Friday, December 30, 2011

I am quoted again in this....

This Joe Tar article
Joe contacted me regarding Madison Police Department's "policy" on dealing with armed citizens.  The policy can be viewed here:

Madison PD Legal Updates

My complete reply to Joe:

I don't have much to say regarding the MPD policy.  It looks like the cautious approach that I would expect in light of the newness of concealed carry in Wisconsin-- and the past mistakes the department made dealing with lawful open carry.  I am hopeful and reasonably confident that the Madison PD has taken its past mistakes to heart and that it has made a determined effort to get things right from here on out when it comes to the lawful use and possession of firearms and other weapons, whether openly carried or concealed.  I believe that the odds of negative police/armed citizen encounters are much lower now.  And I believe that there can be a balance between allowing the police to perform their duties in a safe manner while respecting the rights of citizens to lawfully carry weapons for their personal security.  I expect that once the novelty has worn off, concealed carry and open carry will become the non-issue in Wisconsin just as it has become in other states.  There may be a rough bump here and there as everyone makes adjustments, but Madison and the rest of Wisconsin will get through it.  

If I have a continuing concern in Madison, it lies more with City Hall than with the Police Department.  I am concerned that City Hall will put the Police Department in the unfortunate position of enforcing poorly-conceived ordinances and policies.  Mayor Soglin announced at one time that he supported an ordinance that would ban possession of a firearms in any business that did not provide express permission to allow them.  Fortunately this silly and illegal scheme seems to have fallen by the wayside, as it should.  Unfortunately, the City has enacted a policy which bans Metro bus riders from taking firearms onto city buses. 

There can be little doubt that this is contrary to the state preemption law, so once again the City is leaving itself vulnerable to a lawsuit that will undoubtedly come sooner or later-- a lawsuit that the City is almost certain to lose.  I cannot understand why political correctness prevails over common sense, but that is a question best directed to City Hall.  Perhaps the City Council fancies that it is engaging in some sort of civil disobedience of the law, but that is an odd approach for a legislative body to take. 

While legal, I also question the sanity of the City (and County) exercising the option to ban firearms in it's buildings.  Apparently lessons of history and common sense do not impress everyone.  The City even considers bus shelters and park shelters that amount to four poles with a roof to be "government buildings."  Somehow prohibitions in these structures are meant to enhance the security of those who stand inside them, even though an armed person could stand two feet away from them.  Again, common sense has become frighteningly uncommon among certain groups.

Normally one might ask a person inside a government building whether they believe that the signs banning guns makes them really more safe, or just provide the feeling of being more safe.  I can't understand how it would do either one, frankly.

New January Dates To Be Announced Shortly

We're working at booking dates for January concealed carry courses and ought to have some listed soon!

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Concealment and cover are important concepts that every defensive shooter must know.  Simply put, concealment is anything in the environment that prevents your attacker from seeing you.  Examples include vegetation, dark shadows, fog, furniture, walls, vehicles and any other conditions or objects that make it difficult or impossible for your attacker to see you, or most of you.  It is difficult for an attacker to shoot you if he cannot see you.  However concealment will not necessarily make it impossible for you to be shot, since many things that conceal your location will not prevent a bullet from striking you.  It is possible that an attacker will detect your presence through sound or motion or some other indicator of your presence.  (Those hide and seek skills we spent hours developing as kids can pay off now.)  The possibility exists that an attacker may simply make a lucky guess as to your location, has seen you move to a particular spot, or is able to deduce your most likely location.  

Concealment is often contrasted with cover.  Cover refers to any object that does not allow a bullet to pass through to strike you.  An object that provides concealment may or may not provide cover also.  Few things, such as thick “bullet proof” glass will provide cover without concealment.  (Unless we work in a bank or the neighborhood Stop n’ Rob we probably won’t have that kind of glass nearby.)

Sometimes something that one normally thinks of providing concealment only will provide a slight degree of cover by deflecting a bullet rather than stopping it.  Heavy brush or bushes sometimes deflect rounds from their original trajectory without stopping them.  I would not recommend relying on this phenomenon for protection!
Cover is never an absolute.  The degree of cover that any object provides is variable, depending upon factors such as the material from which it is made and what your opponent is shooting at you.   For example, the metal body of a vehicle or a postal mail box may be sufficient to stop most handgun rounds, but still allow rifle rounds to pass straight through.  Most so-called “bullet proof vests” share that same trait, being designed to stop common handgun rounds but offering little resistance to high-powered rifle rounds.  

