You’ve got your gun, maybe an APX A1 Carry, maybe an 80X Cheetah, maybe an itty-bitty Bobcat. You’ve got your holster and other concealment gear, and have figured out how to carry your gun concealed on your body. You’ve gotten some firearms training and done some dry practice so you’re getting comfortable with the shooting part. What next?
Here is a quick introduction to several more areas to develop to help you live the concealed carry lifestyle and be able to effectively defend yourself if and when necessary.
Many of us start carrying a gun with a vague idea that we will be able to use it to defend ourselves against a bad guy. We often neglect to consider exactly what that scenario might look like and how it might play out in reality. We skip from the part where we have a gun to the part where we are no longer in danger, perhaps not even bothering to consider whether that means the villain has run away, been injured, or may even lay dying or dead at our feet. The details are important, though, because thinking through them helps us be successful if the worst actually happens. It goes from imagining the kinds of sketchy situations we might find ourselves in, to seeing in our mind’s eye the danger signals that would tell us to act, to visualizing what we would do and how, and picturing what the immediate and long-term outcomes would look like.
Each part should include what we would see with our eyes, but also what we might hear, feel, smell, even taste. We can also reflect on the kinds of emotions that could come up before, during, and after a defensive encounter. As part of the exercise, we should think about all of the things that can go right - but also all of the things that can wrong. By going through all of the details in our heads, we will be more likely to recognize bad circumstances early and have already decided what are and aren’t workable responses. We’ll be more prepared to manage problems that might come up because that visualization work means they won’t be completely new ideas to us.
A commonly-heard claim is that it’s impossible to know how you will respond in a stressful situation until you’re actually in it. Fortunately, there’s a way to find out without intentionally putting yourself into actual danger. High quality, professional scenario training (sometimes known as “force-on-force” training) will set up realistic self-defense problems and give you the opportunity to navigate them using simulated weapons with live role-players who fill the parts of attackers, bystanders, or victims. Instead of simple, technical shooting problems, you will be forced to make decisions and use your weapons in chaotic environments where the right decision might not be obvious. The pretend bad guys might even be permitted to physically attack you, just with measures to avoid injuring you.
Even though a scenario isn’t real life, you’ll feel much of the same heart-pounding stress and be exposed to many of the same types of confusion and pressure that you would experience if it were. After you complete the scenario, an experienced facilitator will walk you through your actions and help you understand what you did, why you might have done it, and what you could have done better. Many people who participate find that their ability to act under those conditions is compromised, especially the first few times they try. You might learn that you got your gun out when you shouldn’t have, that your shooting skills aren’t as good as you think they are, or that you aren’t able to draw your gun fast enough, and that you’ll need to work on those skills some more. However, repeated exposure to a variety of scenarios can help you respond more calmly and effectively if you come across them in reality.
Scenario training, especially the kind where the pretend bad guy might shoot you or try to fight you, can be difficult to find. It’s challenging to set up and conduct safely and in a way that will result in truly helpful lessons learned. Fortunately, you can get a lot of the benefits through far more accessible competitive shooting matches, as well as their close cousins: shooting standardized drills and tests. You might ask how this is more than simply learning and practicing how to shoot, but the difference comes in the competition and trying to meet and beat objectively timed and scored performance thresholds.
They create pressure and anxiety that isn’t all that different than you might see in force-on-force scenario training when you are role-playing defending your life or, indeed, if you are actually in danger from a real person who is really trying to hurt you. The brain doesn’t like ego death that might result from losing a competition or failing to meet a standard very similarly to how it doesn’t like real death from losing a fight for your life. As you compete more, whether against yourself or others, you will learn the kind of mental calmness and resilience that will help you manage all stressful situations more productively. Courage, after all, isn’t the absence of fear so much as the fortitude to act in spite of fear, and competition can teach you how to do that. All that, and you will learn advanced gun-handling skills and face more complicated shooting problems that you are likely to when you are plinking on a regular range and setting your own practice agendas.
So far, all of the areas of training I’ve talked about are to prepare your mind and body for the fight of your life. Because we live in a society with rules, though, your mindset and skills aren’t the only important areas you need to prepare. Before you carry self-defense tools, especially lethal ones like guns, you need to be knowledgeable about when and where you can have them with you, and when and where you can use them against another person. The laws of your city or state might require a permit to have your gun with you, and might restrict certain places like schools or bars. The consequences of breaking those laws can be high, even if you don’t agree with them or think they aren’t legitimate, so you should know what is and isn’t allowed.
There are also specific circumstances spelled out in the law about when you can draw your gun, point it at someone, or shoot them with it. You might want to argue that surviving a violent encounter is the most important outcome, but you need to remember the police and courtroom encounters that could follow and be able to survive them too. It’s not just a matter of learning the letter of the law either, but also how to apply the rules to real-life situations in real time. Visualization and scenario training will help as long as it is grounded in the correct legal principles.
As you can see, learning how to stand in front of a target and shoot your gun at it is only a good start to being able to use it defend yourself. We also need to visualize and practice realistic self-defense scenarios so that we have sound practical, tactical, and legal grounding if we have to use our guns against an attacker. In addition, we need to be in good physical condition and learn how to exercise our gun-handling skills under pressure, so that we have the best odds of being successful in a violent encounter. Are you ready?