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Home Defense

I watched a video this morning purporting to cover this burning issue: “What is the best weapon for home defense: pistol, rifle, or shotgun?”

It sucked.

Basically, the video personality guy showed 3 types of weapons, covered a few points about each, used a lot of meaningless terminology (yeah, he pissed me off by using the “center mass” nonsense term… again…), glossed over a bunch of important stuff, and completely failed to discuss some of the most crucial aspects of the question.

I’ve spent a lot of time and effort researching the realities of home defense with firearms. (And no, by “research” I don’t mean I opened a bottle of adult beverage and used my google-fu to read some internet articles by people I don’t know whose opinions may or not be valid.) I have taken courses on tactical defense from accredited and nationally acclaimed instructors. I have taken courses as part of my LE training. I have read books. Many, many books. And I have learned and modified my views as a result of this research.

Here’s a brief summary of what my research has told me about how a sensible person should go about preparing for armed home defense:

Develop a Defensive Mindset

Massad Ayoob, John Farnham, Jeff Hall, Marty Hayes, Clint Smith, Henk Iversen, and many others I have taken training from have all said the same thing: your mind is the most deadly weapon you possess.

So use it. Use your mind, your imagination, your ability to assimilate information and process it to fit your unique home defense situation. After all, it’s your home you’re planning to defend.

Start by trying to visualize how an armed aggressor is going to come at you in your home. Will he come through the door? Through a window? Across the lawn, or from behind the shed? Will he drive his vehicle through the plate-glass entry hall? Will there be more than one attacker? Will they come at you from two different directions? Look at ALL the possibilities. Then start to work on how you would have to defeat each type of attack.

Oh, and by the way, this is really important: be sure you know when and how you are justified in using armed force on an attacker. This isn’t something you can get from surfing the web. You need to take a class on this. I highly recommend Massad Ayoob Group for this: MAG-40 is his extensive entry-level class that covers everything you need to know. I also highly recommend John Farnham’s Defensive Tactics International class on this. Marty Hayes, a MAG staff instructor and highly qualified firearms trainer out in Seattle also teaches this material.

Prepare the Ground

The day before the Battle of Gettysburg, General John Buford was scouting in advance of the Union army. His far-ranging patrols had told him where Lee’s Army of Virginia was, and in what direction it was heading. He plotted these bits of information on his maps, and concluded that Lee’s advance could be stopped if the Army of the Potomac could occupy the high ground above Gettysburg. His eye for ground (something that can’t really be taught, although tactical instructors have been trying for millenia!) led to the catastrophic defeat of Lee at Gettysburg, and the salvation of the United States as a union.

Look at the ground of your imagined battle, people. This is your home we are talking about here. You know it better than any attacker can know it. So use that knowledge to prepare the battlefield before the battle takes place. You can choose where and how the battle–if it ever does take place–will unfold.

You’ve already started on this, by recognizing the likely points of attack. Once you know where attacks are most likely to come from, you can prepare the ground. If it’s gonna be through your front door, prepare the doorway and entry hall. Placing a long table or a couch across from the door will dictate how an attacker can move as he enters the home, so you should place the furnishings so that he is directed in the way that is most favorable to you.

Set up your fields of fire. Where is the best place to set up to shoot at your attacker without revealing your position, or better yet, that gives you actual cover against returning fire? Plan your fields of fire so that you can interdict the attacker at the safest distance… close enough to hit him, far enough to allow you to escape to another position, or preclude him returning fire. And set up your enfilade for outdoors as well as inside your home, if you have a large yard or you live on a farm or ranch. What windows can you fire from on an attacker outside your home, should that prove necessary?

And while you’re at it, why not create some cover? A shelf packed with dense books or a heavy wooden cabinet with sandbags piled inside it will absorb bullets as well as any purpose-built armor, and you can set it up without making your house look like a fortress. If you’re going to fire from a window, is the paneling below that window bullet-resistant? If not, you need to make it so.

And speaking of fortresses, think about ways of “fortifying” your home that will make it as impenetrable as a castle. How good are your doors and locks? How about your windows… are they lockable? Do you use deadbolts? Experts tell me that the most cost-effective improvement you can install as part of your home security plan is good door and window locks.

Then look at construction. Do you have easily-breached entry points? Are your entry doors flimsy? How about the frames they’re mounted in? If you don’t have the construction know-how to assess this, hire a contractor to look at them and give you an opinion, and perhaps an estimate for installing upgraded doors and frames.

Finally, think about electronic security: alarm systems, cameras, and exterior lighting. You can go cheap and still put up a really good defense. Or you can spend a bundle and get a worthless security system. It makes a lot of sense to talk to a security expert who doesn’t sell alarm systems before you commit to an alarm system.

Make a Family Plan

Unless you live alone, your entire family needs to know what the home defense plan is. Each person needs to know where to go, what to do, and when. Someone needs to be on the phone to the police while someone else is shooting (or preparing to shoot). Kids need to move to a safe place, preferably near the defender(s), but behind bullet-stopping cover. All persons capable of handling a firearm need to have one, and know what they are supposed to do with it. Yes, it’s possible that your spouse could panic and shoot you in the back of the head instead of shooting the armed attacker. This has happened.

Choose Your Weapons(s)

You may have noticed I have put this last on my list of priorities. That’s because figuring out what type of firearm you’re going to use is less important than any of the above.

Now, I’m a firearms guy, so I’m obviously gonna tell you to have a gun. Or maybe even lots of guns. But every person who is armed in your home defense plan needs to have training. It’s not good enough to take your spouse to the range and let him/her plink at targets… we are talking about life-and-death situations when we are talking about armed home defense, so let’s train as if it was actual life-and-death stuff, okay?

I personally feel a handgun and a long gun for each trained home defender is the basic firearms equipment package. I know people who have a veritable arsenal in their bedroom, but let’s be honest… you aren’t Buford, and this ain’t gonna be Gettysburg. But the basic rule of “have a gun” does apply.

I firmly believe having a handgun on your person in your home is smart. Concealed carry is the smart way to go about life, in my longstanding considered opinion. Be deadly, but don’t advertise it. I have a handgun on my person at all times. If the doorbell rings and I answer it, my firearm is concealed. That way I don’t alarm the UPS delivery guy or my neighbor stopping by with a piece of misdelivered mail. But if it’s someone about to attempt a home-invasion type robbery, I don’t have to run back to the bedroom and hope I get to my gun before the attacker gets to me.

There’s an old police adage: “My handgun is primarily for fighting back to my squad car, so I can get to my rifle/shotgun.” There’s some merit to this. Any long gun, whether rifle or shotgun, is a better fighting weapon than a handgun. Long guns fire more powerful projectiles, and they are inherently more accurate. So having a dedicated home defense long gun makes sense.

But long guns are hard to carry around all day, every day, which is the primary deficiency of the long gun. Okay, but if we’ve covered that by being sure to carry a handgun all the time, we’re good. So let’s look at the other drawbacks of the long gun.

First, long guns are really, really loud. Muzzle blast is directly proportional to the amount of gunpowder in the cartridge and the chamber pressure of the firearm. The muzzle blast from a handgun is therefore pretty mild, but will still cause hearing damage if you aren’t wearing ear-pro. The muzzle blast from a shotgun is really loud, and when fired indoors will instantly deafen you, at least temporarily. (I have had this experience… firing shotgun inside an abandoned farmhouse while researching bullet penetration through walls for a long-ago magazine article. I only did it once, and then put on extra ear-pro for the rest of the projecat.)The muzzle blast from an AR-15 is REALLY loud, much worse than a shotgun. The hearing damage you sustain from firing one of these in your home may be major and may be permanent.

So if you’re contemplating using your 5.56mm carbine or your 12-gauge for home defense, you need to have a set of ear-pro right next to the long gun. Preferably active-protection earmuffs, so you can hear what’s going on while protecting your ears from damage. While you’re at it, put on some shooting glasses, because there may be a lot of flying debris if you let loose with a long gun in your house.

Which specific firearm(s) do I recommend? I don’t. You need to determine what works best for you. If you live on a farm/ranch or your home is huge, a rifle might be a better choice. Ditto if you are recoil sensitive. An AR-15 or M1 Carbine is a kitten compared to a heavy-loaded 12-gauge.

Personally, I prefer a shotgun loaded with 00 buckshot as a home defense long gun. I have many years of experience in hunting, competition, and police training with shotguns, and I have fired hundreds of thousands of shotshells, so I am very, very familiar with the platform. This is the most important criterion in choosing your weapon: use the type of firearm you are most proficient with, which is usually the gun you have the most experience with.

I have had several good defensive shotguns, but I’m not married to any of them particularly. I prefer 12 gauge, but a 20 gauge is suitable, too. A pump gun is good, but an autoloader is good, too. I prefer autoloaders for this purpose, for two primary reasons: 1) I can put multiple shots downrange with accuracy much faster with an auto than I can with a pump; 2) a gas-operated auto like the Remington 11-87 reduces the recoil of the gun by its design. Put an extended magazine tube on your shotgun so you have at least 5 rounds available without reloading. Then put a butt-sleeve or side-saddle on the shotgun, with another 5 shells.

My experience and research (both personally conducted and that conducted by others) into the question of shotgun ammunition has led me to unequivocally choose 00 buckshot for anti-personnel use. Birdshot is a very poor choice, and the smaller sizes of buckshot aren’t any better, with one exception: Number 1 buckshot–but only the hard-plated kind, which is really hard to come by–will work almost as well as 00 buck. But 00 buckshot is readily available, and it works. Why fix it if it ain’t broken? But whatever type of buckshot you buy for your defense shotgun, make sure you pattern it. I have done so with all my defensive shotguns, and the results have been surprising. You won’t know what ammo makes good patterns in your gun until you test it yourself.

Test your shotgun pattern at realistic defensive distances: 5 through 25 yards. Shoot several patterns at each distance with each load. You’ll know in short order which ammunition does or does not work well enough in your shotgun.

Keep in mind that the shotgun must be aimed. It’s not going to work if you just point it in the general direction of the attacker and pray some of the pellets find the target. At home defense ranges, the pattern of buckshot will be very, very tight… 2 or 3 inches wide at most. So you need to aim your shotgun as carefully as you would aim your rifle or pistol. (But you’ve taken tactical shotgun training, so you know that already, right? No? Well, go take a tactical shotgun class and get back to me if you have questions.)

Now: what about rifles?

OK, I’ll confess to being a fan of the AR-15 platform. I’ve owned a bunch, fired a bunch more, and liked almost all of them. The AR is light, ergonomic, and accurate. The standard 20- and 30-round magazines hold plenty of ammo, certainly more than enough for effective defense against a single attacker, or even a handful of attackers.

