Sunday, September 18, 2022

Tap Rack Revisited--How to Not Blow Up Your Pistol.


This is an update to an article I wrote several years ago, spurred by a recent incident during a training session. 

I still routinely see competitors trying to catch rounds when they are clearing their pistols or holding their hand over the ejection port in an attempt to catch the round instead of letting it drop to the ground.  This is not a good idea.

I was always somewhat skeptical when I heard stories of rounds detonating in the ejection port. I now have personally witnessed two examples of rounds doing just that.  One as the shooter was clearing the pistol and one when the shooter was attempting to close the slide on a round that apparently had not gone into battery.

Recently during a training session, a shooter was clearing his 1911 pistol.  The round apparently managed to turn sideways in the ejection port and detonated from the primer striking the ejector.  The brass case departed stage right and we did not recover it.  The bullet struck some part of the ejection port and we found it on the ground at his feet. It had minimal damage and could have easily been reloaded and fired.

If the shooter had placed his hand over the ejection port, the brass case would likely have severely lacerated his hand.

At one point, a common response to the slide of a pistol failing to go into battery was to strike the rear of the slide. I do not see this too often as striker fired pistols have come into mainstream usage. However as we see in the incident discussed below, that may not be a very good idea and indeed could be very dangerous as well.

I was serving as the match director in our Short Range Match when I heard a loud pop instead of a bang as a competitor was completing a stage. I looked up and saw the safety officer walking toward me with the competitor who was holding his left hand with blood pouring through his fingers. His pistol was lying on the ground where it had fallen from his hand.

The competitor's pistol had failed to go into battery and he had aggressively hit the back of the slide with his left palm in an attempt to clear the malfunction. As he did this, his fingers went forward over the top of the slide just as the round detonated in the open ejection port. Fragments of brass severely cut his left index and middle fingers. After examining the competitor's injured left-hand, a doctor at the scene determined that he was not seriously injured and only had some bloody but not serious cuts.The competitor was a heart surgeon so this was welcome news indeed!

When I retrieved and examined the pistol, I saw that the remains of the detonated round were still in the ejection port. The round had nosedived into the feed ramp and that in doing so it literally positioned the primer exactly over the extractor. When the competitor slammed the slide forward with his left hand the extractor had crushed the primer causing the 9mm round to detonate.

If you look at photo #1 above you can get an idea of the quantity of brass fragments that struck the shooter’s hand. In photo #2 you can see where the extractor (not the ejector--look at the picture) crushed the primer (pistol was a Kahr 9mm). This particular gentleman was very forceful when he manipulated his pistol. Photo #3 shows where the force of the detonation slammed the bullet into the feed ramp. Photo #4 provides another view.

In my classes I teach that the proper response to a click instead of a bang is to tap the magazine (to ensure it is properly seated) and rack the slide—tap, rack. This will often clear the malfunction. If it does not, the proper response is to lock the slide back, aggressively strip the magazine out, and then reload the pistol and continue to fire if the circumstances warrant. 

After reloading, if it does not fire you probably have a broken pistol that's not going to be easily fixed on the spot. If you are under assault, the proper response at that point is to aggressively depart the area or take other necessary action.

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Sunday, September 4, 2022

Blitz Robbery: Could You React in Time?

We recently fired a stage in the Sensible Self Defense (SSD) Short Range Match that was based on an armed robbery in front of a hotel in Houston. Four armed men in an SUV quickly pulled in front of the hotel’s main entrance and two men exited the vehicle. One was armed with a handgun and one was armed with a long gun (it might have been an AR-15 style rifle—hard to tell). The robbers accosted a hotel patron waiting outside the front doors and took several items from him including his watch and backpack. You can watch the video here.

From the moment the patron/victim could see that the person exiting the SUV held a handgun until the robber was on top of him with his pistol in the victim’s face was approximately 1.62 seconds; the distance was approximately four yards. The second robber with his long gun was in position to fire on the victim in approximately 3.40 seconds after the SUV stopped. When the victim saw the first robber exiting the vehicle, he attempted to run; however, he only took a couple of steps before the robber quickly stopped him. In this instance, the victim’s perception-reaction time (I define it as the victim’s first action in response to seeing the robber) was approximately 0.40 seconds.

If the victim had been armed, he would have needed to draw and engage the first robber in less than 1.22 seconds (subtracting the victim’s .040 second perception time from 1.62 seconds) and the second robber immediately after the first. Is this something a reasonably well-trained person could do with a concealed pistol? I think the answer is yes. Would engaging the robbers have been a good idea? Perhaps or maybe not.

I recently did some personal research concerning my draws and those of my training partner Steve. The question was how fast could we safely draw and shoot a target two yards away, starting with our hand on the pistol? We were not measuring reaction to a timer or other start signal, nor were we measuring accuracy per se, but rather how fast we could safely draw and fire a shot. (Safety note: DO NOT try this, regardless of your level of training. There is a very real risk of shooting yourself.)

