Friday, January 27, 2017

Intruder Alert!

One of my neighbors recently told me about intruders at his house.  He said that he had set the house alarm and had gone to bed; however, was not able to fall asleep.  A short time later, he noticed flashlights shining on his bedroom window from the back yard.  He retrieved his pistol and moved to the front of the house where he could hear voices on his front porch.  He said that he turned on the porch light, yanked open the door, and simultaneously pointed his pistol at two police officers who were on the porch and were about to ring the doorbell. Both officers immediately stumbled back off the porch loudly yelling that they were police as my neighbor lowered his pistol.

My neighbor believes that his inadvertently entered the duress code on his house alarm. A duress code is a secondary, covert signal designed to be entered on the alarm keypad in the event that an intruder ambushes you at home and forces you to disarm the system. On monitored alarm systems, the duress code appears to disarm the alarm; however, it sends send a silent panic alert to a monitoring station that something is amiss in the home. This causes the alarm company to call the police without calling the house first to see if everything is OK.  

The house was dark so the officers checked the perimeter to see if there was any obvious problem (hence the flashlights on the bedroom window).  Seeing nothing, they planned to contact my neighbor just as he yanked open the door. 

I do not believe that anyone in this incident necessarily did anything wrong. The police officers were responding to a silent alarm at a home that indicated that an intruder might be present.  My neighbor believed he was defending his home from suspicious intruders on his property. In the end, no one got shot and everything turned out fine; however, this incident could have ended very differently.

How do we prevent situations like this? I asked my neighbor if he called 911.  He indicated that he had not—that he didn’t even think about it. Had he called 911 and provided his address, it is probable that the dispatcher would have told him police were at his home. I asked why he opened the door rather than waiting to see if the someone was trying to break in. He said that it just seemed like the right thing to do. 

In Texas, using force against an intruder who you know or have reason to believe was unlawfully and with force entering or attempting to enter unlawfully and with force your occupied habitation, vehicle, or place of business or employment is presumed reasonable under certain circumstances (if you live in another state your results may vary).* Therefore, someone in similar circumstances can simply wait to see if the intruder attempts to enter their house and respond accordingly from a cover position if they are successful in entering.  

If someone does manage to defeat your door and enters your home, responding from a cover position increases your chances of survival and builds the foundation of “reasonableness” for your actions.  I am not a fan of leaving your home to confront intruders.  I did that once and learned just how foolish that can be.  Exiting your home and confronting a possible intruder outside increases your physical risk and may negate the presumption of reasonableness for your actions.   

The first step is to think it through now and develop a plan based on your particular circumstances.  In my house, someone yelling “BEDROOM!” is giving the command for everyone to instantly stop what they are doing and go to the secure bedroom. A reinforced bedroom door provides a safe room you can retreat to if you are in another part of the house when someone attempts to break and enter. From there you can call 911 and prepare to take other necessary action.

There are few nightmares worse than to awaken with a stranger in your bedroom.  When we are secure for the night, there are at least two solid doors (barriers) between us and potential intruders. Your bedroom door should be made from at least 1-1/2 solid wood, with a deadbolt, and have a frame reinforced with the Strikemaster or similar product. Even if someone gets in the house, attempting to enter the bedroom is impossible without power tools and significant noise that will alert the homeowner. 

If you exit your home armed and find yourself facing the police instead of an intruder, you may well finish up on the receiving end of police gunfire.  On May 7, 2015 Bryan Heyward called 911 to report armed men attempting to break into his mother’s home.  When sheriff's deputies arrived at the scene, Heyward exited the house through the back door holding a gun.  A sheriff's deputy yelled “show me your hands!” and fired twice at Heyward in less than a second. One bullet struck Heyward in the neck and he may be permanently paralyzed.  

I’m not criticizing police who have an extremely difficult job nor is this a discussion of poor police training (“show me your hands” is not the command to drop a gun). It is much safer to stay put and deal with a possible intruder on your terms rather than exiting your home and charging into a situation where you may not have enough information nor enough time to make a good decision. Making contact with police on the scene is also much safer if you are not visibly armed.

