, can cause beginning shooters trying to “plink” on rural property with no supervision from more experienced shooters to make tragic mistakes.

Of course, they fail to mention any non-NRA types of competition, even though the popularity of non-NRA matches, such as IPSC, IDPA, Steel Challenge, and Falling Steel eclipses the NRA sanctioned shooting sports everywhere.

They also use the term “civilian” to refer to shooters who are not in the military or in law enforcement.   Those not in the military are “civilian”, which means those in law enforcement are also ‘civilians’. I prefer the term “citizen” or “armed citizen” to “civilian” and know that many in the gun culture take offense at the misuse of the term “civilian” when the meaning is “not in law enforcement”.

And surprisingly, in an online course, there is no active link taking students to the NRA Training Department webpage, and no link taking them to a list of courses where they can complete the live fire part of the course. I assume that those passing the online test (that the preview people were not given access to) will get that link, but I don’t know for sure.

The In-person training part of the course

The in person part of the course has to include gun safety rules, range rules, range commands, dominant eye, two handed grip, and pistol shooting fundamentals, which any beginning or even intermediate pistol course should cover. In order to meet NRA requirements, the in-person training also needs to include loading, cocking, de-cocking, and unloading a single action revolver, double-action revolver and semi-automatic pistol, and a review of safely cleaning a pistol. Students must do live fire from the benchrest and isosceles position and shoot the qualification course of fire. There is a nice skills checklist showing the student demonstrated proficiency with each of required skills.

The qualification course of fire is very simple and well designed. 4” circles are used, and students are required to put 5 shots in the 4” circle at 10 feet (level 1), 15 feet (level 2), and 20 feet (level 3). Level 1 is all that is required to pass. The instructor qualification target requires putting at least 16 out of 20 shots in a 6” group at 15 yards.

The NRA estimates that it will take 5 hours to teach the in-person part of the training, making the new “blended” course a longer class (at an estimated 12 hours) than the older 10- and 8- hour courses.

I’m not an expert on the training hour requirements in the states where NRA training is used for licensing, but to me it seems the course length may become a marketing problem in states where the minimum training requirement is 8 hours, and other in-person courses that are recognized by the state are available.

Integration with Existing Curriculum

In Texas, where the License to Carry (LTC) course has been cut down to 4-6 hours, and some of the material covered in the LTC course duplicates material in the in-person NRA course, offering the “Basic Pistol completion” course on the same day as an LTC course may work, as students wanting to do more than our state’s minimum could take the online course and complete it and the LTC class on the same day.

The requirements to cover single-action and double-action revolvers and shoot from the benchrest position will be the biggest problems.  To conduct that training in parallel with multiple shooters will require special facilities.  The typical outdoor “tactical” range used for a state carry permit course does not have a neat row of benches set up at 5 yards. Clearly the live fire part of the course was written with an indoor range in mind.   In a large carry permit course, the time required to run all students through the single-action and double-action revolver exercises, will be long, unless the instructor invests in many SA and DA revolvers to use as loaner guns.   If the course had been designed with the “run what you brung” approach of First Steps, with the arcane knowledge of how to load a Peacemaker moved to an optional exercise, the course would be shorter and just as relevant to the vast majority of students.

The other approach KR Training could take is to pair it with our existing Basic Pistol 1 class, which is essentially an NRA First Steps course, as the afternoon “follow on” class for those that wanted to get the full NRA Basic Pistol certificate. We may try both approaches over the next few months to see what type of student is most interested in taking the online class.

Final Thoughts

Many longtime NRA instructors are unhappy about the switch to blended learning. I think it’s an experiment that needs to be tried, because online learning has some advantages over in person training, and those that will actually get through the entire online course will be easier to teach when they actually show up at the range.   I look forward to training some of those students, to find out how much they retain from what they learned online.

People inside the gun culture sometimes forget that between negative stereotypes (“those people” won’t welcome me because I’m …) and the potential dangers associated with guns that many new to guns can be intimidated or afraid to just show up for a shooting class. There’s a lot of good instructional material available online, particularly on youtube, but finding it among the derp can be hard. Having a high quality online course available from NRA, even if students only take the online part and never complete the in-person training, still has net value to the gun culture.

Another potential benefit of the course is to provide formal training for the lifetime gun owner who maybe would benefit from a refresher course, or has never had a formal class, but doesn’t want to go take a class with a bunch of beginners. There may be a secondary audience of those people, who will never go take the in-person component, but will benefit from the online training by itself.

Final course grade for the 1.0 version: A-

Has great potential, very few major or minor flaws. Course length a potential problem for the intended audience.