The best ammunition choices for anti-personnel work are soft-pointed bullets in the middle range of weights: 60-70 gr. Don’t cheap out and use mil-surp FMJ ammo, and for goodness sake don’t EVER use armor-piercing ammo in your defensive firearms. There are a lot of effective loadings available from the major ammunition companies in this class. These include (but aren’t limited to) Federal Power-Shok 64 gr, Winchester XP 64 gr, and Black Hills 60 gr (Nosler Partition).

I’ve heard supposed authorities state that you need to shoot bad guys 5 times with 5.56/.223 rounds. This intel supposedly comes from warfighters from the Sandbox, which explains a lot. First thing, our military rounds in the Sandbox were all FMJ, which is a really poor choice for shooting people… they don’t expand, so they simply drill a little hole through the subject. Unlike an expanding bullet, either a hollowpoint or a softpoint, FMJ rounds are not designed for maximum tissue destruction. Law enforcement agencies use expanding ammunition, and you should too.

Do you need to shoot a bad guy multiple times? Maybe. I often quote a guy who once told me, “I don’t shoot the bad guy until I think he’s dead. I keep shooting him until he thinks he’s dead.” In more professional lingo, we shoot until the threat is effectively neutralized. Which means until the attacker is no longer able to press his attack. But as I teach in every Tactical Anatomy class, “Effective neutralization by firearm is highly congruent with mortality.” So govern your shooting accordingly.

That’s about all I have to say on home defense with firearms today. To distill it down to its basic elements: get your defensive mindset straight; harden your home so it is harder to attack; get training in effective tactical use of firearms; and lastly, choose your home defense firearms according to your training and proficiency.

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Why the U.S. Medical “System” is Broken in the Year 2020

First thing: I realize most people who bother to read this blog do so because they are interested in things like guns, shooting, ammunition performance, ballistics, tactics, and the like. I get that. But if you’ve read any of my older blogs, you know I occasionally stray on to political topics. This is one of those meanders into the political realm. Don’t worry, I’ll be back onto the blood-guts-and-gunsmoke side of things next column.

I recently quoted an article on my personal Facebook page, an article about the “system” relying upon the work ethic of doctors and nurses to keep running. You can read that article here:

Yes, it says that the health care industry is kept afloat by exploiting doctors (and nurses, too, but this site is a doctor site, so they emphasize that side of the article in the headline). And this is 100% true.

The scary thing is that this exploitation is getting close to squeezing the last drop of blood from the turnip, so to speak, and in many places it’s already happening. Doctors are just flat out refusing to keep running faster and faster on the hamster wheel to please the insurance companies and the corporate medical system.

The result is becoming apparent: as a patient, you can’t find a primary care doctor in your area who is taking new patients. This means you have to go to walk-in clinics or ER’s to get basic medical care, which has a higher co-pay, which penalizes you for something you can’t control.

And it’s going to get worse in the very near future. A lot worse.

American medical schools aren’t producing enough doctors to meet the demand of our growing population. This isn’t a new thing, it’s been going on for decades. As a result, our hospitals and corporate health care entities have been importing foreign doctors to meet the need. Which explains why you often have to see someone who speaks English poorly and has no empathy for the culture in which you live when you “go to the doctor”.

The reasons medical schools aren’t making enough doctors are complex, but essentially it’s because the number of quality applicants to medical schools has declined sharply, and the medical industry has done nothing to incentivize medical school enrollment and output. Why do young people not want to go to medical school, you ask?

Well, they look at the cost and duration of a medical education, and they look at the (relatively) low earnings doctors can expect when they finally start to work, and they realize they can get a better deal by going into a business career track such as law, or an MBA program. Think about it: a board certified family doctor can expect an annual income of about $250,000, after spending 11 years in training (4 years for a bachelor’s degree, 4 years in medical school, and 3 years in residency). Student loan debt at the end of that will be about $300,000 for most kids. On the other hand, if that same college freshman does an MBA, he’ll be out of school in 6 years, with half the debt load.

The big difference no one talks about is this: the kid with the MBA can expect his salary to keep rising at or above the rate of inflation as he gains experience and knowledge. The kid who goes into medicine is a fool if he expects that to happen to him. Medical salaries have not kept up with inflation for decades, and doctors with 30 years’ experience are hired at the same salary as doctors straight out of residency by almost all health care systems.

It’s a mess, isn’t it? We often hear people say they want their doctors to be “the best and the brightest”… but for at least 20 years (by my admittedly biased count) the best and the brightest have been going into other fields than medicine: engineering, computer technology, and business. Because they know their future prospects are much brighter in those mostly non-regulated fields.

How did this happen? How did the “rich” doctor of the 1960’s become the corporate wage slave of 2020? Well, like the frog in the pot of slowly heating water on the stove, it happened so slowly no one realized what was happening until it was too late. Here’s a primer on the history of the corporate takeover of medical care in America:

In the 1950’s, virtually all doctors were in private practice. If you went to the doctor, you paid cash for your visit. If your doctor prescribed medicine, you paid cash at the pharmacy. If you had your appendix taken out at the hospital, you paid the doctors and the hospital cash for your operation. The bill you were given was exactly what you paid. If it was more than you could afford today, they would work out a payment plan for you and in a couple of months you’d have the bill paid off.

But by the 1960’s, medical care had become more complex. We could do more to save lives than we had in the immediate post-war era, which actually saved lives. But these more advanced procedures and medicines were a lot costlier. Soon, enough people had had catastrophic medical problems come along that were so expensive they began searching for a way to defray that cost, and medical insurance companies sprang up to meet that need.

This was a boon for patients who had to have a major operation, or cancer treatment that exhausted their savings. In fact, it was so much of a change to people’s personal finances, people were opting to have medical care that they wouldn’t have done if they were paying for them out of pocket.

As a result, the medical economy began to boom. Doctors and hospitals saw their workload–and their incomes–increase dramatically. Doctors had had decent incomes before this, but with the advent of healthcare insurance, they learned they could move up from a split-level in the ‘burbs to a big two-storey on the fairway at the country club; they could trade in their old Lincoln for a new Mercedes-Benz; instead of sending their kids to college at State, they could send them to Harvard.

And the insurance companies saw this happening. Their profit margins hadn’t exactly suffered, of course. As people used their insurance more, the premiums were increased to keep corporate profits healthy. But the sharp thinkers in Omaha and Akron saw the exponential growth of the medical economy, and they coveted a piece of the action.

So the insurance companies invented a new concept. It took time and effort. They catalogued all the failings of the medical industry, and played them up to the news media and to government. They pointed out how the medical system was so ineffecient, how it was wasting money, how negligent doctors were hurting patients, how greedy hospitals were price-gouging, and so on. It didn’t take much, really… lots of folks are envious by nature, and they were easily led to blame “the doctors” for any an all ills. Once public awareness of the “flaws” of the smoothly running medical economy was high enough, the insurance companies proposed a solution: Managed Care.

They said it was an easy fix, and everyone would love it. Everyone would benefit: patients, doctors, hospitals, everybody. The way it would work was this: you could keep your personal health insurance (but the premiums kept going higher and higher), or you could enroll in a managed care plan. The managed care plan had lower premiums, and you could get coverage for everything: routine doctor visits, prescriptions, medical appliances, the works. “What a great concept!” said just about every healthcare consumer, and they flocked to the new Managed Care plans (called HMO’s, or Health Maintenance Organizations) in droves.

So many people went from regular insurance to HMO’s that doctors and hospitals had no choice but to accept those plans, or face economic ruin. But for doctors and hospitals, the HMO’s were a very mixed blessing. Sure, they got paid promptly, but they got paid less for the same services and there were strings attached… they had to meet certain “performance criteria” set by the medical experts hired by the HMO’s.

The “strings” weren’t onerous, at first. Doctors and hospitals were still getting paid, although they had to work a little harder to make the same profits. But every year the HMO’s paid a few cents on the dollar less, citing high costs, of course; and the “strings”, the restrictions on practice, kept getting more and more restrictive. The panel of labs and other tests a doctor could order for his HMO patients began to shrink. The panel of surgeons he could refer his patients to began to get more restrictive. And so on.

On the patient side, the problems were equally apparent. Your new insurance plan wasn’t yours, any longer. Your insurance had become a part of your employment package. The insurance companies lobbied government to pass laws that made employer-provided health insurance the norm, rather than an exception.

The incentives to move from private health plans to employer plans were great for employers and for patients, initially. But insurance companies made it harder and harder for non-HMO plans to stay affordable. So gradually Managed Care took over the employer-based healthcare market.

By the 1980’s, HMO’s and quasi-HMO’s were the dominant form of health insurance in America, and the problems with HMO’s were manifest. Patients were forced to see new doctors, if their old family doctor wasn’t a part of the HMO plan. They were also starting to have to deal with higher and higher personal costs… their cover-it-all insurance was starting to only cover 90% of it, or 80%, or less. The medicines they had been taking for years were no longer covered (but a cheaper, less effective medicine was covered, so guess what happened?).

As consumer groups shouted in protest to these changes, governments and insurance companies felt the heat and made some changes. Not a lot of changes, but some. Restrictions on patients became a bit less severe, provider panels grew larger and portability from one hospital to another became a bit easier. But the changes were truly very small, even inconsequential.

By this time the “cost savings” of managed care were manifestly a Big Lie. Insurance companies had created an entire new industry, employing millions of office workers, to administer their HMO’s. And government, bumbling along with them, had created multiple new regulatory entities to watch over both the insurance and medical industries, which again required millions of employees to administer.

So by the early 2000’s, our health care system had become an amalgam of two enormous bureaucracies: one private, run by the insurance industry, and one public, run by various levels of government.

The costs and complexity of dealing with these bureaucracies were staggering for private practice doctors and small hospitals. In the 1950’s, a doctor could run his office with a receptionist who did all the filing and billing, handled the phones, and so on. By the 1960’s, that same doctor had to add a billing clerk to deal with insurance claims. And by 1985, the average doctor had to employ 2.5 billing clerks working full time to keep up with insurance paperwork. Moreover, the increased restrictions imposed on the doctor’s medical practice by insurance companies and governent regulators required employing a compliance officer (usually called an office manager) to keep up with the constantly changing rules of the game.

By the early 1990’s most private practice doctors were no longer able to keep up with the increased regulatory load imposed by HMO’s and government. It was simply too costly, both in money and in time. And corporate America was there to take advantage of the situation.