My average draw for 16 runs measured from the time I initiated the draw (i.e. the first movement of my hand) until I fired the shot was 0.16 seconds. Steve’s average draw for 14 runs was 0.18 seconds.* Frankly, I was surprised at how fast we could draw and shoot. The picture below shows my hits. Remember, the point of the experiment was to draw and safely pull the trigger as quickly as possible. This was rapid point shooting and the spread of the shots demonstrates this. I was initially shooting lower on the target and modified the draw a bit to shoot higher as I dialed it in.

Starting with your hand on the pistol provides a great time advantage over starting with your hands in any other position. I have collected data on over a thousand draws in Short Range Matches and the average competitor gains between 0.75 and 1.25 seconds starting with the hand on the pistol versus starting with the hands at their sides. Highly skilled shooters typically draw, aim, and hit their target with the first shot in 0.60 - 0.80 seconds—some competitors are faster.

If the draw speed (i.e. the reaction) is within the realm of the possible, how about the perception part of the equation? The victim’s perception-reaction time was a key aspect in this event. The time required to respond to a given stimulus varies greatly across different tasks and even within the same task under different conditions. It can range from less than 0.15 seconds to many seconds. The type of stimulus, stimulus complexity, and the observer’s circumstances highly influence stimulus response time.

If we place it in the context of Boyd’s Observe, Orient, Decide, Act model, the victim in this robbery would have had to go from Observe to Act almost immediately. Shooters routinely do this in classes and competition. For example: “At the start signal, draw and shoot Targets 1-3 with two hits each.” The difference between the range and the real world is that on the range we typically know what our course of action must be in advance and we are prepared at that moment to execute the course of action the instant we perceive the expected stimulus. Even when faced with a blind stage, we still know that we are going through a scenario that will likely require us to shoot at some point and therefore we are mentally aware and prepared for that eventuality.

Mental awareness or mindset is a critical component to surviving any defensive encounter involving deadly force. However, mindset alone is insufficient. It must be coupled with awareness, proper training, and a willingness to act.

The practical aspect comes into play as well. Even had the victim been armed (I am assuming he was not), from the victim’s perspective the odds of successfully drawing a pistol were likely very poor. Do you place your hand on a concealed pistol every time a car pulls up in front of you? Probably not given that the odds of the car containing a robbery team are generally extremely low (however, they are not zero as we see here). In this instance, the victim’s response in surrendering his valuables was probably the best option given the totality of the circumstances as he saw them.

Most Sensible Self Defense Short Range Match stages are designed based on real life events that are video recorded. The concept behind the match is to prepare shooters for the variety of use of force scenarios they might encounter in daily life to the degree that you can do so in a match. Crime often happens very quickly so many SSD stages (like the name suggests) are at a relatively short range and very fast.

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* Note: This did seem pretty fast and I double checked my data; I am confident in its accuracy. I also compared it to fast draw records; the current record is 0.208 seconds. Our average is faster; however, fast draw competitors must react, draw, fire, and hit a target. The lock time (the time it takes the hammer to fall) of the single action pistol also comes into play since the competitor must cock the hammer and then pull the trigger in the process. The reaction times of the best fast draw shooters is in the 0.150 second range which means that the current record holder drew, cocked, aimed (from the hip), and fired in less than 0.06 seconds. That is much faster than we were. I also came across a video of Randy Harris of Harris Combative Strategies drawing from concealment and pulling the trigger in 0.46 seconds: click here for the video

Note again, there is a very real risk of shooting yourself if you try this experiment. Steve and I are IDPA Masters and have excellent trigger control. Even so, I do not think I will repeat this experiment. I state flatly, DO NOT try this, regardless of your level of training. If you do, you are solely responsible for the consequences of your actions.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Practice 2022: The No Fail Drill Expanded

A "Failed" No Fail Drill
I recently saw the No Fail Drill on the Active Response Training website and decided I would try it. The No Fail Drill is attributed to Chuck Pressberg of Presscheck Training and Consulting; however, I could not find the drill’s description on the Presscheck website so I went with the description on Primer Peak. (

The No Fail Drill is relatively straight forward. You start with the pistol concealed. You must draw and place a hit inside the 9-ring on a standard NRA B8 target center placed at 25 yards within 3.5 seconds. It must be shot cold. You do this 10 times; any shot outside the 9-ring is a miss and you fail the drill. I did not have difficulty making the time limit; however, I failed the drill with three rounds outside the 9-ring as shown in the picture on the right.

