Zen and the Art of Not Shooting

How often are you practicing not shooting your gun?

Before you close this article because “I practice not shooting all the time except when I’m at the range, hurr durr”, hear me out. We like to shoot. We spend lots of money and time on getting faster, competing, and shooting defense oriented drills. We want to draw fast and get that fast first hit. We practice rapid strings of fire to make sure we can rapidly stop a threat. We understand that the only time the gun should come out is when we will likely have to use it. But…

But life happens in the blink of an eye, and a situation can change in the time it takes to clear leather and drop the hammer. If all we’ve ever done in our shooting career is draw and shoot a known ‘threat’ target after a positive ID, and we realize we are creatures of habit, why should we expect to be able to halt the shot cycle before that round is fired? The VAST majority of defensive gun uses require no shooting. The introduction of a gun by the good guy and the apparent will to use it are enough to stop most criminal assaults.

This could also be the counterpoint to having to practice this. Since we are hesitant to actually shoot when it might be justified, maybe the problem will just take care of itself. I personally think practice is warranted, even if it is a very small portion of your practice.

If I’m ever asked in court, “Well, Mr. Mark, in all your years of gun training, have you ever practiced NOT shooting when gun comes out?” I’d like to be able to answer yes.

There are enough situations and real world examples that require the ability to be able to short-circuit the shooting cycle, either before the shooting starts, or after several shots.

When might we need to abort the shot, or shooting?

  • A sudden change of intent/ability/opportunity(jeopardy) by the bad guy upon seeing the gun presented. Verbalization and a show of force will probably solve most issues. But we shouldn’t assume this is the case. If we present the gun, we should only do so if we are certain we will need it. We have to consider several kinds of draws, too. A preemptive draw where you hear a bump in the night, or you draw to a low ready with a vehicle between you and the possible-shoot as you issue a verbal challenge. Or an emergency draw stroke, where there is an immediate need to shoot. All could require halting the shoot cycle or not shooting at different times, and for various reasons.
  • The foreground or background suddenly changes. If you realize your backstop is a playground, it would make sense to not shoot and change your orientation before shooting.
  • You have a righteous shoot, but then follow the injured bad guy and put one in his head for good measure. Then a good shoot becomes murder.


Pharmacist Convicted of first degree murder. This was a good shoot, until it was time to stop shooting. Ersland took it from defense to murder, and now pays the price.

The pharmacist, 59-year-old Jerome Ersland, fired a weapon after two young men entered his pharmacy, one of them waving a gun, in May 2009. Mr. Ersland’s bullet hit 16-year-old Antwun Parker in the head, Oklahoma County prosecutors alleged.

Moments later, Mr. Ersland shot Mr. Parker five more times as he lay unconscious on the ground, say prosecutors who had a security surveillance video to bolster their case.

I’ve found several anecdotes from Police officers and private Citizens who were able to abort their shot in light of a changing situation, and seemed quite relieved that they didn’t have to take a life, though they were fully prepared to. Here’s one.

98Z28 says:

I will also say that you might be surprised how quickly things can change and what you are capable doing in a short amount of time in a dynamic, dangerous situation. I have made the decision to shoot someone, started pressing the trigger, and wound up not firing a single round. This happened not once, but twice in my short seven years in LE. From talking to other officers, my experience is not unique

What are other trainers and practitioners saying?

Renowned trainer Grant Cunningham wrote a post about this topic as well:

There’s still, however, the need to train in how you actually decide not to shoot and how to use your gun when shooting isn’t (yet) a justified act. That’s what my students were doing: they were learning what to do with their guns when they didn’t need to shoot — and a little about why not shooting but still having their defensive firearm at the ready might be necessary. The stimuli were intentionally confusing, forcing them to think and requiring them to process the information I was giving them and making decisions about what to do based on their interpretation of that information.

Here’s a snip from a great interview of Marc MacYoung:

Then you come to skills. This is assessing the given circumstances. How do you mix steering, accelerating and braking, given the circumstances you are in, whether you are coming around a corner or whether someone is merging into your lane. What is the appropriate response? What is the combo? Those are the skills.

