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Wound Ballistics — Practical Issues

I came across a great, great little article on the interwebs the other day on Active Response Training’s Facebook Page ( ) that you NEED to read. And if you’ve never shot a living animal or person before, you really, really, REALLY need to read it. 

BTW, the article is written by a guy whose writings have been impressing me for a couple of years: Greg Ellifritz. I don’t know this man, we’ve never met. But we have apparently taken training from a lot of the same people, who also happen to be pretty switched-on thinking-about-shooting kinds of people, because so far I’ve found almost nothing in Greg’s writings that I disagree with. Now, that is what we in Pulp Fiction movie-quoting circles call, “a bold statement”.  I typically disagree with parts of just about everybody’s writing, for what I think are good reasons. But two internet writers seem to keep coming back to haunt me with their consistent right-on-ness, and one of them’s Greg Ellifritz. The other, if you must know, is Kathy Jackson. But this is by the by… what’s important here is the content, and the implications of that content. 

You need to read Greg’s article because, as he points out, most defensive-minded gun folks have never shot a real living person or animal, and that is setting them up for Big Time Failure. 

This is important, people. One of the big problems with so-called “tactical training” in America as practiced by 90% of the “tactical trainers” out there is that their classes do not effectively reproduce the major factors at play in a real Deadly Force Situation (DFS).  If you’ve taken one of my Shooting With Xray Vision classes, or Ken Murray’s SIMUNITION school, you will have heard the term Simulator Fidelity.  Literally, this refers to the training being faithful to the actual facts of a DFS. The more closely a training situation reproduces the features of a reall DFS, the greater the degree of Simulator Fidelity that training has. Full-on SIMUNITION force-on-force training has very high Simulator Fidelity, and about as high a degree of Simulator Fidelity as is possible without actually shooting real people. Good Airsoft FoF training can be just as good.

But most “tactical training” is dumbed down to the point that it fails to even remotely simulate the realities of a DFS. As trainers eliminate the critical salient features of real DFS’s–things like 360 degree fields of fire, low light conditions, incoming rounds, getting shot your ownself, etc–the degree of Simulation Fidelity of your “tactical” training is degraded further and further. 

Eventually, when you get to the point where the shooters are on a straight firing line on a square range shooting stationary, flat, paper targets that bear no resemblance to an actual person, your Simulator Fidelity has dropped to about as low as it can go… but this is the commonplace “standard” for 90% or more of the “tactical” training civilians have access to in America. 

And this is creating a huge training scar. 

If you’ve followed my blog or taken my class, you’ve heard about training scars. Training scars are unintended consequences of training that set the shooter up for failure when they get into a real LFS. And I think that the fact that 90% or more of defensive-minded armed citizens have never shot anything remotely resembling living flesh is setting them up for a bad, possibly fatal, training scar. Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be training people on square ranges on paper targets, not at all. Such training is essential for learning the basic and even intermediate level of skill needed to operate a defensive firearm. But at some point you’ve got to get past the square range and into the life laboratory. 

So: the critical point of today’s blog, the very point that Mr. Ellifritz addressed in his article, is that too many folks are hung up on narrow ideas that have become commonly accepted, even dogmatic, but that have very low Simulator Fidelity. This has happened with gelatin testing. Somehow, people have got the crazy notion that the performance of bullets in ballistic gelatin is equivalent to their bullets’ performance in the Real World. So, the noob’s thinking goes, since their bullets will always penetrate 12+ inches of gelatin, they have to worry about what’s going to happen after their bullets shoot right through their 10″ thick opponent and sail on through to strike something or someone else on the other side. 

As the article states, however, the reality of bullets’ terminal performance in flesh is very, very different from the terminal performance of those same bullets in gelatin.  The varying densities of different tissues in the body have profound effects on the penetration a bullet attains. For instance, a bullet fired into the right side of the chest of an attacker that strikes the subject when he’s straight-up facing you is going to follow a very different path than a bullet that strikes him in the midline. Let’s examine those two examples. 

In the first case, the bullet will perforate the chest wall (~1.5″ thick) and then have very low density tissue (lung) to traverse for the next 6-7 inches, then it will penetrate and possibly perforate the posterior chest wall (2.5″). Total measured depth is something like 10-11″, so based on gelatin testing of your bullet/load which shows it penetrating 14+ inches of gelatin, that bullet should exit the body with lots of energy to spare, right?  Well, not so fast, junior. First thing you have to consider is whether the bullet strikes bone (rib, scapula) in the anterior or posterior chest wall. Bone really, really slows bullets down. So if your bullet hits rib on entry, then hits rib on the posterior wall, then hits the scapula after that, it may not have enough energy left over to exit the skin. And even if it doesn’t hit any bone, the skin of the back is the thickest and toughest skin on the human body… and it stretches like Billy-o, so bullets with less than optimal velocity will simply tent the skin outward, then the skin snaps back and the bullet is trapped under the skin. 

So we really don’t know if that bullet of yours will go all the way through, or if it will stop in the body. But to this point, we have only discussed the terminal ballistics of that GSW. We haven’t even begun to talk about the terminal effects of that GSW! But before we get to terminal effects, let’s look at Example #2. 

In this second case, the bullet is striking the chest in the midline, perpendicular to the surface. Let’s say this bullet strike is one inch up from the xyphisternum. This means that the bullet will strike bone (sternum) as soon as it enters the anterior chest wall, and after perforating the chest wall, it passes through a small space (1-2 cm) and then strikes the heart. The heart is a tough, resilient, organ comprised of dense tissues. The bullet chews its way through that, then after perforating the rear wall of the heart, it has to break through the posteriorly located aorta and/or vena cave, then after that the tough and stretchy connective tissue membrane surrounding this bundle of heart and blood vessels. This connective tissue isn’t as tough as skin, but it’s tough enough we have to consider it. Then, the bullet strikes the complex of muscle, bone, and connective tissue comprising the thoracic spinal column. This is where most handgun bullets give up the ghost. By this time the bullet has traversed a good 4-5″ of tough tissue and bone, which has slowed it considerably. One can only assume that the theoretical 1000 fps of velocity the bullet had on leaving your gun’s muzzle has been diminished significantly, perhaps by as much as two-thirds. Its residual momentum or energy will be similarly diminished. If the bullet strikes the vertebral column i the midline, it will have about 1″ of muscle and connective tissue to go through, then it will hit the very hard, very dense bone of the body of a thoracic vertebra, which is about 2″ thick. Few handgun bullets will make it all the way through, and I would venture to say that no service/defensive caliber bullet would do so. The total thickness of tissue penetrated by your bullet in this case is probably something along the order of 8 or 9 inches. And there’s still another 3-4″ of tissues to traverse on the other side of its stopping point!

Now, what does these two examples tell you about the physical performance of your 14+ inch gelatin-penetrating bullet in real flesh? 

If your answer was, “It don’t tell me shit!”, you would be correct. 

Gelatin testing is not a measure of what a bullet will do in flesh. It is an artificial standard that helps us compare one bullet to another. It tells us nothing about actual wound ballistics, but it’s a pretty good predictor of general bullet performance in a real body, as long as you consider the enormous number of variables in tissue and wound track in a body. 

But let’s get back to terminal effects in our example. We’ll look at them in reverse order. Bullet #2 perforated the Bad Guy’s heart, after fracturing his sternum; it lacerated the Great Vessels behind his heart, causing instant massive bleeding, and then as if that wasn’t enough damage, it caused a massive fracture of a vertebra which in all likelihood stunned the thoracic spinal cord, paralyzing him from the chest down. He falls to the ground, losing consciousness in seconds, and in all likelihood dies within 2-3 minutes. Needless to say, his attack on you was aborted milliseconds after the bullet struck his body. This is a Good Thing in the world of self-defense. 

Now, let’s go back to the first bullet, which we’ll assume punched all the way through our attacker’s chest, exited the body with a couple hundred of fps of velocity still dripping off it. It could, theoretically, hit an innocent bystander on the other side, and injure him. In the real world, though, this is pretty unlikely. The bullet will have shed at least 2/3 of its velocity in traversing the chest, so it will be moving slower than a pellet out of a BB gun. It may strike a second person, but it won’t have the energy to penetrate much, if at all. So that is a non-issue. Let’s look at what the bullet has done to our attacker’s anatomy, physiology, and his ability to carry on his attack. Well, on that score anyone who’s taken my Shooting With Xray Vision class knows we’re in trouble. We’ve put a hole in him, sure, but we haven’t  hit–let alone destroyed–anything he is going to need for fighting purposes in the next 10 or 15 minutes. In other words, he will be capable of continuing his attack. This is a Bad Thing. 

And herein lies the trap, the Training Scar. If all your training has been on flat paper targets with no real Simulator Fidelity, you’re going to expect that bullet to stop the attack. After all, you shot him in the chest, didn’t you? Every time you’ve scored a hit inside the 10-ring on your B27 target, or the A-zone of your IPSC target, your instructor has patted you on the back and said, “Attaboy, you killed him good”, didn’t he? But that shit ain’t reality; in point of fact you have not come even close to stopping this bad guy! 

How is that going to affect your performance in this DFS, this fight for your life? You expected him to fall down, to stop fighitng, but he’s still coming on! Your thoughts are racing: “What’s wrong? Is there something wrong with my gun? Is there something wrong with my ammunition? What’s wrong? What’s wrong? What’s wrong? What do I do now?

You get stuck in a paralyzing cycle of disbelief, confusion, and doubt. Your mind and body freeze up. And as you stand there trying to figure out why this situation that you trained so hard for hasn’t gone the way you expected it to, and your attacker murders you with the contact weapon in his hand. 

This, my friends, is what can happen when you have a Training Scar in your mindset. I have read and heard of numerous examples of this very thing happening in real fights, in real DFS’s. It happens to cops, it happens to non-LE civilians. And I hate to say it, but most of you probably have those Training Scars in your heads, and you don’t even know it, and you are ripe for it happening to you. Worst thing, you can’t possibly know it until/unless you get into a DFS and the Training Scars result in you being injured or killed. 

So how can you fix this?

If I could tell you one thing that might jolt that Training Scar out of your head, I would tell you this: break out of your tired old training mindset. It will take some work, some time, and a little money, but it is do-able. 

First step: take at least one good force-on-force training school. These aren’t easy to find, but they are valuable beyond belief. My training company partner, David Maglio, and I used to offer such a school which we called Deadly Force Decisions.  It was a helluva good class. People who took it were amazed, and profoundly grateful to have that training. But we stopped offering it because nobody would sign up for it. People like Henk Iversen (Strike Force Tactical) offer something like it, as do other high-end trainers in America, and even they have trouble getting people to sign up. I wish I could tell you why. 