Shooting the No Fail Drill works on drawing from concealment, establishing a solid grip and stance, acquiring a rapid sight picture, and trigger control. The time limit of 3.5 seconds means you cannot dither on the draw and your presentation must place the sights on the target. At 25 yards, if your trigger pull is not well executed you will likely miss.
As I continued to work on the No Fail Drill, I decided my initial goal would be to shoot the drill clean using the 4-inch circle on the target I use for my classes. This is a slightly more difficult standard since it is 1.54 inches smaller than the B8 nine ring.
I will post a running update as I progress with this drill.  The pictures below show two of my attempts in mid-Aug 22.  Both were fails due to shots outside the circle. Only nine shots on the right target, one shot missed the target completely.
If/when I am at the point where I consistently pass with the 4-inch circle scoring area, I will change it to the ocular cavity triangle.
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Saturday, August 13, 2022

Practice 2022: To Drill or Test?

One mechanism for improving your shooting skills is to shoot drills. Most sports have a set of drills designed to improve a specific skill or a combination of skills—shooting is no exception. There are literally hundreds of firearms training drills and some are better than others.
Shooting drills that challenge you is a great way to improve your shooting assuming that you can recognize what you need work on to improve. I have been working on refining my grip from a draw, acquiring a rapid sight picture, and trigger control.
2x2x2 Example
The primary drill I have been shooting is Dave Spaulding’s 2x2x2 Drill. The 2x2x2 Drill is shot on a 3x5 card placed vertically on a target backer that is 20 feet away. At the start signal, the shooter must draw and fire two rounds in two seconds with two hits on the 3x5 card. If a round breaks the card’s edge it is scored as a hit. The picture on the left shows an example sequence with seven runs, 14 shots, and one miss.  Any shot outside the card or over the two second time limit constitutes a failed run. So in this particular sequence, the miss would be a failed run.
You ideally should shoot several different drills that complement each other in working on the specific skill you are trying to improve. This adds variety to your practice and keeps the drills from becoming too tedious. I recently saw the No Fail Drill on the Active Response Training website and decided I would try it. The No Fail Drill is attributed to Chuck Pressberg of Presscheck Training and Consulting; however, I could not find the drill’s description on the Presscheck website so I went with the description on Primer Peak. (
A "Failed" No Fail Drill
The No Fail Drill is relatively straight forward. You start with the pistol concealed. You must draw and place a hit inside the 9-ring on a standard NRA B8 target center placed at 25 yards within 3.5 seconds. It must be shot cold. You do this 10 times; any shot outside the 9-ring is a miss and you fail the drill. I did not have difficulty making the time limit; however, I failed the drill with three rounds outside the 9-ring as shown in the picture on the right. Shooting the No Fail Drill adds one additional item to the skill set—drawing from concealment. With this drill however, I am still practicing establishing my grip from a draw, acquiring a rapid sight picture, and trigger control.
People occasionally mis-characterize shooting tests as drills and vice versa. So, is there a difference between a shooting drill and a shooting test? Yes, drills are a means to an end but not the end itself. A well-designed drill permits the shooter to work on a specific skill or a combination of skills in isolation. Tests (and qualifications) on the other hand measure the shooter’s ability to combine their skills to perform a specific task or tasks to a specific standard.
If you compare Spaulding’s 2x2x2 Drill with Pressburg’s No Fail Drill, you see similarities. Both drills allow the shooter to focus on obtaining a solid grip from a draw, acquiring a rapid sight picture, and trigger control. Neither is easy; however, both provide a mechanism to identify your shortfalls and measure your improvement.
Although they are different, a drill can also be used as a test with some modifications. In his classes, Dave used the 2x2x2 Drill as a test at the end of the class. The same starting position and other requirements as the drill; however, the shooter had to draw from concealment. Students who successfully passed the test with two shots on the 3x5 card in two seconds earned an engraved belt buckle and belt from Handgun Combatives.
When assessing whether a given shooting drill will address your improvement needs, the old adage that you should not practice what you are already good at comes to mind. If/when I reach the point that I can shoot the No Fail Drill or the 2x2x2 Drill from concealment successfully on demand, I will move on to shoot ever more difficult drills and continue to try and improve my shooting skills. I enjoy improving my shooting and drills help me with this process. I’m not sure I will ever hit the point where I decide that my skills are “good enough.”
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Monday, July 25, 2022

Little Boy Rousts Home Invaders

We recently fired a stage in the Sensible Self Defense Short Range Match that was based on a home invasion in Indiana.  Four men armed with handguns forced their way into a home after kicking in the kitchen door. The son of one of the residents, four year old David picked up his toy trucks and threw them at the home invaders and began to hit the men. The boy’s actions startled them and they quickly exited the home, leaving empty handed.

Short Range Match stages like this one are generally based on real life events that are video recorded.  You can watch an edited version of the invasion video here and a video of me shooting the stage during the match here. 


