Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Ankle Holster: Convenient but possibly deadly

My first experience with an ankle holster was the 1971 Academy Award-winning movie The French Connection. I was in high school at the time and hadn’t even thought about a law enforcement career. My life’s total focus was two things: girls and sports, in that order. I saw the movie at the drive-in and was immediately taken by the concept of strapping a gun to one’s leg. It was so cool looking!

When I graduated from the police academy, one of the first things I did was buy a snubby revolver and an ankle holster. Carrying the gun was easy because of the pants style of the time (large bell-bottom trousers). I fantasized about confronting armed robbers and being able to swiftly draw my gun from my leg while saving every damsel in distress (most young male cops do). But once it happened, I realized that relying on an ankle gun for primary carry was/is a huge mistake.

Like many young police officers trying to make ends meet, I took a number of off-duty security jobs. One was at a local hotel along the interstate at the southern end of my county. Known as an upscale location, the hotel in question had indoor and outdoor pools, a fine-dining restaurant and a nightclub that stayed open late. With the exception of a few vehicle break-ins, this business was considered a low-crime area.

The thought of not carrying a gun while working these off- duty jobs was out of the question. And let’s be honest, that’s why these businesses hire off-duty cops. But carrying a concealed weapon can be a hassle, especially because nothing ever happened at this hotel, so I succumbed to the siren song of the ankle holster and carried a Smith & Wesson Model 60 as my only carry gun. It was convenient and out of the way, and I didn’t have to wear a jacket. For a while, I carried a Bianchi Speed Strip in my front pants pocket so I’d have some spare ammo. As time went by, I even quit doing that. I’d fallen into a complete state of complacency, and it almost cost me my life.

One evening, I’d just reported for work and walked back to the office located behind the front desk to punch my time card. After doing do, I took off my glasses and was cleaning them as I walked around the corner to talk with the desk clerks. It was at that moment I noticed their hands in the air. I looked up into the muzzle of a .38 caliber revolver and noticed it had a cheap-looking Colt Python-like rib on the barrel. It’s interesting what you notice at the strangest times.

The robber told me to raise my hands, and it was at that moment, a certain clarity came over me. I was facing a gun with my hands in the air. Not only could I not see clearly, my hands were at the opposite end of my body from my holstered firearm. I couldn’t protect the hotel and its staff. I couldn’t even protect myself. I’ve never felt so helpless. I might die and there was nothing I could do about it.  Its interesting to note the circumstance in which your realize you are stupid!

Fortunately, the suspect decided not to shoot anyone, took the cash and fled out of the front door. I immediately went into super hero mode as I put my glasses on and went to leap over the counter to give pursuit. Unfortunately, my left foot became entangled in a wire brochure rack that was sitting on top of the front desk, and I slammed face first into the floor.

Not to be deterred in my heroic pursuit, I got up and ran to the same doors the suspect exited. This was a double door with a carpeted mat in between, and, as I opened the first set, I thought it wise to draw my gun. As I tried to both run and draw from my ankle rig, I slipped on the mat, going face down for the second time in less than a minute.

I finally cleared the Model 60 from the holster and exited the second set of doors, looking left and right but not seeing the suspect. I went to my right because it offered the quickest path out of my field of view. As I rounded the corner of the hotel I saw the suspect in the distance just as he fired a round in my direction. At that moment, I did the only thing that I could possibly do… I tried to crawl into a crack in the pavement! Finally realizing this wasn’t a good idea, I moved to a wall and tried to get my bearings. It might come as a surprise that the suspect made a successful getaway. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

My life changed that night. It wasn’t my finest hour, and I admit to a great deal of embarrassment regarding my preparation and performance. But as a professional trainer, if my mistakes can save a life, then a bit of embarrassment is a worthy price to pay. I became a training “junkie.” A never-again attitude enveloped me, and I never used an ankle holster for primary carry again. Only a “hand full of gun” would be mounted on my belt. Even when carrying a back-up gun, I leaned toward pocket holsters because they required less movement. I was fitted for contact lenses, and tried to minimize my wearing of glasses. Looking back now, it’s a humorous story but one that also changed my life. Don’t take your personal security for granted. Bad things happen to good people in nice places, and I had to make sure it never happened to me…or my family… again!

