Miss Fitz' Guide to Guns, Part IV
Learning to save your life
By Claire Wolfe
April 15, 2004
In Part I, Part II , AND Part III Miss Fitz discussed which gun to choose, how to make sure you're buying the right one, and the ammunition you might rely on to save your life.
In this fourth and final part of her series on women and handguns, Miss Euphemia Fitz, the madam... er, headmistress of Miss Fitz's Young Ladies Academy, Hardyville USA, talks about learning self-defense techniques with your new firearm.
Ah, firearms training. A woman's chance to enjoy the scent of male pheromones and burnt gunpowder together. What could be better?
Oh yes, learning new skills that might save your life. And building your confidence while having one hellacious good time.
Seriously, ladies. Every woman who buys a handgun should get some form of formal training. This means you - and means soon.
But don't think of it as a chore. Or as something petrifying. Even if you start out scared witless of firearms, even if you start out fumbling and embarrassed at your gun handling ... trust me, you are going to enjoy this once you begin to get the hang of it. And you are going to grow.
"I am woman. Hear my .45 roar."
Two levels of training
Beginners usually choose between two levels of training. The first is plain vanilla basic handling of the gun: How to load it, aim it, fire it, and above all, avoid doing something dangerously stupid with it. Classes that teach this stuff are easy to find. You might even learn these basics from your husband or boyfriend. But - no offense, guys - you're usually better learning it from somebody you're not emotionally involved with. Your early gun-handling experiences can be nervous-making enough without having all that "Me, Tarzan, you Jane" energy going on around them.
The second level of training involves learning specific techniques to defend yourself, your family, or your home. That's harder. Usually more expensive. But also usually more useful for the type of gun-work you might have to do in real life.
If you shopped per my advice in Part II, (and you did, didn't you?), then you already got some of the very basic basics. You had to, to test fire the weapons that interested you. It never hurts to "get" those basics again and again and again. And to practice marksmanship.
If the only training you can get (or afford) is an NRA basic pistol safety class - then take it.1
If the only training you can get (or afford) is some other one-day class to qualify people for concealed carry permits, then take it - even if you're smart enough not to ask the government for a permit to defend your own life.
But if it's at all possible, sign up for a good, multi-day self-defense handgun class. Or a series of classes. Or get a local trainer to work with you individually. I'll have some pointers to classes below. But first, you might want to know what to look for in a good self-defense class.
Things you'll learn in a good basic class
A good basic class might be for women only or for both women and men. It should be small enough for you to get individual attention. And it should teach at least these things (or their equivalent):
- The four rules of firearms safety. (Yes, you already learned them in Part II; they'll probably be repeated in every class you ever take - and rightly so.)
- How to draw and bring your gun to the target smoothly and safely. (See sidebar on holsters below.)
- Proper shooting stance (which may be a variation on the Weaver position or the more straight-armed isosceles position, named after the triangle it resembles.
- Basic marksmanship, with emphasis on shooting controlled pairs. That means getting into the habit of taking two accurate shots in quick sequence for extra security.
- Clearing common malfunctions. Ammo jams occasionally. It happens. And you want to be able to deal with it quickly, without panic.
- Tactical reloading - inserting more ammo in a hurry.
- The Mozambique drill - controlled pairs to the chest then, if your bad guy keeps coming at you (perhaps because he's wearing body armor), one shot to the head.
- Verbal compliance - meaning you bark at the bad guy as you aim to let him know you're 100 percent serious about stopping him.
- The ready position - when you're not actively threatened but are aware and prepared to aim and shoot on an instant's warning.
In a basic class you might work entirely with stationary paper targets. These targets could contain a human silhouette, a menacing drawing of a criminal, or even a photo of a criminal holding a hostage. (Like some of these.)
Better still if your class uses some sort of moving target. But most basic classes don't.
More advanced self-defense
Here are some useful self-defense skills you might learn in a multi-day basic class or a more advanced class. All of these things might be lifesavers - and often exciting to learn, as well.
- Shooting from concealment or cover. Concealment means a hiding place (from behind a hedge or partially open door, for instance). Cover means a hiding place that might actually stop the bad guy's bullet (like behind a concrete wall or the engine block of a car).
- Shooting with your body in different positions - standing, sitting, prone, or supine.
- Clearing malfunctions while moving out of the range of fire (as in this drill).
- Firing with one hand - in case your other hand is wounded or bound.
- Reloading with one hand.
- Moving from place to place during a gunfight - for instance, while retreating to a safer place or sneaking up on an intruder who's moved out of your sight.
- Practicing "shoot/don't shoot" scenarios where you have to decide whether you have an unobstructed shot at a villain or whether you might put a bystander or captive in danger.
- Shooting when your vision is partially obscured (by Vaseline on your safety goggles during practice; by blood or injured eyes, maybe, in a real encounter).
- Shooting when your hands or the firearm are slippery (by soap during practice; by blood or sweat in a real encounter).
