If your parents are/were anything like my parents, you were taught the adage, "Never judge a book by its cover," at a very young age. Cannot say as though I ever took the literal meaning seriously myself – I read pretty much anything I could get my hands on out of our public library – but once you start applying the concept to other situations, you start to understand its full meaning.
This is one of those situations.
If you have been browsing the cortex for more than about a week, and specifically if you have been browsing the firearm-related sites out there, you have probably encountered advertisements for Armed Response Training – no, they are not the "9mm won’t save you" bulldren, nor are they quite as obnoxious as the USCCA banners, but you probably glossed right over them as background noise and kept going on about your life. Well, a few weeks ago, I was contacted by Ralph Mroz of ART about reviewing a few of their DVDs for you, my readers, and while I will fully admit to being bemused by the offer, here we are.
First, I should clarify – I have had very little "actual" firearm training*. The military’s concept of "training" is to give you maybe an hour’s familiarization class with the M-9, take you out to the range, and keep feeding you mags until you can pass the qualification test (I did on my first try, though I did not score that high). Aside from that, we had extensive "application of deadly force", "defending the ship", and "care and feeding of Navy small arms" educational seminars (and being an officer, I was expected to know all of that stuff already), but aside from a few weeks’ worth of periodic hands-on work defending from and engaging in disarming scenarios (with blue guns, of course) that only happened because our GMC wanted to do them, my applied training is sorely lacking (and, no, a few runs of IDPA courses do not really count either). This could be why I keep my writing confined to rights and legalities, and not actual applications…
In any case, this lack of experience also means my ability to adequately critique these videos might also be lacking. As usual, everything I say should be taken with a grain of salt, and probably moreso in this case. Anywise, on to the DVDs… well, DVD – I am only partway through their Fundamentals of Defensive Shooting.
I will admit that my first through on popping the DVD in was that the music could be updated… but that was only because I was getting flashbacks to late ’80s action movies. However, the material far outweighed any stylistic complaints I might have had.
To begin with, they did an outstanding job covering the Four Rules of Gun Safety, but took it a step farther into talking about how/why they are incomplete, or just plain wrong. For example, their modification of the First Rule is, "Treat all guns as if they are loaded until redundantly proven otherwise, and you are doing so for a specific purpose." Obviously not all guns are always loaded, as the original saying goes, simply because you have to clean them sometimes, and pulling a boresnake through the barrel would rather prove that the firearm was unloaded. But we need to treat them as if they were loaded, for obvious safety reasons.
The Second Rule gets rephrased as, "Don’t point the gun at anything you are not willing to shoot at that moment. If there is no safe direction, point the gun in the safest possible direction." Personally, being a tremendously literal person and an engineer to boot, I always rather took the "at that moment" as being implied – if I am not willing to shoot something, I should not be pointing my gun at it, period. If that willingness changes, then I guess it is time to point my firearm at it.
The Third Rule stays the same (you do remember it, right?), but the Fourth turns into, "Don’t discharge your gun unless it is safe to do so under the circumstances." This has obvious implications "in the field" and I am not sure if I entirely agree with the concept or not… The argument being that you will almost never be presented with a "perfect" shot in a self-defense situation – i.e. you will not have a defined backstop, you will not know if that backstop is rated for whatever caliber you are using, you will not know what is behind that backstop, you will have people milling about, etc. etc. etc. Does this mean you should not employ your firearm if you have to? Dunno. Safety either does not exist, or is relative, depending on your perspective, and we carry firearms to optimize our safety, so we should do the same when employing them.
Personally, I think you should keep the original Four Rules as the ones you can quip out without a second’s hesitation, but you should also be familiar with, and understanding of, the clarifications above.
I like that they take a good amount of time to discuss chamber-checking your firearms – how you should do it by eye and finger (or by two people’s eyes), and how you should absolutely do it every time you pick up a firearm that has been outside of your control. Yes, you may have put that gun in that safe and known that it was empty when you did it, but you should still be in the habit of checking every time you pick it up.
I do not like that they treat "witness holes" and "loaded chamber indicators" as acceptable substitutes for eye-checking the chamber. Yes, those things can work, but nothing beats actual eyes on an actual round of ammunition with the slide back or the cylinder open; metal can glint in an almost-brassy way, and LCIs can jam or break at the most inopportune time, and the small amount of time it takes to actively check is worth it in my opinion.
They take a lot of time to stress situational awareness and the difference of mindsets people can get into when administratively handling a firearm (for cleaning, holstering at home, etc.) or combatively handling the firearm (and, no, perforating paper from a fixed lane at your range does not really count). The trick is doing whatever it is you are doing the same way, every single time, preferably with some kind of tactile feedback (like having your trigger finger on the ejection port (if you can reach it) to confirm it is not on the trigger) to let you know everything is still "right".
Finally (at least as far as I have gotten in the videos), their pointing out that you do not have to catch that round you ejected when demonstrating "safe-and-clear" was just priceless. And you do not. In fact, doing so can be bad for your health, as they pointed out. Ok, this particular aside may be more amusing to me than anyone else, simply because the Navy went out of its way to stress the importance of catching that darned round, lest it fall on the deck and present a safety hazard. Seriously. And people wonder why I left the military…
So what are my thoughts in general? There is a lot of good information to be had here, and a lot of things that all firearm owners should be aware of and at least familiar with – sure, you may disagree with the finer points, but the general concepts seem to hold up. I am only part way through the first of three DVDs, but I am definitely looking forward to the rest. However, while it is nice to get this information on my own time, from the comfort of my own home, and while some of the DVDs include practical drills, you would do well to not equate this to at-the-range training under an experienced and knowledgeable instructor.
(* – This is something that I definitely need to fix, and plan on doing so next year. Budgets/schedules have not been my friend these past few years, and it does not help that most training opportunities in my area wanted students to use firearms I did / do not have. Thankfully, a comment over at Tam’s gave me some ideas on where to look, though I do wish there were more in the E.TN area… though I just found Dodd and Associates Training. Need to do some research into them.)
(Obligatory FTC Note: First, kiss my ass. Second, Ralph Mroz of Armed Response Training contacted me with the express purpose of sending me free DVDs so I could review them, however no requirement as to the nature of the review was indicated or even suggested. Third, get a real job.)