The model 60 was replaced with a 4" Smith & Wesson model 66 and once semi-autos were approved, a S&W 669 9 mm. I carried the gun in a belt-mounted speed-scabbard on my right hip, which I soon realized was the closet position to my shooting hand. I practiced drawing so I could get a solid hit on target in less than 2 seconds from concealment regard- less of the position I was in, and this included seated and laying on my back.

I still have a couple of snubby revolvers and a few ankle holsters, but they were long ago relegated to back-up gun carry only. While seated, the ankle gun can be accessed reasonably fast, but it will never be as quick as belt carry. Keep in mind trousers with enough space around the ankle are needed, meaning something like a boot cut jean or larger. Uniform trousers usually have enough room for ankle carry. There are several methods of ankle draw that work well, but the ankle holster will always require more movement and time than more conventional, standing upright carry modes.  Also, bending over or kneeling down takes your eyes off the threat and makes you less mobile.

If you choose to carry in an ankle holster, please understand the potential drawbacks and complications: It’s not as easy as it looks. Although they’re certainly convenient, they’re also slow and complicated to draw from. Think about your real world of work and the threats you are likely to face, and decide if the ankle holster is right for you or potentially life threatening. Keep in mind why you carry a gun and decide if it’s a fashion accessory or life-saving tool. This will be an important decision. If you choose to carry your primary weapon on your leg, practice, practice, practice. Nothing else will allow you to be an active participant in your own rescue.

Stay safe, and check your 360 often!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Pistol Optics...You can't afford to be wrong?

NOTE: This blog was written by Handgun Combatives instructor Jon Willis. Jon is a full time firefighter, medic, real estate "mogul" and a true student of combative firearms. He took the pistol optic journey and offers is thoughts...

Within the firearms industry we are constantly hearing, or talking, about the next big thing. Folks at differing points on their learning curve rehash old arguments that have no basis in either fact or benefit to either party. These exchanges can be funny to hear…sometimes. Some of the most passionate dialogues include folks who are completely invested in piece of gear or gun to the point of losing objectivity. I have seen this often with folks who have taken the leap into the world of pistol mounted optics.

Now before you shut this down, understand that this is not a position piece on the benefits of pistol -mounted optics. Countless articles have been written on that topic, many of which are quite helpful. You can Google any number of those articles or simply ask your favorite superstar firearms trainer for their opinion. I recognize that shooters will quite simply shoot one set up better than the other. Some environmental scenarios can tend to favor having, or not having, the optic. It is a great thing to have options to most effectively meet one’s needs.

For the record, I have a well-built set up atop which sits a high-end optic. I took a great deal of time to test it out in real training, comparing and contrasting the benefits or shortfalls throughout. I can shoot it well, but at the end of all of that I carry a different well-built handgun, with no optic. The other is relegated to a safe at home. I concluded, “Meh”, and moved on. After all, it’s my journey.

Through my experience to determine if this option was for me, I came into contact with many other people who were doing the same thing. Our discussions would reveal something quite interesting to me. Many folks I spoke with were not going through a process.  They had decided upon the results before their new gun arrived.

No system is, or can be, perfect. A true evaluation must account for as many positive and negative attributes as possible. Only then can one draw an appropriate conclusion. It was becoming apparent to me that when you ask many people what is the cost for a pistol mounted optic handgun, the answer is often, their objectivity!

I know many shooters who have conducted complete and objective evaluations of these pistol arrangements. Many have legitimately made their decision, reflecting on trial and experience. Some others have gone a different direction… the direction of covering bases and justification. Call it pride, maybe it’s ego, but many people have “painted themselves into a corner”. They simply can’t afford to have been wrong! After folks spend $1500 to $2000 to have one of these pistols set up, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to say, “You know what? It’s not for me” or “I still shoot irons better.” If this pistol arrangement is for you, great… you’ve found what works for you. If you spent a ton of money and found it’s not helping you improve, don’t justify it… dump it! It’s your journey. And it may be your life.