Take that into a shooting situation. As I said, you are not even thinking about pulling the gun. Once you’re there, you’re going, “Do I have to shoot?” So all your brain cells are in “shoot or don’t shoot,” assessing the circumstances.

What is really important about this model is that we think this way all the time. As a situation changes, our reactions change. Let’s go back to driving: You’re processing how to get through the curve as you’re driving, but once you get out of that curve, you have to change your behaviors. You are constantly doing these calculations. So there, you’re pulling your gun, you’re getting ready, and all of a sudden the guy turns around and runs away. What’s the important thing to do right now?

SouthNarc (Craig Douglas of Shivworks) had this to say about pointing guns at people before we are sure we will shoot them:

It’s debatable about whether one should or should not point a gun at someone before they initiate the shooting cycle. In a perfect world the muzzle stays off someone literally until a pistol is driving up or to the target and the round breaks. Real life is not that clean and motor skills are driven by decision making that may be changing quarter second by quarter second.

GJM to answer your specific question ideally we don’t point guns at people before we shoot them and our ready positions support not muzzling people AND give us the ability to see and discriminate information about the person we might be shooting in a split second. Also whatever “ready” positon we use allows us to break a fast and accurate shot on a low probability target. So there are three things that a ready position should accomplish.

Mr_White from Pistol Forum discusses how the legalities in your state might change how you think about this:

This gives rise to an approximation of the old and oversimplified adage ‘don’t draw the gun until you are going to fire immediately.’ There are situations where I might draw the gun and point it toward someone but not yet fire it, however, that span of situations is narrowed compared to what it might be in another state with a different legal situation.

When ready positions are legally weakened, the importance of a fast draw increases, but active awareness, and manipulation of environmental and interactive factors to allow us more time to evaluate the potential threat or give us additional or clearer information with which to evaluate the potential threat, or might even allow the luxury of disengagement, are still the most important (creating distance, using obstacles, adding artificial light, verbal interactive skills, recognition of threat cues, etc.)

It seems the majority of these incidents (either bad shoots or narrowly avoided shoots) are a matter of emotional control and data processing bandwidth (seeing more, and thinking faster) in the brain.

So how can we practice “not shooting”? Here’s a few ideas.

  1. Train Force on Force. This is difficult to arrange, and usually only gets the average guy a few exposures to testing these decision making skills in a given course. The scenarios need to be well thought out, with possible ambiguous outcomes, and experienced role players. This is not easy to find. The more of this we do, the less brain-lock we’ll experience the next time (in training or for real).
  2. Get a partner with a whistle, or a random par timer, and begin shooting a drill of your choice. When the random par timer beeps, halt shooting immediately. You are ceasing the firing sequence in light of new information. This can be done with courses of fire, or simple static range drills (Mr_White on PF described this)
  3. Target Discrimination drills which will allow you to practice taking in auditory and visual information and processing it before shooting.
  4. Threat management drills. These will engage your mind so you have to talk and coordinate the gun and possibly a flashlight, etc.
  5. Incorporate it into dry-fire. It doesn’t have to be any significant portion of your time, but consider getting a full firing grip, issuing a challenge, and aborting. Or presenting the gun, touching the trigger, and then not pressing the trigger. Or present the gun, and depress the muzzle to a low ready. You get the idea.

This post sort of got out of hand in length. I don’t honestly know how much worth this has, but it feels important to me. There are legal and moral repercussions that have to be considered. Sometimes it’s hard being the good guy and having to care about the ramifications of our actions. It’s our burden. I hope I got someone thinking.

Protect the Brood and don’t shoot unless you have to.