Hospitals had been mostly privately owned up until the 1960’s. Groups of doctors, sometimes with other investors, were often involved. More often, communities owned their hospitals, and a sizable share of the hospital market was owned by charitable organizations (often churches and religious orders). But in the 60’s, private corporations began buying hospitals. A corporation could operate multiple hospitals much more economically than your local hospital board, because they could use their economies of scale and bulk buying power to bring down costs. Corporate hospital ownership had become the norm by the 1980s.

So when private practice doctors in the 80’s began to fail economically, these hospital corporations saw an opportunity: they bought up private practices like hotcakes. The doctors loved it: they were paid good value for their practice (usually around 2X their annual gross billings, a common standard purchase price for decades), but they no longer had to manage their own billings or compliance. The hospital/corporation took that over for them. The corporation also took on all his employees, and absorbed all the employer obligations the doctor had previously had to do (or pay his accountant to do). The doctor stayed in his office, kept his staff, drew a good salary, and had money in the bank. What could possibly go wrong?

What went wrong was that there were strings attached. Just like the deal with insurance companies in the 60’s and HMO’s (which were still the insurance companies) in the 70’s and 80’s, these Physician-Hospital Organizations (PHO’s) proved increasingly restrictive. Corporate profits were now the driving factor in all decisions. Doctors found themselves forced out of their “inefficient” private clinics into large group practice offices. The nurses and receptionists they had employed for years were moved to different locations, or simply laid off in favor of cheaper, less experienced staff who could be easily replaced if need be. Work that had been previously delegated to nurses and medical assistants became the responsibility of the doctor.

And the doctor’s salary no longer reflected the amount of work he was putting in. Instead, it reflected the Corporation’s balance sheet.

The worst was yet to come. First, the federal government mandated implementation of Electronic Medical Records nationwide. This sounded good, but proved to be a millstone around doctors’ and nurses’ necks. Rather than a streamlined and efficient means of recording medical encounters, procedures, and so forth, Corporate medicine designed it as a means of monitoring and controlling “production”, then added the clinical components doctors and nurses need as almost a second thought. Government went along with this philosophy whole hog, of course, because governments are all about monitoring and control.

By the year 2010, the full mess had arrived. Doctors and nurses, being paid far less for their work than they had been in 1970 (in inflation-adjusted dollars) were seeing roughly the same number of patients than they had in 1970, but because EMR’s required so much data input, these front-line, hands-on, hearts-out practitioners of medicine and nursing were spending more time in front of a computer terminal than they did interacting with patients.

The Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, exacerbated the problem. For everybody. Patients immediately noted that their health care plans were costing them a LOT more, and providing a LOT less service, with a MUCH higher co-payment responsibility. Doctors noticed that the regulatory hurdles for prescribing medicines and getting procedures pre-approved had become a LOT more common and a LOT higher and harder to jump over. Insurance company and government bureaucracies thrived, however, as the increased revenues fed both. The reason for these changes, quite simply, was that Congress more or less wrote the ACA at the behest of the health care insurance company lobby… so the insurers got everything they wanted, while patients, doctors, hospitals, and other players in the health care community were allowed little or no input. Obamacare “expanded” the number of patients with healthcare insurance primarily by expanding the Medicaid program, but numerous studies have shown that it: 1) made health care insurance unaffordable for millions who previously had it; 2) increased regulatory restrictions on doctors, nurses, hospitals, labs, and other providers of health care services and increasing their workload without any increase in reimbursement; 3) eliminated “safety net” plans that paid for catastrophic medical care only, but were affordable for even low income folks; 4) forced everyone to buy plans with higher premiums, higher copays, and higher deductibles, thereby decreasing health care insurance companies’ payouts and increasing their revenues simultaneously.

Until the devastating provisions of the ACA are repealed, we will continue to see everyone except the insurance companies struggle under these increased burdens. The net effect on the front line health care workforce has been loss of experienced doctors and nurses due to early retirement, change of careers, or both. These experienced providers are not being replaced by the medical and nursing training systems fast enough, so an influx of foreign medical grads has been allowed to try to meet the demand.

There is some hope, however. A significant change in the makeup of Congress in November (we need removal of the Democratic House majority) could mean the end of the ACA. Whether there is a comprehensive plan to replace it is not relevant; the ACA needs to die. A healthcare insurance reform bill, opening healthcare markets nationwide (in the same manner that auto insurance was opened up a number of years ago), is badly needed, and the insurance companies need to be free to offer low-cost plans that don’t cover every possible medical situation. By opening up competition we will inevitably see some price relief for the medical consumer.

In the meantime, the world of medical practice is changing. In 2020, doctors in private practice are rare birds, but the number is growing. More and more primary care physicians are spurning the government/insurance/hospital-corporation cabal (the healthcare equivalent of what Eisenhower called the Military-Industrial Complex in the 1950’s) and returning to a direct-pay system for their patients. Since patients are essentially paying cash for most primary care services anyway due to high copays and deductibles, they are starting to say they will pay a premium to have a GOOD family doctor or internist work with them and their families. This is taking the shape of things like concierge medical practices, where folks pay a set fee monthly to have access to first-rate personal medical care from a doctor they trust and who will commit to them for the long term.

The government/insurance-company/hospital-corporation cabal is teetering. It is not sustainable. Whether the feds do anything about it or not, the system is going to collapse. Whether that collapse will be a “market adjustment”, or a catastrophe, is all that remains to be seen.

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The Soulis Incident, and the Myth of Center Mass

This article from popped up on my Facebook feed this morning, and it struck me as important in more ways than one:

To summarize: bad guy in a car, cop decided he was a suspicious person and went to investigate; stuff went sideways, lots of shots were fired, cop was hit 3-4 times, bad guy was hit 22 (Twenty-Two) times with 40 caliber bullets and eventually succumbed.

For you coppers who follow my stuff, this may have some lessons for you in your continuing upgrade of your felony carstop/vehicle approach tactics, so look it over carefully. For everybody else, there are some terminal ballistics/effects lessons here that need to be understood.

First thing: the author of this piece, Brian McKenna, is a guy I’ve read before and I think he does a pretty good job. He’s a good writer and a former street cop with some real experience behind him.

Second thing, and to my mind, the most important thing: Brian uses terms like center chest and Center Mass like they are actually meaningful. Saying “Center Mass” sounds cool… it has the sound of the expert about it, I guess. But these terms are ANYthing but meaningful. They are not clearly defined, not clearly understood, and the result of this is that good people are getting injured and killed.

That’s right, I said it: if you persist in teaching your people to shoot “center mass”, YOU are contributing to a training scar that is going to get good cops/armed citizens KILLED.

I have multiple cases in my files that illlustrate this problem. Every one of my SXRV students for the past 10 years has seen my breakdown of the Pennsylvania OIS where the scumbag cop-ambusher absorbed nearly 22 police bullets (17 rounds of .223 and 5 rounds of 40 S&W) before he finally went down. So every one of my SXRV students knows that by shooting for Center Mass the coppers in that incident experienced a failure that resulted in the wounding and permanent disability of one of them, and could have led to their deaths. The FBI broke down the gunfight at the request of the Agency in question, and to no one’s surprise, they blamed the ammunition for the bad outcome of that fight. (The actual blame should have been placed squarely on the Agency’s firearms training program for failing to train their officers appropriately, but that would have been embarassing. It’s easier to blame ammo, since ammo doesn’t have feelings to get hurt or a career to get sidetracked.)

But it wasn’t bad ammo. The ammunition performed as it was designed to do, and the FBI proved this. It was bad shooting, which wasn’t the cops’ fault, because they had received faulty training. Despite the fact that Tactical Anatomy Systems and other trainers have been training cops on anatomically effective target acquisition for more than 20 years, the majority of cops and LE firearms instructors are still propagating the same old Center Mass bullshit.

And bullshit it is. Don’t believe me? Get you copy of Gray’s Anatomy out and look up Center Mass in the index. (What? It’s not there?!? How could that be?) Center Mass isn’t a place, or an anatomic structure, or a physiological zone of incapacitation. Center Mass is a bullshit police trainer term that means nothing more than “shoot them somewhere in the middle”. People use it to sound cool, like they know what they’re talking about, like they’re experts. It’s not just a bullshit term, folks: it’s a term better suited to use by posers than by actual trainers.

Here’s an interesting story: in my early years of teaching Tactical Anatomy, I would ask class members to write down their definition of Center Mass on a piece of paper and hand it in. I stopped doing it after a couple classes, because the results were predictable. No one could define Center Mass with any precision, and the average answer basically came down to “in the middle”.

Twenty years into this training business I am still amazed that people think it’s OK to just teach their students to shoot an armed opponent in this manner. “Oh, don’t worry about it, just shoot somewhere in the middle. You’ll be fine.” (Poser.)

If you were to walk into the bar in any hunting town in Zimbabwe or Mozambique, order up a Pimm’s with ginger, and then tell the assemblage of African dangerous game hunters that it’s OK to just shoot a Cape Buffalo “somewhere in the middle”, you’d be laughed out of the saloon, chum. DG hunters know that when you’re trying to kill something that could very easily kill you, it is essential that you put your bullets where that dangerous creature’s life depends: the heart/great vessels, the spine, or the brain. Failure to do so will not only fail to incapacitate the beast, it just might enrage him and cause an attack on your person that you very likely won’t survive.

Yet law enforcement trainers persist in telling cops that they can shoot an armed and dangerous felon–arguably the most dangerous of dangerous game on Earth–“anywhere in the middle” and expect a good outcome!!

How has this become acceptable practice? In fact, how does this not constitute malpractice? We are arming our police with deadly implements, teaching them the law of the application of those implements, then failing to teach them where their bullets need to be placed, with precision, in order to carry out their lawful duty in the most effective and efficient manner possible!

If YOU are a deadly force firearms instructor and you are doing this, I submit that you are committing malpractice. You are creating a training scar in your students that might get them killed.

I’ve had police firearms instructors tell me that teaching their people where to shoot the bad guy is ridiculous. “They’ll be so fired up in a gunfight, they’ll be lucky to hit the bad guy at all, so we teach them just to shoot Center Mass.”

Did it ever occur to one of these Neanderthal (no offense to Neanderthals, mind you) that this failure to teach precise target acquisition is precisely why their officers can’t hit the bad guy in an officer-involved shooting? Did they never hear the marksman’s axiom, “Aim small, miss small”?

Here’s what I think when I hear a firearms instructor use the term Center Mass: I think they are ignorant, and probably lazy.