The distance from an attacking shooter and the angle from which rounds strike also may affect the effectiveness of cover.  The sheet metal that car doors are constructed from offer notoriously little cover from most handgun rounds, and much less from rifle rounds.  However bullets lose their energy over distance and a round that carries sufficient energy to penetrate a car door at 10 yards may have insufficient energy to penetrate at 50 yards.  This is yet another reason why distance is your friend and the more distance you are able to put between yourself and an attacker, the better.  If attacked while in your vehicle, normally the best course of action is to first use the accelerator.  (Whoa, at times like that I bet you wish you had gone with the Bugatti and not the Prius.)

Likewise, a round that penetrates easily at a particular distance when striking at a perpendicular or nearly-so angle may have insufficient energy to penetrate when striking at a more glancing angle.  

How should one incorporate thinking about concealment, cover and their differences into one’s security plan and training?

First, we ought to realize that much of what we see functioning as “cover” in the movies or on TV would not provide effective cover in the real world.  Many old Western cowboy movies show a gunman flipping a saloon table on its side and bullets failing to penetrate it.  (Oddly these amazingly strong tables tend to splinter into a dozen pieces during the barroom brawl scene!)  Hold on Pardner, in the real world few wooden tables are thick enough to stop most bullets.  In the typical house or apartment, generally there are few, if any, areas that provide adequate cover from gunfire.  No big surprise there, few houses are designed with the thought of bullets flying around.  Plywood and sheetrock provide good concealment, but generally poor cover.  Heavy appliances vary in the amount of cover they provide, and again the factors listed above will determine the amount of cover each offers.  Rows of books on a shelf, a waterbed (until it leaks out) and the heaviest furniture may provide a degree of cover.  But in general, most homes provide little in the way of cover.  Of course we can use this knowledge to our advantage.  Within our homes we can determine the areas that provide the greatest degree of cover and if possible fight from that area.  Additionally, keeping in mind that as responsible shooters we should always be sure of what we are shooting at, still it is possible to shoot an attacker through the concealment they foolishly thought provided cover.   If there are neighbors nearby, or family members, or other people present then we must also take their location and the distinction between concealment and cover into account to make sure any shots we fire do not penetrate and unintentionally strike one of these innocent people.   Everything I’ve said here applies not only in the home, but anywhere we find ourselves.   As a mental exercise we can habitually identify and take note of things offering concealment or cover at any place we are present. 

Training ourselves to think about cover and concealment is also important because whenever one is attacked one of our first instincts, even prior to drawing the gun, should be to seek and take cover.  If there is no cover within a reasonable distance, then concealment should be sought and taken.  Be open-minded in your thinking.  Even the minimal cover afford by a street curb may make the difference in saving your life.  Are you Paris Hilton?  No!  Worrying about that muddy water sitting in the street gutter ruining your clothes should not be a consideration when you are protecting your life.  Clothes are replaceable, your life is not.  (Paris probably has her private security along wherever she goes anyway.)

Mounting one’s defense from behind cover is infinitely preferable to doing it in the open.  However if you are caught in the open with no hope of reaching cover or concealment within a brief time, then don’t just stand there, move!  Do not allow yourself to become a standing target, make yourself more difficult to hit by moving.  If you do reach cover, consider the possibility of moving again, but do not move from cover unless it safe to do so and tactically advantageous.

At any time and place it is possible for us to mentally rehearse how we would respond to a suddenly developing dangerous situation.  While standing in line at a store or bank, or walking the dog to the park, it is easy to ask ourselves, “If an attack suddenly started at this time, the nearest concealment is where?  Where is the nearest cover?”  Make it a habit to mentally be aware of opportunities for cover and concealment during day-to-day activities, so during an actual threatening situation your mind will more likely automatically respond by seeking cover and concealment.  Your mental rehearsal ought to include other considerations, such as noting locations of exits or escape routes.  Remember, people tend to respond to highly stressful situations in the manner they have trained themselves to respond.  Make sure that your autopilot is trained to look for cover!
Finally, our training should incorporate shooting and performing other actions from behind cover.  Reloading, clearing a malfunctioning firearm or dialing 911 are actions better performed from a position that provides cover.  I will provide more information about shooting and training to shoot from behind in an upcoming post.

In summary:  Know the difference between concealment and cover.  Train yourself to look for them, and become familiar with the concealment and cover present in the places you are frequently located, such as in your home and work.  Make it part of your plan to use them.  Above all, seek and take cover whenever possible during an actual attack.

Be safe, and if you have to fight, fight to win!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

THE SECURITY PYRAMID - My approach to safety.