During the match one of the men in the squad I was on commented to me that “this would be the perfect stage for a pistol caliber carbine.”  I asked him if he carried his PCC with him in the house and he said he did not nor did he carry a pistol.  I told him I always had a pistol on me when I was at home. He said that seemed a bit paranoid and asked if I lived in a bad neighborhood; I replied that I lived (in so far that there is such a thing) in a safe neighborhood. I asked him when he was most likely to experience a home invasion. He replied “at home?”


Obvious answer.  Most people are not prepared for home invasions and are caught off guard.  Your pistol is a piece of emergency equipment and it is useless if you cannot access it quickly in an emergency.  I routinely read of people trying to access their firearm during a home invasion—many successfully, many not.  It is impractical to carry a PCC with you at all time while in the house or most other places for that matter.  However, you can carry a small pistol or revolver in a proper pocket holster without much inconvenience and the time required to access your pistol is significantly reduced.


Would be home invaders can kick open most residential doors in a few seconds. Reinforcing your doors helps buy you time if that option is available and within your means. The Armor Concepts door armor and similar products are relatively inexpensive, simple to install, and make kicking a door much harder.


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Thursday, June 2, 2022

Shotgun Woes and Lessons Learned from the Short Range Match

This is a guest post from Dixon Gunther who attended our 29 May 2022 Sensible Self Defense Shotgun Match.

I’d just returned from a work trip when I noticed that Sensible Self Defense was hosting a Shotgun Match. Still reeling from the twelve previous hours of ‘planes, trains, and automobiles’ that tend to bookend my frequent work trips, shooting a match the following morning wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind. Which brings me to my first point. Never pass up an opportunity to train. Ever. Doesn’t matter how tired you are or how bad the weather is supposed to be. Always go train.

I knew it’d been a minute since I’d run a shotgun defensively, so the next morning, I sorted my gear out, and headed for the range. These ‘matches’ (‘Short Range Match’) as the host/founder, Eric Lamberson of Sensible Self-defense titles them, have consistently proven to be excellent opportunities to run through real-world defensive shooting scenarios using either your EDC or home defense set-ups. I’ve been shooting them periodically for the past eight years. In this match, shooters could use pistol, shotgun, or pistol-caliber carbine. There were four scenarios, with 3-9 targets at various distances, all of which had to be engaged using cover where available, against the clock. Some mandated reloads, with others you just reloaded as you deemed necessary.

During the first scenario, I experienced a total malfunction with my shotgun on the second shot. The shotgun is a Mossberg JM-Pro, which I’ve used extensively in the past. I attended Eric’s Defensive Shotgun Course, modeled after Tom Givens’ course in January 2020, and had run the same gun with same ammo with zero issues. I was using Federal Law Enforcement Flight-Control buckshot. When I fired the first shot, the gun cycled, but failed to fire the second round. I racked the slide, ejecting the unfired second round and loading a third round, attempted to fire – nothing. While the gun would fire the first round loaded into the chamber, it was failing to cock the hammer on the subsequent shots. After repeatedly performing immediate action to reduce the malfunction to no avail, I informed the Safety Officer that I was going to use my backup gun.

I wound up shooting the entire match [clean] with my Mossberg 500 which I’ve had for 38 years. It worked flawlessly. And it was good to refresh myself on running the slide action. I focused on achieving solid target hits, use of cover, and even ran the gun on my non-dominant side for part of a stage in order to negotiate the corners properly.

Lessons Learned:

I say again: Never pass up an opportunity to train. Ever. Doesn’t matter how tired you are or how bad the weather is supposed to be. Always go train. Reading about it and thinking about it are no substitute for actually running your life-saving equipment and actually practicing your skills.

Run your gun: Not to be overly dramatic, but this match could have literally saved my life, as the malfunction I experienced with what had been my home defense shotgun could have gotten me killed in a home invasion scenario. You should periodically practice with the gun and defensive ammunition.

Six shots is not a lot in a gunfight, particularly with no way to truly execute a speed reload (as you can with a revolver or pistol). One of the stages in this match had nine targets, each of which had to be shot twice – 18 rounds total, engaged from cover or while moving. Even reloading twice from cover after engaging the first six targets, that still required me to reload on the move prior to engaging the last three targets. My Mossberg 500 has an 18.5” barrel, and an unplugged magazine capacity of five rounds, for a maximum of six rounds in the gun. With five additional rounds carried on the side of the receiver, that brings my maximum round capacity to 10 on board. One of the features that initially attracted me to the 930 JM Pro was the 9-round magazine capacity, which enabled me to carry 9+1 in the gun, with an additional five on the receiver for a total of 15 rounds. But in the final analysis, I believe the 930 is too long to be practical as a defensive platform. The shorter 500 is much handier.