Are you insulted by that? Too bad. Prove to yourself and to me that your umbrage is justified. Look at the OIS data, as I have; read the after action reviews, as I have. The evidence shows that officers who know where to shoot the bad guy are able to end the encounter faster and more effectively than those who simply try to hit the bad guy “in the middle”. Well-trained officers have a higher hit ratio, they stop the offender more effectively, and they are less likely to be shot or killed in the encounter than officers who are not so trained. The data don’t lie.

The first major metropolitan police department that adopted the SXRV program for their entire force did so nearly 20 years ago. They dropped the Center Mass nonsense and adopted 3D anatomic targeting as their standard. Their OIS hit ratio went from 20% to 94% in the first 2 years after the program was implemented, and remains above 90% to this day. More importantly to my mind, in that same 2 year period not one cop was hit by a felon’s bullet. And these numbers have been repeated in other police departments across America since then numerous times.

Here’s the deal, kids: Center Mass is a term that has been in the vocabulary of deadly force trainers waaaaaay too long. There is no excuse for continuing to use this term. “Center Mass” should never be uttered by a firearms instructor anywhere, any time, except to correct their students who come to class believing in the myth. There is far too much information out there proving that teaching our students to shoot this way is leading to bad outcomes in OIS’s and it’s getting good cops injured and killed. It should be as hated as the dreaded C-word or the N-word is in public conversations. It’s a useless concept, and the persistence by our instructors in using it needs to go away.

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Handguns for Bear Defense? Yep!

Well, the verdict is apparently in, and I for one am pleased to hear it. 

I have enjoyed a lifelong and mostly happy relationship with wild bears. I have watched them, studied them, and (occasionally) hunted them. For many years I held the belief that handguns were poorly suited tools for defense against bear attacks, based on the experience and advice of woodsmen and bear biologists who I considered more authoritative sources than I was myself. However, as early as the late 1970’s I began collecting anecdotes of hunters, campers, and other outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen who had successfully defended against bear attacks with handguns. By the time Stephen Herrero et al. came out with their report in 2012 supporting bear spray over firearms, however, my compilation of bear attack stories stood in stark opposition to Herrero’s findings. My studies and critical experience told me while Herrero’s findings confirmed that bear spray was and is effective in stopping some bear attacks, firearms were and are more effective than his study showed. 

I was still leaning toward preference for long guns as opposed to handguns for such purposes, but the lean had become a lot less acute over the years. Over the years, I had become enough of a convert that I had begun carrying a handgun while hunting in all places and at all times where legal to do so. I had in fact tested my own handguns on wild game, including small game as well as deer and hogs, and was satisfied that handguns are effective hunting tools.

In this article by journalist Dean Weingarten ( ) he and his colleagues have compiled a list of 73 bear attacks defended against by handguns. They found that 96% of these attacks were successfully defended, and in many cases the handguns/calibers were what I and many others would consider suboptimal. So at this point I must concede that I am convinced of the soundness of carrying a handgun for defense against attacks by bears and other North American predator species including wolves, coyotes, and mountain lions.

So, the question of if it is practical  to carry a handgun for bear defense has been answered, but this leaves other questions wide open. These questions should include: 1) what type and caliber of handgun is truly appropriate for such purposes, 2) what type of ammunition is best suited for this purpose, 3) how should the handgun be optimally carried, and 4) how should it actually be used if and when the bear scat hits the fan?

The following answers are only my opinion, and your views may vary. But keep in mind that my answers are based on a lifetime’s experience in hunting and shooting wild animals (including bears and other Dangerous Game), on almost 30 years of critical care medicine (which involves a lot of scientific study of anatomy and physiology), on nearly 30 years of study of the effectiveness of handguns in stopping violent human offenders by police, and on a strong basic education in mammalian anatomy and physiology.

1. Caliber Choice for Bear Defense

Bears are big animals. Using a little gun (or a small caliber) just doesn’t make sense. Your bullet(s) have to reach vital anatomic structures: the same principles that we espouse in Shooting With Xray Vision for human-on-human defensive situations. Which you will recall mean either the cardiovascular bundle (CVB) in the chest, or the central nervous system (CNS).

The CVB in quadrupeds, including bears, is a lot farther inside the body than it is in humans, who walk upright with our CVB’s front and center. Unlike humans, your bear bullet(s) have to get through a thick fur coat, through much thicker and tougher skin than human skin, and tunnel through the muscle, bone and connective tissues of the chest to get to the bear’s considerably bigger- and tougher-than-human heart and great vessels. Yes, you can kill a bear with a .22 bullet to the heart… but it might take several hours, and an aggressive bear can kill you in an attack lasting seconds to minutes. So if you do that math, you might want to select a firearm of sufficient caliber to get to the CVB with a tad more energy and destructive capability than a .22

Likewise, the brain of a bear is encased in a thicker bony cranium than the human brain is… and while a light handgun caliber might get in there with enough power to end the attack, it might not.

As such, I lean strongly toward a caliber heavy enough to be used for hunting of big game. These calibers start with the 357 Magnum and larger. To be specific, this would include the 40 S&W, 41 Magnum, 44 Special, 44 Magnum, 45 ACP, 45 Colt, and any of the big magnums from 454 Casull up to 500 Linebaugh. I do not endorse the 9mm cartridge for bear defense, even though the estimable Phil Shoemaker killed a brown bear with one a few years ago. You and I ain’t Phil, with his intimate knowledge of grizzly/brown bear anatomy, and his extensive experience stopping charges by wounded bears, and we shouldn’t pretend to be. Oh, and btw, Phil habitually carries a 458 Winchester Magnum rifle and a 44 Magnum revolver when guiding bear hunters, not a 9mm.


1A. Handgun Type

As you can see, I’m not one of those guys who thinks you need a huge thumper of a caliber to defend against bears/predators. I am a bit more picky on handgun type, however. 

Anyone who knows me from IDPA and USPSA competition knows that I am a revolver guy. No surprise, this holds true for my hunting and predator-defense choices, as well.  Specifically, a double-action (DA) revolver is in my considered opinion the best handgun platform for bear defense. 

Semiauto pistols are not a good option, for a couple of reasons. First, they tend to be designed to shoot light-for-caliber bullets. Second, semiauto pistols have a glaring deficiency in CQB situations (and if being mauled by a bear isn’t a CQB situation, I don’t know what is!): if the muzzle is pressed against the body of the intended target, the slide and barrel may be pushed out of battery, and the weapon will not fire. Folks often discount this issue, but I have numerous reports of exactly this happening in cop-on-felon CQB gunfights.

Single Action (SA) revolvers are often cited as a good choice for bear defense, and while I own and enjoy shooting and hunting with my SA revolvers, I disagree with this option. The SA handgun can only be fired if the hammer is manually cocked. Normally this is done with the thumb of the support hand, but it can also be done with the thumb of the dominant hand. Again, if you’re in a CQB situation with an angry bruin, your support hand is very likely going to be engaged in other activities (like keeping the bear’s jaws off your skull), so you can’t count on using it to cock the hammer. And if you use your firing hand thumb to cock the hammer, you’re relinquishing more than 50% of your grip strength to do so… which doesn’t sound to me like a good firearm-retention technique in the midst of a ground fight. 

Soooo… it comes down to the double-action (DA) revolver. The DA revolver does not have the shortfalls of the semiauto pistol or the SA revolver. You can press the muzzle against your adversary and fire without fear of coming out of battery and you can fire it one-handed with your fully functional grip strength. More than one successful bear-attack survivor has noted that it took several rounds to end the attack, and a DA revolver will reliably give you 6 rounds (or more, in the case of large capacity revolvers like the S&W 696). And DA revolvers are readily found chambered for big calibers such as the 44 Magnum and 45 Colt. If you step into the custom revolver venue, Ruger Redhawks have been chambered in powerhouse rounds like the 50 AE, 460 Rowland, and even the big 475 and 500 Linebaugh. Bowen Custom Handguns in particular makes beautiful and very functional big-bore DA revolvers using the Ruger Redhawk and Super Redhawk as the base gun, and I really need one… But Ruger’s Redhawk Alaskan model is a fine factory revolver in its own right, so you don’t need to fork out the big bucks for a custom revolver unless you really want to. 

Regardless of your choice of DA revolver, make sure you can use it effectively. Take into consideration the size, grip frame, and weight of your bear-defense wheelgun, because the variations possible are enormous. A Ruger Alaskan weighs 45 ounces empty, which means you’re toting nearly 4 pounds of metal once it’s loaded. That can weigh heavy on a small-framed person. Conversely, I’ve seen folks tout the ultralight S&W M329, a Scandium frame revolver chambered in 44 Magnum; while it’s a breeze to carry at 2 pounds fully loaded, I have found it painful to shoot due to the stout recoil impulse. If it’s too painful to shoot and practice with at the range, you’re not really going to be properly prepared to use it in a life-or-death situation.

Personally, I routinely carry a S&W M625 Mountain Gun chambered in 45 Colt or a M29 chambered in 44 Magnum when I’m hunting or backpacking in bear country. These are steel guns, with 4″ barrels, and even with heavy-recoiling loads they are very manageable in my hands. I am very confident that anyone who chooses something along these lines for bear defense is about as well-armed as can be.

2. Ammunition

The bullets you load in your handgun are also important.  You want deep penetration, which is best accomplished with a flat meplat FMJ bullet or a moderately hard cast bullet of heavy weight for caliber. In a 357 Magnum, this would anything from 148 to 180 grains. In a 44 Magnum, 240 gr or up. And so on. Bullet type? A Keith-style SWC bullet or a LBT profile bullet will suit: anything with a wide, flat meplat, to cause maximum tissue destruction. Roundnose bullets may penetrate well, but are less likely to do the necessary tissue damage to stop an actively attacking predator. 

Factory ammo versus handloads? Not much to argue about there, I’m afraid. They can all work. Buffalo Bore makes some great loads for virtually all major handgun calibers. I like my own handloads in my revolvers. I use LBT-type bullets for the most part, cast to a hardness of BHN 11-14, which is plenty hard enough for bear medicine, and loaded hot. My favorite 45 Colt loads for DA revolvers employ 265 gr LBT WFN bullets, with muzzle velocities in the 1000-1100 fps range. These loads will shoot crosswise through a deer’s chest or pelvis, will penetrate 14+ inches of ballistic gelatin, and will smash through 10+ 1″ pine boards. They are plenty for bear, but not so stout that they can’t be fired fast and accurately with one hand. In the 44 Magnum, a 240 gr bullet loaded to 1100-1200 fps serves the same purpose. In my 357 Magnums, a 158 gr WFN bullet at 1300 fps or 180 gr WFN at 1100 fps will get the job done. You get the idea.  Don’t discount good JHP bullets, either. A friend of mine who was responsible for “bear control” on paper company land for a number of years culled a large number of black bears with his 44 Magnum revolver and 240 gr Hornady XTP bullets. This bullet, among others, has a great reputation for deep penetration and reliable expansion.