February 2016 Scholastic Action Shooting Program match

On February 6th, 2016 I worked as a range officer for the  Scholastic Action Shooting Program (SASP) Winter Regional match held in College Station each year.   The match is based on the classic Steel Challenge format: 5 plates, 5 runs, throw out the slowest run, fastest total time wins. One SASP stage called “Go Fast” is shown in the photo.

Go Fast stage

The biggest differences is that all the runs start from low ready instead of the holster, and the main awards are for 4 person teams.   The match is for young shooters, from 12 years old through undergraduate college age. It’s set up with multiple divisions for junior high, high school and college, and 9mm and .22 categories also.   It’s one of the events supported by the MidwayUSA Foundation.

Penny and I helped local IPSC shooter Kevin Jimmerson get the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets Marksmanship Unit started in 2012, and with great support from TAMU, local shooters & ranges, gun industry sponsors, and a lot of hard work by the team members and coaches, the team now competes in 3-Gun, Scholastic Pistol, Trap & Skeet, and Practical Shooting, and hosts a big SASP match each year.

The match started with TAMU System Chancellor John Sharp making some opening remarks to the crowd, encouraging all those of high school age to consider attending Texas A&M University and joining the Corps of Cadets.  The Corps supported the match with cadets painting targets, managing traffic, and assisting with scoring. I had 3 cadets working for me on the stage I was running.  Parsons Mounted Calvary brought their ceremonial cannon out also.  The Texas State Rifle Association Foundation provided some financial support for the match, and TSRA President Doug DuBois spoke to the crowd after Chancellor Sharp.

This year’s match, held at the CCC Shooting Complex, was the biggest yet, with teams from all over the US: from Florida to Washington state, attending.


All 3 military academies sent teams and there were many Texas teams as well.



I really enjoy working youth shooting events. It’s great to see all the young competitors handling their guns safely and responsibly, shooting fast and looking good.   The future of our gun rights depend on them. When politicians and pundits talk about all the problems with “kids and guns” – they’ve never met these young men and women.

The TAMU team beat the Army, Navy and Air Force academy teams.  There were a lot of winners in the different divisions (centerfire and rimfire, junior, senior and college).  The match results are here for those that want all the details.



Another benefit of legal open carry

This April 2015 article about a man shooting himself in the bathroom of a Chick-Fil-A that popped up on multiple Facebook feeds today got me thinking about open carry.  Let me explain…

The biggest practical benefits of the legalization of open carry in Texas come from no longer having to worry about getting in trouble for failure to conceal for brief periods where your activities or weather conditions cause you to expose all or part of your gun.   One of those activities is using a public bathroom.  With open carry legalized, the problem is solved.  Keep the gun holstered, don’t handle it, and don’t worry about somebody seeing it.

If your gun is at risk of falling out of your holster when you lower your pants, you need a better holster that offers more retention.  Having your gun fall out of your holster in public is embarrassing, could be a violation of the law (in places where open carry is not allowed), and worst, could result in injury or death.

Unfortunately,  more than 400 businesses in Texas have chosen to post 30.07 signs banning open carry, which actually denies the armed citizen the “common sense” solution of simply leaving the gun holstered.  In order to keep the gun concealed, that typically requires taking the gun out of the holster and setting it somewhere, finding some way to cover it up, or hanging it on the hook on the door.  There are problems with each of those options, and sometimes they  result in negative outcomes including negligent discharges and forgotten guns:

The simplest solutions to this problem are:

  1. Use the bathroom in places where open carry is allowed.
  2. Use the bathroom in places where only one person at a time can go in, and you can lock the door. Even if open carry is not allowed, in that situation you have taken the necessary steps to ensure that your gun is “not openly discernible to the ordinary observation of a reasonable person”, which is the legal definition of concealed in Texas.
  3. Pocket carry, purse carry or off-body carry. (All these methods have their own problems related to security of the gun and speed of access, but do offer an advantage in this specific situation).

When none of those options are available, this article from the Alien Gear website (and the linked video) offers some good general advice on this topic.


Lessons from an accidental discharge

(guest blog post submitted by assistant instructor Dave Reichek)

Yes, there IS such a thing as an accidental discharge! We had one on the range during an advanced pistol class this weekend.

I’ve read opinions that there is no such thing as an accidental discharge, only negligent discharges. In general, I find this is mostly true. 99% of the time, someone’s finger was on the trigger when it wasn’t supposed to be – that certainly qualifies as a negligent discharge. We’ve often heard – and warned students about – foreign objects getting caught in the trigger guard and causing the firearm to discharge when it is being holstered. I’m of two minds on this one –drawstring cords, poorly designed or maintained holsters, etc., are all problems that should be relatively easy to foresee if someone looks at their gear, clothing, etc. with a critical eye towards prevention, thus one could argue some degree of negligence when one or more of these circumstances results in an unintentional discharge. However, how many times has that “foreign object” been a part of the trigger mechanism itself? I’d wager not very many at all.