Reloading: Should be done the same way, from the same place (either on the ‘side saddle’ or on the body) EVERY SINGLE TIME! Though I had previously trained fairly often on reloading a shotgun in a defensive scenario, it has been nearly two years since I’ve practiced with any regularity. Prior to that I had literally shot tens of thousands of rounds with various shotguns, mostly shooting Sporting Clays and dove hunting. With the latter, I’m typically loading two rounds at a time from a belt-mounted cartridge pouch/shell bag. So running the gun defensively, I discovered my skills were at best rusty, and at times down right awkward. During the match, I generally had time to plan my reloads and at least rehearse them mentally, which helped, but it was still far from smooth. This is a skill that you must practice periodically – even dry/with dummy rounds. As I have learned in the past: you can’t expect to remain proficient at skills you don’t practice.

Concerning the specific model of firearm and the nature of the malfunction I experienced: A cursory internet search of the various Mossberg 930 forums yielded a plethora of shooters that had experienced the identical (and many other) problem(s) with this particular platform. While I am still in the process of diagnosing problem. The cause is not immediately apparent; the firing pin isn’t broken and the gun is clean, properly assembled, and has no missing or obviously broken parts – my confidence in the platform has evaporated.

From what I can ascertain, the Mossberg 930 JM Pro was introduced as an entry-level shotgun for use in 3-Gun competition, and was not specifically designed as a serious defensive platform (read: expected to be inherently reliable). I base that observation on the fact that (if the internet forums are accurate) many, if not most 930 owners have had to modify their shotguns just to make them function, and continually ‘tweak’ them or tinker with them to keep them running, irrespective of variant -- SPX, JM Pro, or Pro Waterfowl. My personal experience bears this out.

I own two Mossberg 930s, the JM Pro as well as a 930 Pro Waterfowl. I’ve replaced a number of internal components with “upgrades” (“performance” parts from OR3Gun) just to get them to run, but continue to have reliability problems with both. I selected the Mossberg 930 based on the the tang-mounted safety, which is easier to manipulate as a left-handed shooter (I’m cross-dominant – right-handed, but fire long guns left-handed based on eye dominance). While I’ve owned six Mossberg shotguns since about 1979, five of which I still own and shoot, Mossberg’s forte seems to be their pump shotguns. In my opinion/experience, the Mossberg 930 shotguns, at least the two that I have, are too unreliable to serve as a defensive shotgun, and as mentioned previously, the JM Pro is probably too long to be practical for such use.

The two semiautos that seem to ‘rule the school’ at the moment are the Beretta 1301 and the Benelli M4. The latter of the two is almost prohibitively expensive, and are somewhere between difficult and impossible to locate locally. Semiautos are definitely faster, as you obviously don’t have to cycle the action yourself. Eric shot one stage clean with his 1301 – five targets in 2.36 seconds. I shot the same stage clean with the 500 in something more like 11 seconds. But my personal experience this past weekend has me internally debating the appropriateness of a semiauto as a defensive platform. I’m almost inclined to favor the simplicity and reliability of a pump over the speed of the semi. I have a Remington 11-87 that I bought new in 1989, that I’ve hunted with for the past 30+ years, which has functioned flawlessly with me seldom doing more than swabbing the bore and feeding it ammo. That, and I could literally buy 3 Mossberg pumps for what it would cost me to buy a Benelli. We’ll see. At the moment, my 500 has replaced my 930 as the one by my bedside.

                                                        Dixon Gunther 31 May 2022 


Side Note:  On 30 May 2022 I taught a Home Defense Shotgun Course and one student using a JM Pro had the exact same problem. He made it through by pulling the bolt partially to the rear without ejecting the round.  This cocked the hammer and enabled him to fire the next round.  Obviously not an optimal solution.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Can You Stop a Trigger Pull?

Is it possible to stop an action once you begin? Obviously, the answer is yes for some actions, perhaps no for others. Could you stop an involuntary eye-blink in mid blink? Can you stop a trigger pull once you have actually started the pull? Some experimentation I have done recently concerning just how fast one can pull the trigger leads me to believe that once you actually start to pull the trigger, you probably could not stop in mid pull. If true, that has implications for the private citizen involved in a lawful use of deadly force.

Prosecutors have criminally charged police officers when the officer has shot someone in the back or when the officer shot someone falling down, stating that these shots were unjustified. There is a fine line between shots that are a lawful response to a deadly threat and shots that are fired after the deadly threat ceases. The same is true for a private citizen—perhaps more so. Dynamic, deadly encounters can happen very quickly and a private citizen’s use of deadly force in lawful self defense can be over in moments. However, close legal scrutiny on the defender’s decision to start and stop shooting can result in the aftermath taking years to play out.

Research has shown that most people can stop an action that they had just started but have not completed in 200 – 250 milliseconds (see reference #1). However, the ability to stop an action in this timeframe implies that the initial reaction and motor movement to complete the action takes longer than 200 ms to complete. An action that takes less than 200 ms to complete probably cannot be stopped.