Remember, not every “intruder” is necessarily a criminal. My neighbor didn’t have reason to believe that the police would be at his house nor did he break any laws.  Regardless, there was a completely valid reason for the police to be poking around his back yard and coming to his front door. There are many completely legitimate and legal reasons why you could find a police officer, fireman, or utility worker on your property.  We live in a quiet and relatively safe gated neighborhood.  It is more likely that someone on my property is either a neighbor or first responder rather than a criminal. 

Police officers in similar situations should take extra care to identify themselves in any ambiguous situation.  Had those officers loudly identified themselves as police they likely would not have had a bird’s eye view of the muzzle of a 1911.  Police should look at their actions from an armed homeowner’s viewpoint.  Would an armed homeowner view their actions on his property as suspicious? If so, the officer should change his approach to ensure that the resident knows that the person lurking in the darkness is a police officer instead of a potential home invader.

Police officers don’t want to get shot.  Legally armed citizens don’t want to mistakenly shoot a police officer who is trying to help them and certainly don’t want the police to shoot them.  In reality, both want the same outcome. 

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* I am not a lawyer. While I take pride in the accuracy of this educational information, this site does not and cannot, constitute legal advice. It is solely for illustrative purposes and does not purport to accurately communicate the laws or court decisions of any actual cases that may have non-public or other nuanced information. If you need legal counsel, please retain a competent attorney.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

San Antonio Mall Shooting Update

Additional information has become available concerning the attempted robbery and shootings at Rolling Oaks Mall the afternoon of 22 January 2017.  As I mentioned in an earlier Facebook post, a robber now identified as Jose Luis Rojas shot and killed a Good Samaritan identified as 42-year-old Jonathan Murphy. 

We now know that Murphy who was in the store with his wife was not armed. Although there were reports that Murphy tried to stop the robbers from fleeing, I now believe those reports were in error.

Mrs Murphy wife stated in an interview that he just stepped between her and the robbers (presumably to protect her) when Rojas shot him without comment.  Photos of Murphy show that he was probably a pretty big guy so it is possible that Rojas thought Murphy was going to interfere with their escape or Murphy simply intimidated him.  

A legally armed citizen then shot Rojas as he and his accomplice Jason Matthew Prieto were fleeing the jewelry store.  Rojas was critically wounded and fell in the mall while Prieto began wildly firing his pistol hitting two other bystanders as he fled. Converse Police subsequently arrested Prieto after he crashed a stolen car in Converse.

Some observations concerning this incident. Regardless of how many precautions we take, we can suddenly find ourselves in a dangerous situation. The key to dealing with these situations is mental preparation and training. Taking some time to think about how you would act in a dangerous situation helps you remain calm, be aware of what's going on around you, and be prepared to act if the situation requires action. 

No matter how familiar you are with firearms, looking down the wrong end of the barrel is intimidating. If you are facing an armed individual and you are not armed, don't make any sudden, unexpected moves. A nervous criminal may think you are attacking him and respond with violence.  Slow, careful, cautious body language tells a robber that you are cooperating and that you're not resisting or interfering.

In many situations fighting back is not worth the risk. Rojas and Prieto were both mentally and physically prepared to explode into violence to achieve their ends. To go from thinking about the rest of your day or what you are going to buy at the supermarket to the instantaneous action necessary to overcome an armed opponent is beyond most people. However, if you have prepared yourself mentally and have trained yourself physically then you are in a better condition to respond.

One final point.  If you are not in the immediate vicinity of the incident or in immediate danger, the strategy that has the highest survival rate is run from the shots or commotion to the nearest exit. In the Army, we had a saying that the best place to be when there was an ambush was somewhere else. It's hard to get killed if you aren't there anymore. Many people in the mall simply hunkered down were they were and started tweeting or posting about how scared they were.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Sig Sauer P320 -- A new Army pistol

After a number of frustrating years, the U.S. Army has picked its first new handgun. The Sig Sauer P320 pistol is now the M17 handgun and will replace the M9 Beretta.

In 2014 the Army announced a competition for a new Modular Handgun System (MHS) to replace the M9. Twelve companies entered pistols in the competition including the Beretta APX, CZ P-09, FN Herstal's Five-Seven Mk 2, the General Dynamics/Smith & Wesson M&P, the Glock 17 and Glock 19; and the Sig Sauer P320. The Army selected the Sig Sauer and Glock as finalists in December 2016.