A pistol is a tool. No different than a knife, shovel or a hammer. A true craftsman recognizes when a special tool is an improvement to his work. Be a craftsman. In every aspect of selecting your personal defense tools always strive for the best, learn from all your choices and above all else, maintain your objectivity.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Fear, Slaughter in Progress and other thoughts…

By now, we have all seen the haunting photos from the Paris terrorist attack, the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando as well as the numerous mass shooting situations that have occured since. People hunkered down in closets, toilet stalls and other cramped locations HOPING they will not be found and executed.  Many meet their fate without resistance. Faces showing the extreme fear they were dealing with…or really, not understanding how to deal with it.

Fear is a natural phenomenon that cannot be removed from our being. Make no mistake, fear is your friend but only if you know how to control it and turn the emotion into an asset. Most do not and are overcome by it. So much so that they just sit and wait to be slaughtered. Having skills to utilize in crisis controls fear! Most have none…

Since the mass murder happened, I have watched the news, read the Internet “chatter” (much is just bullshit) and even seen a few videos telling people what to do if they are ever in such a situation. One was quite detailed, telling the viewer step by step what to carry with them at all times, how to chart a path of escape and even how to break a window. It was good information, but most folks will watch it, nod their head up and down and then forget everything they just saw. Let me make this process as simple as possible:

Carry a gun (if possible), carry a knife, carry a compact flashlight and…


And keep in mind it will not be the way you came in.

Recently, after class ended on Sunday evening, I accompanied a good friend to a high-end restaurant for a fine meal. As we were being seated, I asked the server for directions to the men’s room. A common occurrence and the server gave me said directions. Did I have to hit the head? Sure, but it wasn’t critical, I was more interested in performing a reconnaissance before I sat down to dine. As I walked to the restroom, I looked to see where the windows were and whether or not the chairs located near by could break them. As I walked past pillars, I knocked to them to see if they sounded solid or hollow, where was the door to the kitchen, where were the fire exits and if I barricaded in the rest room, how solid were the walls, could I lock the door and what were my fields of fire?  Where were the fire extinguishers and what type were they?

I basically formed an escape plan, looking for anything that could be a weapon along the way and KEPT IN MIND THE ROOM WOULD BE FILLED WITH PANICKED PEOPLE IF I NEEDED TO USE SAID PLAN! Keep in mind the shortest exit route will also be the most congested…a longer path may take the least time due to fear-filled people. Do you realize that some panicked folks will not use a fire exit unless there is a fire, even if it is warranted! Panicked behavior can be quite strange.

I did all of this in less than a minute without drawing undue attention to myself. This is important! If an active killer is casing the place, your “switched on” demeanor may draw attention and you might be the first person he kills! I have gone to dinner with students who try to impress me with their tactical behavior, keeping their head on a constant swivel looking for threats. On some occasions they look as if they are having a seizure and I have to tell them to relax…it is possible to have a relaxed level of awareness…and quit drawing attention to us. Try to be “low profile”  (the "grey man" is being used so much it is starting to mean nothing) as you stay alert in life…

Such a lifestyle should include more than just public establishments like restaurants and nightclubs; it should be any place you may inhabit. When I check into a hotel, the first thing I do is walk the stairs and check for fire exits. If I’m above the first floor, I check the windows to see if they can be broken and what path I may take if I have to climb down. You may laugh, but I did this years back when a fire alarm went off in my hotel late one night. I checked the door for heat and when I did not feel any, I cracked the door and saw smoke. I now carry a smoke mask everywhere I travel, but did not have it then. Thus, I opened the sliding glass door that led to the balcony of my room and climbed down the balconies below to the ground. It turned out to be a non-event, but I am not the type of person who likes to wait and have someone else tell me its safe.  Like my company motto says, I want to be “an active participant in my own rescue!”