The students in this particular class (Defensive Pistol Skills 2) were experienced and had all taken multiple KR Training courses. The student who experienced the accidental discharge was using a Gen 4 Glock 34 with an aftermarket trigger installed (Pyramid Trigger) and an OWB paddle holster. During the drill, he had several misfires occur, which he cleared and continued with the drill. When he holstered, with finger off the trigger, the pistol discharged in the holster.

The round hit a few inches from his foot, because his OWB holster was angled such that the muzzle was pointed away from his body. When I saw it happen, my first reaction was to reach for the TQ in my pocket – thankfully we didn’t need it! Upon investigation, what we thought was a piece of the holster on the ground turned out to be a piece of the trigger – the center piece of the now-familiar two piece trigger designs where the center portion of the trigger has to be pushed flush with the rest of the trigger face before the trigger can be actuated to fire the gun.

I’m not familiar with this particular aftermarket trigger, but the grooves on the pin, the hexagonal inset on it, and the grooves on the trigger piece lead me to believe this is a screw which somehow worked its way out. I believe this allowed the center trigger part to work its way loose and get sideways in the trigger guard, catching the edge of the holster mouth when the student re-holstered and causing the accidental discharge.

Lessons learned and observations from this incident:

  • If the student was using an IWB or AIWB holster, it’s more likely an injury would have resulted (NOT a knock on AIWB/IWB holsters, as I use both – just an observation). If you do use an AIWB holster, be extra diligent to check for possible obstructions, holster slowly, and push your hips forward before and while you are holstering so that you are not at risk to put a bullet through your femoral artery if the unthinkable happens.
  • Regular inspection of your firearms before and after each use is a really good idea! How many of us REALLY do that? I don’t know how long this screw took to work its way out sufficiently to fail, but I can’t discount the possibility that a pre-class inspection by the student might have prevented it – then again, it might not have. File this under “lessons learned”, not “assignment of blame”.
  • (Karl notes: It’s common in more advanced classes to encourage students to clear malfunctions and get back in the drill quickly, and not to stop and try to diagnose the cause of the malfunction. In this case, clearly it would have been better to stop to figure it out before holstering. In 25 years of teaching this was the first problem of this type that has occurred on the firing line. My personal takeaway from this incident is to start advising students to pause before holstering, if they have had malfunctions, and assess their gear.)
  • Range safety and pre-class safety briefing – even on a class comprised of students with a higher-than-average level of skill – is important. We had a trauma kit on the range, a larger kit back in the classroom, and my TQ was in my pocket on the firing line. Students were briefed on where a phone was, where coordinates to the range were posted, and a student in class with an EMT certification was identified. As an instructor, student, or just “shooter on the range”, you just can’t predict when an accident, whether caused by negligence or not, will happen. Be prepared!
  • There is an aftermarket device made specifically for Glocks that can prevent this kind of accidental discharge, and might be worthy of consideration by any Glock owners reading this blog post. You can read more about it here:

January 2016 Open Carry Contest

Starting January 1, 2016, open carry of handguns will be legal in Texas, making us no different from 44 other states in which open carry was already legal.


Based on social media postings and media articles, it appears these things are going to happen:

  1. Some permit holders who have not been carrying concealed on a regular basis are going to start carrying for the first time, because they can open carry.
  2. Many businesses that allow concealed carry are going to prohibit open carry.
  3. The majority of people who have been carrying concealed for years will continue to carry concealed as they have always done.
  4. Some who have not carried concealed out of unfounded paranoia about getting in trouble for “printing” will hopefully start carrying concealed.
  5. Some who have been carrying a subcompact or subcaliber gun (again due to “printing” paranoia) will now start carrying a more functional pistol, open or concealed.
  6. A small number of emotional anti-gun activists intend to call 911 every time they see someone open carrying.
  7. Police are going to have a challenging time dealing with all of it — particularly the unclear language in the law defining what an acceptable holster is.