Army officials notified Sig Sauer that the Army had selected the P320 at the 2017 SHOT Show in Las Vegas on 19 January. SIG will manufacture all pistols at the SIG SAUER facilities in New Hampshire.

The MHS requirement called for a non-caliber specific weapon with modular features to allow for interchangeable grips to fit different hand sizes, alternate magazine options, an integrated rail for mounting lights, lasers, or other sighting aids, no magazine disconnect, and an external safety mechanism. 

SIG modified the P320 to meet the external safety requirement (see picture above).  Even though I was a 1911 guy for many years, I’ve learned that a manual safety is generally an unnecessary addition. I suspect it will become a training issue with troops who have learned to de-cock the M9 and then return the lever to the up position.

SIG reportedly has modified the military version of the P320 to secure the take-down lever so that soldiers in the field cannot remove the fire-control unit from the plastic frame. The military P320’s slide cover-plate at the back will be secured as well for the same reason.

The military P320 pictured in various announcements has the large takedown lever rather than the slim lever that many commercial P320 owners are installing.  I also wonder if SIG has resolved the issue with the takedown lever O-ring that some commercial owners have reported.

The MHS is a system and SIG will also provide suppressor kits, holster sleeves that will function with the Improved Modular Tactical Holster (IMTH) Blackhawk holster system, and a conversion kit with everything needed for the pistol to fire the M1041 dye marking rounds (similar to the Simunition.® I also noticed that the P320s pictured in the announcements appear to have a the slide milled for a red dot sight. Perhaps red dots are an option as well.

SIG will deliver full size and compact P320’s over a period of ten (10) years. The SIG P320 modular pistol has interchangeable grip modules that permit changing frame size and caliber. This is an interesting feature that will provide the Army useful flexibility if the Army decides to change calibers in the future.

The Army’s selection of the SIG P320 will likely mean more police departments will consider the pistol as well as many more American gun owners. Any gun that can pass the Army’s rigorous tests is worth consideration. I may have to try one myself.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Dead Samaritan or Good Witness?

San Antonio, Texas - A Good Samaritan trying to stop what appeared to be a domestic beating was shot and killed 25 November 2016 in the parking lot of a Northwest San Antonio Walmart in front of at least a dozen witnesses.

Everett, Washington - A man who stepped in to protect a woman involved in a domestic disturbance with her boyfriend was stabbed to death when the boyfriend turned on him witnesses and police said.

Defense of Others: Uncertainty Risk

You are driving and you turn a corner in a parking lot to find two men wrestling with a woman who is screaming that she is being abducted and raped. Could you use force or deadly force to stop a rape or abduction? In many (most?) states the answer is a qualified yes.* As you jump out of your car, pistol in hand, do you really know what you’re getting yourself into?

What if you have just threatened the use of deadly force against two undercover police officers making a lawful arrest? Was your perception reasonable? What if the two cops testify they’d identified themselves and indeed they had, but in the stress of the moment you just didn’t hear them?

An apparent victim is not necessarily a victim. A man
attacking a uniformed police officer in the middle of the highway is quite obvious as to what is actually happening. Other situations are not so obvious. The greatest danger lies in the ambiguous, confusing events where you cannot determine with certainty the nature of the situation and the participant’s identities.

What is actually happening? You must answer this question quickly and accurately if you are considering intervention. If you are not directly involved in the altercation or incident, is it worth stepping into an uncertain fight with unknown people? Your financial future, freedom, and life may literally depend on this answer.

Let’s assume that your perception of the danger to the other person was reasonable. You see a woman struggling against a man dragging her into a vehicle. In fact, it’s her abusive, estranged husband literally abducting her off the street so he can give her another beat down or worse. You come to her rescue using deadly force. Hero! Right? Perhaps not in the eyes of a jury.