Being an “active participant” means preparing for life’s dangers, whatever they may be and accepting that they will happen. Waiting for someone else to rescue you is seldom a good plan, so be prepared to take action. The act of fighting back is oftentimes not as difficult as building the will to take action and fight. Anything can be a weapon if the mind makes it so, thus start looking at common objects and visualize how you might use them to defend yourself and those you care about. Be willing to do harm! While governments and do-gooders will tell you violence is not the proper course of action, history has shown they are full of shit. Think about the faces on those people huddled in the bathroom stall in the Pulse…do you want that to be you or some one you care about? Not me. Violence is never the answer, but all too often it is the only solution!

Enjoy life, have fun but be ready…just in case...

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Three S Test and preparing for the fight!

For many years the words “survive” and “survival” have played a major role in how we think about inter-personal conflict. Phrases like “Street Survival,” the “Will to Survive” and “Survival Mindset” are quite common. According to the Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of survive is “to remain in existence,” which is insufficient to en- capsulate what survive really means. I want to go home the same way I left... unharmed, unscathed and psychologically fit. No wheelchairs, medical aids, crutches or coffins for me, thus survival is not what I want to instill in my mind. I want to win, to prevail!!!

According to Webster, prevail means “to be victorious,” which sounds awfully good to me. What does it take to prevail in a confrontation, especially one involving firearms? The truth is no one really knows since each confrontation is different and it’s impossible to train for every potential life-threatening event, especially since most situations are outside our control. One thing I can say with confidence is that the individual will have to take foundational knowledge and skill, adapt it to the situation they face and then apply accordingly. This application will require taking a number of skill sets and "chunking" them together into one smooth action...easer said than done! There is no such thing as too much training or preparation.

I have seen a trend on the Internet where “experts” (i.e. tactical knuckleheads who have never faced anything more dangerous than a paper cut) discussing how common sense and sound judgment are the critical skills to have when facing a threat. While these are certainly good attributes to have, what these so-called experts seem to miss is that under the affects of fear, the reasoning brain goes to mush and that sound judgment and reasoning are fleeting.

My belief is many expound such things on-line, as it offers an excuse to possess mediocre skills; thus the effort needed to purchase proper gear, practice ammo and spend time in the gym or at the range (we won’t even talk about the time and expense to seek proper training) to build skill is less important. Anyone who has ever had to face an armed assailant, whether it be on the battlefield, in an arrest situation or on the street while trying to mind your own business, will tell you that having confidence in one’s combative skills offers a peace of mind that cannot be taken for granted. Possessing the ability to fight and shoot is an important component of having the proper mindset and don’t let anyone tell you differently no matter how knowledgeable they may seem as they type on the Internet. Internet popularity does not necessarily translate to being skilled. In the end, having confidence in one’s ability, backed by a solid, easy to use skill set(s) is the single biggest deterrent to the onset of mind-numbing fear.

History has shown us that it’s not necessarily the person with the fastest draw or the ability to shoot tight groups that will win a gunfight. The person that will prevail is the one that is more ruthless, has no reservation to take a shot, will go “toe-to-toe” with an opponent, will not hesitate when the fight starts to seriously injure or kill their opponent. The fact is this is not most people. The majority people are raised to be good and kind, which are certainly qualities we want to give to our children, but what about those who are not raised this way? During my 30 plus years in law enforcement, I came in contact with many children who knew who the local crack dealer was by age five, knew their mother was a prostitute at an age when they should have been watching Saturday morning cartoons and saw gun violence before there were two digits in their age. Do you think these people, as they grow into adult life, will think about the world the same way you or I do?

After serving seven years (at different times) in the county jail, I got to know how criminals think and the biggest mistake anyone can make is to apply their thoughts, morals or feelings to a street criminal. A police officer in my area confronted an armed suspect and tried to defuse the situation by putting her gun on the ground and dropping to her knees, thus showing a less threatening posture. The suspect responded by shooting her through the neck. Never base a decision on how to deal with an armed opponent by applying your logic.