So how does this apply to pulling the trigger? Some definitions are in order. When I say pull the trigger, I am describing the action of pressing the trigger and releasing pistol’s sear from one of two positions: beginning from the trigger fully forward at rest or from the trigger finger holding the trigger staged to the rear under tension with no slack—the so called reset position. I am not describing the action of slowly increasing pressure until the sear releases, but rather a rapid, smooth pull starting with no movement of the trigger finger and ending with the pistol firing.

Just how fast does this happen? My recent experiments indicate that it is surprisingly fast—much faster than I initially thought possible. We had four participants in the experiment: Two IDPA 6-gun Masters, one intermediate-level shooter, and one participant who was shooting a pistol for only the 2nd time in their life. The task was straightforward and used one of two starting positions. Position #1 began with the trigger fully forward, trigger finger touching trigger, and no tension on the trigger. The participant pulled the trigger straight to the rear as fast as they could in one smooth motion without pause until the pistol fired. Position #2 began with the trigger staged to the rear so that the trigger had no slack and the shooter felt the sear’s resistance. Shooters could put as much tension as the mechanism allowed without releasing the sear (note: no participant fired an unintentional shot during this process). 

On their own, the shooter pulled the trigger straight to the rear as fast as they could in one smooth motion without pause until the pistol fired. In all of the trials, I used the a SIG P320 with a stock trigger and the a P365 with a stock trigger—the same pistol for each participant. (I tried this previously with different pistols and realized there was a notable difference time-wise between action types, even with striker fired pistols. We used the SIG P320 and P365 to eliminate this variable.)

I measured the time from the first video frame indicating the trigger was moving until the pistol fired. I used a camera running at 240 frames per second (the fastest camera I have) to measure the trigger pull speed. Although 240 fps seems fast, it was clear when I analyzed the data that there was actually movement in this process that was faster than the camera could record. Even so, I think the video was sufficient to measure the action with a reasonable level of accuracy. (a short video and no, that grips is not my normal grip. I modified the grips to ensure I could record the entire trigger movement.)

SIG P320: From position #1 with the trigger fully forward, the average time for all participants to complete the trigger pull with the P320 was 0.0297 seconds. The fastest time was 0.0208 seconds with the slowest being 0.0375 seconds.

From position #2 with the trigger staged to the rear and under tension, the average time for all participants to complete the trigger pull with the P320 was 0.0153 seconds. The fastest time was 0.0083 seconds (several pulls—pretty darn fast) with the slowest being 0.0250 seconds. Initially, I thought that the 0.0083 times were simply too fast to be credible; however, another camera running at 240 fps produced the same result.

SIG P365: From position #1 with the trigger fully forward, the average time for all participants to complete the trigger pull with the P365 was 0.0297 seconds. The fastest time was 0.0083 seconds as well with the slowest being 0.0333 seconds.

From position #2 with the trigger staged to the rear and under tension, the average time for all participants to complete the trigger pull with the P365 was 0.0145 seconds. The fastest time once more was 0.0083 seconds and the slowest was 0.0167 seconds.

When you look at the total data set for each starting position, there really is almost no statistical difference between the skilled and relatively unskilled shooters. Every trigger pull I recorded was significantly faster than 200 ms and this leads me to believe that it would not be possible for the participant to stop the pull once they had started.

What is the implication for the armed citizen? If you are committed to firing a shot and have started to pull the trigger, the speed with which you can pull the trigger likely precludes stopping that action. In 2000 and again in 2009, Bill Lewinski and others studied how fast someone can turn and how fast someone can stop shooting (reference 2 & 3). In the 2000 study they found that the average time for someone to turn in scenarios where the threat was firing at a fictional “police officer” was 0.0300 seconds from one starting position and 0.0900 seconds from another. If the threat turns in the instant you pull the trigger, the trigger pull speed when combined with turning speed (particularly the speed of a young, athletic person) could easily result in shooting the threat in the back.

Given that at any given moment in our lives today we are probably being video recorded, that video recording may show the threat turning away as you fire making it look like you are intentionally shooting them in the back when they are no longer a threat. Knowing trigger pull speeds and the speed in which someone can turn could be very useful information for the defense in case of criminal charges.

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1. On the ability to inhibit simple and choice reaction time responses: a model and a method. G D Logan, W B Cowan, K A Davis; J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 1984 Apr;10(2):276-91.

2. Why is the Suspect Shot in the Back? Finally, Hard Data on How Fast the Suspect Can Be In 11 Different Shooting Scenarios; Bill Lewinski, Ph.D.; The Police Marksman November/December 2000 pgs. 20-­‐28

3. New Developments in Understanding the Behavioral Science Factors in the “Stop Shooting” Response. Law Enforcement Executive Forum - 2009 9(4) 35; William J. Lewinski, PhD; Christa Redmann, Bethany

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Knickknacks on Your Pistol?