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Interview about LimaTunes’ Media Coverage for SheKnows.com

Recently, fellow blogger and instructor LimaTunes (Melody) got some media attention from a class she taught in her home state of Iowa. Melody has spotted a void in the firearms training community. Instructors are missing a large segment the gun owning public. It’s the same reason I started this blog. She taught a class teaching mothers and fathers how to carry their firearms while they carry their babies. Melody even included a few photos that I had in my post Baby Totin’ Busy Hand Drills.


Local media showed up, and the local story was picked up in multiple states. As a result, it became news. Interest in more courses as well as hateful comments began to spring up all over the interwebs.

Here’s a news segment: Video Here

Rebecca Bahret of SheKnows.com asked me for my thoughts on the story, not knowing that I know Melody. I, of course, agreed. Rebecca emailed me the questions, and I emailed her an epic wall-of-text response. I am very grateful for the opportunity. Here’s her article with a short excerpt from my long winded response.

Here’s the whole interview, which I found to be a helpful exercise. It’s also my first interview, which is a pretty big deal to me. Hopefully there’s something of value for you.

Any additional considerations for babywearing and shooting, opposed to just holding your child and shooting?
Yes, there are absolutely other considerations. The bulk of which aren’t even shooting skills. The mechanical steps of drawing and shooting aren’t that complicated. The tactics are the things that we should practice the most. The mental approach that an armed parent needs to consider should start with ways to avoid, deter, and de escalate these sorts of situations. What can we do as parents to avoid being selected as ‘easy prey’ for a violent crime? This starts with positioning and movement in public space. It includes avoiding task fixation in public space (putting the baby in the car seat is a huge one). It includes rudimentary surveillance detection such as noticing things that seem out of place or people moving in ways that don’t make sense given the environment. It includes a robust and practiced set of verbal challenges since being good at communicating with a gun in our hands (and under stress) isn’t something we are born with. It includes developing a plan with your partner, and drilling it. Will both parents be carrying guns? Will one person carry guns for both people? If only one person has a gun, what should the other person be doing?  These things require more  attention and training than does the shooting problem.
I know you’re probably after the specifics of the shooting problem, but I’d be remiss if I hadn’t mentioned the previous items. Some viable tactics that I’ve worked out for myself include whichever of the following makes the most sense given the situation.
  1. Baby and parent do a ‘Nike Defense’ and run away from the problem area. If our primary goal is to keep our baby safe, this will always be the preferred tactic. Intervening in someone else’s criminal assault while I’ve got my son (or even if I don’t) is very low on my list of preferred tactics. Sometimes it pays to be a good witness.
  2. If the shooting is unavoidable, quickly putting the baby down should be the go to tactic if time and situation permit. You should even consider that you might have to drop the baby. They’re bouncy, right? But seriously, get the child to a place of cover or concealment and rapidly move off line to keep your child from the possible return fire. If the bad guy(s) have contact weapons like knives or bats and are in contact range, you almost certainly will have to place the child down to regain initiative and get your pistol into play.
  3. Pass the baby to your partner and then handle the problem. This requires planning so your partner knows what is happening. Having a ‘GO’ word that alerts your partner that a situation is unfolding is critical. Does your partner know  your plan? How does your partner react under stress? Do they know how to seek cover or exits? Where will you meet if you get separated? What is your plan if you are injured and the situation isn’t resolved? These things need to be worked out beforehand.
  4. If your child is physically tied to you or the situation unfolds very rapidly, you probably won’t have time to put them down. This will require shooting with a baby strapped to you. Keeping your body mass between the bad-guys and your child should be on the top of your list. Movement and use of cover should be emphasized. If your shooting  range doesn’t let you draw from a holster, don’t worry. These things can be worked at home in dryfire for free. Remember, the shooting problem isn’t the hard part.
What do you think about live-fire training while babywearing (with eyes/ears, of course)?
I don’t think this is necessary. In fact, I’m quite sure LimaTunes (Melody)  didn’t have any live fire portion in her presentation. The mindset, skills, tactics and gear issues can be worked with dry-fire in the home. Home is completely absent of the loud noise and traumatic environment that a gun range would be to an infant. At the range, use a sack of kitty litter or potatoes or anything that simulates the weight and floppiness of a baby to work through the mechanics. Work your draw-stroke, reloading, trigger manipulation, recoil management, and so on. This is the time to work out the mechanics of managing a gun one handed while having an arm occupied with another task. It’s harder than it sounds. Seek training.