Back to Webster’s Dictionary, the word combat means “to counter or actively oppose; to fight back,” while combative means, “ready and willing to fight.” Mindset is defined as “a course of action based on a previous decision, a set path based on reason and intellect.” Thus, it would be fair to say that the combative mindset could be defined as, “a previous decision based on reason and intellect to be ready and willing to fight back.” What’s wrong with that? It doesn’t say a thing about attacking others or behaving like a schoolyard bully. It means if attacked, you will be ready and willing to fight back, prepared via reason and intellect. Where does reason and intellect come from? From life experience, formal education and training. Teaching citizens to have a combative mind is not the “wild west” waiting to happen, it’s a wise investment in our ability to live unmolested. That said, it is easier said than done and most people who “type a good fight on the Internet” have no idea what this process really entails…they merely recycle information that got somewhere else and make it sound as if they have aid something profound. Tactical Assholery…

How does one develop a combative mind? The words “previous decision” are the most important. Deciding this is the path you want to take and actively pursuing it via quality training is crucial. The more skill one possesses, the more likely they’re able to fight back in a life-threatening event. Cops, soldiers and armed citizens must be confident in their ability if they wish to overcome the fear they will experience in a conflict. Make no mistake, you WILL feel fear but fear is your friend! Anyone who says they are never afraid is a liar or a fool, period! In addition, a person who does not have confidence in a particular technique will not try to use it in a fight, which makes them more vulnerable.

Combative skills range from verbalization through defensive tactics, chemical sprays, electronic devices, impact weapons and finally deadly force via firearms. Being as skilled as possible in all levels is a worthy goal but one that is tough to achieve due to time and monetary constraints. After all, we have lives to live with all of the wonderful things that entails. What do you do? You do the best you can with the assets you have, but don’t dismiss it by saying; “I will be more alert and aware so I can avoid a situation.” You might as well put your head in the sand and fart upward.

No one teaches something because they think it is stupid, thus it is up to the reader or student to separate the solid information from the garbage. Since solid information is important to mental preparation and skill building, how do we do this? For a number of years, I’ve used the “Three S Test” to evaluate techniques I’ve been exposed to in various training programs, whether firearms, hand to hand or offensive driving. I think it’s a valid measuring device anyone can use.

What are the three S’s? The first is simple. Is the technique being taught simple to execute or perform? If not, what’s the likelihood the technique will be easy to utilize in a fight? What’s the likelihood that the average officer or armed citizen will practice the technique once training is over? Simplicity will make this more likely. Oftentimes less is more.

Second, does it make sense? You’re a person with a great deal of life experience and possibly some combat-grade training. Some have extensive training or even military experience. If it doesn’t make sense to you, talk to the instructor and express concern. After all, you (or your agency) are paying to be there. If the instructor can’t address your concern, you’re wise to dismiss the technique and move on to something else.

Is it street proven? Has the technique been used in actual combat of the type you may face? Be cautious. While Airsoft or Simunitions training is excellent, it is not a real fight so I don’t rate things seen in such training the same as actual combat. Also, luck should not become doctrine…a single success should not be viewed as something to train and anchor. Ask the instructor if the technique has been proven in combat; if not, do you want to be the guinea pig for this new technique?

This is not a foolproof way to evaluate a given technique, but it is a good place to begin. A solid evaluation will help anyone be more confident in his or her abilities. History has shown that anyone who faces an armed threat will respond in one of four ways: fight, flight, freeze or posture. Fighting back or fleeing is a sound, even wise, course of action. Don’t underestimate the advantages of withdrawal.

As Dirty Harry Callahan so aptly said, “A man’s got to know his limitations,” but freezing and posturing are unacceptable, likely suicidal. The dangers of freezing while in danger are obvious, but many feel they can bluff their way out of a confrontation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Consider that right now someone is training so that when they meet you, they beat you. I suggest that you, too, train hard and stay on guard.