Second step: kill something. I’m not kidding. Go to an organic farm and buy a slaughter hog and kill it. If you don’t know how, get the farmer to show you, or get a friend who’s a deer hunter to take you. Get up close to the animal, look it in the eyes, and kill it with your carry pistol. Shoot it in the head, between the eyes. Learn what it means to take a life. This isn’t easy for most city folks to do, but consider this: if you can’t kill a farm animal that’s going to die soon anyway, how on earth are you going to shoot a human being at close, deadly-force, distance? I only know of one firearms instructor who does this in his class, and it’s in his most advanced class. People in that class have taken over 100 hours of firearms and Use of Force training by the time they face their pig, and some folks find that they just can’t do it. Better to learn you can’t kill another living being in a class than when you’re faced with an armed and dangerous adversary who wants to kill you.

Third step:  after your freshly killed hog is dead, shoot it a few more times to learn a bit about what your gun and bullets will do in flesh (don’t waste the good meat by shooting the hindquarters, but shoot the chest. Then shoot it in the chest with your AR-15, or your home defense shotgun. See for yourself what your weapons can and will actually do. If you’re already a hunter, next time you kill a deer or a feral hog, take some test shots into the animal’s chest and/or neck and/or shoulders with your defensive firearms. 

If you can do these 3 things, you will have eliminated at least 2 or 3 of the biggest Training Scars that defensive minded armed citizens have picked up in their training over the years. And that could well save your life, or that of your loved ones. 

Failure is not an option. Do the work, take the training, and get rid of those goddam deadly Traning Scars. 


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“Limb Shots”…. Really? REALLY?!?

Soooo… today I stumbled across a blog article on Breach-Bang-Clear about “limb shots”.  This is a cop-oriented site, as far as I can tell. I’ve read several articles on it that have made some good sense. But this one…. no. 

At first, my eye was tagged by the graphic in the article lead on Facebook… targets on the extremities, and one on the lateral gluteal formation that made me think, “Aha! Maybe someone has twigged onto the idea of shooting the lateral pelvis!” But sadly, no. Just… no 

The article’s author raised several really good points against taking shots at bad guys’ arms and legs:

  1. Cops and law enforcement agencies will be highly resistant to the idea, so the battle is gonna be steeply uphill; 
  2. Training cops in a “limb shot protocol” will open up LEOs and LEAs to lawsuits any time they shoot a bad guy anywhere EXCEPT a limb;
  3. Shooting bad guys with knives (and presumably other contact weapons) is the best use of limb shots, but guys with knives are a lot more deadly than the public at large realizes, so shooting them in the leg because “he’s only armed with a knife” is asking to get sliced and diced;
  4. Shooting someone in the leg or arm might still kill them (duh… it’s use of DEADLY force, guys);
  5. Shooting someone in the arm or leg intentionally requires a high degree of proficiency in a high-stress situation, which doesn’t happen very damn often.

But then the author says we should still talk about limb shots, because we need to show the public that we care. Seriously. 

Sigh. Listen up, kids: as anyone who’s trained people to shoot pistols knows that most people suck at shooting handguns. Cops are no exception. In fact, cops are, on average, worse than recreational pistol competitors. We have cops train on human-size targets, and then we give them a generous hit zone to perforate to qualify with their sidearm, and then we let them loose on the street with periodic re-quals, but we know damn well that in between quals they won’t shoot their pistol at all, at all. 


Hitting a target the size of an arm or a leg with your service sidearm, even if it’s holding still and you’re inside 7 yards of it, is not something most people can do at all, let alone in the heat of action. Think about it. The actual target is a joint the size of a Post-It note, or a bone less than an inch wide. How many cops do you know who can hit a playing card, first shot out of a cold barrel, at 7 yards? Maybe one in a hundred? One in five hundred? Now, let’s have that Post-It note start swinging around and see how many can hit it.  When I was competing actively in IDPA and IPSC competition I regularly shot 250 rounds 2-3 times per week for 25-30 weeks of the year, and even when I was at my peak and winning State and Regional matches, I would have had a hard time shooting that Post-It Note. 

That’s the reality of it, folks. It’s gonna be the size of a Post-It note, it’s gonna be swinging and bouncing around, and it’s coming AT YOU at 21 feet per second with a razor-sharp knife attached to it. 

Forget it. Just… no. 

Listen, it doesn’t matter if some members of the public think we don’t care. They’re going to think we don’t care even if we shoot a hundred young men in the legs, trust me on this. So let’s get past that nonsense right off the bat. 

But there is an alternative here.  If you want to make a difference in your shooting options, and in your FTU inservice program, you can start teaching your cops to shoot the lateral pelvis as an alternate targeting zone, and that is a helluva lot more do-able than any “limb shot protocol” I’ve ever heard of, and it MIGHT make people think that you care more about the welfare of your local felons than they do now. So that’s a win-win, right?

Think about it: the lateral pelvis is actually a larger area in frontal presentation than the High Chest. (The High Chest is our primary target zone in Tactical Anatomy’s Shooting With Xray Vision). So it’s actually a moderately feasible shot to make on a perpetrator armed with a contact weapon who is facing you at a distance of 7-10 yards. Even if he starts to charge at you it’s feasible, because as anyone who’s played football or hockey knows, no matter how much the arms and legs and head flail and bob and juke, the pelvis stays stable and moves in a more or less linear fashion. Which is why your coach taught you to tackle your opponent around the hips. 

And you get more bang for your buck when you shoot the lateral pelvis. A pelvic fracture is possible or even probable, and once the perp’s hip/pelvis is broken, he’s going to ground, and he ain’t gonna get up and run any more. If you don’t believe me, ask your local orthopedic surgeon about the “weight-bearing triangle” of the pelvis and have him explain it to you. 

Best of all, if you target the perpetrator’s lateral pelvis, you might not have to kill him. That GSW is survivable, if he’s lucky. (When it comes to GSW’s, luck is ALWAYS a factor.) This has actually been proven by a number of my SXRV graduates who went on to use their training in a street shooting. One of my more “famous” SXRV graduates, a police firearms instructor, actually had an OIS where he was really, really reluctant to shoot the offender who was charging him with a large edged weapon. The offender happened to be the teenage son of his neighbor… and he told me that he heard a voice in his head say, “Dude! Remember what Doc said! You don’t have to kill this kid!”, at which point he shot the offender in the lateral pelvis. The offender hit the ground instantly, unable to get up, and ultimately survived the incident. 

So here’s the real dope: don’t even THINK about any kind of “limb shot protocol”. The arguments against it, as enumerated at the start of this piece, should be enough to dissuade you from that lunacy.

Instead, learn how to target the lateral pelvis. Take a SXRV class and teach your agency how to shoot the lateral pelvis. Buy the Instructor Manual and learn how to shoot the lateral pelvis. Any and all of the above. 

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Negligent Discharges

“One of our guys shot himself in the foot this evening. He racked the slide with a finger on the trigger and cranked off a round through the dash of his truck and into his foot. 

No, it wasn’t a Glock; it was Saint Browning’s design. 

The wound isn’t serious. 

His pride is in critical condition.”

-Lee Weems, Facebook Friend, posted Sept. 18, 2017


Negligent Discharge of a Firearm (ND) is the term many gun-nuts and rifle-looneys prefer to the old “Accidental Discharge”.  I suppose I agree, for the most part. After all, having a firearm fire when you aren’t planning on it firing doesn’t just happen for no reason… there is always a factor of operator negligence at play. Hammers that have been sitting in a cocked and locked condition for 5 years don’t just suddenly drop on the firing pin for no reason. Loaded guns in safes or in holsters don’t “just go off” on their own. 

That marvellous invention, the modern firearm, is one of the most clever inventions of all time. I truly mean that. Whether it’s a Glock autopistol, a Smith & Wesson revolver, a Browning Auto shotgun, or a WInchester rifle, the firearm as currently manufactured in the modern world is an incredibly effective and efficient device that does exactly what it’s supposed to, every time the operator uses it as it was intended. 

Note: I wrote the phrase as it was intended very specifically. Because when used in a manner that was NOT intended by the designer and manufacturer, a firearm can become a deadly and dangerous thing. And that is apparently what happened in the incident described above. The operator put his booger hook on the bang-switch and then actuated the entire firing mechanism. BANG. 

It happens that fast. 

I was surprised to see how reasonable most of the responses to this incident were… at least the responses on Facebook. Having been on internet firearms forums for nearly 20 years, I’ve read just about every nasty, disrespectufl, and unsympathetic comment you can imagine when reports of a ND make the rounds. But most of the people responding to Lee’s post were basically nice about it. Maybe it’s because most of the respondents are experienced shooters, and they’ve had a ND themselves.

I am one of them.  In fact, I’ve had three ND’s in my life. 

And with a tally of three, I’m doing pretty well, statistically speaking. I’ve done some reading and research on this topic, and I’ve learned that several credible authorities say that the incidence of ND’s approaches 100% for every 50,000 rounds fired. Others put the number a bit higher, some a bit lower. But the actual number isn’t as important as the virtual certainty: the more you handle and shoot firearms, the more likely it is that you will have a Negligent Discharge. 

“Impossible!” says the Self-Proclaimed Expert. “I’ve never had a Negligent Discharge in 40 years of shooting.”

Statistically speaking, that is extremely unlikely. Most people I’ve talked to who claim to never have had a ND fall into one of 3 categories:

1) They shoot very little. These are the guys who own or collect guns, but rarely go hunting or go to the range to shoot them. They are far more common than you might think. Having spent years as a range officer and very active shooter at a local gun club, I can cite dozens of cases. Guys I really liked, guys I like to hang out with, have a beer with in the clubhouse after a couple rounds of trap, who were always at the club, but somehow never got around to actually going out to the firing line and shooting. These guys haven’t had a ND because they simply haven’t come close to 50,000 rounds fired, so their statistical risk is low. 

2) They have had ND’s, but they’ve “explained” them away.  These guys are just as accident-prone as the rest of us, or maybe even moreso. But when their ND happens, they brush it off as being due to some factor outside of their control. “The sear on that gun was filed down too far,” or “My gloved finger caught the trigger,”, or some such. These “explanations” aren’t exactly lies, but they skirt the edge of falsehood. If the sear was filed too far, then get it fixed and don’t take a file to your guns again, let an expert gunsmith tune your triggers for you! If your glove caught the trigger, you need to fix the gun or your glove or your manual of arms to be damn sure it doesn’t happen again. But saying to yourself that it wasn’t a Negligent Discharge vastly increases the risk that you’ll just  blow the whole thing off and not correct the causes, and it will happen again. 

3) They’ve had ND’s, but they lie about it.  There is no excuse for this. If you’ve had one, stop what you’re doing and own it. Learn from it. Admit it when asked. But denying it ever happened increases your risk of it happening again by an unknowable amount… you can’t learn from your mistakes if you don’t acknowledge them! 