The purpose of carrying is not to put on a public fashion show.  The point of carrying is to have appropriate equipment for the task of self-defense available, with the secondary goal of having that equipment be comfortable and tolerable to wear every day.  We recommend:

  • 4″ or 5″ barrel quality semiauto pistol in 9mm, .40 or .45 caliber, holding at least 8 rounds, preferably 10 or more.  Pistol should have a standard factory finish and limited modifications for functional improvement only. More about handgun selection here.
  • an all kydex or all leather inside the waistband holster that uses real belt loops that wrap around the belt, OR
  • an outside the waistband retention holster such as the Safariland ALS or GLS, OR
  • an outside the waistband holster that has tension that can be adjusted using screws
  • carrying a spare magazine

We don’t recommend:

  • Cowboy sixguns, shotshell revolvers (Taurus “Judge”), derringers, HiPoint pistols, AR “pistols”, or any other odd or novelty handgun.
  • Pistols with excessive decoration (bright color or exotic finishes, “Punisher” logos, “Wait for flash” markings, etc.). Imagine a prosecutor showing your gun to a jury during your trial for use of deadly force, and choose your carry gun accordingly.
  • Holsters poorly suited to daily carry.  Nylon “gun buckets”, thin leather holsters that collapse when you draw from them, “gimmick” holsters that do not cover the trigger guard or have to be re-assembled so you can re-holster, holsters with an integral magazine pouch, “drop leg” holsters intended for tactical team use or Airsoft game play, or any other holster that doesn’t hold the gun securely, close to the body, and allow rapid reholstering using only one hand.
  • Wearing your holster in a stupid way.  One very common mistake is wearing a holster designed for behind-the-hip use too far forward. This video explains the problems that causes.  Carrying with your gun behind your back, in line with your spine, is a terrible idea. Access is slow, your ability to stop someone from taking the gun is severely limited, and if you are knocked to the ground wearing the holster, spinal injury is likely.  If you don’t understand proper holster placement or selection, seek out a class, like our Defensive Pistol Skills 1 course, that not only teaches that topic but includes access to loaner holsters that you can use, if your current holster is simply not going to work for you.


Many people, when carrying concealed in public for the first time, get the impression that everyone that looks at them knows they are carrying, and is looking right at their gun.  In reality, the vast majority of people don’t know what to look for and are too distracted with their own tasks or using their phone that they don’t notice much of anything.

If you open carry, odds are good that people will notice, and it will likely change their behavior in any interaction you have with them.  You may get harassed by strangers, or end up in conversations with those in favor of open carry.  You may be approached by police.

By open carrying you make yourself a public ambassador for all gun owners.  Act like an adult. Move slow, be polite, smile.  Assume that anything you do or say in public could end up on YouTube, an anti-gun website, or the news.

Take a cover garment with you

Many business, such as H.E.B. grocery, will allow concealed carry but not open carry.  Anyone that plans to open carry should always have a cover garment in their vehicle to switch from open to concealed as required.


The Open Carry Derp Contest

I am a pessimist and expect that the first 30 days of open carry in Texas could very well provide a parade of derp.  From today until Jan 29th, send me cell phone pics of any of the derp carry choices listed below, or any I’ve missed that you think qualify.  The person that sends me the most pictures before the deadline wins a free slot in the January 30th Open Carry Concepts course. Pictures must show someone carrying the offending gear in public (matches and ranges do not count, but gun shows and OC walks do). I reserve the right to award double or bonus points in cases where the person shown fails in multiple categories.

Oversize: hunting handguns (44 mag, 454 casull, etc.), IPSC Open guns, cowboy guns with 7 1/2 or longer barrels, AR/AK “pistols”, carrying with mags that stick out more than 1-2″ past the gun’s grip, Desert Eagle, two-gun rigs

Bad gun choice: Shotshell revolver (“Judge”), derringers, HiPoint, cowboy sixguns, .22, .25, .32 pocket guns carried in belt holster

Carried wrong: 1911 with hammer down, DA/SA hammer back, belt holster at wrong angle, shoulder holster that causes muzzle to point at people behind you, small of back carry, “holsterless” carry, drop leg holster, mags carried backward (or facing two different directions) in mag pouches, chest rig, more than 2 spare mags, nylon holster, holster with integral mag pouch, any cheap, loose floppy holster or flimsy belt clearly not suited to the weight of what is being carried.

Fashion show: Any gun, holster or clothing item worn primarily for its looks and not its function.  Wearing a “carry permit” badge like it’s a police badge. Any item that would cause a jury to think “gun nut” and not “trained professional” when displayed in court.

If you send us pictures for the contest, we reserve the right to re-use them in other content (blog posts, training materials, etc.). Email contest submission pics to  Complaints and political rants will be ignored and deleted.

Comments have been disabled for this post.   You have the freedom to carry whatever you want, wherever you want, within the limits of the new law.  We also have the freedom to point and laugh at you when you embarrass the rest of us in public.

In memory of Ken Ragsdale, Austin music icon

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the main band I played with was the Ken Ragsdale Orchestra. We were a 7 piece “little big band” (keys, bass, drums, trumpet, alto, tenor, bari). All 3 sax players doubled on clarinet. Ken played bari & clarinet, led the band and booked the shows. We worked a lot, mostly at country clubs and events for ballroom dance groups and military retiree events at Bergstrom (when it was an air force base) and Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.  We played an average of 70-80 shows a year every year I was in the band.