Will the victim you rescued relate those facts truthfully when she realizes her child’s father is facing arrest, conviction, possible imprisonment? No more child support. Or will she say that she really wasn’t in danger until you intervened and escalated the situation; that your intervention was not only unreasonable, but actually put her in more danger. If the person you “rescued” believes your use of force was unreasonable, why should a jury believe otherwise? Be very cautious about coming to the defense of others, especially strangers.

Although many of us would like to be Good Samaritans, you do not want to die trying to help someone else. A more prudent course of action might be calling 911 and being a good witness until help arrives.

The most critical information for a successful 911 call is KNOW WHERE YOU ARE! The 911 operator cannot send help if you cannot tell them where you are located that this means an address, mile marker, or key intersection. Telling the 911 operator that you are in a parking lot is not useful. I’m in the Walmart parking lot at Interstate 35 and FM 3009 is useful.

Tell the 911 operator what is happening in simple terms. If you are witnessing a robbery just say so in plain English. The faster that you tell the 911 operator what is happening, the faster they can dispatch the proper response. Volunteer information without waiting for the 911 operator to ask.

If possible, record the license plate numbers, good descriptions of those involved, and other relevant details. Don't trust your memory; write it down or record it with your cell phone. You can also use your cell phone to take photos or videos of the incident—again caution is in order. If the perpetrator sees you recording him, he may turn his attention on you next. If staying to observe the incident puts you in danger, leave! Use common sense, don’t stand around gawking at what’s happening if doing so puts you in danger.

We can all imagine witnessing an attack so monstrous that we just could not stand by and let it continue. Although you have a license to carry a pistol and are carrying your pistol, you could be assaulted so quickly that you could not react. If the situation is such that you believe you must intervene before police arrive, think of your own safety first. Can you confront the individual from a position of cover? Are there obstacles between you and the individual that will inhibit him from getting close to you? What if the assailant simply ignores your commands and continues the assault? Are you prepared to deal with these possibilities?

Your decision to get involved and try to stop a crime in progress is entirely up to you. Maintain situational awareness and make the best decisions that you can based on your training and experience. Remember however, that you will deal with all the consequences of your actions. The time to think about these potential scenarios is before you find yourself witnessing a crime unfolding in front of you.

*In Texas for example, an individual is justified in using force or deadly force against another to protect a third person if in the exact same circumstance, the individual would be justified in using force or deadly force to protect themselves against another’s use of unlawful force or unlawful deadly force--AND the individual reasonably believes that their intervention is immediately necessary to protect the third person.

In many states, use of deadly force is also authorized to prevent a forcible felony and sexual assault; however, the laws in your state may not. Note: I am not a lawyer. This is information, not legal advice. I provide the information on this website as a public service. Sometimes the laws change and I cannot promise that this information is always up-to-date and correct and the laws in your state may be entirely different. If you need legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Fundamentals--Polish your shooting skills

At least twice year, I like to review and practice marksmanship fundamentals. These fundamentals form the foundation for all accurate shooting, but they are something many overlook.

Zeroing your pistol

I continue to be amazed at how often I hear shooters say, "I've never zeroed the sights on my pistol." The ability to hit a target on demand starts with zeroing (or sighting in) your pistol for the ammunition you are shooting.

If you have not zeroed your pistol with this ammunition, you have only a vague idea of where the shots will hit in relation to your sight picture. The difference between point of aim and point of impact will grow with distance and may result in you missing the target entirely.

It takes a minimum of 10 shots carefully fired at a target with the ammo you intend to use to verify point of impact (ideally using a solid rest or sand bags to minimize pistol movement). After firing these shots, make your sight corrections based upon the center point of the group you fired — ignore any shots that are obviously the result of shooter error.

If you have adjustable sights, adjust your point of impact at least one-half the group size so you can see a definite shift in the next group's center point. Continue this process until you have a clear correlation between point of aim and point of impact for your shot group. If you do not have adjustable sights, then you must drift the sights or memorize the difference between point of aim and the desired point of impact.1

Zeroing your carry pistol for your self-defense/carry ammunition is even more important. Different brands will shoot to different points of impact — the difference can be critical if you must take a precise shot. If you practice/compete with your carry pistol (and you should do this on a regular basis), zero the sights for you carry ammunition. If you reload, you should be able to develop a load that replicates/approximates your carry ammunition. For example, I carry Hornady Critical Duty 9mm 135 gr. My practice load that shoots to the same point of impact in my S&W M&P is 3.3 grains of Universal, WW primer, and 147gr. Xtreme plated RN. If you don’t reload, then memorize the point of aim/point of impact difference for your practice ammunition.