Websters dictionary defines a knickknack as “a pleasing trifle; something more ornamental than useful.” More ornamental than useful? Why would we want to put knickknacks on a pistol designed for a serious purpose? I personally do not.

In a recent match, a competitor using a P320 had his pistol slide spontaneously disassemble itself. The rear slide cap failed as the pistol fired and released the extractor tension pin, spring guide, spring, and extractor—all of which departed in various directions (in the first picture below, you can see the extractor tension pin and other parts coming out of the pistol slide). Once the competitor located all of the parts, we examined the rear slide cap and noticed a slot on the right side that was either worn into the slide cap or had resulted when the metal failed (see second picture below).

Extractor Tension Pin Departing

Slot Worn or Gouged in Rear Slide Cap

The rear slide cap had an image of some sort on it and I believed it was probably an after-market add on since it was noticeable lighter than those I had handled previously (I am a certified SIG P320 Armorer). I asked, and the owner said he believed it was a factory part that had subsequently been engraved with the image. The competitor later verified that it was not a SIG factory part but rather an after-market addition made out of a fairly soft metal, probably aluminum. SIG factory rear slide caps are steel and will attract a magnet. I examined several factory slide caps that have been through literally many thousands of rounds and there was no wear at all in that area.

I personally have no interest in putting knickknacks on serious weapons. I have no issue with after-market parts that enhance the weapon’s shoot ability or function such as replacement sights, trigger upgrades, or other additions that do not compromise function or safety. However, after-market parts that perform a critical function must be at least as strong and of the same or better quality than the factory part. If it is not, why replace the factory part?

The competitor is fortunate that the pistol failed during a pistol match and not during a self-defense incident. The pistol was effectively disabled when the rear slide cap failed. Replacing factory parts with substandard, after-market parts that serve no function other than being ornamental is clearly not a good idea. Regardless, you should periodically inspect every critical part on your pistol, factory or not.  I have personally had P320 extractors fail, Glock front sights fall off at the worst possible moment, XDM rear sights break, 1911 plunger tubes fall off -- the list goes on.

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Friday, April 22, 2022

You Show Me Yours and I'll Show You Mine

On Monday, March 21, 2022 at around 5:15 pm, two males drove into a car dealership in Houston, Texas. The car dealership employee stated that one of the males walked up to him and asked if he could test drive a car. The employee returned to the office with the male following. The employee said that as sat down on his chair, he noticed the male pulling his shirt up and grabbing a pistol.

The employee then drew his pistol. When the suspect saw the employee was armed and prepared, the robber said “No!” to the employee as he smiled, returned the pistol to his chest band,  turned around, walked out of the office, and took off running. The second suspect, driving a four-door Mercedes, also fled from the parking lot. 

While many criminals may have no hesitation in using deadly force against their victim, most have no interest in engaging in a gunfight nor in getting shot themselves as we see in this incident.

The employee was in Condition Yellow, was prepared, and knew that he might have had to defend himself on 21 March 2022, just like every other day. His readiness to take defensive action enabled him to prevail.

If you know the guy or his partner--the Houston Police are still looking for him. Full video here.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Texas Self Defense Law: Hamel v State

On 31 July 1992, Mary Glissen called her brother Joseph Lee Hamel hysterical and crying and said that she was fearful that her boyfriend, Charlie Brown was going to kill her. Mary and Charlie had a history of physical violence between them including Charlie once holding a loaded gun to her head. She said she was scared to be at the house and asked Hamel to pick up her belongings. Mary admonished Hamel to be very careful because Charlie was carrying a gun in the car and had violently destroyed many of the things in the house.

Hamel and his 67-year-old father Leo went to Mary’s house to pack her possessions. The house looked like a cyclone had been through it with nothing left intact. Hamel began boxing up Mary’s things, using his pocket knife to cut tape in the process. When Hamel left to get additional packing boxes he gave his father an aluminum tire thumper for protection in case Charlie should come back. Shortly after Hamel returned from his errand, Charlie came into the house, approached Hamel, and asked in an angry, threatening tone, “Where is that bitch?” Hamel told Charlie he did not want any trouble and asked him to depart and let them take Mary’s things. As Charlie moved back toward the front door, Leo came into the room holding the tire thumper at his side and also asked Charlie to leave.

Charlie responded and told Hamel that if he did not take care of his father, Charlie was going to shoot Leo. Charlie also said that he had something in the car to shoot him with. Charlie then exited through the front door and headed toward his car which was parked six to eight feet from the door.

Hamel, believing Charlie was going to the car to get a gun, charged Charlie and stabbed him in the stomach. Charlie tried to get in the driver’s door of his car and Hamel, thinking Charlie was trying to get his gun, prevented Charlie from reaching the car; however, as soon as Charlie stopped trying to get to his car, Hamel stopped all aggressive moves toward Charlie. Charlie staggered to a neighbor’s house for help.