One of the things that made the band interesting was our book. Many of the charts were written in the 50s (or earlier), and most of the “new” charts were written by Johnny Ross, who came from that era and knew how to write in the authentic style those songs required. It was a real education in the history of “hotel” music as well as Big Band era jazz — something most jazz players don’t get the opportunity to learn in depth.

In December 1993 we played 12 shows in 14 days. I recorded all the shows and created a ‘best of’ compilation that’s available for free download here:

I learned a lot playing with Ken – not just about music but about the music business, but also about Texas history (through conversations as well as reading his books). Ken was gifted at building relationships with those that booked us and our audience. He also served as a great role model, showing that it was possible to be a working musician into his 80s and even his 90s, while continuing to write and even pursue new interests. His obituary, describing his very full and accomplished life, is here. He will be missed.

Establishing a Dominance Paradigm – Thoughts and Observations

(This post is contributed by assistant instructor Dave Reichek.    For those interesting in training similar to what is described below, we (KR Training) will be hosting a combo course with Dr. Aprill on June 6-7, 2015 called “Unthinkable: Concepts and Techniques for the Gravest Extreme“, taught by Dr. Aprill, Caleb Causey of Lone Star Medics, and Karl Rehn of KR Training.)

I was fortunate enough to take part in the inagural Establishing a Dominance Paradigm course in January, over 30 hours of combined education instruction by Tom Givens, Craig Douglas (Southnarc), and Dr. William Aprill. The class was a closed enrollment course, restricted to a relatively small number of students who were all familiar with the instructors’ prior coursework and who had demonstrated a high degree of competency.   This would present the instructors with a class of skilled practitioners with which they could induce a high level of stress throughout the class and see how the students fared under pressure.

Tom Givens wrote the following synopsis of the class content in his February 2015 Rangemaster newsletter:

This was a very intensive three-day course taught by Craig Douglas (Southnarc), William Aprill, and Tom Givens, with each trainer concentrating on his particular field of expertise. We had 15 students from literally all over the country, coming from as far away as New York City for this course. Days were long, typically running from 8:30 AM until 7 PM. The training involved classroom work, live fire on the range, and very realistic scenario-based training using Simunitions equipment.

                William April has a unique background, having worked as a deputy sheriff and Deputy US Marshal before becoming a licensed psychologist. He has worked extensively with criminals both in a law enforcement and a mental health capacity. His lectures included a great deal of information on criminal psychology, but there was also a heavy emphasis on the brain physiology of stress and how to control that stress in a crisis. Southnarc put the trainees through a number of scenarios involving various role-play interactions. We had a separate training area with movable walls and furniture which allowed us to set up some very realistic scenarios. On the range, I set up progressively more difficult drills with a lot of issues intended strictly to raise the students’ stress level, and those drills were quite successful in inducing anxiety and stress in the shooters. Both the scenario-based training and the live fire gave the students the opportunity to experience high levels of stress and to use William’s techniques to control that stress and still function. Lynn Givens and Tiffany Johnson, as well as Jack Barrett, our host, joined the primary trainers as role players in the scenarios. We were able to put the students into real -life problems and have them work out their own salvation.

We were specifically asked to not give away too much about the class to avoid “spoiling it” for future classes as it relates to how the stress was induced, but I believe I can share some important points and observations while keeping true to the instructors’ request.

A big focus of the class – probably the primary focus – was the concept of bring cognizant of what your stress level is at any given time. Your stress level can range from detatched or disinterested at the low end, to a complete collapse of response or blind panic at the high end. Somewhere in-between (and this varies by individual) is your own personal “sweet spot” where your performance will be optimal. The instructors presented us with strategies to modulate our stress level in real time, and plenty of opportunities to practice stress management throughout the course.

Dr. Aprill spent a lot of time delving into brain functions and how this effects us during a crisis. The “Reflexive Brain” (“System X” in the Psychology nerd world) has access to over-learned complex muscle movements without the “Thinking Brain” (“System C” in the Psychology nerd world) having to get involved. For example, who hasn’t swerved around an object in the road, and then had to look back in the mirror to see what it was? The Reflexive Brain did all the work before the Thinking Brain even had a chance to get involved. There are numerous stories of the gun just “appearing in their hand” for trained people who found themselves in a dangerous situation. Again, an over-learned activity.