Hitting the target

Every time someone fires a pistol, the bullet hits ... something. Of course, the key is an ability to hit what we want when we want and is critical to every shooting situation. The inability to fire an accurate shot on demand will hold you back in mastering every other pistol skill.

The faster the shooting speed, the more important it becomes to fire each shot without disturbing pistol's the stability and alignment. To quickly hit a target, the shooter must condense the act of firing an accurate shot down to a short time frame; however, the fundamental process is the same.

The ability to hit your target and execute various gun-handling skills — such as a draw, reload, engage moving targets, etc., must coexist. However, don't try to develop them simultaneously. Each skill has to be developed and practiced separately.

Certain skills are more easily acquired through dry practice, because recoil can mask some problems. For instance, you can send your shots to the lower left or right by changing your grip pressure as you pull the trigger — something you probably will not feel when the pistol recoils. Dry practice allows you to concentrate on a specific skill and reduces the possibility that you might misinterpret feedback that other variables produce. A SIRT Training Pistol or something similar can expose flaws in your technique.

Using the sights

Sight alignment and sight picture are often confused, but they are not the same. Alignment refers to the relationship between the front and rear sight; the sight picture is the relationship between the aligned sights and the target — what you see the instant the pistol fires.

Alignment is correct when the top of the front sight is the same height as the top of the rear sight blade, and there is an equal amount of light showing on either side of the front sight. With optical sights, alignment consists of seeing the dot in the scope — regardless of where it appears.

You must focus on the front sight (or dot, etc.) to fire an accurate shot. The human eye's physical characteristics preclude simultaneously focusing on objects at multiple distances. Focus on the front sight, not the rear sight and not the target.

This is a fairly easy concept to understand. Are you fully aware of the front sight for every shot? Can you see it on demand at speed? Dry practice helps us refine this skill as you practice drawing the pistol and acquiring proper sight alignment. Aligning the sights at speed is simply knowing what you need to see and then confirming that you see it as you press the trigger.

Prepping the trigger

You can have the perfect sight alignment and picture, but if you jerk the trigger, you'll likely miss the target. Pulling the trigger on a semi-automatic is a two-step process; taking up the slack or pre-travel, then pressing the trigger to the rear to fire the shot.

The pre-travel is the distance the trigger moves from its forward-most position to the point where the shooter feels the sear's resistance. The weakest area for most shooters is an inability to take up this pre-travel without actually releasing the sear (and thereby firing the shot). Prepping the trigger means learning to pull through that free movement and hold against the weight of the sear engagement.

You should be aware of this every time you fire a shot, regardless of how rapidly you are shooting. It does take time to learn this skill, and it only comes with practice. It is also a progressive skill — start with slow fire and only speed up when you can prep the trigger without disturbing the sight alignment/picture. Prepping the trigger forms the foundation of proper trigger control; eventually it will become a conditioned reflex.

Pressing the trigger

Once the shooter preps the trigger, pressing through to fire the shot is the next step. Your trigger finger should begin to exert pressure straight back until the pistol fires. Ideally, the middle of the pad of the fingertip should be 90 degrees to the trigger, which enables you to press the trigger straight to the rear. Then, release the trigger at the same speed in which it's pressed, keeping the finger in contact as it returns.

The term "press" should not be misinterpreted as being a slow-moving process. "Press" implies that increasing the level of pressure against the trigger is done as a smooth acceleration. However, you must do this in a predictable pattern regardless of its time frame: pressure increases progressively until the shot breaks.

As you're learning trigger control, pay attention to sight alignment when putting pressure on the trigger. Both must be done at the same time. After you've acquired the ability to press the trigger without moving the sights start speeding up just a little. Experiment to see how quickly you can press the trigger without disrupting alignment.