At home, follow safe dry-fire protocol and include the little one. Simulating a child at the range and then working with your child at home should allow a person to get a pretty good picture of the challenges involved in shooting with a child in your arms. It will allow you to see what works and what doesn’t. You will learn things about your gear (holster, gun, belt, shirts, jackets, etc), and what you are physically capable of doing with a squirming child in your arms. You might even decide that your ONLY option is putting the child down because you aren’t confident enough shooting one handed. You will never know this unless you do the work.
What would you say to critics of her course, who say you should never attempt to shoot while holding a child, in any capacity (and are especially critical of her teaching the practice)?
It’s unfortunate that people have such emotional reactions whenever the word ‘gun’ is brought up. I basically have given up reasoning with people who are vehemently opposed to guns. The reality is that the critics don’t just have a problem with a mother carrying a gun with a baby, but with guns in general. Melody just happens to be an easy target because she got some news coverage. To me, a rational person who understands that we live in uncertain times and that when seconds count, the police are only minutes away, would understand the needs for a force equalizer. A lone mother who is wrangling 3 children in a parking lot is at a serious tactical disadvantage. A firearm happens to be the best tool for this job. It also carries with it great responsibility. Its ownership and deployment is taken too lightly by some. I don’t disagree at all. However attacking those trying to bring the information to a receptive audience is clearly not the correct approach.
Here’s what we have to accept:
  1. There are bad people in this world that have no qualms with killing you and your child over $20. The odds of encountering them are minimal, but so is a grease fire in your kitchen. We still have fire extinguishers in our homes. A gun is a tool and a means to an end.
  2. Guns exist. Sorry. The bad guys have them. In this country they always will. Pandoras Box is open and they are prevalent. Outlawing them only puts those who follow laws at risk.
  3. When the situation has deteriorated to the point that a gun is needed, then the ONLY thing that will work is a gun. Being stuck without one puts a person in a bad spot.
  4. The way is in TRAINING. Shaming mothers and fathers who have made the heavy decision to purchase firearms for their families protection will discourage education and training. Lack of training and ignorance are what cause accidents, such as the recent case of the 2 year old accidentally shooting her mother in a store. Proper training and education is the ONLY way forward.
As the piece said, Melody is not advocating that mothers carry guns. She is only providing information to those who seek it and would otherwise flounder in their gun ownership with no clear way forward, possibly resulting in a terrible tragedy.
Anything additional on your mind?
Here’s a few things:
  1. Protect your guns from unauthorized access. This refers to your children as much as it does a burglar. My policy is that if it’s not secured on my body, it’s locked in a safe. Period. The End. The top of the mantle or under the couch doesn’t cut it. A purse in a shopping cart doesn’t cut it. There’s no margin for error.
  2. As soon as possible, begin training your little partners on code words, how to assist with surveillance detection, use of cover/concealment, remembering details on their surroundings. We can sculpt little tactic machines who won’t be easy prey to those who would do them harm.
  3. There’s some cool things developing to expand and expound on her original class in the next few months in Iowa. It’s still embryonic, but we’re all discussing it now. Stay tuned.

Mental Workout: App Assisted Awareness Exercises

One of the most challenging things I’ve faced in the last year is a slow degradation in physical capacity due to chemotherapy and resulting side effects. It has taken me away from the gym, the grappling mats, and recently, it has slowed my ability to hit the range and compete. For the record, I’m on the mend and the doctors expect the symptoms to resolve over the next year or so. Since I couldn’t make it to the Rangemaster Conference this year, I decided to be useful and write this post. I digress…

I, not being content to roll over and quit, have been looking for ways to be a better ‘me’ today than I was yesterday. I have narrowed down the best bang for the buck to be mental training. When I go to the range, I do decisional and thinking shooting exercises like I mentioned in this article and this one. The requirements for success in these drills (and extrapolating to actual defensive situations) boils down to rapid processing of new information as it becomes available, rapid visual processing and decision making, and the ability to memorize lists of information or details that might help later when recalling the situation to teammates or authorities. It’s not news that research shows that the brain will atrophy with age, and that it can be ‘strengthened’ with use.