However, this can also cost you everything if your Thinking Brain takes over in the middle of your reaction inappropriately. During the first scenario we ran, I was a role player/actor for the scenario. There was a sudden stimulus (think “someone walking in unexpectedly with a gun in their hand”) and more than one student’s flinch reaction (reactive brain) was HALF of a draw stroke until the Thinking Brain took over and stopped it. Don’t kid yourself, EVERYONE knows what even half of a draw stroke looks like when you do it (If you are going to go for your gun, commit to it!) This interruption of the Reflexive Brain by the Thinking Brain is one example of the considerable amount of “tug-of-war” going on between the Reflexive Brain vs. Thinking Brain during the lifespan of the crisis, and we spent a lot of class time discussing what Dr. Aprill called “cognitive resiliency” – the ability to effective and most adaptively transition from one mode of mind to another.

Another interesting observation from some of Southnarc’s scenarios, and this was even more common than the half-draw reaction… consider a scenario where you make the decision that you are going to comply initially, and if you get into a favorable situation, THEN you will consider taking action. If you are going to comply, comply 100%. If you are going to get on the floor, get ALL THE WAY on the floor. We observed a lot of weird, semi-compliant poses – going down into semi-crouched positions, muscles obviously tensed. That drew a lot of attention from the bad guy(s), and very possibly will get you shot. The student in the scenario thought they were being compliant “enough” while trying to remain primed to act, but to an observer, they very clearly were not being fully compliant. At the very least, YOU are going to be the guy they “worry about” or “keep an eye on” – this isn’t going to help you! You want to be the person who is 100% compliant, to the point where they forget about you. Here is an unfortunate example of how non-compliance can get you killed, as a hotel manager found out the hard way recently:

“They believe the suspects walked into the hotel and demanded money. Police said when the manager refused to comply he was shot in the head. “

One of the other big takeaways I got from Dr Aprill’s psychological coursework was the concept of “know your temperament“ – it has been set in stone since you were 3 to 5 years old. In this context, we use temperament’s clinical definition – a fixed, pervasive, persistent reflection of your wiring; your natural pre-dispostion. The concept that you might act differently depending on what you are carrying or equipped with that day just doesn’t happen. Align yourself with your temperament (who you are). Equip yourself to your temperament, physically and psychologically. Don’t kid yourself and say “I’ll just be a good witness” if your past history and your instincts tell you that you are the type to “get involved”. If you are going to find your feet taking you towards the gunfire during some sort of active killer event, perhaps that J-Frame you threw in your pocket before leaving the house wasn’t be best choice! I found it especially interesting when Dr. Aprill relayed a story about a woman at the Rogers school who said (and I’m probably very loosely paraphrasing), “you know, all the gun stuff, I get it… but I just can’t do it. When I’m faced with any kind of danger, I just want to run away.” He said, “You know what? That is FINE. If she makes a commitment to recognizing danger early and running away from it, that is probably going to work out for her.   She has aligned her strategy with who she is.”   There is a podcast on Ballistic Radio where he talks about this topic – give it a listen. Greg Ellifritz also just wrote about this in his article, Born to Intervene?, on his excellent blog.

A half day of lecture was devoted to Dr. Aprill’s fantastic presentation on violent criminal actors, how they select their victims, and how we can actively work to de-select ourselves. You can listen to this Ballistic Radio podcast (a different episode – he’s a popular guest) to hear an overview of this topic, but you owe it to yourself to get this straight from the source if at all possible.

Tom Givens ran the students through increasingly difficult shooting challenges during the range/live fire portions of the class, interjecting tips, observations of our performances in relation stress, and helpful perspectives in regards to mindset at key times in unique ways that only Tom can deliver. Everyone in the class came in as accomplished shooters, and it was interesting, to say the least, to see firsthand how added stressors degrade shooting performance, and how subtle management techniques for that stress can help bring performance back up.

Overall, I found the class to be a fantastic learning experience, and it was very interesting to take a class filled with high-level practitioners. I think we all, as students, learned a lot from each other in addition to what we learned from this cadre of elite instructors.


Polite Society 2014 – Southnarc Force on Force AAR

The past 2 years, I have had the opportunity to participate in SouthNarc’s (Craig Douglas) “Live Scenario-Based Experiential Learning Clinic”, which is basically a force-on-force exercise using Simunition FX, live role players, and ambiguous situations that test the participants’ tactics and decision making skills under extreme stress.  The exercise is limited to 12 participants, who are kept separate from the action area, and send in to the exercise individually, such that the exercise is reset and repeated for each participant.  This year’s scenario equipped the participant with a G17 Simunition gun (holstered and concealed), and very basic instructions to help Dr. Aprill, who has injured his ankle, to the airport with his bag.  *ACTION!*

After reaching center of room 10-15 yds into room and helping Dr. Aprill towards the door, frantic woman runs in towards the participant, screaming, “you’ve got to help me, he’s trying to kill me”.  She has a pair of large, stabby scissors in her hand, although she is holding them in a neutral, non-threatening manner, palms-out at or above her shoulders.  After giving participant time to interact with her for approximately 20-30 seconds, a 2nd man runs into room WITH A GUN after the woman.  He is holding a BADGE in his other hand and wearing casual/plain clothes (not in uniform) but does not otherwise identify himself as LEO (law enforcement officer).