My ND’s: How They Happened and What I Learned

My first ND happened when I was 12, and my total round count was about 500. I was out in a pasture, hunting gophers with my dad. I had my single-shot Anschutz .22 rifle, Dad had his Browning Challenger .22 pistol. We always had a great time shooting gophers together and those Saturday afternoon outings are cherished memories of time with my father. Well, somehow in those early days I got into the habit of testing the trigger of my rifle, for reasons that make no sense to me now. This amounted to just pressing it lightly as I walked along, my thumb on the safety latch to make sure it was forward, then pressing until I felt the secure and solid resistance of the safety blocking further movement of the trigger. I don’t recall how many times I did it, or even why I did it. Then one day as we were walking together across a field, the comforting solid resistance of the safety blocking the trigger’s travel wasn’t there, and a bullet slammed into the ground beside my right foot. Not close enough to even qualify as “close”, because I was always conscious of muzzle direction, but still it was a ND. My father was furious, and he decided that our day of shooting was done right then and there. I was chagrined, ashamed, and disappointed. But I learned a hugely valuable lesson, one that seared the Third Rule of Firearm Safety onto the surface of my cerebral cortex forever and ever amen: never put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to fire.  

My second ND happened when I was in my 40’s, in my early years in pistol competition. By this time I estimate I had over 100,000 rounds of ammunition fired: trap and sporting clays leagues, pistol league, hunting, and practice for all the above. By anyone’s accounting I was a pretty damn experienced shooter. I had been to our local gun club’s indoor range that dark winter evening to shoot a couple of rounds of National Match rimfire for our local Bullseye league. After the match rounds I fired 150-200 rounds of 9mm through my IDPA match gun, a Taurus PT92AF, and my daily carry pistol, a Kahr P9. The Kahr pistol company was new then, and their small but artful pistols were highly sought after. Still are, come to think of it!

Anyway: when I got home I went down to my basement workshop and cleaned both centerfire pistols, then my Ruger MkII target pistol. I was still feeling “gunny”, so I commenced to doing some dry-fire drills with my Kahr. I was pretty strict about dry-fire, having taken Massad Ayoob’s dry-fire rules to heart. I had locked away all my ammo, triple-checked my gun, and then commenced doing draw-and-fire drills on a B27 target I had hanging on the basement wall. The phone rang, and I picked it up, and entered into a lively conversation with a good friend that went on for 20 minutes or so. As we chatted, I haphazardly decided to end my dry-fire session and to load up “for the street”. I unlocked my ammo cupboard and took out a box of 9mm carry rounds, my Kahr magazines, and re-charged the mags, slapped a mag into the butt of my carry gun, racked the slide, and holstered it. The conversation ended and I went about tidying up my shop before going to bed. But the dry-fire mentality was still stuck in my head, as I hadn’t performed my usual session-end ritual. This ritual involves me saying OUT LOUD as I load and holster my weapon, “I am loading my weapon with live ammunition. All training is over.”  This helps me focus on the transition from training to being ready for fighting. (I learned this concept from Ken Murray when I took his SIMUNITION school many years ago, and still practice it at all my classes today.) Somehow, distracted by the phone call and my to-do list, my mind was still engaged in the dry-fire drill. Without thinking about it, I turned to square up to my B27 target, yanked my pistol, and fired. WHAM. The sound of that 9mm round going off in the tight confines of my workshop was deafening.  

I had violated my dry-fire rules. Dry-fire involves a conscious decision to ignore the First Rule of Gun Safety (All guns are always loaded), and by failing to turn off the dry-fire ritual in my conscious and subconscious mind, I had violated the First Rule. I was shocked, chagrined, and embarassed. My wife chewed my ass royally when she came downstairs to see what the noise was all about, and she was right to do so. The saving grace in this scenario was that I knew what my muzzle was pointing at, and I was conscious of both my target and the background (the Second and Fourth Rules), so no damage to anything but my pride and my practice B27 target and the stone wall behind it was done. 

My third ND happened 7 years ago. By this time I had a grand total of somewhere north of 250,000 rounds of ammunition fired, lifetime. In addition to my routine summer and fall trap and sporting clays leagues, winter rimfire pistol league, and hunting activities, I had got involved in IDPA and Cowboy Action Shooting. I was shooting over 12,000 rounds of centerfire pistol ammunition for IDPA training and matches alone for more than 10 years. My pistol skills were as smooth as they could be. I had also started shooting 3-gun, and was shooting thousands of rounds of 5.56mm ammo every year as well, plus my usual shotgunning excesses. To give you some idea how ridiculous my shotgun habit was, I had worn out my old MEC reloading machine; I had had it overhauled so many times that the guy who did the work on it told me to take the one hour drive down to Mayville and buy a new one, which I did. I guess that speaks to the durability of modern firearms, too… I had fired all of those 12-gauge shotshells through only 3 shotguns: an Ithaca-SKB 200E side-by-side double, a Franchi O/U double, and a Remington 870 Wingmaster. All 3 of those shotguns are still working fine with nothing more than routine cleaning and oiling, unlike the MEC Grabber, which went on the scrap heap!

So it kind of makes sense that my ND this time didn’t involve any of the firearms I’d been handling so much over the preceding 45 years. This time it was a muzzleloading rifle. I know, it sounds impossible, but here is how it happened.

I had been going on a late-season muzzleloader hunt with the same dozen guys for years, out in the Driftless Area of western Wisconsin. Every day at the end of shooting light we would line up by the trucks at the side of the road, cap our rifles, and fire a volley into the ground to clear the barrels; in the damp and foggy weather of late season Wisconsin deer hunting, this was a necessity. Leaving powder in your barrel overnight could lead to soggy powder, and soggy powder won’t burn, and powder that won’t burn means a muzzleloader that won’t fire on command to kill a deer. The problem was that at the end of the last day of the 2009 season, it was foggy and had been raining so hard that my muzzleloader wouldn’t fire. The powder was damp, or there was water in the priming channel, or whatever… so I couldn’t clear it. And I had put my rifle away, uncapped but still loaded with powder and ball, and forgotten about it. Fast forward to the night before the first day of the 2010 muzzleloader season. I took my front-stuffer out of the safe, and as part of my usual preparation, I took out a tin of caps and placed one on the nipple. Firing a couple of caps before you load your rifle is smart: it clears out any dust or moisture that may have accumulated, and you can confirm that everything is clear by placing a small piece of paper on the floor just an inch or so from your muzzle. When you snap your cap, the paper will flutter away from the exhaust gases. I laid a piece of paper on the floor, capped the nipple, placed the muzzle near the paper, and snapped the trigger. BAWHOOM!! The 50-caliber round ball that had been sitting in the barrel on top of a full charge of now-dry black powder for almost a year smashed into the wooden floor of my workshop. My ears rang for days. 

Again, I was chagrined, embarassed, and ashamed of my mistake. But I had no damage to myself, other than my pride. Strict adherence to the Second Rule had spared me from tragic consequences. 

At 63 years of age I’m pushing close to 300,000 rounds of ammunition fired. I’ve had 3 ND’s, and I grimly own every one of them. I am not proud of them, but I refuse to blow them off or to lie about them, because they confirm the ironclad rules we all are bound by when we use firearms. I have learned from my three ND’s, and I hope there will never be a fourth. But if there is, I pray that I have the good fortune (or sense, or whatever) to only violate one of the Rules, and thereby avoid harming anyone or anything I care about. 


The Four Rules of Firearm Safety

1. Handle all firearms as if they are loaded.

2. Never allow your muzzle to cross anything you are not prepared to destroy.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are prepared to fire.

4. Be sure of your target and whatever is behind it.  


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The Forgotten Third Component

From John Mosby’s “Mountain Guerilla Blog” the other day: 

“… there are really only TWO fundamentals to hitting what you are trying to hit, when firing a gun: you need a valid sight picture (including sight alignment), and you need to be able to break the trigger, without disturbing that sight picture [trigger control].”

Those of you who know me know that I disagree with this simplification. I don’t disagree with it because I think sight picture and trigger control aren’t fundamentals of handgun shooting, because they manifestly are.  What I disagree with is the idea that they are the only fundamentals. 

Look: I learned pistol fundamentals the old school way. I joined a rifle & pistol club, joined the National Match pistol league, bought a .22 rimfire target pistol, and learned how to shoot Bullseye. The man who taught me almost everything I needed to know about pistol shooting was a senior member of that club named Joe Galica. Joe was a retired Navy man, a CPO, and he had been on the Navy Pistol Team for most of his military career. Joe was a phenomenal pistol shooter, even then, years after his retirement from competition, but that’s not the point; the point was that Joe taught me about sight picture and trigger control, and I did my level best to learn them from him. 

“Pistol shooting is easy,” Joe would say, puffing on his corncob pipe at the bar after each match. “You only need to master two things: sight picture and trigger control.” 

Ha, ha, ha. Easy my ass. I shot thousands and thousands of rounds of Eley .22 Long Rifle target ammo trying to master those fundamentals, and I can’t say that I ever gained true mastery. Sure, I became a pretty consistent 285-290 score National Match shooter, but that’s not mastery. Mastery is beoming a consistent 299-300 score shooter, and I simply didn’t have the talent and coordination to be that guy. But I must admit I got pretty good. 

The problem with Joe’s simplification–like Mosby’s simplification, as quoted above–is that in National Match target shooting, the place you want your bullets to go is clearly defined. It’s the little white X in the middle of the 10-ring. Everybody knows it, so nobody talks about it, and we all proceed as if knowing where you want your bullets to go is a non-issue. Which is fine when you’re shooting paper targets, or steel plates, or anything else that doesn’t live and breathe. 

But when your target lives and breathes and moves, and presents itself at different angles and elevations, like a deer or a buffalo, knowing where to put your bullets suddenly is no longer a non-issue… you have to know where the bullets need to go to kill the animal so you can take him home and eat him. Or, in the case of a buffalo, or other dangerous game, you need to know where the bullets go so the animal doesn’t kill you.

The latter case matters even more when your target isn’t an animal, but a human being who is intent on killing you. If you don’t put your bullets into his vital target anatomy so as to bring about rapid incapacitation, he may well continue or accelerate his felonious actions to as to incapacitate you with extreme prejudice. 

Just because we aren’t shooting at a Bullseye target when we are in a gunfight doesn’t mean that we don’t need to know where the bullets need to go. Yes, it’s more complicated than shooting black and white circles on a buff piece of paper. But it’s not rocket science, anyone can learn it if they take the trouble to learn.