- Handling multiple assailants, like home invaders. (One common practice technique is Jeff Cooper's El Presidente drill, which requires you to shoot at three targets andto reload with the "assailants" still coming at you.)
- Covering an armed partner while he or she re-loads.
- Using a flashlight safely and effectively in night shooting.
It's a lot to learn. More, it's a lot to practice after you've learned it. But every one of these skills could be useful in a real-world encounter. Even if you never have to use them in real danger, they're good for helping you build up general awareness and an ability to think - and act - on your feet. Or on your back if your feet have been knocked out from under you. (As those macho Marines say, with their tongues just slightly in cheek: Rule 4 of gunfighting. "If your shooting stance is good, you're probably not moving fast enough nor using cover correctly.")
And don't forget -- you'll be surprised at what a rush it is to learn these techniques - and what a confidence builder it is to be able to say, "I can do that!"
Where to find good self-defense classes
A lot of serious gunfolk travel to multi-day classes at some of the nation's top firearms training centers: Jeff Cooper's Gunsite (Arizona), Front Sight Training Institute (Nevada and Alaska), Thunder Ranch (Texas and soon to be in Oregon), or Massad Ayoob's Lethal Force Institute (New Hampshire).
Some of these big centers have special classes for women. And some big trainers, like Mas Ayoob and John Farnum of Defense Training International will also take their shows on the road, conducting courses around the country.
Big-time, multi-day classes might cost $450, $600, or more.
There are plenty of well-reputed regional training centers, as well, like InSights Training Center in Washington state (which also takes classes on the road) and Tom Givens' Rangemaster in Tennessee. (This page has a few more of them; you can Google for others in your home area.)
Some trainers specialize in women. In Massachusetts, AWARE (Arming Women Against Rape and Endangerment) conducts inexpensive classes in various kinds of self defense. (Classes like these might run as little as $50 for a full day.) And wherever you are, you can get famed self-defense trainer Paxton Quigley (Armed and Female) to teach a firearms seminar to 20 or more students - women and couples only.
The only problem with most pro trainers is that they want your Social Security number. And since when should anybody have to have a government tracking number to know how to shoot a gun? They also run criminal background checks on you - which, obviously, are only for criminals, not for respectable headmistresses of Ladies Academies. Even the nicest of them may expect you to bring a letter from your local sheriff or an attorney, certifying that you're a wonderful, moral person. And what cop or lawyer was qualified to judge your morality?!
I was lucky. My home town of Hardyville is way too small to have a training institute, and I'm way too busy on weekends to travel to some school, and I'd kick the backside of anybody who said I should have to prove I'm not a criminal. But I got good training one-on-one from the man who teaches the local cops all their moves - Mr. Grouchy at the Guns & Liquor store, himself - a former cop and present expert on tricks and tactics. His fee: Just $25 per hour. And nobody asked for any permission slips from our local sheriff. So in short, anywhere you are, you can get properly trained.
Recognizing a threat
Good self-defense classes can teach a lot. But one thing they rarely teach - and one thing a woman shooter needs most of all - is how to recognize a threat.
The best classes have "shoot/don't shoot" scenarios where one part of the target is designed as a bad guy and one part is a hostage or innocent bystander. Your job is to recognize which is which and when it's safe to fire. That's no doubt useful for cops. But it's hardly the situation a typical woman faces.
Here's the sort of decision you're more likely to confront:
Your hyper-controlling ex-boyfriend has talked himself into your apartment to ask for "one more chance." But he's now shouting at you and won't leave when you tell him to. When you threaten to call 9-11, he rips the phone out of the wall.
You're walking past a bar and man suddenly steps out of the shadows, grins, "Hey, Sexy!" and grabs your arm. Is he an obnoxious, offensive, but basically harmless, drunk? Or is he a rapist, using this approach to gauge how easy a victim you are?
You wake up to a noise in the night. You grab your pistol and walk down the hall to find a shadowy man standing in your daughter's room. You naturally raise your gun, but the man appears confused. He starts walking toward you, saying, "I'm sorry. I think I'm in the wrong house."
What do you do?2
If you're like most women, you err on the side of giving the guy the benefit of the doubt. Your ex might be excitable, but he wouldn't actually harm you. The stranger might really have stumbled into the wrong house. Now, I'm not saying, "When in doubt, plug the dude." But I am saying that most women tend to react in two unhelpful ways when facing a possible threat.
One, we tend to think the other person can't possibly be as bad as our instincts are screaming that he is. We're nice people, right? So surely others are also well-intentioned and willing to listen to reason. (Riiiight.) Two, if he does turn out to be that bad and he starts to attack us, we doubt our own ability to fight him - and as a result, we may be too busy panicking to react competently and confidently.
