Should We Train for the Trends or the Outliers?


The world of self-defense is defined by extreme positions; in particular, when dealing with the use of the handgun for personal protection, most take their sides on what we should be training for. The majority of concealed carriers will regale the troupe of “three yards, three shots, three seconds.” There is some validity to this mantra; most civilian-oriented defensive shootings are resolved quickly, with only a few rounds fired, and take place at close range. The problem is, however, that this is a common theme but hardly a rule. There are numerous examples of incidents that demanded far more rounds fired or happened at far greater distances than this.

On the opposite extreme of the “three rounds, three yards, three seconds” crowd is the “carry as much gun as possible” crowd that tends toward carrying full-size guns with lights, optics, and spare magazines. Of course, in my experience, many who claim to only carry a full-size pistol simply don’t carry any gun much of the time because the full-size gun is more difficult to conceal under many circumstances. Many such practitioners select gear based on the outlier event, such as active shooters with rifles at long distances. Being prepared for the worst may make good sense, but how much more challenging is it to carry such gear and is it worth the effort? And, pertaining to training, should the citizen focus on the trends or the outliers?

There are a number of noted and respected professionals in the field that think little if any, specific credence should be granted to dealing with the outlier event that is the active shooter. As is reasonable, they argue that the chances of being in such an event pale in comparison to the far more likely street-level robbery. While there is no doubt that, statistically, the armed citizen is more likely to be robbed on the street or in a parking lot than being caught in an active killer event, all the statistics don’t matter much to the individual who finds themselves there. Is being in an active killer event likely? Not at all. Is it possible? Sure. Therefore, should time be spent on the more complex problem that is the active killer outlier, or are armed citizens better off focusing on what is more likely?

Averages Mean Little

The reality is simply this; violence is chaos, and self-defense uses of force are hard to quantify and calculate in any mathematical way. For example, taking into account a large survey of the distances involved in self-defense shootings, we might find that the “average” distance is a certain metric, let’s hypothetically say five yards or about fifteen feet. Therefore, should we practice with our firearm only at fifteen feet? That is the average, right? The glaring issue with training for an average should be self-evident; the average is an accumulation of all different distances. Sure, a significant percentage of fights probably happen close to that average distance, but many do not. There will be a great many incidents that happen at closer than fifteen feet and a great deal that happens farther. Does practicing at only fifteen feet address the necessary skills required for any conflict? Hardly.

There is some logic in suggesting that much of our shooting practice, maybe most of it, be done at this “typical” distance, but ignoring the less common but still, realistic distances involved in defensive gun use is foolish. On the far distance side of defensive handgun training, we often think of the active shooter threat. There have been quite a few incidents in which armed citizens or law enforcement officers, armed only with a pistol, have successfully neutralized threats armed with rifles at greater than typical distances. A particularly high profile incident of late saw a citizen self-defender engage and defeat a rifle-wilding killer at forty-three yards, firing ten rounds, a good deal farther than the oft-quoted “three rounds, three yards, three seconds,” and a lot more rounds fired than that tired mantra would suggest.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, many would consider fights at contact distance outliers as most civilian defensive gun uses happen at short distances but not at contact distance. Police officers are far more likely to face hands-on violence during gun use than civilians, but that hardly means it does not occur in the civilian world. I would submit that a fight at contact distances is far more likely for a concealed carrier than a long-distance gun fight. Still, the need for hand skills and gun retention skills are dismissed by many because such incidents are considered outside of the norm that involves close range but beyond contact distance.

The question, then, is, what should we train for?

Well-Rounded Training

As averages tell us little, the reasonable concealed carrier should realize that a well-rounded training approach is necessary. There are those who are truly training junkies and attend many professional classes on shooting and fighting skills, but the average concealed carrier does not have the desire, and often not the means, to dedicate so much time and money to attend many training classes. Therefore, what should be prioritized in training?

Certainly, a skill that should be deemed critical for civilian defensive gun use is the ability to efficiently and consistently draw the handgun to a ready position or directly to a first accurate shot, depending on the behavior of the threat. Being able to deliver such force while moving towards cover or while moving off-line of a deadly threat also makes good sense. Such skills fall within the “average” paradigm we often hear of. Even these skills, however, tend to be well outside of the practice routine of the common concealed carrier. At any public range I attend, the standard practice I observe typically does not even involve drawing the gun from a holster, even when the range allows it. This basic skillset should be prioritized.

Beyond this, consider taking training on gun retention and contact distance shooting. Having these hand skills will put you well ahead of the curve should you find yourself in a fight that starts as a physical assault, as is quite common in the real world. Being able to retain your gun on your body or in hand is an essential skill, as are basic strikes and grappling techniques, should you find yourself in such a less common, but hardly rare, circumstance.

At the other end of the distance equation lives the need for distant accuracy with your handgun. Can you make shots at fifty yards with your carry gun? While unlikely, it is possible to face a circumstance that would call for such action. Therefore, spending at least some time working on accuracy-oriented handgun work, such as the rather standard shooting of B8 targets at twenty-five yards, is in order. While I would submit that spending most of your time focused on such accuracy is misguided, spending at least some time and effort devoted to this kind of shooting is important. At a minimum, it will teach you to know your limitations at further distances so that you will be in a better position to judge what shots you can make or not under such demanding circumstances.

While both distance accuracy with a handgun and hand-to-hand gun grappling skills tend to be niche pursuits and ignored by the greater concealed carry crowd, this should not be the case. While such skills may be on opposite curves of “average,” training in these dedicated skills enhances your overall skillset and ability to protect yourself and those you love. Training for the outliers enhances your abilities as well as your self-awareness of your own capability. It is time we stop trying to train and prepare for the average fight, as there is no such thing. Rather, hone a well-round skillset so that you have a baseline of competence in the arena of violence so that you go into the fray with at least that, should you find yourself there.

Photo by Luke McCoy during a Guns & Gis Camp.

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