As a final observation on caliber, let me be clear: you are not doing yourself any favors by carrying a handgun that is too powerful for you to shoot effectively. Your choice of caliber and handgun needs to be based on your ability to use it. If you can’t hit the vital organs of the CVB or CNS, your handgun is pretty much a useless noisemaker. Practice with your chosen gun and ammunition. You should be able to hit a 4-6″ circle 6 times out of 6 with one hand at a range of 4 yards, and an 8″ circle with a 2-hand hold 6/6 times at 10 yards, rapid fire. If you can’t do that reliably, you need to practice more.

 3. Optimal Carry Methods

Here’s the deal, kids: a gun in your backpack or at home is not going to help you in a bear attack. In my life’s experience backpacking and camping in the mountain west, I’ve learned that close bear encounters can usually be avoided. But when they do happen, they are almost always a surprise. In most cases you won’t have time to go back to your car to fetch your rifle, or shrug off your pack and dig into it to find your handgun. You’ll either have it right there, or you won’t have it at all. Carrying your handgun in an accessible location is of paramount importance.

I tend to carry my handguns most of the time on my belt, strongside hip. This works fine if all I’m toting is a rifle or a day pack. But if I’ve got a full pack on, or I’m weaing a longer coat in cold weather,  this doesn’t work very well. Under those conditions, I prefer a holster across my chest, such as the El Paso Saddlery Tanker holster. A chest rig allows rapid one-handed access almost as quickly as a belt holster. But keep in mind that your draw and even your firing cycle will be different if you’re wearing gloves. Some DA revolvers will bind up when the trigger comes forward, trapping glove material in the action. You don’t want that to happen in a bear attack. If you must wear gloves, wear tight gloves that will not bind, and for goodness sake practice with them at the range to be sure they don’t interfere with your gun’s functionality.

When you bed down at night, you might want to consider having a lanyard loop installed on the butt of your revolver, with a lanyard around your neck and shoulder so you can pull the gun to you in a hurry if it’s needed in the middle of the night. Same thing with your flashlight. If you can’t see it, it’s real hard to shoot it. 

4. Deploying the Defensive Handgun

So when it all comes down to it, how should you use your handgun in defense against a bear attack? Well, I can’t speak from experience: even though I’ve had a lot of encounters with bears in the mountain parks of Alberta and British Columbia, none have turned violent. However, I spent a lot of time learning about bears and bear behavior in my undergraduate years, and continued in those studies so that I could avoid the circumstances that would lead to a violent bear encounter… and I’m pretty sure that a number of my bear encounters could have been nasty if I had not used my knowledge of bear behavior to reduce the risks.

So my first advice to bear-naive persons is this: learn about bears and how to avoid pissing them off. There are a number of very good books in print that you can learn from, including Stephen Herrero’s Bear Attacks, and the very good bear attack series of books by Canadian bear expert Gary Shelton. 

My second set of recommendations is based on training I received as a young biology student, and on advice from Professional Hunters of dangerous game in Africa with whom I’ve hunted dangerous game.  Basically, it comes down to this: don’t shoot until you have to. Most bear charges are “bluff” charges, and if you stand your ground the animal will break off well before contact. By waiting to fire, you will reduce the odds that you will badly injure or kill an animal that is only trying to scare you off. By waiting, you also increase your odds of hitting the animal in its CVB or CNS (depending on your point of aim). If you wait until the charging animal is very close, your odds of making a lethal/stopping hit increase immensely. Once you’ve fired, follow it up: fire as rapidly as you can hit, aiming into the vitals, and keep firing until the bear is down for good. 

Is there a place or time for a warning shot? Well, according to some experts, there is. Firing a round into the dirt at the bear’s feet while he is still posturing or even walking toward you (but not yet charging) may discourage a curious or mildly pissed-off bear enough to end the encounter.  But once the bear has started to run at you, wasting a potentially life-saving bullet makes no sense. Put your sights on the bear’s heart or brain and track him in until you know you can hit his vitals, then hit him hard and repeatedly.

Bottom Line

 In the course of my 65 years on this rock called Earth, I have spent hundrds and hundreds of days and nights in wild country occupied by bears, including many nights under canvas or sleeping under the stars. I have cooked thousands of meals, gutted game and fish, and otherwise done things that most city folks have no knoledge of, and which put me and my companions at some degree of risk of bear attack. But I have never been actually attacked by a bear in all those years. I think this is important to consider when one considers the risks any outdoorsman faces in spending time in similar country. In reality, the risk is very, very small.

I have personally killed only 3 bears in my life, and in all 3 cases, I hunted those bears with the intention of killing them. All 3 were killed with a rifle. I don’t know that I will ever care to hunt a bear again, but if I do, it will likely be with a handgun. I have that degree of confidence in my ability with my revolvers, and in their effectiveness as bear-killing machines.

And in the meantime, I will continue to carry a handgun in bear country whenever I go there, confident that such tools–along with bear spray, and my knowledge of bear behavior–will keep me and mine from serious injury. Dean Weingarten’s study underlines the sensibility of this approach.

Thanks a bunch, Dean.  



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“Just Shoot ‘Em In The Face” … Let’s talk about this!!

A Facebook page I follow, Active Self Protection, recently reprinted an article about the very real need for American cops and armed citizens to get training for the evenuality of facing a homicide bomber (the media’s term, “suicide bomber” is erroneous… these people are first and foremost murderers, so let’s call a spade a spade!). 

This article quoted the estimable Gabe Suarez as saying, “Just shoot them in the face”. Oh, boy…

First thing: I don’t know for sure if Suarez actually said that. And on the face of it (pun intended), this isn’t necessarily bad advice. But if you dig deeper, you’ll come to the Second thing.

Second thing:  such advice, if taken literally at face value–which I am sure was not Gabe’s intention–could get good people killed. In all fairness to Suarez, utterances get taken out of context. I overheard a cop at a major metro PD ‘quoting’ me to another cop, “Ah, Doc says just shoot ’em in the back of the head.” Which I did actually say, but the all-important context was not communicated!

So let’s talk about the context in which “just shooting him in the face” makes some sense. 

Here’s the problem: the trigger for a homicide bomb is most often a very simple switch that can be actuated with very little effort. So if you do not knock out  the homicide bomber’s CNS completely and immediately, he can still detonate the bomb with his last dying breath, if need be. Which, if you’re within a reasonable pistol shot’s distance from him, means you’ll draw your last dying breath at about the same time as his. The lethal radius of a typical vest bomb is 30-50 meters. 

Here’s the solution: take out the homicide bomber’s brainstem. It’s that simple. 

The brainstem is a structure at the bottom of the brain and the top of the spinal cord that has many functions, one of which is regulating your level of consciousness and attention, and another of which is relaying the “orders” from the conscious brain to the muscles that carry those orders out.  The brainstem is literally where you live and breathe… the neurological elements of heart rate and breathing control originate here.

So if you take out homicide bomber’s brainstem with a well-placed bullet, you shut down all voluntary muscle control and all somatic reflexes. He (or she, let’s not forget that women do this stuff, too) will go limp. No twitching, no movement, no nothing. 

The problem is that the brainstem is really small, and it’s in the most protected location in the human head, which makes sense from an evolutionary/survival perspective. But it’s not easy to visualize its location if you haven’t gone to medical school to learn neuroanatomy. (Unless you’ve taken our Shooting With Xray Vision class, of course!)  And if you shoot the homicide bomber anywhere else in his/her head with your service caliber pistol, you will NOT neutralize the spinal reflexes and you may leave his/her voluntary actions intact as well… which means that bomb is going to explode. 

Keep in mind I’m talking about pistol bullets here. The relative low power/velocity of pistol bullets requires extreme targeting precision to take out the brainstem. A high-power/high-velocity rifle bullet such as a .308 or even a .223 causes such severe damage with virtually any shot into the cranium that the brainstem will probably be destroyed even if the bullet doesn’t hit it precisely. But note that I emphasize the word “probably”. This is not a situation where you want to be relying on “probably”. 

Also, keep in mind that there is a good reason that in our SXRV class we emphasize making the brainstem shot with pistols. If you are so unlucky as to stumble into the vicinity of a just-gone-active homicide bomber, you won’t have time to go fetch your fancy tactical carbine out of the safe box in your car’s trunk. You’ll have to use what you have on your person at the time. 

So, back to the statement in the title to this blog entry. Can we just casually shoot the homicide bomber in the face and call it good? By now, I expect you know the answer to that. 

To illustrate my point, I’ll give you a real life example: I once had a guy come into my ER who had been shot by police. Four times. All four police bullets (40 S&W caliber) hit this guy in the head, so that means he had taken four “head shots”, but was still actively fighting police and had actually returned fire after receiving these wounds. Two of those shots were in the so-called “T-zone”, as it is called by some internet gunfighting “experts”.  

This case illustrates the folly of thinking that any/all “head shots” are equal… there is a huge potential for variance in outcomes!  Again: if your pistol bullets do not transect the brainstem, your homicide bomber may still be able to kill you. 

Part of the problem with taking “head shots” is that the shape and structure of the bones of the human skull are designed (or have evolved, if you prefer) to very efficiently protect the brain. The density of the bones and the curvature of the surface work very well to deflect any missile that comes at the skull unless the angle of incidence is very close to perpendicular to the skull’s surface. Pistol bullets striking the human head at angles less than 65-75 degrees will penetrate the skin/scalp, but will often just glance off the hard, smooth bone of the skull, tunneling under the skin to exit several inches from the entry wound without penetrating the skull. This is well-documented in the trauma literature, and it’s exactly what happened with the guy I saw in my ER with 4 bullet holes in his noggin. 

The other part of the problem is that if you don’t know where the brainstem is, your chances of hitting it are really, really poor. Think about it: in frontal anatomic presentation, the human head has a target area of about 325-400 cm2. The brainstem has a target area of about 25 cm2. If you think you can hit the brainstem by randomly shooting the head, your chance of hitting it is about 6-7%. 

Even if we round up to be generous and say your odds are 10%, that means that your chances of being blown to smithereens by a homicide bomber in that scenario are 90%. 

Now, I don’t know about you, but I think those odds suck. I’d much rather KNOW where my bullet needs to go, and be close enough to the bomber to put my pistol bullet exactly there. And by the way, the “head box” of an IPSC target, or the “T-zone” on one of those photo targets that purport to portray human anatomy, will NOT help you place your bullets in the brainstem. The T-zone is a real thing when you’re talking about acne, but in terms of ballistics and neuroanatomy, not so much. 