So my version of Mosby’s axiom would go something like this:  There are THREE  fundamentals to hitting what you are trying to hit, when firing a gun: 1) you need to know WHAT you are trying to hit, and where it is in the body of your opponent from any angle of presentation, 2) you need a valid sight picture (including sight alignment), and 3) you need to be able to break the trigger, without disturbing that sight picture.

Point Number One is what Tactical Anatomy Systems’ Shooting With Xray Vision class is all about. You need to know where to shoot the bad guy to bring the armed encounter to a rapid conclusion. You must incapacitate your opponent before he incapacitates you. 

Now, I’ve had people argue against my position. I even once had an instructor–a very hi-speed, lo-drag, way-cool “operator”–contradict me in his range class at a national firearms trainer conference. Erik’s position was that he didn’t care about his opponent’s anatomy, he was just going to shoot the “center of mass” of whatever part of his opponent was visible. Mind you, he was teaching a combat carbine class, and I will concede that precision shot placement is somewhat less critical when you’re firing rifle rounds through a select-fire carbine. The energy of a 5.56mm or 7.62mm rifle round is measured in the thousands of foot-pounds, whereas pistol rounds’ energy is measured in hundreds. The need for precision shooting with a handgun is much, much more immediate than with a rifle. 

SXRV was and is intended to be taken primarily as a pistol class. It was developed to meet the needs of tactical and defensive shooters, police and non-sworn civilians, not military operators or riflemen. 

So let’s be clear. If you’re carrying a pistol for personal protection, you need to be able to perform all 3 fundamentals of pistol shooting to an acceptable standard, at any time, in any place, with little or no notice prior to the event. You’ll also probably need to be able to do a whole bunch of other things, like draw your weapon quickly and cleanly, and after you successfully neutralize the threat, you’ll need to know how to deal with the aftermath. 

You can learn 2 of the 3 fundamentals by taking a basic pistol class, but mastering them will take thousands and thousands of rounds. If you’re serious about defending yourself and your family, you have an obligation to shoot all of those rounds, and keep shooting them as long as you intend to continue in this mindset. 

But to learn the third fundamental, you’ll need to learn the SXRV curriculum. You can learn it from my book, or from someone who’s taken my class, but don’t just assume you “know” where to shoot your opponent. I’m amazed at the anatomic “knowledge” many of my students think they have before they take SXRV. 

Now, once you’ve got the 3 fundamentals under your belt, let me reiterate my position from a previous blog entry: you need to take some gunfighting classes (try Thunder Ranch or Tom Givens, among many others), and you need to take some Aftermath classes (nobody does this better than Massad Ayoob in his MAG-40 class).

Train the way you expect to fight, for you will surely fight the way you have trained. 

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3 Positive Points: Countering Common Self-Defense Myths

I stumbled across yet another Sheriff Jim Wilson article this morning, and it tweaked my coffee-deprived brain… his article struck a chord. Sheriff Jim chose to write about 3 commonly held bits of “wisdom” that, when examined critically, are Really Bad Ideas.  

Jim chose to write about the 3 myths, which is great for getting a lot of hits. “Myth” is a keyword for Google spiders and for social media cruisers, y’know. (That’s why I put that word in the heading for this blog article, after all!). But I want to focus on the corollaries of those myths, y’all. Because I’m just such a positive, ray-of-freakin’-sunshine kind of guy. So here goes: these are my 3 Positive Points every concealed-weapons carrier needs to look hard at. 


1) FInd a good CWW package and STICK WITH IT

This should be a no-brainer. Buy a reliable gun and a good, failsafe holster. Load it with reliable high-performance ammo. Then use that same load-out every day, practice with it every time you go to the range, and don’t “mix it up just because”. Stick with the same package. 

Why? Because you don’t want to repeat the experience of people who’ve BTDT and got burned. American Handgunner editor Roy Huntington wrote about an experience he had when he was still an on-duty plainclothes copper: he had been testing a bunch of different holsters for his column in AH, and one day in the midst of all this he found himself hunkering behind his vehicle’s engine block while Bad Guy Bullets were tinking into his POV, and he was busy slapping himself all over his body, trying to find his gun. He eventually did find it, and used it effectively in the successful termination of the subject’s felonious behavior. All’s well that ends well. 

But this is something that you NEVER want to happen to you as an armed citizen. First reason, you are far more likely to be alone when the flag goes up, not in a posse of fellow cops as Roy was. So you won’t have the luxury of time to get your hands on your piece. And all the rest of the reasons are unimportant. You just need to know where your CCW piece is, every day, same day.

For most of us who’ve carried concealed for a long time, that location is behind the strong side hip on the belt. IWB or OWB is not really an issue, it’s your call. And if you carry a BUG, do the same; again, the most common position is strongside front pocket, with support side front trouser pocket a close second. 

True story:  I was at a LE conference a few years ago, talking with friends after a session had ended. There were 5 other guys in the circle, all veteran cops, from all over America. One of the guys said, “This is a bust: what are you carrying for your primary and BUG right now?” Three of the five of them had a 1911A1 of some sort in an IWB holster, strongside hip, and the other two had Glocks; but all carried a J-frame in one of the front pockets. Me, the 6th guy, not as experienced, had a Glock 23 in my IWB strongside holster, and a Centennial Airweight J-frame in my front pocket. 

These 6 guys hadn’t come to that conclusion by reading gun magazines. There was easily 100+ years of patrol experience in that group, scores of gunfights won, and I’d venture close to a million rounds of ammunition fired downrange in training and actual combat. This was a switched-on bunch of guys… and they’d all chosen the exact same carry package. 

Think about it. 

Now, some of us have done a LOT of shooting with several different firearms, and from time to time you may want to carry a different firearm. For instance, my shooting/range records show I have fired well over 50,000 rounds of full power centerfire ammunition through my K-, L-, and N-frame Smith & Wesson revolvers. This has been primarily in competition and training for competition (IDPA and USPSA), but some has been in the hunting field as well. The bulk of that has been +P 38 Special, which is cheap to load and shoot, with 357 Magnum, 44 Magnum, and 45 Colt rounding out the rest of it. Because the manual of arms of all double-action S&W revolvers is the same, I have no qualms about carrying any of my S&W revolvers for personal defense, and I have done so many times. Most of the time my daily carry is an auto, on my belt, as above. But from time to time (such as when I’m preparing to take/teach a revolver class) I’ll carry a revolver for several days or weeks at a time. And during hunting season, especially when I’m hunting in the mountain West, I don’t travel with one handgun for town and another handgun for the field… I pack a DA revolver and that serves for both.

The key here is that I don’t just switch it up for shits & grins. I make a deliberate decision to change my mode of carry, and then I prepare for it. If I can’t make it to the range to shoot a couple hundred rounds, I make sure to put on my revolver holster and do some dry draw-and-fire drills to shake out the cobwebs; I don’t just pitch my G19 into the drawer and put on the revolver. Then I carry the revolver daily for an extended period of time… days, weeks, or even months.

For folks who don’t have thousands of rounds through each gun in their rotation, switching out can be a really bad idea. I once watched a guy at an IDPA match draw his Beretta and repeatedly mash the trigger without effect, his thumb flailing at the side of the frame searching for the manual safety of his daily -carry 1911. This is NOT something you want to happen to you in a gunfight!

If you’re going to carry different guns, make sure they have some commonality of manual of arms. I am comfortable with Glock, 1911, and one or two other auto-pistols because they all work pretty much the same, the way I shoot:  thumbs forward style lends itslef to sweeping the safety off naturally if it’s there (1911, etc), and isn’t a porblem if it’s not (Glock). But I made a conscious choice a number of years ago to not carry any pistol with a slide-mounted safety because of the different location.


2. Carry Your Concealed Firearm With a Round in the Chamber

First point on this issue: all of the old farts I just described in the above anecdote were carrying “hot”… which is to say, there was a round in the chamber of their autopistols, and all five chambers of their revolvers contained live cartridges as well. So there’s the voice of experience, if you’ve ever heard it. 

I’m not sure what gun-o-phobe came up with the  cockamamie idea of carrying a fighting weapon unloaded, but I’m here to tell you today that this myth of gun safety is so far from logical I can’t find words to describe my irritation every time I hear it. I don’t know where these people got this idea, but I know how to fix their delusion. 

You fix this delusion by actually using a defensive firearm. Get some good training on use of the firearm, so you can be comfortable carrying it in “ready” condition. Millions of trained CCW Americans do it every day, and there’s a damn good reason for doing so. 

When a self-defense situation presents itself to us, we are surprised. This makes sense. If a prudent person knew someone was going to try to rob or kill him at the 7-11 this evening, that prudent man would simply not go to the 7-11, and any need for self-defending would be eliminated. But the inescapable truth is that almost every time an armed citizen legitimately defends his life with a gun, he is surprised by the attack he has to defend against… after all, if you go looking for a fight, you’re gonna be prepared for the escalation, so it ain’t a surprise.

So. You’re surprised. Guy sticks a gun in your face and demands your wallet. You freeze, you think about whether you should reach for your carry pistol, then the robber is distracted and points the gun at something else. You have a very short time-frame in which to draw and fire your pistol into the attacker before he turns the gun back on you. If your defensive handgun has an empty chamber, you just added something like 1.5 to 3.0 seconds to your action: the time it will take to draw your gun, rack the slide, and then get the sights on the target.

Don’t believe me? Then take a shot timer and go to the range and record your time to draw-and-fire with a loaded chamber, and with an empty chamber that you have to rack first. I’ve done it, and I can tell you that my average time with a loaded chamber is about 1.2 seconds. With an empty chamber, my average time is over 2.5 seconds.

Would1.3 seconds difference count in this life-and-death scenario?  Well, consider that once you go for your gun, your adversary will need about 0.25 seconds to react to your furtive movement; then he will need about 1.0 second to bring his gun back to you and another 0.25 seconds to fire. That’s 1.5 seconds, tops. Carrying a gun with a loaded chamber, my first round will be tearing through his vital anatomy about 0.3 seconds before he can bring his gun to bear on me, and then my second round will impact about 0.25 seconds after that; so in this scenario I win. I live. However, if I’m carrying a gun with an empty chamber, I will feel his first round slam into my chest before I’ve got the slide all the way back to rack a round into the chamber. I lose. I die. 

So, you make the choice. If you feel carrying with an empty chamber is “safer”, despite the risk of this scenario going against you, that’s your call. 


3:  Take A Gunfighting Class. Then Take Another. 

Many years ago I became an NRA Certified Pistol Instructor. We were told in our instructor class that this was a basic class, and we were not certified to teach personal protection. That wasn’t even the role of the NRA Personal Protection class, which is tasked with teaching folks how to defend themselves with a firearm. In other words, neither of these was a gunfighting class. 