The results of this scenario were, to be frank, highly concerning:

  • 10 out of 12 participants either shot the officer, were shot by the officer, or both.  Staggeringly, more than a few of the participants SAW THE BADGE and chose to engage in a standoff with the officer (and eventually get shot) or engage him with gunfire out of a mistrust that he was actually law enforcement.
  • Multiple participants failed to notice the weapon in the female role player’s hand
  • 1 participant put 3 rounds into the woman’s chest, even after she dropped the scissors as instructed, because she didn’t obey subsequent commands to get on the ground.  Does anyone have any illusions about deadly force justification still being present after she’s dropped the weapon?
  • 1 participant had a shooter-induced malfunction after a single shot and was unable to clear the resulting double feed (support hand thumb behind the slide caused a double feed after the first shot).
  • 1 participant admitted to ‘freezing’ during debrief once the shooting started.
  • Several participants, holding a projectile weapon, got progressively closer to the female threat, holding a sharp stabby weapon, when she didn’t immediately obey commands to drop the scissors.  The participants who engaged in this behavior were, in all cases, completely unaware that they did it, even during debrief.   (We have found this type of subconscious behavior to be relatively common in KR Training AT-2 and AT-7 Force-on-Force classes.)
  • None of the other participants utilized available cover/concealment within the room before the second role player came into the room.  Only one or two eventually attempted to use cover once the shooting started.
  • More than one participant, myself included, held onto Dr. Aprill’s bag far longer than necessary or that the circumstances would dictate.  I suppose I could use a large bag to help fend off an edged weapon attack, but my firearm might be more effective, and I certainly wasn’t toting around the bag with that intent in mind.

If you shoot someone that you cannot clearly dictate met the AOJ standards (Ability-Opportunity-Jeopardy), you are very likely going to go to jail for a long, long time.  If you shoot at a law enforcement officer who was displaying a badge at the time you shot him, you are going to go to jail for a long, long, time.  Getting shot to death by law enforcement isn’t much of a win, either, is it?   This was a scenario with a verbal, non-shooting solution, but almost everyone seems to have tried their damnedest to find a shooting solution, and apply the hammer to something that wasn’t a nail.

Think about the types of participants that the Polite Society Conference attracts – self defense and firearms trainers as well as concealed carry practitioners who are serious enough to make a 3 or 4 day trip to “Mogadishu on the Mississippi” (Memphis, TN) for 3 straight days of lectures (it is about as far as you can possibly get from a 3 day fantasy gun-fighting camp with a high round count). These aren’t the types of practitioners who got their CHL and took a class or two; these are folks who are very serious about concealed carry and armed self-defense.  How much experience do YOU have making these kinds of decisions under extreme duress?  Well-structured Force-on-Force exercises allow you to test and practice your decision making in an environment where the worst that can happen is you get a few welts and a bruised ego, instead of facing death, imprisonment, or (at best) the terrible burden of shooting or killing someone inappropriately.

Here’s a video of my rep in this year’s scenario from Tyler C.

Even being the only clear “winner” of the scenario this year, there is still plenty to critique and learn from my experience.  On the plus side, I immediately recognized the scissors in her hand when she came in, I instructed her to take cover, and I took cover myself before the second party entered the room.  I clearly remember seeing “GUN…BADGE” when the plainclothes officer entered.  On the potentially negative side, I firmly believed that I was “hand on gun” when dealing with the female role player, due to the scissors in her hand, but the video clearly shows my hand hovering in the vicinity of my weapon without actually having my hand on it.  Also, why the heck was I carrying that bag around so long?

You will likely be VERY surprised about what you imaged, didn’t see, didn’t hear, and can’t remember about the incident after it happens.  Tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, freezing up, the perceived slowing of time… I’ve personally experienced some of these myself, and seen others experience all of these effects, during this type of scenario-based training.  It is absolutely invaluable as a tool to determine where your mindset and/or training needs work, and to learn what your own stress reaction is going to be when the adrenaline dump hits you.  In most cases, FoF is as close as you can get to the real thing without having to actually endure it.  I credit my success in this particular scenario with my past experience in last year’s Southnarc scenario (which WAS a problem that had to be solved by shooting) and my experience in KR Training’s excellent AT-2, AT-5, and AT-7 classes, and I find that my decision-making under pressure seems to improve as I get more and more of this type of experience under my belt.  The next time these classes become available, take advantage of the opportunity.