"Your awareness skills are more likely to protect you from harm than are your skills with a gun." This may seem like an odd thing for a gun instructor to tell people who are sitting in a defensive gun course.  But this is the message that I always try to tell anyone that I am instructing.  I believe that most people take an unsystematic approach to their personal security.  When I say “unsystematic approach” I mean that we tend not to think very clearly or carefully about every aspect of our personal security, and instead we rely on a piecemeal approach. This must end.  What follows is a philosophical explanation of a method that I believe can be used as the basis for thinking about our personal safety and security in an organized manner.  Every aspect of providing for our security and that of our loved ones is interrelated and interdependent.  Any individual component of this approach to security may by itself enhance one’s safety and security.  However, only by combining all of the individual components into an organized system inside one’s mind will one achieve their maximum overall personal security. 

Once we obtain a weapon, including a firearm, we ought not to think of that weapon as our primary means of defense.  We should adopt the attitude that a weapon is our last means of defense, to be use only when all other options and defenses have failed to protect us.  Nobody in their right mind will be eager to use a gun against another human being.  A gun is capable of causing catastrophic damage or death.  Unlike what is often seen on TV or in movies, shooting a person at close distance is a gruesome activity.  Do not expect to see a person who has been shot in the shoulder smiling and joking as they are placed in the ambulance.  That may be what the handsome hero does on TV, but in real life, there is little to smile about after you have been shot, or after you have shot another person.

If we accept that a gun is our last, not first, means of defense, then what really is our first means of defense?  I have devised what I call the "Security Pyramid" to explain my theory of safety.  The Security Pyramid is an inverted pyramid divided into three sections:  1) awareness and knowledge, 2) security precautions, and 3) a weapon. 

The broad upper portion is composed of two components:  awareness and knowledge.  Each of these two components is dependent upon the other.  Their relationship is symbiotic and together they form the real "primary weapon" of our defense and security.  There is wisdom in the old military adage that "Your mind is your primary weapon."  An active and creative mind, continually receiving and processing information, may indeed function as a formidable weapon.  It is your mind's knowledge and awareness that form the broad upper portion of the Security Pyramid.  In order to harm you, a threat must defeat this level of the Security Pyramid. 

I use the term "awareness" to refer to two distinct types of awareness.  First, it refers to literally being conscious of what is occurring in one’s immediate environment in real time.  Obviously there are times when it is more appropriate to allow yourself to have your “head in the clouds.”  And there are times when it is inappropriate.  There is no need to be hyper-vigilant continuously throughout one’s day, but it behooves us to maintain at least a certain level of vigilance and awareness during every waking moment.  In general, when not within the security of familiar walls, I recommend that one maintain at least the same level of awareness one has while driving a vehicle on a public road.  We all know that activities such as daydreaming, using headphones for music or allowing other distractions while driving is a dangerous activity. 

While driving we maintain a relaxed level of alertness, periodically checking speed, the vehicle mirrors, the distance from other vehicles, road hazards, traffic signs, the actions of pedestrians and of other drivers.  At times we become aware of a potential or actual conditions or situations that threaten the completion of a safe trip and our awareness level rises as we focus in on something in particular.  As drivers we recognize that we have a responsibility to maintain a certain level of awareness in order to maintain our safety.  Unfortunately, once one steps outside of a vehicle, there is a tendency to allow that level of awareness to drop.  If we have driven to a shopping mall, once we are in the parking lot and heading for the store on foot, our awareness of our surroundings becomes lower.  We may not pay attention to the people surrounding us, their distance from us and their direction of travel.  While driving, we automatically pay more attention when approaching a hill or curve that may have a hidden hazard on the other side.  But in the parking lot we tend to be oblivious to whether a person could be hiding between parked cars, so we do not put extra distance between those blind spots, if we even think about them at all.  Keeping a real time level of awareness of our surroundings, similar to that while driving a vehicle, is the first element of the Security Pyramid.

Now remember, I said there were two types of awareness that go into forming our Security Pyramid.  The other type of awareness is our ability to look into the future and to be aware of things in our environment that do not represent an immediate threat to our safety, but that we recognize the potential to lessen our security and safety.  Take a careful look around your place of residence.  Do the hedges and bushes need trimming, or are they tall enough to easily conceal someone lurking in the dark outside our doors, windows or walkways?  Does our outside lighting provide adequate lighting at night?  Do our shades and curtains provide the level of privacy we desire?  Are our locks adequate?  Is the car locked, or does it provide easy access to the house via an unprotected garage door opener?  Are we aware of these potential flaws in our security?  Criminals certainly will be aware of all of these things.  Criminals rarely are looking for a challenge, so in general they are alert to any possible weakness in your security.  Therefore we should be equally aware of any weaknesses in our environment that may be exploited by an ill-intended person.  So the second type of awareness in the Security Pyramid is simply to force ourselves to become conscious of vulnerabilities that hypothetically could be used to the advantage of someone intending to cause harm.  