I went on to take many other classes from great instructors, which made me a better pistol shooter. Some of those instructors were highly regarded civilians like Massad Ayoob and John Farnam, and some of them were from police instructors whose names you would never recognize, but were great teachers nonetheless. I learned to be a really good pistol shooter from these people. I went on to use those skills to win a bunch of tin at pistol matches. 

But none of those classes taught me how to win a gunfight. 

A simple self-defense shooting is not a gunfight. Bad guy points his gun at you, you fire your gun, he falls down, and then he surrenders or dies; this is not a gunfight. In a gunfight, bullets are going both ways. In a gunfight, there’s a good chance you’re going to get shot unless you’re very good and/or very lucky. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being Very Bad and 10 being Very Good, a justified defensive shooting is about a 2.5, and a gunfight is a 1. The only thing in the worldwide use of firearms worse than being in a gunfight is being killed in that gunfight (which I would call a 0 on the good-bad scale).

Fortunately, if you carry a gun for personal protection, the chances you’ll have to use it are very small, and the chances of being in a gunfight even smaller. But the possibility is still there. So the prudent self-defender will get some training in gunfighting. 

I was fortunate to be involved with a number of law enforcement training organizations right after the turn of the century, and I was trained in gunfighting using SIMUNITION, from certified instructors. Really, really good training. I also received gunfighting training from civilian trainers such as Henk Iversen, Pat Rodgers, one or two of former Gunsite instructors, and so forth. The first class I took, a carbine class from a former Gunsite guru, really opened my eyes to the size of my knowledge gap (it was a freakin’ chasm!). Shortly after that I got a shot at the SIMUNITION training, and I jumped at it. Then I had a shoot-house course at an IALEFI annual conference. 

Every gunfighting class I took taught me something new, and made me realize there was more I didn’t know. I kept taking classes until I wrapped up my active involvement in law enforcement and turned in my SWAT gear. Even after that, I’ve made a point of taking at least one fighting class every year to keep my mind sharp, and I still shoot many of the same gunfight preparation drills I learned in the classes I took. 

Do you need to take a gunfighting class? Well, yes, you do. 

You need at least 2 classes if you’re going to carry a gun for active self-protection, in my opinion. The first is an armed citizens’ self-defense class such as that taught by Marty Hayes of Seattle Firearms Academy, or by Massad Ayoob of MAG (formerly LFI). The second is a good gunfighting class such as Thunder Ranch’s Defensive Handgun, Henk Iverson’s HITS, or something similar. If you can get into a SIMs class taught by a reputable instructor, that would be an outstanding piece to add to your shooting resume. 


Well, that’s about as wordy as I can get today. I sincerely hope this will stimulate some critical thinking on the part of my readers. 


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Defensive Shotgun: Myth vs Reality

Hey there, kids! I know it’s been a while since Uncle Doc wrote a blog entry. Sorry, it’s not been for lack of inspiration, as I’ve had lots of ideas… but time has been at a premium due to Life its ownself getting in the way. 

But here’s the deal today: I have a few minutes to write something down, and I want to do it because I’m hoping it will prod me to do something I’ve been threatening to do for a number of years. That is, to make a couple-three-four internet videos about the realities of gunshot wounds, terminal ballistics, and terminal effects. A picture is worth a thousand words, and video is worth 1K pixel-pictures, etc. You get the idea. 

But anyway. I happened across a Facebook post today, linked to an article written by fellow Texican Sheriff Jim Wilson. Now, I have never met Mr. Wilson, but we’ve used the same gunsmith from time to time in Ozona, TX. That’s about as close as we’ve got.

Well, Sheriff Jim wrote an article about shotguns for home defense, and linked it to his Facebook page. And it’s a pretty good article. I haven’t got much in the way of a bone to pick with the article. But the Facebook comments!! Oi.

It prompts me to address some of the shotgun myths that seem to be running rampant. And after I do that here in the Blog, I’m going to set about making some videographic evidence to back up what I have to say. Which may take some time, but if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

Those of you who have followed my blog by now must realize a couple of things. First, I have more than a little knowledge of the actual terminal effects of firearms on human flesh from more than a quarter century of trauma medicine training and practice. Second, I have more than a little knowledge of the ballistics field, from more than 45 years of actual firearms use in hunting, target shooting & competition, tactial training, and ballistics testing. As a result of this background, I tend to have a short fuse when it comes to going ballistic over internet/gunshop mythology. 

When it comes to firearms, believing in myths demonstrably gets people hurt and/or killed. 

So, in no particular order, here’s the myths that drive me crazy, and the refutations. 



Okay, I’ll cut to the chase on this one, and then go into the explanation. The plain fact is that if I fire my shotgun in my home, the last thing I’m concerned about is “safety”… I’m thinking more in terms of “deadly”, as in putting a deadly projectile into the vulnerable target anatomy of the armed and dangerous Bad Guy who has criminally intruded into my home! 

But people seem to want the assurance that if they somehow miss the Bad Guy with their load of deadly flechettes, there will be no collateral damage. For some reason they don’t think they need to worry about this with a pistol or a rifle, but with a Deadly Shotgun, this is a Serious Concern! So following this particular twist of nonlinear thought from a false premise, it seems to these folks that you have to use ammunition that is lethal, but just not quite as lethal as all the other shotgun ammunition out there… yeah, right. 

Ok. I will try not to say “give me a fucking break here people”. Oops. This ain’t Harry Potter at Hogwarts, magic does not exist. Physics does. 

I have been a shotgunning fool since I was 12 years old. I have personally fired, by my biased estimate, well over 100,000 rounds of shotgun ammunition in my lifetime. Most of those have been target rounds, but a great number of them have been fired to kill things. Birds, mostly, but also rabbits, deer, skunks, badgers, raccoons, and other living things that needed killing at the time. Most of the time, the things I’ve shot at have died. So I’m firm in my conviction that a shotgun is not a magic device that is both lethal and non-lethal at the same time. It’s a deadly weapon, people. And the closer the target is to the muzzle, the more deadly the shotgun’s missile(s) is. 

Most people have never tested the pattern of their shotgun, so they think the shot starts spreading right at the muzzle. And it does, but just not as much as you think. Inside of 4 yards (10 feet), a standard shotshell pellet charge is barely starting to open up. I will show you a picture here in a few minutes, but I have to find it: it shows a hole in a piece of drywall, made by a 1-1/4 ounce 12 gauge shotgun shell, at a distance of 3 yards. It is a single perfectly round hole. That’s at 3 yards. Which means all 1-1/.4 ounces of lead pellets strike the target at the same time, with exactly the same amount of energy of a solid 1-1/4 ounce lead slug. You have to get out to 6-7 yards from the muzzle before the shot charge disperse enough to see individual pellet strikes. 

So what this means is that inside of about 5 yards (15 feet), there is no physical difference between a load of “light” (small size) birdshot and a shotgun slug. Now, go to the biggest bedroom in your house, and measure off 15 feet. Can’t do it, can you? Fact is, most bedrooms are less than 12′ across, and most interior rooms in city homes and apartments are less than 15 feet (5 yards) across. A long interior hallway will be 16 to 18 feet. 

So home defense distances are short, and almost always well within the minimum distance at which a birdshot load begins to spread. 

Now, some folks will argue that it’s not the same, and that the birdshot disperses when it hits flesh, causing less damage than a solid slug would do. 

Nice try, but it ain’t true. I’ve seen people shot at close range (inside 5 yards) with birdshot and buckshot loads, and while dispersal does occur more rapidly in the denser medium of flesh, the damage is still catastrophic. And some shotshells have a wad designed to keep the shot charge together (the Federal Flite-Control wad/ammo, as an example) and in these cases the charge may pass through the entire torso of the target, exiting in a nice round hole almost identical to the exit hole. I’ve seen it. Can’t show you the pictures, medical confidentiality and all that, but it’s true. Scouts honor. 

Another example of this:  at a cowboy action match a number of years ago, we had a “side match” where a team of 4 guys had to try to shoot a 4X4 wood post in half with their shotguns at a range of 5 yards. Whichever team did it the fastest won the prize. Well, guess what? A good team of shotgunners, using only “light” birdshot, could easily snap the post off inside of 4 seconds. Your home defense shotgun can and will do the same thing no matter what size shot you’re using, because the load doesn’t disperse at typical home defense distances. 

Many years ago I tested my bird-hunting loads on things like refrigerators and TV’s, at the dump. Guess what? They blow home appliances to smithereens. I tested birdshot on the walls of abandoned farm buildings and homes. Guess what? They blow walls to smithereens. 

Shotguns are deadly weapons. Shotshells are designed to kill things. Don’t make the mistake of thinking the ultra-expensive “home defense” load you bought because of its “safer” MHT design (Magic Hogwarts Technology) is not going to kill your kid when you miss the Bad Guy you tried to shoot. 

The bottom line with defensive shootings using ANY firearm–rifle, pistol, or shotgun–is you MUST HIT your attacker! Misses don’t count! Bad things happen when you miss!



Where this whopper came from I have NO clue. Internet mythology at its finest, I guess. 

I tested this a number of years ago, using mocked-up drywall partitions and wet newsprint. I fired size 7-1/2 birdshot, #1 buckshot, and slug loads at the test medium from a typical home defense distance (4 yards, or 12 feet). The wetpack was 18 inches behind the mocked up drywall partition. 

(This is where I have my major quibble with Sheriff Wilson’s Gunsite test… they shot through a bunch of walls, but they didn’t test the effectiveness of the projectiles on a tissue simulant after passing through the partitions! This makes NO sense… you can’t just ASSUME that the damage will be mild, moderate, or severe, based on how the projectiles damaged the next barrier, or the one after that. You’ll note that Dr. Martin Fackler did not develop the modern ammunition effectiveness testing method we now call the FBI protocol by shooting through a bunch of barriers and then ASSUMING how much damage his bullets would do to flesh… he shot FLESH (pig’s thighs, actually), until he decided a cheaper tissue simulant was needed, at which point he started shooting gelatin blocks. I have shot a lot of gelatin blocks myself, but it’s a messy business that I’m not set up for at home, so many of my ballistics tests use a cheaper/simpler medium, i.e., water-soaked newspapers. Wetpack, as it’s often called, is NOT equivalent to ballistic gelatin, and I make no claims as such. But in a controlled test such as the ones I’m referring to here, comparing various projectiles’ performance head-to-head in wetpack has some scientific methodological consistency, reproducibility, and therefore predictive value.)

What did I learn? I’m glad you asked! I learned that not only would birdshot loads blow through my walls like tissue paper, but they would do the same amount of damage to the tissue simulant on the other side as if there was no partition at all. As I recall, the craters left in the wetpack either way were about 8 inches deep. Hell, even the plastic wads penetrated 4 inches into the wetpack next to the pellets! There was no difference in penetration between birdshot and buckshot at that distance. I had to move back to 10 yards (30 feet) from the partition mockup before I got a measurable difference between birdshot and buckshot. 