On a lark, I downloaded Einstein Brain Trainer HD and started messing around with it. For me, it has been well worth $3. There’s a free version that will give you an idea of what it’s about.

What I like about it:

  • Some of the games are directly applicable to awareness and memorizing details

This game will let you look at 2, 3 or 4 people with names, then it will ask which person had which face, article of clothing, or  item in their hand. For whatever reason, this is hard game for me, especially when it’s more than two people. I see direct benefit to self defense because sometimes the best course of action is to be a good witness. If you can recall clothing details, facial features, or license plates, it is helpful to police for catching the bad guys. There are also games about remembering directions, sequence of events, and numbers. I’m sure you can think of plenty of ways this could be useful.Screenshot_2015-02-14-12-13-17

  • There are logic games that force you to work on  patterns and processing several layers of instructions within a given time limit.

This game is almost exactly like working a decision shooting drill. It adds movement of the shapes as well as colors and shapes. It ties my mind in a knot pretty quickly.  There’s another 5 logic games in addition to this.Screenshot_2015-02-14-12-09-30

  • It works visual speed and processing, as well as perspective and spacial relations.

This game asks you to choose from which location the top image is being viewed from. This is useful in visualizing cover, room layout, depth, hiding spots, as well as shooting problems. I find that I’m quite good at the visual games. I think I’m wired to do well at these, it might be part of why I chose engineering as a career.


  • It rates you and gets progressively harder. You can see what areas you excel at, and then work on the weak areas. Well-rounded is the goal.


  • It gives you a reminder to do a daily workout. It takes no more than 5 minutes to run through the games. As Cecil pointed out in his article one small thing a day, and the premise behind Claude’s 1,000 days of dryfire, daily disciplined practice is the true way to mastery. Why should mental training be different? Do your daily workout on the John in the morning. Done and done. You’re re-wiring your brain. You’re becoming a better protector for your family. You’re going to be able to make change at the grocery store faster. There’s no downside.

Get your mental plasticity on! Make yourself a little better today than you were yesterday, even if your body is broken. Do Work.

Protect the Brood,


PS: Here’s some other mental trainers I found on Amazon that might also be useful. I have no experience with them. You might also find most of them on Google Play or ITunes.
Brain Trainer Special Pro

Mind Games Pro

Fit Brains Trainer

Mundane Movements: Making CraigsList Transactions Less Murdery

They planned to drive about 200 miles from their Cobb County home to look at an antique car for sale. But the vintage Ford Mustang didn’t exist.

After four days of searching, investigators said Monday afternoon that two bodies believed to be the couple were found in southeast Georgia…


Craigslist can be a great resource to pick up used goods for not much money. But obviously, it has been used to setup many robberies and some murders. When high dollar items are involved, the other party knows you’ll either have a valuable item or a pocket full of cash. Scumbags can’t resist easy money.

This one happened near me, so I wanted to write my thoughts. It’s not difficult to find ‘how to not get ripped off on Craigslist’ lists out there. Here’s a couple:

This one deals with the electronic security side:


This one makes mention of the in-person, physical side of security:


Insist on a public meeting place like a cafe.

Do not meet in a secluded place, or invite strangers into your home.

Be especially careful when buying/selling high-value items.

Tell a friend or family member where you’re going to meet some-one you contacted through Craigslist.

Take your cellphone along with you.

Consider having a friend accompany you during Craigslist purchases.

Trust your instincts.