Both of these types of awareness are closely connected with our knowledge.  Knowledge makes up the final component of the first layer of the Security Pyramid.  In the Security Pyramid, the relevant knowledge is the knowledge of what constitutes a threat to our safety, plus the knowledge of what countermeasures can be taken to lessen or eliminate that threat.  As an illustration using the analogy of driving a vehicle we know, for instance, that seeing children ahead kicking a ball in a yard heightens the danger that a child may suddenly dart into the street from between parked cars while chasing the ball or playing the game.  Our knowledge of that hazard combined with our noticing it (awareness) results in taking countermeasures to decrease the chances of an unfortunate result.  In the car, it may be as simple as reducing speed and creating greater distance between our car and the parked vehicles that could obstruct our view of a darting child.  In terms of personal safety and security, the field of knowledge we seek is broad indeed.  It may be simply knowledge that allows us to assess the effectiveness of our locks and doors, or knowledge of how providing personal information on websites can be obtained and exploited by bad people.  Or, it  may include knowledge of recent criminal activities in one’s neighborhood, community, or in a place that one is planning to visit.  Obviously, it is impossible for any single individual to gain knowledge of every theoretical security vulnerability they could face.  New vulnerabilities are discovered constantly.  The important thing is to make it a point to arm oneself with as much of this knowledge as possible and to combine that knowledge with the two types of awareness that make up the broad portion of our personal Security Pyramid.  Fortunately, while the list of security vulnerabilities is endless, there are a fairly small number of basic vulnerabilities that apply to anyone in any place.  Many of them are obvious and involve use of common sense, and a few may be slightly less obvious until they are brought to your attention.  These are good places to begin acquiring your Security Pyramid knowledge base.  Future discussions will include more details in hopes of stimulating more thought and recognition and developing your ability to make and intelligent and informed assessment of your environment as it affects your security.

The middle portion of one’s Security Pyramid I call “security precautions.”  Security precautions are the sum of everything that you do as a result of your combined awareness and knowledge.  Simply being aware or knowledgeable of security vulnerabilities is of limited value if one does not actually do something as a consequence of that awareness and knowledge.

Some security precautions are provided to us by others.  When we purchase a home or rent an apartment, there are locks on the doors and windows, a peephole may be installed on the front door, outside lighting is provided, a parking garage may have an electronic pass to enter.  Likewise our vehicles have locks and alarm systems.  Police patrol our streets.  The city provides street lights.  Our combined awareness and knowledge will prompt us to make an assessment of the effectiveness of all of these provided security precautions and to make a decision whether further enhancements ought to be made.  

Other security precautions we must seek, choose and obtain for ourselves.  Trimming bushes near the doors or windows where a burglar or rapist could hide is an example of a security precaution.  Planting thorny bushes in those locations is another.  Having a flashlight next to your bed, checking your locks, and charging your cellphone, having a dog, taking note of the locations of exits, avoiding dark areas and blind spots, putting distance between ourselves and unknown persons, taking a self-defense class or obtaining a weapon are all additional examples of security precautions.  In every case, it is something done as a result of your awareness and knowledge.  Again, all of the security awareness and knowledge one has is of limited value if one does not act and take security precautions based on the awareness and knowledge.  Security precautions alone will not be as effective if not combined with or based on one’s security awareness and knowledge.  The components that make up the Security Pyramid are not isolated, they are blended.

Finally we get to the third section of the Security Pyramid, the weapon.  Obtaining and learning to use a weapon is part of the second section of the pyramid.  It is a security precaution.  Actual use of a weapon for defense is the third section of the pyramid.  I would prefer if we imagine it to be the very bottom point of our inverted pyramid.  It is on this point we are standing at the moment we bring a weapon into play.  If we find ourselves at this point, it means that one way or another a threat has succeeded in penetrating figuratively, and to some degree literally through our Security Pyramid.  Our awareness failed to allow us to avoid a threat, our security precautions were not sufficient to stop the threat.  It does not necessarily mean that we made mistakes, or took inadequate precautions.  Sometimes we are just not lucky and we are in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Whatever the explanation, this is why a weapon is not our primary or first means of defense, it is our final means of defense— when all else has failed to allow us to otherwise avoid, escape or stop a threat’s attack.  One may choose to not have this tip of the pyramid available.  Without a weapon as the tip, one does not have a Security Pyramid; at most one has a Security Trapezoid.  Hopefully that is all that any of us will ever need.