Shooting grip

Many people under or over grip the handgun. Bull's-eye shooters, for example, typically are not overly concerned with controlling recoil for immediate follow-up shots and therefore tend to have a lighter grip on the pistol. Others believe a death grip on the pistol will prevent recoil. However, no matter how tightly you grip it, the handgun will still recoil. An excessively tight grip does not stop the recoil and often prevents a stable sight alignment/picture.

The proper grip tension is about the same pressure you'd feel when holding a hammer to drive a nail. Additionally, the pressure in both hands must be equal to help ensure the gun tracks consistently straight up and down during recoil. Gripping the gun with correct tension will allow the hand to recoil in concert with the pistol and allows proper trigger control. When the firing hand is not trying to choke the life out of the pistol, the trigger finger is free to move smoothly, quickly, and precisely.

Reducing muzzle rise does not enable you to shoot faster. The speed and consistency with which the pistol returns into alignment is what determines how quickly you can fire the next accurate shot. A proper grip when combined with a proper stance will enable you to effectively deal with muzzle rise. As you relax and see a predictable pattern, you will start to see the sights through the entire recoil cycle. With practice and a proper stance, the recoil pattern will become predictable and the sights will automatically return back into alignment.

Grip mechanics and high hold

Grip the gun as high on the frame as possible with the shooting hand indexing against the beavertail and making full contact with the rear of the frame. If your hand size permits, extend both thumbs toward the target along the slide or frame while being careful not to press them inward. Inward pressure against the slide/frame can influence the tracking of the gun in recoil and cause malfunctions.

Hand size is an issue for some people. For example, as I learned to shoot the Springfield XD pistol, I found it impossible to not press the slide release with my normal grip. I had to teach myself a slightly different grip to enable the slide to lock back on the final round. I don't have this problem on the 1911, Glock, or the S&W M&P platforms.

The shooting hand squeezes the gun from front to rear; the support hand squeezes the shooting hand from side to side, creating a clam-shell effect that generates four-way, equal pressure on the pistol. Having the proper pressure balance on every side allows the gun to track more consistently in recoil and then return quickly and consistently.

Shooting stance

Every physical sport has an optimal stance; shooting is no different. Just like golf, baseball, tennis, etc., the correct shooting stance provides an overall feeling of balance; it is an athletic position of readiness.

The next time you are at the range, take a moment and look at how pistol shooters are standing — you will see every variation imaginable; most are not optimal. The correct shooting stance is a progressively aggressive stance with shoulders slightly in front of the waist, ears in front of shoulders. This posture puts the majority of the body weight slightly forward and uses the body's mechanics to help control recoil.

Your spine should be relatively straight, while your knees are flexed and the upper body bends slightly forward. If you're doing it correctly, you'll feel tension in your calf muscles. The wider the swing needed to shoot multiple targets, the more the knees should be flexed.

It is important to remain flat-footed while the upper body is leaning toward the target. One foot may be in front of the other as in a slight karate-style forward stance. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart. A stance that's too wide will inhibit your ability to swing to shoot multiple targets and your ability to move. A too-narrow stance can cause you to lose your balance as the pistol recoils.

You must have a progressively aggressive stance to resist the pistol's recoil and maintain your balance. Look at the picture and you will notice aggressive, yet balanced forward stances with the pistol in full recoil. Do not put too much weight on the balls of your feet, this creates instability. As a test, I have novice shooters extend their arms as if they are holding a pistol and close their eyes. I then push against their hands (as if pushing them backward); without a correct stance it is easy to push them off balance.

The Isosceles, Modified Isosceles, Weaver and the Chapman Modified Weaver debate in some circles is almost as enthusiastic as the 9mm versus .45 ACP debate. There is a place for every variation depending upon the specific shooting situation, cover, ground, etc. Everyone should master all of them, and there are numerous Internet videos that detail how to do each one.

The fundamental foundation

Zero your pistol, learn and use a solid stance, and practice the fundamentals of sight alignment and trigger control. Revisit these fundamentals periodically as you progress and anytime you start to drift into bad habits.

The marksmanship fundamentals form the basis of all steady, fast and accurate pistol shooting. Begin and end each range session with precision shooting practice to reaffirm your ability to place a bullet exactly where you want it. Take a look at this video and you will see it all come together: Plate Video

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