When it comes right down to it, nobody can make the decision for you about when's the right time to pull a gun or when's the right time to actually fire the gun you've pulled. The danger you face is unique. Your mind, your training, your skill, your degree of alertness, the attacker's mind, his size, his condition, his weapons, your location, your circumstances, your relationship to the attacker ... a million factors will combine to determine how you act, or react, in some terrible moment.
It's one thing for me to use my Glock to run off some rowdy, drunk good ole boy who's gotten out of hand at the Young Ladies Academy. That is, frankly, pretty easy for an old working girl. It's another altogether for you to deal with your abusive, stalking ex or a sexual predator who's threatening your child. Nobody can make your life-and-death decision for you - or really prepare you for it, when it comes.
But being well trained, well-practiced, and well aware of our surroundings can give you an edge you wouldn't have otherwise.
And that brings us to the final thing - and the really, really hard thing.
Practice, practice, practice
Practice, I admit, is where I fall down. And where a lot of us do. It's expensive to shoot serious-caliber ammo. It's hard to make time to keep up our skills. Unless you just love guns (which most women don't), it's hard to motivate to go to the range or your local plinking site once a week or so.
When it comes to steady practicing, I confess it's "do as I say, not as I do." But really, once I write down these good practice ideas for you, I'm headed over to Grouchy's Guns & Liquor to pick up a box of practice ammo and going out to the range to work on draws and controlled pairs.
- Find a gun club or a commercial shooting range that has a Ladies Day once a week. Take advantage of their discount and go - regularly.
- Set a standing shooting date with a girlfriend and keep it faithfully. Make it a weekly lunch-hour date. Maybe you can shoot and diet at the same time for double benefit.
- Get some snap caps (inert, non-firing fake ammo) for your handgun. Or get a spring-operated AirSoft pistol (that looks like your real gun but gently shoots plastic BBs). Both of these will let you practice some of your gun handling safely in your own living room.
- Get a small group of other shooters together and arrange to take ongoing lessons with a local trainer, even after your basic classes are done.
- If you live in an area that's big enough to have competitive shooting, consider getting involved with IPSC (The International Practical Shooting Confederation) or the USPSA (United States Practical Shooting Association). Or any handgun shooting sport that emphasizes realistic action.
- If you flub up and get out of practice - take your basic course all over again.
Whatever you do, don't loose the skills you learned. After all this work and expense you've gone to, you wouldn't want to lose your investment. Or your life.
1 Just be aware that the NRA pushes three rules of safe firearms handling, rather than the four rules Olde Master Jeff Cooper codified. You can decide for yourself which set of rules make more sense. But honest to heavens, one of the NRA's rules is so politically correct it might - and I mean it! -- kill you. They say, "Always keep the gun unloaded until it's ready for use." Can you picture yourself saying, "Excuse me, Mr. Drooling Rapist Creepoid. Can you just wait one sec while I fetch out my hollowpoints? I know they're in here in the bottom of my purse somewhere, probably just under my tampon case. If you'll please be patient ..."?
2 If any of my threat examples seem far-fetched, read "Bitches with Guns". Or the other women-and-guns success stories by Lyn Bates. Or read the books The Best Defense or Guns Save Lives, by Robert A. Waters. Both books contain true, detailed accounts of how ordinary people defended their lives and families with firearms.
If you're going to carry your sidearm instead of just sticking it in a drawer, and if you're going to go for any sort of good training, you're going to have to buy "leather" -- that is, some sort of holster rig.
Holsters really ought to be Part V of this guide. But that subject is too personal. Your holster - or fanny pack - or concealed carry purse - is going to be a very individual choice - and might be a choice that drives you slightly crazy for a while.
Finding the right carry equipment is hard for every shooter. But it's way harder for women. The problem is: hips. And waists.
We're usually higher waisted than the boys and we stick out further in just the places a holster shouldn't stick out. It's pathetic to see some woman cop, forced by regulations to carry her holster in the traditional place, have to practically bend herself double. She reaches way, way, way up and draws her pistol from practically under the armpit of the arm she's drawing with.
For me - and only for me - I've found that some sort of "cross-draw" rig solves the hip problem. Cross-draw means that, if I'm right handed, I carry my gun on the left with its butt sticking forward. Then instead of becoming a professional contortionist to draw it, I just reach across my body and pull. You can get cross-draw rigs that ride on your hip or hang from your shoulder. A gun carried in a belly bag is also technically cross-drawn because you reach across your middle to get it. So is one that's carried in a purse on the opposite side of your body from the hand you're going to draw with.
Cross-draw might not be your "hip" solution. You may also have to try four or five different holsters or concealment rigs before you find the one that fits you. You might then find you need one rig for under summer clothes and one for under winter clothes. Or one for carrying openly and one for carrying concealed.
Your trainer can help (and a lot of the big trainers also have gun gear shops at their centers so you can try out different things). Fortunately, most holsters are relatively inexpensive. Once you've spent all that money on guns and ammo, you can experiment with carry gear without breaking the bank.
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