This is good advice. It’s very vague and hand-wavy advice, but good. Since ‘be especially careful’ is completely non-actionable advice, I’ll try to get a bit more specific to guide you to safer CL transactions. I won’t pussy foot around. I will tell you the most secure way to do a CL transaction. It will involve carrying guns. This is probably something your local newspaper will fail to include in their article about CL security. Mine will augment and detail some of the points from the above list.

  • Tell a third party friend the time and place of the transaction, and give them the phone number that the CL buyer/seller gives you. The bad guy in the above article used a burner phone, but not all bad guys are smart like that.
  • Always take a friend.
  • Always take a gun and wear it concealed during the transaction.
  • Always make sure your friend has a gun too. Discuss your plan if something goes south.
  • When talking to the seller/buyer, have them describe their car ‘so you can spot them coming’. Whether you are early, or late, you can keep an eye for their vehicle and any extra passengers or vehicles.
  • Always plan to arrive 5-10 minutes late (or early) to the transaction. If you’re late, you can pull a quick surveillance run around the parking lot where the transaction will take place. It also will give you an excuse to get a description of the buyer/seller vehicle before you arrive. If you get there early, you have the advantage of monitoring all incoming vehicles to the parking lot and will be able see the number of occupants and if there is more than one vehicle making the same movements in the lot. Look for the number of people in the buyer/seller car and if there are any adjacent vehicles where people are paying attention to you.
  • Use Police Station’s parking lots when possible. If that’s not possible, pick the most public and heavily trafficked lot you can think of. Walmart, Mcdonalds lots, etc. If someone is asking you to meet them at 2am, it might not be a great idea.
  • When you make the transaction, take a page out of the cop’s playbook. Use a ‘contact/cover’ type arrangement. Average Joe won’t notice that your friend is casually leaning on your car or walking around in adjacent parking spots during the transaction. While you’re doing the deal, have your friend outside of the car feigning a phone call or just looking around. Here’s a photo I found of the police technique. One officer is the contact officer who deals with the person, and the other just sort of watches. Think of this when you run a high dollar CL transaction. (1/30 edited this section to clarify).
  • Helmets optional.
  • As you leave, remain aware of people or vehicles moving around your car. Also keep an eye on your rear view mirrors for a few minutes to see if any other cars are tailing you.

All of these steps add zero time to your transaction, take longer to read than perform, and will keep you much safer. I realize it reads like paranoia and like I think I’m a Mall Ninja. It’s hard to convey the tactics any other way, or I would. I realize the probability of you getting robbed/murdered during a CL transaction are very slim, but it’s trivial to add a few precautions that can help guarantee you prevail in the event of a robbery. Besides, statistics are a small comfort when you find yourself to be the rare exception.

Contrast the above story to the one that happened TODAY 1/30/15, also in Georgia.

Parish said the breeder, identified in the DeKalb police incident report as 40-year-old Walter Gonzalez, was initially hesitant to meet the buyer late at night at the home, but did so after the suspect offered him an additional $500.

When the breeder and a second Winder man, Salvador Burgos, arrived with the dog, they saw the suspect and another man standing outside by the garage.

“Mr. Gonzalez got out of the vehicle and met with the suspect near the vehicle,” the incident report states. “After Mr. Gonzalez showed the suspect the dog, the suspect drew his weapon on him.”

According to the report, the suspect, whose name has not been released, then demanded that Burgos get out of the vehicle.

“Mr. Burgos stated that as he moved over from the driver’s side to the passenger side of the vehicle, he drew his firearm and fired upon the suspect,” the report states.

Gonzalez and Burgos told police they left the scene because they were afraid that the other man that was with the suspect would return, but stopped a short distance away and called police.

Responding officers found the suspect dead in the front yard of the home.

So our good guy took a friend…with a gun…and didn’t get killed and put the bad guy in the ground.

Which story do you want written about you? Planning isn’t paranoia.

Stay Safe and go get a sweet deal on a used treadmill,

Defensive Daddy.

Note: Edited 1/30/15 with a new news story and clarification of the tactics I mention.