That’s right, I just said it: birdshot and buckshot will do exactly the same amount of damage to a human body after passing through a standard construction modern interior home wall. There is NO material difference. So, no, birdshot is NOT safer for use in your home than buckshot or slug. If you miss the Bad Guy and your kid is on the other side of that wall, you will kill or seriously injure your kid. Period. Don’t lie to yourself and pretend otherwise. 

Don’t believe me? Well, then take my word for it. Test it yourself. Set up a gallon jug of milk about 18 inches behind a couple sheets of drywall. Stand back 4 yards, and shoot a standard load of birdshot at the jug of milk. Judge the damage and ask yourself if you would be happy with the results if it had been your kid’s head instead of the milk jug. 

If you want to avoid killing your kid, or your dog, or whomever, your options are severely limited! You can do one of two things ONLY: 1) hit the Bad Guy, which you can be sure of if you have trained adequately with your defensive shotgun, or 2) armor the walls in your home with bulletproof building material, such as woven fiberglass panelling. Changing out your shotgun load is not going to make your “stray” shots any “safer” for your family, your dog, or your neighbor. Shotgun loads are deadly because they are designed to be deadly. Don’t try to mythologize them into something less. 

There is one exception to my recommendations regarding shotguns in home defense, and that has nothing to do with the loads you shoot out of your shotgun.  But if you live in a house with plaster-and-lath walls, you can enjoy a limited protective buffer that more modern sheetrock walls do not provide. These walls are MUCH more resilient than sheetrock walls, and will typically block any birdshot charge I’ve tested. Buckshot, not so much… I’ve blasted through SOME plaster-and-lath walls with ONE shot of 00 buck. Slugs, forget it; they will blast through any interior partition and wreak havoc on the other side. But birdshot, yeah, plaster walls will stop most of it. But since construction standards have changed so much, I can’t guarantee that YOUR plaster-and-lath walls are as tough as the ones I tested. So if you want to be sure about this, you’ll have to blow some shotgun loads off in your house to test it yourself. Don’t take my word for it.  

Let’s get real, folks. Shotgun pellets of any size from 00 buck to #8 birdshot en masse will blow through your house’s interior partitions AND your kid’s head. Magic Hogwarts Technology won’t save you, or your kid. 


Loook for more Shotgun Mythbusting in the next installment of the TAS Blog, kids. Coming soon!  And videos on Youtube to follow!



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Technique Before Tactics

I stumbled across a great website a few weeks ago (which will be the subject of a future blog once I have time to digest what I’ve learned), and I linked one of the guy’s posts to the Facebook lead-in to THIS blog post. Mountain Guerilla Blog… check it out!

Anyway, the point John Mosby made in his blog post today was encapsulated in the title of this blog entry. Technique has to be mastered before tactics can be effectively utilized. This is not to say a noob can’t use smart tactics to win a fight, of course. Doing the right things slowly is infinitely better than doing the wrong things slowly! But really folks:  to get the most out of your tactics, mastery of shooting fundamentals is essential.

Think about it: the guys who are widely considered the best fighters on the planet–the United States Special Forces Command–are brilliant tacticians, but above all that they are supremely skilled shooters. As a testament to their skill, SF guys do live-fire room-clearing drills with live “hostages” in the room being cleared… and their trust in each other’s skill is such that they take turns being the “hostage”. Would you play that game with anyone you plink with out on the north forty on the weekends? No, of course you wouldn’t. You’d only do that drill with someone you know hits his target every time! 

Over the past several years my Shooting With Xray Vision classes have been fewer and farther between, and have been primarily conducted among law enforcement personnel. (BTW, I’m pleased to be able to say that SXRV is currently POST-certified in CO, MN, NE, and TN.) This is good and bad, from my perspective. It’s good, for me as instructor, because cops have had a basic education in use of deadly force so I don’t have to spend as much time going over the ethics and jurisprudence portion of the class, and the cops who take SXRV tend to be a cut above the average shooter. It’s bad, though, when I consider how many non-sworn citizens could be taking advantage of this training. “Civilian” classes have really dropped off even though LE demand seems to be increasing. 

Anyways, let’s get back to the incident that triggered my thinking for this blog. We have to go back several months to an LE class where the live-fire component was not great… not the whole live-fire component, but one of the critical drills, it was the Brainstem Snap Drill. 

Those of you who have taken this class will remember it. We introduce the concept during the Brainstem Zone of Incapacitation lesson in class. I showed you the video of the cop/soldier taking out the bad guy holding the baby hostage… remember? Of course you do. The Brainstem Snap Drill is based on that video: the point of the BSD is to teach you how to go from a non-threatening stance 2 yards from the subject to muzzle-contact distance and release of the shot into the brainstem in less than .75 seconds. 

Step one:  pistol in your dominant hand, at your side. Step two: literally, take a step; a giant step. Step three: bring pistol up to full extension as you step forward. Step four: release the shot the instant your sights are on the brainstem. 

Simple, right? 

Wrong!! In this particular class, almost none of the officers present could release the shot at the moment the sights/muzzle reached the release point. Instead of step/extend-BANG!, it was step, then extend, then muzzle waver, then sort of bang. A 0.75 second maneuver was taking more than 2 seconds, which negates the utility of the drill/maneuver. The BSD is an example of sudden application of violent action, and to my mind possibly the best example of this principle. But instead of being able to demonstrate this maneuver in the first 15 minutes of the live-fire segment of SXRV, I had to spend almost an hour with the class on a square range line taking them through push-out drills (first 2-handed, then strong hand only) to get them to the point of being able to release the shot at the instant of optimal extension. 

SXRV is not a tactics class,  it is an advanced technique class. Yes, we do some “tactical” exercises to illustrate the utility of the techniques, but I don’t teach tactics… I leave that to the experts in that field, of which I am definitely not one. I made the mistake of trying to teach tactics early on, and realized very quickly that isn’t my place. (Those of you who I may have offended by doing that back in that day, I again apologize…)  But a shooter cannot utilize the lessons I teach in SXRV unless s/he has the ability to put their bullets precisely where they are needed on demand. That neessarily requires a level of skill, a level of mastery of the fundamentals of shooting, that is well beyond basic. 

This is why I started telling people who want to host or attend a class that attendees must be able to perform at an advanced level to get the most out of my classes, and that if they can’t perform to an advanced standard, they are not going to be able to do the things I teach. It doesn’t matter what equipment you have, or whose advanced tactics classes you’ve taken, or any of that other stuff. You have to be able to shoot to a competent standard or you’re wasting your time. You’re not wasting my time, because you’ve already paid me by the time class starts. But it definitely frustrates me when this sort of thing happens, you betcha! 

What do I consider an appropriate level of performance, you ask? Well, that’s not easy to define, but I can approximate it. If you can consistently pass your police pistol qualification course at an above-average score, you’re probably there. If you’re an IPSC B Class shooter or an IDPA Sharpshooter Class shooter, you’re probably there. If you can’t draw from the holster and consistently make A-zone hits on an IPSC target at 10 yards in 1.8 seconds or less, you’re probably not there. If you can’t do a push-out drill and make the same hit in 1.0 seconds or less, you’re probably not there. And if you can’t do the BSD in 1.0 seconds or less, you’re probably not there. Note that I give times here. I don’t mean estimated times, or having your buddy time you with a stopwatch. I’m talking about using a shot timer to quantify your performance! If you don’t have a timer, get one. You need one to measure your progress and improvement, to motivate you to smooth out your moves, to stop you from bullshitting yourself about your performance

But here’s the good news: if you practice those drills 2-3 times per week, with a shot timer, from the time you put down your money to take that tactical shooting class next month, or that SXRV class next month, you will improve your performance to at least the minimum level required.  

Please reread that last sentence. Note that I am not telling you that you suck and your gun is stupid. I am telling you that if you cannot perform to a standard that I and many other consider a minimum standard for being able to win in a gunfight, it is entirely within your power to change that fact! 

Fundamentals before fun, folks. Technique trumps tactics. 

Buy a timer. Go to the range and burn up some ammo in a productive manner. Improve your technique. Do it again. Do it regularly. Pistol-shooting is a perishable skill, but the more you train, the better you get, and the quicker your skills will return to you after a training hiatus. 

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Tactical Lifesaver: A Life Saved 2/3/2017

Last week: Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. Waupaca County Sheriff’s Deputy Clint Thobaden saved a life using training conducted on our SWAT Team years ago, and reinforced by ongoing training since then. Clint was my friend and colleague when I worked in the Waupaca County Hospital ER, and I had the honor of serving on the County SWAT Team with him.

Last Friday Dep. Thobaden responded to a call from neighboring Portage County to aid in intercepting a stolen car fleeing from police. He set up his squad vehicle at the county line, and soon the fleeing car appeared. He turned on his light bar, and as the suspect realized he was cornered the pursuing deputies executed a felony car stop just up the road from his position. Clint advanced his vehicle to render aid to his brother officers. 

Unbeknownst to the deputies, the fleeing felon had threatened suicide to friends and family during the pursuit. He refused to exit the vehicle when instructed to do so, took out a knife, and while horrified officers watched, sliced his neck open from the angle of his jaw to his trachea. Clint tells me that the bleeding was instantaneous and profuse, which strongly suggested the man had severed at least one major blood vessel in his neck. 

One of the Portage County deputies rushed forward, pulled the suspect from his vehicle, and applied direct pressure to the man’s neck with his hands. However, blood continued to flow freely from the wound. Clint recognized the signs of a major and possibly life-threatening hemorrhage, and rushed forward to assist with lifesaving equipment he carries on his person every time he suits up to go on patrol. 

Rewind the clock ten years, to a classroom on the upper floor of the Waupaca City Police building. A group of 25 or 30 members of the SWAT team were gathered there to learn Combat Lifesaver techniques from their SWAT Medical Officer, Dr. James Williams (yeah, that’s me). We had a pretty good time kidding around with each other as we put tourniquets on ourselves and each other, trained in techniques of needle thoracostomy using packages of vacuum-packed pork ribs, and so on. One of the techniques we discussed and mocked up was the use of synthetic clotting agents. Quikclot Combat Gauze, a relatively new product at the time, was one of the products I had on hand. I showed the Team some videos demonstrating the use of this product on anesthetized pigs that were hemorrhaging from major surgical wounds. The guys were pretty impressed. 

Our department didn’t have the money for “blowout kits” at that time, but many of the guys on the Team made up their own kits. The need for our Team to be prepared for the worst in the Hot Zone was manifestly obvious to us all. Basing his selections on recommendations I passed on from TCCC experts I had trained with, Clint, like many of our SWAT operators, took to carrying his lifesaver equipment on his person not just on SWAT ops, but whenever he was out on Patrol thereafter. That equipment was never required on any of the SWAT ops conducted during my tenure as Medical Officer with that Department, which ended in 2011 when I moved to Texas. 