If you want to know specifically how to target the brainstem, you can take a SXRV class from us (or one of our SXRV-trained firearms instuctors around the nation), or you can order the Tactical Anatomy Instructor Manual and figure it out from the exercises in the book. It’s not rocket science. You don’t have to be good at math to understand and use this knowledge. But you do need to get the best source information on the subject you can find, and the place to find it is here.

And by the way, you need to able to operate your pistol with a high degree of precision. I’ve written this before, and I’ll say it again:  to effectively utilize the Tactical Anatomy Systems targeting method, you must be an Expert Class shooter. As in able to put your bullets into a target 2.5 cm X 4 cm 100% of the time from whatever range you select (typically this range needs to be well inside 5 yards, and I’m being very serious here).

One. Hundred. Percent. Of. The. Time. Or in a real homicide bomber situation, you’ll get real dead real quick. 

Retired Evanston, IL, police chief Richard Eddington wrote this to me in an email a number of years ago: “The probability that American law enforcement personnel will encounter a homicide bomber is growing. The techniques taught in Tactical Anatomy become more urgent. This may be the only option to stop a bomber and minimize casualties. This includes law enforcement personnel who, in my estimation, will invariably be too close to a homicide bomber, especially in the initial contacts law enforcement has with this type of offender. Tactical Anatomy shooting techniques will be the only possibility for law enforcement officers to extricate themselves from this situation while minimizing casualties.”

Chief Eddington is a smart guy, and this prediction is close to coming true in the near future, in my opinion. Prepare yourself accordingly. 


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Fight Like A Girl? Please. Don’t.

Browsing through my Facebook feed this morning, I saw a video titled “Pay Attention To The Girl”. I’ll try to past the link here:

I like this video for a couple of reasons, not the least being the apparent meting out of justice by one person on behalf of another person who appears to be the victim of a violent attack. I made a few observations as I watched it: the Bad Guy who gets knocked down shows signs of being intoxicated; the female cashier strikes the Bad Guy 3 times, and she clearly knows how to throw a good punch; the Bad Guy falls backward after the 3rd punch and appears to strike the back of his head on the tile floor, which in my experience was likely the injury that “knocked him out”. 

In a similar vein, I saw a video a while back in which a slender female does a hoppity-hop and then lays a roundhouse kick to the side of a much taller man’s head, knocking him to the ground.  Here’s the link to that video:

Again, a small female appears to deliver retribution to a larger and aggressive male with supreme authority.  Experts analyzing the footage point to a number of features that suggest this video was staged, however, and I tend to agree with them. But the video went viral nonetheless, and I have heard several younger women crowing about how this video proves a woman who knows what she is doing can take a big man down. The fact that the guy was knocked out by his head striking the floor isn’t mentioned. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for women knowing how to fight. I taught my daughters the rudiments of self-defense tactics and techniques (as much as they were willing to learn, anyway) when they were teens. In firearms training past and present I routinely work with females who demonstrate real proficiency in their combative skillsets. 

But I worry that such demonstrations may make some women dangerously over-confident, and may lead to them making decisions in encounters with aggressors that could get them seriously hurt. 

If the aggressor in the first video hadn’t been drunk, or had been inclined to put up even a token defense, or hadn’t struck his head on the floor, the outcome may have been a whole lot different. The cashier may have ended up dead. If you have to stomach for it, do a Youtube search on men kicking women in the head to see the more common result. The plain fact is that women who engage with men in fights on even terms do not do well, even when they are in the same weight class. (For the sake of brevity, I won’t get into the reasons behind fighters being grouped according to their weight, but if you have any questions about how important that is, do some google-fu and get educated.)

Along those lines, I saw a clip on the Joe Rogan Youtube podcast discussing the very real differences between men an women when it comes to martial arts. Joe is a former MMA fighter, and whether you like him or not, he knows quite a bit about fighting with feet and fists. He points out the cold, hard reality that men aren’t just bigger than women, but their muscle and bone structures are markedly different from women. By way of illustration, he holds up his fists for the camera, and I have to say, those are some impressive-looking meathooks!  He goes on to say that his fists look like that because he was training his hands for striking from childhood onward, striking hard objects to toughen them up, working on the strength in his hands, and so forth. MMA fighters tend to do that sort of thing, but they’re not the only ones. Look at the hands–more important, feel the hands–of young men who grew up on farms and ranches, working with their hands. Hard labor makes tougher hands, and tougher muscles than any amount of time in a gym can do. 

Check out Joe’s Youtube clip here:

The plain fact, and I mean scientific fact, proven over and over again millions of times, is that on average men are bigger and stronger than women, they have more dense bones and muscle, they can exert more force per kilogram of body weight, they have a higher pain tolerance (yes, that’s been studied many times over, and childbirth notwithstanding, women aren’t able to absorb pain and keep going the way men can). Oh, and women have a higher susceptibilty to concussions than men, something I suspected for a long time in my sports medicine practice as a Concussion specialist, and which much research has now come out to prove.  (Here’s  link to start you off if you want to look into that whole thing: .)

Listen guys, I ain’t no misogynist. I’m a medical doctor with advanced degrees in biochemistry and endocrinology. I was steeped in the literature of the hormonal world for years, and I continue to follow this literature. I follow the science. Unfortunately, a whole lot of the Politically Correct world doesn’t. (Although they like to pound on the junk science of anthropogenic global warming as if that proves the opposite, but I digress here…)

Testosterone makes a huge difference between men and women. And it doesn’t start making that difference at puberty: it starts in utero, as the male fetus is being formed. The way boys and men make bones and muscles is literally different than the way girls and women do, and it’s becaue of testosterone. The way our brains develop is different because of testosterone. And so on, and so on.  Men behave differently than women because of testosterone. It’s the way we are made, and no amount of social science flabberjab is gonna change that. 

This makes men more resilient as fighters. It made our ancestors capable of fighting, hunting, and killing bigger, badder animals than ourselves.  Mastadons, cave bears, lions and tigers, all succumbed to our tools and our aggressive nature. I don’t call it good, but I don’t call it bad, either. It’s what happened. If it hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be here to write this, and you wouldn’t be here to read this. 

So taking the attitude that women can negate all of that biological difference by their attitude and skill set is quite simply insane. It defies logic, and it defies science. Yet people are doing it with increasing credulity, and I am stunned by this. 

Jennifer Garner made a movie recently about a bad-ass woman who takes on the entire LAPD and the Mexican Cartel called Peppermint. If you haven’t seen it, don’t bother. The fight scenes are awful, the plot ain’t much better, and every character is flawed, jaded, abused, and downright nasty from start to finish. The fight scenes will make anyone who’s done even an intro to Defensive Tactics cringe, they’re so bad, and the gunfights are beyond stupid. 

Nonetheless. I was in the ER one night a few weeks ago and overheard a few of the nurses discussing the movie, and how much they enjoyed it. They all actually believed that a woman could train to the point of being able to pull of the laughably improbable combatives Jennifer Garner displayed in this movie. I tried to gently persuade them that it wasn’t even remotely possible, but they remain convinced that women are becoming men’s equals in the warrior’s arts. 

I suppose this was inevitable. I suppose we will have to see some catastrophic defeats of American armed forces units, with large numbers of women killed and wounded, before this folly will finally be knocked off its Snowflake perch. I already see too many women with broken faces, heads, and limbs in my ER, but I am resigned to seeing more of them as “tough” women get their heads knocked in when they take on male aggressors using the skills they learned in the gym or dojo. 

I wish America would stop trying to make women into men with boobs. The narrative is a lie. The narrative is going to get some good women hurt, and hurt badly. 

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2018 Training AAR, and new Force Science Institute Paper

Greetings, war brothers and sisters, and Merry Christmas!

2018 was a busier-than-usual-lately training year for Tactical Anatomy Systems. In addition to having the honor of being asked to return to teach at the IALEFI-ATC (International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors – Annual Training Conference), I was brought in to conduct training with several LEA’s. On top of that, I was brought in to provide expert testimony in two separate (but similar) lawsuits brought by condemned men to have their executions conducted by Firing Squad. An interesting side note, this last bit… and one I’m sure will garner a lot of negative publicity for me if the mainstream media decides to act like the pack of jackals they are on this issue. 

On the training side, it was a really good year. By this I don’t mean financially, as Tactical Anatomy Systems barely breaks even at best. No, I mean it was a good year because the agencies I was brought in to train for the most part performed superbly. I would like to single out Captain Michael Maynard and his Nevada Department of Wildlife LE Division officers, who brought me out to their training facility in Winnemucca, NV, in March. This group of men and women performed at a level of firearms proficiency that met or exceeded that of any SWAT team I’ve ever trained with, and that says a lot. I’d like to point out that every group of wildlife enforcement officers I’ve ever trained was well above the average in firearms proficiency, by the way,  but this Nevada bunch was truly exceptional. 

There’s good reason for that. First, wildlife LEO’s tend to be pretty damn self-reliant types to start with. The nature of the job means they work alone 99% of the time, with no backup whatsoever, so they know they have to perform at a high enough standard to stay alive in any SHTF scenario. In other words, they are motivated to be highly proficient with their firearms. But in the Nevada DOW group, I believe they have a second advantage: a command staff that takes firearms training very, very seriously, and puts their money where their mouth is. I wish every LEA administrator in America could be more like Captain Maynard. 

However, I also trained one agency that was a grave disappointment to me. Despite their training sergeant’s claim that they were “highly trained”, this group of cops performed so poorly with their firearms I had to spend more than half the allotted range time teaching basic firearms skills. These cops never train strong-hand-only, and less than half of them had ever fired their duty handgun with their nondominant hand. They never conducted low-light shooting. They never conducted force-on-force training. Not surprisingly, they had a hard time managing even the most basic SXRV training exercises.  At the end of that training day, I had to say a prayer for the good citizens of that city, because in an armed encounter with Bad Guys, the cops there are not going to be able to help them. 

(As I’ve said before, do NOT take SXRV unless you and/or your officers have a degree of firearms proficiency equivalent to a USPSA C-class level. This is not a beginners class, nor a remedial class. It is high-performance combatives training. Come prepared. You won’t be shooting a lot of rounds, but the rounds you do shoot will have a high level of expectation attached to them. You will learn stuff at SXRV that you can use to hone your personal training and/or develop training for your department, but this is not a class designed to make you a better shooter. It’s a class that will make you a better fighter. Learning to shoot better is on YOU.)

