"I'm going to start looking at guns for self defense". The concealed carry of firearms is now lawful in a majority of US jurisdictions, and it is becoming increasingly popular. Most people who decide to carry a firearm (or to keep a defensive firearm at home) start by trying to decide upon which firearm to carry. They then look into learning how to use it. In some states, there are permit requirements that include some instruction. Actually, the choice of firearm is among the least important of the things to be addressed when someone decides to acquire one for self-preservation. Self preservation--avoiding injury--is in fact the important objective. Self defense is legally defined as the use of reasonable force to defend oneself or or others from injury by an attacker, when the defender has reason to believe it necessary. When that does become necessary, we want to be able to do it timely and effectively. But we really do not want the need to arise in the first place. We are far better served if we can avoid the need to use force, by avoidance, evasion, de-escalation, or escape, even if escape is not lawfully required. There is a lot to the subject. We have made an effort to summarize the most important factors in one concise note. This post reflects the input of well-known trainers, writers, attorneys, and other experts, and more than a decade of discussion among our members and staff. Thanks to Frank Ettin, GEM, Spats McGee. and Jeff White for their assistance. Our Moderator Emeritus Fred Fuller had as a sig line "Mindset, Skillset, and Toolset, in that order". The gun is part of the toolset. It's important, but it is in the lowest category, in terms of priority. We have framed this discussion using the categories of "mindset, skillset, toolset". Because most people start by thinking about the gun, we'll start in reverse priority order, with toolset. TOOLSET The discussion of toolset will be primarily about firearms, but there is more to the defensive toolset than deadly weapons. According to FBI stats, four out of five criminal encounters do not rise to the level of justifying the use of deadly force. Attorney Andrew Branca carries a firearm, but he also carries an OC dispenser. So do I. Some of us also carry a cane, by necessity. It can be a valuable part of the defensive toolset. And a cell-phone, a flashlight, and, in the lethal weapon category perhaps a knife.... Which firearm should one choose? That will depend a great deal on how one will carry it and how well one can use it. Terminal ballistic performance is very low on the list of considerations. About the only thing we can say to the person who has not yet worked on skills is that a smaller firearm is more "carryable", and that a larger one is usually more shootable. Let's wait until we have addressed skillset to talk about the other things. All of the elements of the toolset are in the tertiary priority stratum. If one intends to defend oneself from violent attack, one must have the mindset and the skills to do it. We'll move on to skills. SKILLSET Using a defensive firearm effectively is not the same as shooting at a target for accuracy. When we go to the square range, we are planning to shoot, and we know precisely where the target will be. That's not at all like reacting to an unexpected violent criminal attack, which will come as an unplanned and very disturbing occurrence. Shooting a firearm while standing in front of a stationary target at a fixed distance is a good thing to be able to do, but it does not really equip one to use it effectively for self defense. And being able to achieve good "group sizes" on our targets won't help us much in the gravest extreme. One must have the skills to draw quickly while moving, to hit targets at varying distances, with a balance of speed and precision. That speed is a lot higher than most people try at the square range. In a justified defensive use force incident, our attacker is not going to pose for us and act like a target, or stop while we evaluate his condition after we have fired. In the Tueller Drill, we have learned that the average person can close on us at about five meters per second, making it necessary to draw and fire in about a second and a half if he starts at seven meters, making him difficult to hit, and placing him much closer to us than most or targets we see being used in the square range. And from other sources, we learn that, contrary to what we see in screen fiction, we may have to score several good hits in the very short time interval that we have. That requires fast shooting and combat accuracy--a balance of speed and precision--but not the bullseye groups we like for fun. The firearm that one ends up carrying will likely depend upon what they learn about defensive shooting in training. For example, a firearm with too much recoil, or one with a very small grip, will be difficult to use in the training drills. One can, and should, also train in the use of OC, a cane, and hand skills. It is important to understand that the use of a cane, walking stick, or other impact weapon can constitute the use of deadly force. If we intend to employ them as less than lethal weapons, it behooves us to know how to do that and to be able to document that we we possessed that knowledge before the fact. We cannot overstate the importance of having at least some realistic defensive training. There are several sources for this kind of training, up to and including FoF training. By training, we mean learning the skills from knowledgeable persons who know how to teach. There are kinds of shooting skills. We start with basic shooting--with firearm safety, grip, trigger pull, use of the sights, and stance. Defensive shooting training encompasses reacting to an unexpected attack from any angle, drawing while moving, shoot/no-shoot exercises, and learning to balance speed and precision in different encounters. Finding qualified instructors is the first challenge. Beware of those who advertise their experience in military combat. Look for endorsements from people such as the authors mentioned at the end of this note. Those skills are perishable, and maintaining them requires practice. By practice, we refer to repetition, to maintain and improve our skills after we have learned them. Not all must involve live fire. One can engage in dry fire practice, and, in the safety of our own homes, practice drawing while moving. AirSoft guns can be useful for practice, although they do not help with recoil management. If a laser training facility is handy, try it out. At the highest level of defensive training is Force on Force (FoF) training, in which the trainee, in a real-world environment, is approached by and/or comes upon role players representing innocents and potential attackers, and Simunitions are used. There are not many places in which to do this, and most allow participation only after trainees have reached a rather of high level of competence. AirSoft guns may also be used in FoF training, but without proper management, meaningful after action analysis, etc, it would become just another game like paintball. Competition? Some people engage in IDPSA and IPSA