Dave Reichek
KR Training Alumni and Assistant Instructor


(Karl adds:  Dave’s observations match up with my own, from the years I ran force on force scenarios at the conference, and from observations in my own classes.  There’s a gap between being able to think through a scenario and talk about what you would do, and actually do the right thing when it’s happening in real time.  In my experience, FoF training does a much better job of teaching those skills than live fire training, which is why we offer it in our program.)

AAR – Paul Howe “Civilian Response to Active Shooter” course

I recently attended the CSAT Civilian Response to Active Shooter course, taught by Paul Howe and his assistant Nick, at the CSAT facility in Nacogdoches, Texas.
The 3 day course taught the core skills necessary to correctly identify and neutralize active shooter threats, provide life-saving medical aid, and perhaps most importantly, link up with arriving police.  A preview of the content of the course is available as a 2 hour video from Panteao Productions.

Completion of a minimum of 16 hours of pistol training from a reputable school is recommended. We were fortunate that all 9 of the students in class had considerably more training than the minimum, including many students who had taken other courses from CSAT.  Three gun skills were essential for the course: ability to shoot accurately (3″ target) at 7 yards, ability to hit an IPSC A-Zone sized steel target at 50-75 yards, and the ability to handle a gun safely in a 360 degree environment. That 3rd skill included constant muzzle direction and trigger finger awareness.  Familiarity with use of a tourniquet was also important.  It was a real pleasure to discover that everyone in class had all the necessary skills. That allowed us to move quickly through the part of the course where the instructors verified we were ready for the core material.

The core material was security, medical and communications, in that order.  More specifically, starting in a vehicle outside the building, exiting the vehicle, entering the building, locating the shooter, rendering medical aid, calling 911, and finally, managing the initial contact with responding officers.

Competition shooters, including IDPA competitors, know the exact course of fire in advance, and have opportunity to rehearse their actions, so they can be executed at high speed when the buzzer goes off.  In the real world, maybe the event will occur in a place where you know the floor plan, and maybe it will happen at a location you are visiting for the first time.  Even if you know the floor plan, as soon as shots are fired, people will be moving.  It’s not possible to plan out every action in detail. Instead, a skill that can’t be learned from any form of competition, or shooting standard exercises with a timer, becomes essential: the ability to have a general plan, taking action toward that plan as quickly as you can assess what’s happening around you and act on it.  It’s a skill that quite honestly most “trained” people who aren’t in first responder jobs get very little practice at, but it’s far more important than shaving a few more tenths off a speed reload, or any other gunhandling/shooting skill.

This course did an excellent job of developing that skill, by taking a crawl/walk/run approach, starting slowly with dry fire drills and small scenarios, with emphasis on having students do the right things, in the right sequence, in the right way. No time pressure was directly applied by the instructors anytime during the course. The goal was to work the problem as quickly as you could, but it was more important to identify the correct “next step” and execute it properly than to make some specific par time.  Skill was built by presenting us with increasingly more complex problems – more rooms, more threats, injuries to others needing attention, injuries to self requiring application of a tourniquet and re-engagement of targets, clearing of malfunctions and reloads one-handed.  The course emphasis the use of a bailout bag that serves as holster, mag pouch, medical kit and storage for other supplies.

The targets used were photographic – an array of hostage rescue head shot images, offering everything from a full head to a 25% head (one eye) on a single 24″ wide target. We were encouraged to take the hardest shot we thought we could make, anytime that target was presented.  A variety of photographic full body targets were used, with many different overlays used on the target’s hands, requiring us to spend a split second identifying the target before shooting. Instructors provided responses, should we choose to give verbal commands or ask questions of the targets.  Steel targets were used for long shots, replicating a situation where a 50-75 yard shot down a hallway might be required.


The facilities and the instructors were excellent.   We were encouraged to ask questions often, and there were many good questions from students throughout the course.  Lost in the political debate over arming teachers, between the gun rights absolutists, insisting that no skills training is needed, and the gun control pessimists, insisting that armed citizens are simply incapable of success against an active shooter, is this course, which defines a baseline level of mechanical skills (gunhandling, shooting and medical), and teaches students the tactics and mental process necessary to save lives.

CSAT only offers this course a few times a year. I highly recommend it, with the strong recommendation that anyone planning to attend should put in some prep time before class day, making sure you can hit the small targets (and long targets) with your pistol, that you can self-apply a tourniquet one handed, and can move indoors with your gun in a safe muzzle-down position (CSAT recommends the “Sul” position).

For more information: visit the CSAT website.