Which brings me to the sad case of the recent Force Science Institute study analyzing the firearms performance figures for the CIty of Dallas, TX, Police Department. (I have not trained with Dallas PD, in case you wondered.) If you have not read this report, you can read a summary of it on my Facebook page or go directly to Force Science Institute’s website for the full paper. 

What it breaks down to is this: Dallas PD officers were involved in one-on-one OIS’s 149 times from 2003 to 2017 (14 years, or 10.6 OIS’s per annum). They had a hit ratio of only 35% in these OIS’s, and in more than half of those OIS’s the cops missed the target with every round.  Now, folks who’ve taken my class will already know the sad fact that this is actually better than average performance for America’s law enforcement officers, who typically hit their target only 20% of the time. But 35% is still pretty dismal, and far, far below the 80+% hit ratios being achieved by SXRV-trained agencies. 

How does this happen? 

Simple: don’t train enough, and don’t train well. Design a simple qualification CoF that any idiot can pass so as to keep them all on the streets, and call it good. That’s what Dallas PD has been doing. And it’s what many, if not most, of America’s law enforcement agencies are doing. 

Contrast that with the sort of training conducted by Sgt. Joe Szaz and the FTU of City of Milwaukee PD, with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working for many years. MPD conducts firearms inservice training quarterly, and this is in addition to shooting qualifications twice annually. Each inservice is a 4-hour session, and Milwaukee coppers typically blow off well above 100 rounds in closely regulated exercises at each training session. It’s no wonder that MPD’s hit ratio is the highest I’ve ever seen or heard of among metro police departments in America. 

Again: the difference isn’t just in the quantity and quality of the firearms training given to these deparments. It’s a top-down deal. Good command staff want their cops to have the tools they need to succeed on the streets, and they make sure they get it.  

So hats off to those great police administrators and firearms training units across America who are doing what’s needed to get this job done. Now if someone can just get the word over to Dallas PD…

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God bless Texas. 

And no, I don’t write that in the flip way so many people use the phrase…. offhand, reflexive, expressing the sentiment and the rhythm and almost-rhyme of the phrase, but not really meaning it. 

I mean it when I say it. I say it as a prayer. Yes, I believe in God, and in Jesus of Nazareth, the risen savior of the world. I don’t beat folks over the head with it, but I believe it in my heart and bones. So when I say, “God bless Texas”, I say it to anyone in earshot, but primarily I say it to God. Asking God to keep on blessing this amazing place and these amazing people. 

I am a Texan, and I thank God for that, too. As the saying goes, “Texas: I wasn’t born here, but I got here as fast as I could.” I, and millions of other Texans, are immigrants to this great state, and for good reason. We didn’t move here because it was a toss-up between here, or California, or Florida, or Alabama… we moved here because Texas has become the shining example to the rest of America of the indisputable values that America great to begin with. 

Texas is traditional America personified and with the authority of statehood. Texas encourages business, and businesses thrive here because of it. Texas rejoices in personal financial success of its 28 million citizens by not imposing a state income tax on their hard-earned dollars. And contrary to the bigoted views of east coast and west coast liberals, Texas is a racially and socially diverse state that takes damn good care of its citizens with laws that actually have some commonsense basis in the values that America was founded on. 

Texas is about living well, and living right. Texas is about letting others get on with their lives even if they’re different. Again, despite the stereotypes perpetuated by echo-chamber coastal journalism, Texas is not a backward place where people of color fear for their lives from the Klan or any other boogeyman. 

I’m writing this piece this morning at the airport in Corpus Christi, Texas, waiting to board a flight for Nevada (one of my other favorite states). Tomorrow I will be teaching a Shooting With Xray Vision class to a group of Nevada law enforcement folks. Yesterday I was working up in my old home town in west Texas, where I had lunch with the chief deputy of the county Sheriff’s Office, and we discussed that county’s plans to train a select group of teachers in their school district to carry firearms in their schools for the defense of their children (and they might want TAS to come in and assist in that training). So I had two red-letter days on my mind here  when I got to the airport, and I was already in a really good mood when I walked into the airport store where they sell magazines and books and sundries. 

But it got better. When I approached the magazine rack, there was a plethora of gun magazines. I don’t mean the usual cou8ple-three “outdoors” magazines you find in most airport newsstands. I mean that out of the 80 or so magazines on that huge rack, 12 were gun and/or hunting magazines. I bought the new editions of Guns of the West, Lands & Grooves, Garden & Gun, and Western Horse & Gun. 

Now, there’s something important about these four magazines, in case you haven’t seen a copy. These are all upscale magazines. I don’t mean “upscale” in the sense of Gray’s Sporting Journal or Shooting Sportsman, which are fine and well-established magazines. No, these new magazines that are clearly targeting a market that the mainstream media is trying to pretend doesn’t exist: people who have (or aspire to) wealth, who believe in the core values of America, and who are unashamed of their enthusiasm for firearms. These magazines are aimed at family men, business leaders, and women as much as men. (If there is one trend in the past decade that bears closer scrutiny, it’s the surging interest in firearms and shooting among women… mark my words, female gun-owners and shooters are going to be the demographic that finally kills the anti-gunners’ agenda in America.)

The MSM wants America to believe the stereotype of the white beer-gut ignoramus redneck male as the typical gun owner. They want to dehumanize gun people… actually, they have to dehumanize us, because it’s only by dehumanizing us that they can generate the hatred of us in their readers and viewers that they have themselves. Pejorative names and shallow stereotypes were crucial tools of propagandists in WW1 and WW2, when the Germans were called Heinies and Krauts in Britain, the Japanese were called Slopes or Nips in America, and cartoon caricatures of big-nose evil-looking Jews were used to fan the flames of anti-semitism Germany. And that is exactly what the liberal media is trying to do with us today.

If you dehumanize the people you fear, it’s easier to hate them. And that is what the MSM is trying to do to us, the people who own and carry and shoot firearms. 

But it ain’t working here in Texas. Here in Texas we embrace the “gun culture”, because it’s our culture, and guns are only a part of it. And it ain’t working in large segments of “flyover country” in Ohio and Iowa and Nebraska and Utah, and most of the other non-coastal states. Here, in the real America, we know guns are tools and symbols of free men and women.  

So, I say again: God bless Texas. And God bless all of my fellow gun-owning Americans who share the rock-solid American values that make Texas and America  great. 

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Are You Wearing Someone Else’s Uniform?

A police training advocate and former police chief, former federal prosecutor, and continuing very smart man, Chief Jeff Chudwin is a man I am honored to call my colleague and friend. I first heard him speak at the ILEETA convention in Wheeling, IL, a number of years ago. He said something then that stuck with me, and should stick with you:

“If you don’t get up and go to work every day expecting to get into a fight, then you are wearing a uniform that rightfully belongs to someone else.”

I took Jeff’s words as a personal challenge. At the time, I was the Medical Officer for the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office and SWAT Medic. I had a uniform, a sidearm, a rifle, and I responded to SWAT callouts routinely. Now, I was never supposed to be the guy at the top of the stack of the entry team, and I was never the designated marksman with the 308 doing overwatch; I was supposed to be the guy inside the perimeter who was designated to provide second-tier emergency medical care in the hot zone.

But I was there in uniform and armor with a loaded gun, just like every other team member in that hot zone. And just because I was a doc didn’t mean I wasn’t there to get into a fight if a fight came to me. I was trained to fight and prepared to fight because every member of the team depends on every other member of the team. I would not have taken the job if I wasn’t prepared to fight. I would have stayed in my nice, safe, Emergency Department every day otherwise. 

And this is where the problem arises. In every job there are people who are good at it, dedicated to it, and who embrace the full spectrum of duties and responsibilites. But there are also people who aren’t very good at it, who may even avoid doing parts of the job that they aren’t good at or comfortable with; and this is OK, as long as they move into a position within that job that doesn’t require them to do those “undesirable” parts of the job. 

For instance, a USPS employee who has bad feet. This guy may be a great postal employee, but he’s not cut out to be a letter carrier making home deliveries. He needs a job in the post office where he can sit to do his job, or at least not have to walk as much. No problem, those jobs need people to do them too. 

Or, in the case of my Emergency Department, there are docs who are great at doing all the aspects of the job, which covers the whole spectrum of skills and talents from taking care of a toddler’s boo-boo and comforting the kid’s anxious mom (who is the real patient, most of the time, btw!) to being able to run a trauma code, intubate the critical patient, bang in the central venous lines and chest tubes, and manage the cardiac drugs that will keep him alive long enough for the surgeons to fix the internal leak. This part of the job, the critical care part of the job, is the talent/responsibility that makes the difference between and urgent care doc and a true Emergency Physician. And if a doc doesn’t have those talents, skills, and willingness to jump in to use them, he or she has no place in my Emergency Department. Funny thing: in today’s ED’s, something like 60% or more of our work is basic Family Medicine, 30% or more is complex internal medicine, and less than 10% of our work is critical care medicine. Yet the skillset and mindset that defines us as Emergency Physicians is the ability and willingness to tackle that 10%. 

It’s the same thing with cops. Yes, cops are trained to fight, shoot, tase, pepper-spray, and even shoot bad guys; but new boots quickly learn that almost all of their work is a combination of social work and traffic bylaw enforcement. Most of them grudgingly accept this, because if they wanted to be social workers, they’d have gone to school to become social workers. But a smaller minority of cops actually like the social work, and get into policing as a way of doing it. Some of them start off that way, and some of them drift that way. 

These cops may find that they like to wear the badge and the uniform, but they’re scared of the fights… and this can be good, or bad. It’s good if they recognize it and move themselves out of active patrol duty into an administrative job. Just like the postman with bad feet. But if they don’t make that change, they are putting themselves and their fellow officers at risk should the shit hit the fan.

More important, like the SRO at Parkland, FL, last week, they could put the lives of the citizens they are sworn to protect at risk. I won’t name the deputy who failed in his duty so tragically. But let his shameful lack of action serve as a beacon, like a lighthouse warning ships of a rocky shoreline, to the officers who still serve. 

The role of School Resource Officer looks awfully good to the wrong kind of cop. The chance of a fight is very low. So a cop who’s afraid to fight, or too old and close to retirement to fight, may look at the SRO job as an easy way to finish out his service and slide into his pension. But this is NOT the sort of cop we need in our schools. We need the cop who can and does get along with kids and teenagers, who can be Officer Friendly 99% of the time, but who is not afraid to get into a dust-up or a shoot-out every day.

Every. Single Day. 