shooting sports. These are not representative of justified defensive force encounters, and they cannot be regarded as defensive training. They can help with movement and to ingrain muscle memory in the rapid firing, reloading of handguns, and clearing malfunctions, but participants may tend to become reliant on a buzzer and on going into the game planning to shoot. In a real defensive scenario, the need to shoot is sprung on us with little or no warning--and without a buzzer. The skillset should involve more than the skills needed during the incident. We need to know what to do to avoid being mistaken for a threat by first responders after a shooting incident. We need to know that we should be the first to report it. We need to know what to say and what not to say after the event. That means never talking to the media. Also, some very basic medical skills can be important. Actually, we are probably more likely to use those for reasons other than injuries suffered in a criminal attack. Some people seem to consider training to be a luxury, something nice to have but not essential. None of this is inexpensive, and it may require travel. Remember, however, that the return on that investment can be high--our lives, and the lives of our loved ones. Claude Werner, The Tactical Professor, said this: "you don't know what you don't know"; "much of what you think you know is wrong"; and "it's good to have some of the answers before you take the test". Surely no one would believe that a criminal attack is a good time to try to learn new skills. There are, or course, those who cannot realistically be expected to find the money easily. But it is difficult tp believe that that apples to the many people who like to tell us about the new guns thy have acquired, or to ask what they should "add to the carry rotation'. For them and many others, it's a matter of priority--of what's really important to self-preservation. At the highest priority level is mindset. MINDSET We must keep in mind that our almost equally important, most essential objectives are to avoid being shot, slashed, or stabbed, and if at all possible, to avoid having to resort to deadly force against another human being. A violent criminal attack can occur anywhere at any time, suddenly and with little or no warning. It is essential that we are always as alert as reasonably possible, and that we act decisively and effectively to avoid being attacked, or, falling that, to survive it. Having the proper defensive mindset starts with the realization that (1) just carrying a firearm cannot and will not make us safe, and (2) we should always regard the gun as the last resort. It continues with the old saying, "don't go to stupid places with stupid people or do stupid things". "Stupid places" can mean bars, rough neighborhoods, public demonstrations and protests, etc. And if there is a place where you would not want to go without a gun, don't go there. Another "stupid place" is any remote place in which an unknown person from the internet has asked one to meet for a transaction. Where one refuels the car, and at what time of day, can be much more important to self-preservation than carrying a firearm. Once we have come close to where we are going, and after we are there, there is the all important subject of situational awareness. That encompasses a lot more than glancing around hoping that we will see trouble before it finds us. Some ideas: Take a look around a parking lot before you stop your car; if things do not look right, do not stop there. If someone who appears to notice your arrival reaches for a cell-phone, look around for his accomplices, and stay in "condition yellow". Avoid parking in remote areas, or next to vehicles that may conceal violent criminal actors; look for feet under cars. Same thing when walking: if something doesn't look right, turn around and leave. Watch your six! Keep your head on a swivel at all times, particularly as you get into or out of your car. Glance at store windows for reflections that may indicate something that may not seem "right". When you are leaving, get in your car and get going. Avoid walking close to the openings of alleys or close to the corners of buildings. Stay off the cell phone, and do not text while walking. Keep the ear buds out of your ears. When you are using an ATM, or fueling or loading your car, do not let your concentration cause you to lose awareness of what is going on in your surroundings. If you are approaching or are approached by suspicious looking people, cross the street or head into a building; if they continue toward you, beware. If someone you do not know approaches you for some reason, keep your eyes on his hands, and stay alert for "the other guy." If you have to sit in your car to wait for someone, lock the doors and stay very observant. If you are in a store and someone looks suspicious, look out for the other guy, too--the guy who is watching people, and who does not appear to be shopping If someone seems to be following you in your car, do not head home--try to shake them, and if necessary, go to a police station. If something seems amiss when you get home, don't go inside. Make sure that your family members know to not question or complain when any of this has to be done. Do not head toward trouble if you can avoid it. Once we have had some interaction with a stranger that may indicate trouble, it is essential that we avoid escalation. Apologize. Back away. Do whatever it takes to avoid conflict. Then, and only then, should one or say anything that may be taken as threatening. As a framework for all of this, know the law, and if you threaten or use force, deadly or otherwise, to protect yourself or others, be sure that you meet all of the required elements of the legal defense of self defense. That means both the use of force law and the firearms law in any jurisdiction into which one may travel. One should not, however, rely too much on a lay person's interpretations of state codes taken out of context, without the benefit of a competent explanation of the relevant jury instructions and appellate court rulings. It would not be prudent to take the word of most law enforcement officers. As a matter of fact, very few practicing criminal defense attorneys have much in the way of knowledge of the legal defense of self defense. However, Massad Ayoob's Armed Citizens Rules of Engagement course (MAG-20) and Andrew Branca's The Law of Self Defense (classes and books) are excellent resources. Remember that our objective is not to try to learn when we might be permitted to shoot someone. We only shoot when we have to shoot. In addition to classroom and range training, there are other sources that can be very helpful. The Best Defense TV program episodes are excellent. Books and DVDs by William Aprill, Lewis Awerbuck, Massad Ayoob, Andrew Branca, Tom Givens, Gila Hayes, Marty Hayes, Kathy Jackson, Rory Miller, Rob Pincus, Karl Rehn, and Claude Werner, to name a few, should be on the bookshelf. If all of this sounds challenging, it is, but every journey starts with a single step. We hope that this will serve as a helpful tour guide. Let's be careful out there!