Fast forward to last Friday night. 

Dep. Thobaden recognized the life-threatening nature of the suspect’s wound, as previously described. He sprinted forward to the bleeding suspect and the contact officer, retrieving his Combat Gauze from his pouch. He deployed the gauze as it was designed, stuffing it into the gaping wound in the suspect’s neck, then applying pressure on the gauze-stuffed wound with both hands. EMS personnel arrived shortly thereafter and secured the dressing per protocol, but by that time the bleeding had been stopped

The suspect was transported to the region’s nearest Level II Trauma Center, where trauma docs removed the dressing and found that the suspect had lacerated his carotid artery, which they then surgically repaired. 

The trauma docs told our guys in Portage and Waupaca Counties that without the effective application of Quikclot Combat Gauze, the suspect would have bled to death in minutes at the scene. In my experience as a certified trauma physician, I can only concur with the doc’s statement that “he would have bled out in less than 3 minutes” without the Combat Gauze.

That misguided and depressed young man is alive today thanks to Deputy Thobaden’s quick action, and has a shot at turning his life around, thanks to his willingness to prepare for such an eventuality by having lifesaving equipment on his person ready for deployment in a rapidly developing life-or-death situation. 

I was contacted by Sheriff Hardel and SWAT Team Captain Todd Rasmussen this morning, at which time they informed me of Clint’s lifesaving action. Better yet, they informed me they intend to equip every deputy in the County with a blowout kit modeled on Clint’s, so every man and woman on the force will be able to act to save a life if called upon to do so as Dep. Thobaden did last Friday. My hat is off to the command staff for taking this step! 

Here at Tactical Anatomy, we have been offering training in critical lifesaving skills for officers and civilians in the Hot Zone using proven TCCC doctrine for the past 10+ years. Several police departments have adopted this class as basic training for all their cops, most notably the Metro Nashville Police Department in TN, one of the pioneering agencies in this area.  Our Tactical Anatomy Combat Lifesaver class is POST-certified in several states, including MN, TN, and WI. But it is only one of many tactical first aid courses offered around the nation. There is truly no excuse for anyone, police or civilian, to remain ignorant of these techniques and equipment training.  

Do yourself a favor: whether you’re a cop or a concealed-carry private citizen, you owe it yourself to find a tactical combat lifesaver class in your area, lay your money down, and learn how YOU could save somebody. The life you save just might be your own!

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What Is Precious? When Do We Let Slip the Dogs?

As most of you probably know, I make my living as an Emergency Room physician. This fact defines me; not just as a physician, but also as a person. As much as I try to leave “the job” at the ED when I leave the hospital at the end of each shift, it remains a part of me. The ER doc in me comes out at unexpected times and unexpected places, often when folks around me least expect it, and without any conscious thought on my part. 

I’m not unique in this. Most ER docs I know who truly love this work and live their calling to Emergency Medicine are the same way. Which makes us pretty much a bunch of odd ducks. Doctors as a rule don’t fit in all that well with most of society, in part because we are a bunch of science nerds (you have to be, to succeed in the educational process), and in part because we know things that the rest of society doesn’t know. And I mean know, in the sense that we’ve lived through the ugly truth of those things in our clinical training and experience. 

But if all doctors in general are half a bubble off top dead center, ER docs are without a doubt a full bubble off, and then some. We don’t even fit in with other docs. How do I know this? Because they tell us so. Last week one of our hospitalists–an internal medicine specialist, a really nice guy, a really smart guy I enjoy working with–came down to the ED to see a patient I had worked up and needed admission to his ICU. At that moment we were slammed. All 12 rooms were full: a child screaming in one room as the lab tech tried to stick her for blood tests, a batshit crazy psychotic screaming in another room because I’d been too busy to order another dose of Haldol to put him back into La-La Land, nurses rushing down the hall to the Trauma bay to attend to a cardiac arrest we’d clawed back from the brink of oblivion, ambulance crews streaming in and out of the bay doors. And me, in dirty scrubs with blood and God knows what else on ’em, hammering away at a barely functional keyboard in an attempt to input the complexity of a patient’s case into the archaic EMR (electronic medical record) our hospital system bought back in the stone age and refuses to update because of the expense of doing so… in other words, it wasn’t an environment that most people would consider anything close to normal. 

But it actually was normal. 

That’s normal where I work, where I live and breathe. And it’s normal for the men and women like me who have chosen this specialty–or fell into this specialty, as I did. We do other non-normal stuff, too. For instance, as you probably know I got involved with TEMS many years ago, and eventually ended up wearing armor and toting a rifle on my county’s SWAT team. You don’t see many pediatricians or dermatologists following that career path. ER docs, however, seem to gravitate to it like flies to… well, let’s just leave that metaphor unfinished. But you know what I mean, if you know what I mean. 

Anyway, back to this encounter in my ED last week: my colleague looked around at the chaos of my Department and said, “You guys are really special, I could never do this”. I took a moment to consider whether he mean “special” in the sense of belonging on the short bus with the window-lickers, but decided he meant it in a good way.

“Thanks,” I said, and meant it. “You have to be something of a Cro-Magnon to work here, but once you get used to the saber toothed cats and giant cave bears, it feels like home.”

He laughed, and patted my shoulder with what might have been affection, or appreciation, or maybe because he thought he had to calm me down the way you calm down a pissed-off junkyard dog, and he backed out of the department at record speed.

But that’s how it is with us ER docs. Even if we come out of the department and attend meetings (we HATE meetings) the other docs smile and treat us the way you’d treat the aforementioned junkyard dog (“Nice doggie, good doggie, want a nice doggie treat, don’t bite me, okay?”). At social events like dinners and Christmas parties (assuming we even get invited!) it’s even worse.  I generally end up in the corner chatting with the security guards who feel just as ill at ease as I do. 

Which brings me to my friend Lamar, and the point of this blog. 

Lamar is an ER doc. And he’s a damn good one. He’s the medical director of our system’s busiest hospital and ED. Like me, he’s worked in the trenches long enough to be put in charge of a Department. Unlike me, he actually chose this specialty when he was still in med school, which by definition makes him even crazier than guys like me who fell into it after they started practice. 

Anyway, I was out fishing for speckled trout down the Laguna Madre with Lamar last week, and we got onto the topic of security in the ED. Which, if you’ve ever looked, is virtually nonexistent. Lamar confided that he is working on getting into a TEMS class that would put him on track to join a nearby Sheriff’s Office, but his real goal isn’t to practice tactical medicine (although he’d like that, you betcha!). His goal is to get his LE credential so he can carry a firearm when he’s at work. 

He doesn’t want to carry a firearm at work because he’s afraid. He wants to carry a firearm at work because like most of us he’s a guy who takes his personal security as his personal responsibility. But the law in Texas (and just about everywhere) prohibits carrying a firearm in a hospital unless you’re a LEO. So he wants to become a LEO for that express purpose. 

Now, I know a few docs who are active/part-time and/or retired LEOs who carry concealed firearms on the job. And they’d be crazy not to. Because the insanity of Gun Free Zone thinking is nowhere more evident than in hospital Emergency Departments. Think about that. The local ED has a large stock of narcotics, benzodiazepines, and other juicy drugs. Its doors are wide open, so the sick and injured can gain access to critical medical care. There is almost always at least one doped-up felon in the department being treated for injuries sustained while resisting arrest, or a prisoner from the local Crossbars Hotel being seen for a routine medical complaint, which tends to attract their friends and family like flies to, well, you know.  (Why does that metaphor keep popping up? Could it be that we just had a Code Brown here in the department, and the aroma will hang in the air for the next 10 hours thanks to the inadequate HVAC system apparently required by law in all ED’s?) And there is almost always nobody present with the means of resisting or countervailing an armed attacker who might want to steal our narcotics, or spring their buddy out of custody, etc, etc, etc. 

America’s ED’s are the front line of our trauma system, and the retail store-front for our medical system. In a minor disaster, such as a multi-victim MVA, the ED is quite literally the gateway to preserving lives that hang in the balance, and in a major disaster, such as a refinery explosion or a school fire, the ED is the focal point of an entire community’s response. Take out your community’s ED, and your community’s emergency response system shuts down. Not slows down; it shuts down cold. 

Yet America, in its dumbfuck politically-correct lawyer-bound risk-management gun-free-zone mentality, provides little or no security to these critical zones of care. Most ED’s have minimal or no physical security… they can’t even lock the doors to keep a bad guy out. Most ED’s in America are in smallish community hospitals, laboring under tight budgets, and they can’t afford to even have an unarmed security guard on hand 24/7. As for armed security? Don’t make me laugh! Even if it was available free of charge, most hospital administrators and risk managers would throw up their hands in horror if you suggested putting armed guards in their ED’s. I know of hospitals that have had gunfights break out in them, with armed gang members of one stripe blasting away at their rivals of the other stripe in the waiting room and parking lot while other injured gang members are being attended in the ED. And those hospitals STILL refuse to hire armed guards, or do anything to provide a safe and secure workplace for their docs and nurses and techs.

Because it would “send the wrong message to our community”.  

I had an incident about 10 or 12 years ago in another state where I came face to face with the grim side of this reality. It was on a sunny Sunday morning in July, about 0900. A great day to go fishing, or have a picnic, or do anything outdoors. The department was quiet, and I was sipping my second cup of coffee and catching up on signing charts. My triage nurse, a great guy named Clay, came back to the nursing station to tell me, “We have a problem out in the waiting room. You’d better take a look.” 

I went up front and peeked around the corner, and my heart sank. A tall 50-something man I knew well, a “frequent flier”, a big man with serious mental health issues, was in front of the desk, shouting disjointed gibberish and gesticulating wildly. In one hand he had a small heavy-duty satchel, something like a bowling-ball bag, and it clearly had something heavy in it. Call me paranoid if you like, but I was 99% certain that bag contained a handgun. Speaking of paranoid, the guy happened to be a known paranoid schizophrenic, and he was off his meds, a not-uncommon problem with people who depend on the VA for their psychiatric care; I knew this because I’d seen him 2 nights before, at which time he’d taken a swing at me before he left AMA. 

The man caught sight of me peeking around the corner, and his actions escalated dramatically. He began to hammer on the (thankfully heavy) glass and he began to scream he was going to kill us all.  I told Clay to grab a syringe with 10 mg of Haldol and 5 mg of Valium in it (that’s what we used at that time for such emergencies, but not what we use now… I use a waaaaaay better coctail now!) and in short order we entered the waiting room. I tried to distract the guy while Clay tried to circle around behind him to stick him in the butt with the sedative. No dice. This guy had his head on a swivel, and we did a long, slow, 3-way dance–circling counter-clockwise like Hurricane Katrina making her lazy way across the Gulf of Mexico– all the way out to the main entry foyer and then back to the ED without Clay ever getting a chance to stick him.