As Chief Chudwin said, if you’re not the guy or gal who’s prepared to do that, you have no business wearing the badge and carrying the gun. That badge and gun belong to somebody else, and you’re just an imposter. Get out of there before you screw up, before a bunch of kids get killed due to your inability to do your job, and before your cowardice is put on display for the entire nation to see. 

Let that job go to someone who can do it. Let that job go to someone to whom it rightfully belongs. 

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Ankle Guns

M640 M65 M4442

Ankle guns.

Everybody knows about ’em, everybody talks about ’em, but hardly nobody carries ’em. Those who do are mostly old guys. Old guys like Clint Smith, whose YouTube video on ankle revolvers is short and sweet and straight to the point: . Or old guys like Massad Ayoob, who I noticed was carrying a J-frame revolver on his ankle at the very first class I took from him in Indiana in 1998. Or old guys like me, who have found that ankle carry is a good option for a variety of carry conditions.

The advantages of an ankle gun are significant, as the video points out. The cop literature is full of anecdotes of coppers who have used an ankle gun when they got into a ground grapple, and in other awkward circumstances.  I’ve carried my BUG (backup gun) in a variety of locations over the years: front pocket, cargo pocket, bellyband, and other locations, but the carry location I keep coming back to is the ankle. For comfortable long-term wear and for deep concealment purposes, an ankle rig is about as good as you can get. And for some folks, ankle carry is about the only way they can carry a firearm on a regular basis due to workplace considerations. For instance, an electrician or carpenter who wears a bulky tool belt will not be able to carry his daily CCW piece on his pants belt; ankle carry can be ideal for this person. 

First thing you need to do after watching Clint’s video referenced above, is select an appropriate firearm for ankle carry. People who have never tried ankle carry sometimes have the most bizarre ideas of what will work. This issue was recently brought to my attention by a re-post of the Clint Smith ankle gun video on a Firearms page I follow in Facebook.

As is usually the case on social media, the first couple-three replies were on point, then people started posting pics of their personal favorite handguns with no regard as the practicality of the matter–one guy posted a pic of a 4″ Model 29, for cripes snakes… seriously, dude?–and in no time the discussion devolved into a Glocks vs Revolvers debate, of course. Hay-ZEUS!!!

Anyways. Firearm selection. First, it has to be reliable, like any carry firearm. Second, it has to be light, because it’s gonna be riding on your ankle, and no matter how much you work out you’re gonna notice the imbalance induced by a heavy gun carried on one ankle only. Third, it has to be small or it will not be concealable. Fourth, and I admit this is not really a firearm issue, it has to be carried in a quality ankle holster that actually works. We’ll get to this fourth item later. 

So, what about reliability? This is extra-important for ankle guns, because they tend to get really dirty, and they do it fast. After all, your feet are in the dirt, mud, cowshit, and other nastiness every day. So a gun that is finicky about being clean is not a great choice here. Tightly-fitted autos would fall into this category. Some autoloaders seem to be more impervious to muck, but in general I think revolvers are a bit better in this respect. YMMV, but if you do carry a semi-auto on your ankle, you’ll want to clean it and lubricate it frequently. How frequently? I dunno. I can only tell you that I field-strip and lube my Kahr PM9 ankle gun every couple of weeks when I’m working indoors, and if I’m going outdoors with it, I inspect it daily and clean it every 2-3 days or more, depending on how messy it’s got. And of course it gets cleaned and lubed after every range session. Revolvers seem to need less maintenance… a good wipe-down with an oiled cloth cleans them up.

In the main, revolvers tend to be solid performers even when a bit grungy, so I tend to lean in that direction. This may be a serious consideration in the event you have to shoot someone at contact or near-contact distance. Blowback of blood and tissue fragments from a GSW of this type can be significant, and all of that debris can jam your autoloader’s slide in the frame rails, rendering your autoloader useless. Revolvers work very well even with muzzle contact, as there is no reciprocating slide to get gummed up. Just keep pulling the trigger, and more bullets will happily show up at the usual muzzle velocity. (Clint’s comment about the amplification of effect of contact GSW’s is spot-on, BTW… basically, you inject the high-pressure gases from your muzzle into the wound, which can greatly amplify the amount of permanent tissue damage of the GSW.) The limited capacity of a J-frame revolver may give you pause, in which case it may make sense to you to carry an autoloader with 6 or 7 rounds in it. The choice is yours, but be aware of the pros and cons of both options.

Second factor: weight. You want your ankle gun to be light, because an ankle gun puts your body mechanics out of balance. You will find you have to change the way you stand, the way you walk, the way you cross your legs when you sit, the way you run. Now, those changes will become almost unnoticeable if the gun is light, but as you add weight this can become a serious problem. Example: a S&W Model 442 Centennial aluminum revolver (loaded) in my ankle holster  weighs 25 ounces, but a similarly sized Model 640 revolver in the same holster weighs 35 ounces. Do you think that extra 2/3 of a pound makes a difference? Well, I didn’t think it would until I carried the heavier M640 around for a few weeks and developed Achilles tendonitis in that ankle! Not good! After my doc treated me for the tendonitis, I went back to carrying the lighter M442 and its equally light autoloading compadred, the Kahr PM(, and have had no Achilles problems since. 

I know a couple of cops who have chosen a “baby” Glock for their ankle gun, reasoning that having a 9mm or 40 S&W gun that they can use their primary pistols’ magazines in makes a lot of sense. I agree with them. However, at least two of the guys I know who have made this decision found they needed to put a magazine holder on the opposite ankle to balance things out for patrol duty. They particularly noted they were clumsier when running with the gun on one ankle alone, but this seemed to improve with a couple of magazines on the other ankle to even things out. I haven’t tried it, so I can’t comment one way or another, but balancing your ankle weights makes intuitive sense to me. 

Third factor: size. Small is good for ankle carry, and smaller is better. The primary reason is that you have to pull up your pants cuff to access the gun, and you want this operation to be as smooth as possible. So a small gun with smooth grips worn under loose trousers make the most sense here. Skinny jeans have no place, obviously (not that they ever do, IMHO!). Now, for T&E purposes I have tried carrying a larger gun on my ankle… as it happens a S&W Model 65 3″ K-frame. I found I had problems with the extra weight (42 ounces, loaded), but the real problem was pulling my pants leg up to access the gun due to the larger size of the K-frame compared with the J-frame. Likewise, I tried a friend’s Glock 26 in his ankle holster for a few days, but found the weight of the rig (37 ounces) and its bulk was significantly more bothersome than my Kahr PM9 (22 ounces). 




Size comparison: Smith & Wesson Model 640 (top), 65 (middle), and 442 (bottom). The M442 with CTC Lasergrips weighs 25 ounces in an Alessi ankle holster fully loaded, compared to 35 ounces for the M640, and 42 ounces for the M65. 


As Clint Smith commented in his video clip, once you get used to the weight and bulk of your ankle gun, you won’t even notice it’s there. This may take a few hours to a few days, in my experience, but the lighter the gun, the sooner you will become comfortable with it. 

The fourth factor to consider is the holster itself. I’ve personally tried half a dozen different ankle holsters, and have only been satisfied with two: the Alessi model, long considered the industry standard, and ComforTac. I’ve had my Alessi holster for almost 20 years; it was made for me personally by the late Lou Alessi, with whom I had become good friends on the internet and over the phone. Lou developed his holster for the most demanding customers there are, American cops. Mine has logged thousands of hours over the years, both in civilian use and on-duty use. The molded leather holster grips your gun very tightly without needing a hammer strap, something that I was initially leery of, but which I found was never a problem. You can run, jump, ride horses and bicycles, or any other activity you care to name, and your gun will stay put.  I carry a S&W M442 Centennial Airweight in mine most often, which in my experience is the ideal ankle revolver. You can buy one or more of these excellent holsters from Alessi Holsters online. The ComforTac holster is the only non-leather ankle holster I’ve tried that works as advertised: the gun is held in an elastic pocket by the power of the elastic band and the security of a thumb-snap safety. Unlike most elastic holsters, this one actually keeps my gun firmly on my ankle quite comfortably, almost as comfortably as the Alessi model. I have carried a Kahr PM9 in this holster nearly every day for about 2 years, and I’m pleased to report that it works. 

Ankle holsters work best when worn over top of a long sock. The sock helps pad the holster and keep it in place. But keep in mind that the rig will slide downward due to the tapered anatomy of the lower leg, until it hits something that will keep it from sliding further, which is typically the top of your boot or shoe. For this reason, I find wearing an ankle-high lace-up boot to be the best footwear choice. This not only puts the gun up a little higher inside your pants cuff, it keeps the holster off your ankle bones, which is a lot more comfortable. If you prefer to wear a low-cut shoe, you can improve your holster’s concealment and your wear comfort by putllng a second sock over top of the holster. A friend of mine who works as a paramedic does this, but he cuts the front of the foot portion off his oversock, so that it doesn’t make his shoe too tight. I’ve tried it, and it works, but I still prefer to wear an ankle-high boot most of the time with my ankle holsters. Also, if you wear cowboy boots or motorcycle boots, you can wear your ankle holster higher up on the calf inside the top of your boot. 


Ankle Rigs Two ankle holsters that work.


Drawing your firearm from an ankle holster isn’t slick or pretty. I’ve tried a variety of methods, but they all come down to either a) bending over to get to the gun, or b) bringing the leg up to where you can get the gun. The bendover method works best for me: step back and out with the right (non-gun) leg, grab the trousers below the knee and rip upward, then draw the exposed handgun. Dropping onto the right knee as I bring the gun up allows rapid presentation of the gun to the threat, but taking the time to rise to a standard stance enhances your mobility options. Situational variables will dictate which presentation is best. 

Since small guns tend to be harder to shoot well, I tend to practice with mine at every range session. I carry a spare magazine for the Kahr in a pocket on my left side, and a Speed Strip for my revolver in a right-side pocket. Practicing your reloads from these non-traditional spare ammo locations is a good idea. Also, spending the cash to get a Crimson Trace Laser grip for your hideout gun is a wise investment. I am comfortable with hitting the -0 zone of an IDPA target with my ankle guns’ open sights quite quickly out to 12 yards, but with a CTC laser I can extend that effective range well past 25 yards. 

So, should you try ankle carry? I think it’s an option that every serious CCW person needs to consider. However, the costs involved in buying a dedicated ankle gun and holster might be daunting if not prohibitive for some folks. If that’s the case for you, it might be best to borrow an ankle rig from a friend, or perhaps two or three people can share the expense of a try-out rig that they can all test. But my guess is that every serious defensive firearms person should have this option for carry to fall back on when/if it is expedient or even mandatory for your personal safety.