Two things you need to know here: First, the front desk clerk had hit “the panic button” early, which is supposed to bring every squad car in the city screaming to our location. When there was no response, one of the nurses called and learned that they were on their way, but by some weird circumstance all 4 cars on duty were on the other side of the river, and BOTH bridges in town were closed, one for construction, and the other due to wrecked semi which was blocking all 4 lanes. The squads were on the way, but they had to drive 10 miles south to the next bridge. So we were on our own for the next 15-20 minutes. Second thing: this guy was known to us as a violent man, a paranoid schizophrenic, and Viet Nam vet.

(If you want to strike terror into the heart of any ER doc in America, whisper in his/her ear, “There’s a paranoid Viet Nam vet off his meds in the lobby.”)

Anyway, Clay and I danced this guy back to the ED doors, at which point he told us he had a shit-load of rifles in his truck, and he was going out to get one, and then he was going to come back and blow us all to hell. He turned and bolted out the door into the parking lot. I wish I could tell you how frightened I was at that moment. Then Clay kicked me back into gear.

“You know what the top story on CNN is gonna be tonight?” he said, in a voice more like a croak than his usual pleasant baritone. “‘ER doc and nurse, fathers of seven children, gunned down by crazed Viet Nam vet.'”

Like I said, that kicked me back into gear. “No,” I said. “That’s not what the headlines will say. They’ll say, ‘ER doc and nurse defend their lives and ED from crazed Viet Nam vet, who was pronounced dead at the scene.'”

Clay turned to me, eyes wide. “Look,” I said, “This guy is probably not lying. He probably has rifles in his truck. And if he comes back with one, he will kill everybody here. But it doesn’t have to go that way.” 

“What?” Clay asked, but I saw the glimmer of hope in his eyes. 

“I shot a cowboy match yesterday,” I told him. “It ran late, so I didn’t have time to bring my guns into the house. I’ve got two rifles in the trunk of my car. I’m going to get one of them. If he starts to come back at us with a rifle in his hands, I’m going to defend myself. And if you want to, I’ll bring a rifle for you, too.”

Clay’s face began to color. “You’re damn right I want to,” he said firmly. 

“They’ll fire us,” I said simply. “The hospital will fire us, and we may even lose our licenses.”

“I don’t care,” he responded. “At least my children won’t grow up without their father.”

And that was that. I ran through the department and out the back door to the doctors’ parking lot, popped my trunk, and grabbed my two cased rifles. They weren’t black rifles, they weren’t even hunting rifles. They were Winchester Model 1892 lever rifles, one chambered in 45 Colt, the other in 357 Magnum. Both were legally “unloaded”; they had 10 rounds in the tube magazines, with an empty chamber. The ammo I use in Cowboy matches is full-power black powder loads, which means a flat-nose lead bullet loaded over a full charge of black powder, which was the authentic load used by “real” cowboys back in the 1800’s. Plenty of power to kill an attacker in 1892, and plenty still in 2002. 

I ran back to the doors and handed the cased 357 to Clay. We pulled our rifles out and jacked rounds into the chambers. My heart was hammering, and my mouth was dry. We didn’t say anything. We just stood on either side of the door, watching the man in the parking lot, who was less than 30 yards away, fumbling with a large ring of keys. He seemed to be having trouble opening the tailgate-topper of his truck. We could hear him shouting wildly even through the double glass doors. 

And then the cavalry rode up. Two squads with lights and sirens screamed into the parking lot, and in short order the officers had our boy in cuffs and in the backseat of one of the cars. Clay and I wasted no time in sliding the Winchesters back into their cases, and I slipped out back to put them in my trunk just as the supervising sergeant–who I knew well, of course–rolled up. His look told me he was damn near as scared and relieved as I was. He looked over the parking lot and confirmed that the situation was in hand, then strolled over to me and spoke softly.

“Hey, Doc, those things you were putting in your trunk, are they what I think they are?”  

I looked at him and nodded at Clay. “We figured we had no choice. I’m sure glad your boys arrived when they did.”

The sarge blew out his cheeks and shook his head. “Me, too, Doc. Me too. The other woulda been a lotta paperwork. A lotta paperwork.”

And then he put his hand on my shoulder, but not like my hospitalist colleague did last week. He put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed in a way that said more than words could say, in a language that warriors all know. And that was that. Nobody got shot, nobody got killed, and we all went home at the end of the shift. Well, except the Viet Nam vet, who went to the psychiatric hospital. Which was probably the closest thing to home he knows, so I guess we really all did go home after all.

As it turned out, the deranged man had a truckload of rifles and shotguns, mostly AR’s, and all of them locked and loaded. There is no doubt he came prepared for the war he had never managed to leave behind in southeast Asia. 

The situation could have gone a lot differently. Clay’s imagined CNN headline might well have happened, if the cops hadn’t arrived on time, and if I hadn’t serendipitously forgotten to take the rifles out of my car when I got home from the previous day’s Cowboy match. But because of the idiots in charge of our hospital, idiots who think that guns are bad and visible security sends “the wrong message” to the community, we came within a whisker of being cheerfully sacrificed on the altar of Almighty Political Correctness and Risk Management.

Lest you think this was a one-off situation, let me disabuse you of that notion. ED staff are assaulted and injured in America with depressing regularity, and we are threatened many, many times every day. All because of the risk managers’ mindset that we “must not offend the community”.  

This idiotic do-not-offend mentality is insane. We put armed guards in our capitols, in our banks, in our securities houses. Armed guards patrol gated communities, industrial complexes, shopping malls. We sanction the use of armed guards to protect these things, because we recognize they are precious, and they are vulnerable to predators. Yet we do not provide armed security to our most vulnerable: our children in their schools, and our sick and infirm in our hospitals. The shooting by the ISIS-wannabe-nutjob in Ft. Lauderdale the past weekend would never have happened if armed security personnel were posted in adequate numbers in our airports. 

Are our children, our hospitals, our clinics and places of healing not at least as precious as our stocks and bonds and piles of gold bullion? If not, then what IS precious in America?

When is America going to wake up? It’s time to take the sheepdogs off the leash and let them do what they do best. America could be the safest country in the world in short order if we would simply use the tools that are at hand: trained men and women who are warriors at heart and background, but who serve as helpers, teachers, healers in their current life. But the risk managers don’t think we can be trusted with that. They don’t think we are worthy of protecting. Not yet, anyway.  

In the meantime, guys like Lamar will quietly take their own route to securing themselves and their staff and patients. There are a lot of docs like Lamar. I thank God for them. They may not fit in with the other docs in the hospitals and clinics of America, but I think that’s a good thing. Because they are quite literally the last line of defense against true chaos. 

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The Decline and Fall of the American News Industry Cabal

…one could view the U.S. news information system as a sort of trough into which propagandists, calling themselves PR professionals, regularly dump information; journalists and news organizations nose in hog-like to feed at the trough. The notion of an independent and objective news system conducted by truth-seeking journalists is highly romanticized, exaggerated and self serving in regard to the actual role of mass media journalists in interpreting reality.” B.A.Patrick


I came across this quote in the above-cited article on Facebook today. This was the THIRD post I shared on my timeline this morning whose main theme was harsh criticism of the national news media and its abject failure to report the truth during the past election and its aftermath. 

Frankly, I’ve been appalled by the MSM’s apparent abandonment of journalistic ethics in the past 25 years, and especially in the past 10 years. I guess I was somewhat ahead of the curve (as were many others, of course, including all 3 of my readers)  in recognizing this problem, but it seems to have caught populist fire in the past few weeks, and the fire is beginning to rage out of control. 

Consider this short damning video from Denzel Washington, a cultural icon who cannot be attacked by the MSM because he is a) black and b) a star (either attribute alone would be insufficient protection, but taken together, he becomes untouchable by the celebrity-loving and racist-supersensitized Media):

And the topper for the morning, which I found to be more of a wake-up than my first cup of coffee, which I was drinking as I read this:

Here’s what Yours Truly posted in introduction of this piece on my very own Facebook page: 

“This is an interesting opinion piece. I have to say that the open malice of the Palin-hating infotainment industry appalled me at the time the events of 2008 were happening, but like most people the unprecedented fake news attacks on her from the all-powerful MSM were so stunning that no one knew how to counter them. In effect, the anti-Palin “narratives” (which is media-speak for “made-up story”) were so egregious that they triggered a surge of support for alternative media sources. One could say that the media’s unfounded excoriation of Palin fanned the flames of the alt-right news movement, and ensured the election of Donald Trump.”

Now, I’m not saying that three solid “hit pieces” against the MSM constitutes a groundswell. I’m not saying that I think anything is going to change… yet. But I am saying… yet

I believe that the Boardrooms of the news networks are in chaos. Their ratings are in free-fall, and all the bullsh!t they’ve been putting out to try to release their reserve chutes–like attempting to blacklist all the conservative news sites on the internet as “fake news”–is nothing more than a sign that they are in a blind panic. Like the man who is trying to shoot the police coming to arrest him, but his empty revolver won’t fire, and just keeps pulling the trigger again and again and again—click-click-click–the MSM keeps trying to use the same ugly tools it’s been using for years, and they can’t believe that it’s not working. 

I sincerely hope we are going to see a reprise of the Terror of the French Revolution in the news media over the next few months… a virtual Reign of Terror, in which producers and editors, newswriters and talking heads, are called to account by their Boards and fired ignominiously for their abject failure to adhere to anything resembling a journalistic ethic and their duty to report the truth. Please understand that I am not calling for the actual cutting off of people’s heads here, my friends. But lest some undereducated Snowflake social justice warrior read this and misinterpret my intent, I am calling for the figurative beheading of all the TV news networks, and many of the nation’s most egregiously left-leaning and egregiously socialist-run newspapers.  

“If it bleeds, it leads”, and “first with the worst” have been bywords for over a century in the parlance of Established Journalism in their criticism of the tabloids and yellow journalism. But it’s increasingly apparent in 2016 that yellow journalism has become mainstream, and there are no real journalists left. Or are there? Somewhere out there, is there still an honest news reporter who actually wants to report the truth on national issues? 

I don’t know how this is going to get fixed, but I do know who is going to fix it (the news corporation Boards). And I do predict it will be fixed. 

And keep in mind, boys and girls, when you read that prediction… that I am one of those who predicted that Hillary would go down in flames even in the deepest, darkest days of the recent election campaign. 

Who’s your daddy… <wink>