The Amarillo Police arrested Hamel and the prosecutor charged him with aggravated assault. During Hamel’s trial, Hamel and his father testified that for several reasons they feared for their lives when Charlie came into the house. They knew about Charlie’s past violence toward Mary and others; Mary had warned Hamel that Charlie would hurt somebody when he was as angry as he had been; Mary had said that Charlie had a gun in his car; the condition of the house indicated that it had been violently ransacked; and about a month before this incident, Charlie had personally told Hamel that he had shot a man and that he had been convicted for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Based upon this knowledge, Hamel believed that Charlie had a gun in his car and intended to carry out the threat he had just made.

However, the jury convicted Hamel of aggravated assault and the judge assessed punishment at two years confinement. Hamel appealed his conviction on the grounds that the trial court should have given the jury instructions on self-defense and defense of a third person. The Texas Court of Appeals acknowledged that whether a defendant is entitled to a self-defense instruction depends upon the defendant’s assessment of the situation and his belief regarding the necessity of the use of force. The court also noted Hamel’s testimony that he believed the victim had a gun in his car and was a threat to him and his father. Nevertheless, the Court of Appeals held that the denial of the requested instructions was not error because there was no evidence that Charlie used or attempted to use deadly force.

Was Hamel’s belief that Charlie was a going to carry out his threat reasonable? The yardstick for measuring “reasonableness” is based upon three factors:

    -- What would a reasonable and prudent person have done?

    -- In the exact same situation?

    -- Knowing what the defendant knew at that time within the mainstream of convention and best practice?

Let’s analyze the totality of the circumstances facing Hamel as Charlie was moving toward his car from the perspective of Ability, Opportunity, Jeopardy, and Preclusion. In order for the use of force to be justifiable under the law, your attacker must have the power — or ability — to cause serious bodily injury or death, the opportunity to use that power, and show a manifest intent to exercise that ability. In some states (like Texas in 1992) a fourth element comes into play – preclusion – or a requirement to retreat from the encounter if it is safe to do so.

Ability is most commonly associated with some kind of weapon, whether it is hands and feet, a gun, knife, ink pen, or effectively any other object depending upon the circumstances. Charlie said he had a gun in the car and Hamel had no reason to think Charlie’s statement was an empty threat given Charlie’s history of violence.

Opportunity is the second AOJ component that must be present to justify the use of deadly force. The person with the ability to attack you with unlawful force must also have the opportunity to do so and be able to do so immediately. Proximity is often an important factor in establishing opportunity. Charlie was going to his car which was close to the home’s front door and with a firearm in hand, Charlie would have had an immediate opportunity to use deadly force against Hamel and Leo.

The third component in the AOJ triad is jeopardy. Jeopardy speaks to the attacker's intent. In order to fulfill the jeopardy criteria, the attacker must clearly indicate through words or deeds that he is going to carry out an attack. Like opportunity, jeopardy must also be immediate to justify the use of deadly force in response. Charlie said he was going to shoot Leo, that he had something in the car to shoot him with, and was in that moment physically going to his car so in this case the jeopardy element was fulfilled. If you wait to see the gun, you are likely to see what comes out of the barrel.

One additional factor that may be combined with AOJ in some jurisdictions is preclusion or a requirement to retreat. Texas at that time was a duty to retreat state and Hamel had to demonstrate that he saw no way to safely retreat and thereby avoid having to employ deadly force to counter Charlie’s unlawful attempt to use deadly force. 

During his trial, Hamel testified that he was not familiar with Mary’s house and did not know whether he and his father could leave through the fenced back yard. Charlie was far closer to his car than Hamel was to the back door of the house and Hamel said he did not think he could take a chance on being caught in the back yard with only a pocket knife if Charlie had a gun.

The AOJ and P factors in this case clearly support Hamel’s belief that Charlie was going to immediately use deadly force once he retrieved his gun and that Hamel and his father could not have safely retreated.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed and reversed the lower court’s decision stating that Hamel was entitled to a charge on self-defense if evidence was presented which, if credible, showed that Hamel reasonably believed his use of deadly force was immediately necessary to protect himself against Charlie’s use or attempted use of deadly force, and that a reasonable person in Hamel’s situation would not have retreated.

The court observed that Hamel’s own testimony raised the issue of self-defense. Hamel testified that he believed Charlie was going to the car for a gun and that he could not let Charlie get to the weapon and fulfill the threat he had made. Hamel said he believed the action he took was necessary to defend his life and the life of his father and was immediately necessary to protect himself against Charlie’s imminent attempted use of deadly force.

The judges held that given the circumstances surrounding the incident, Mary’s warning that Charlie had a gun in his car, and Charlie’s threat, they could not say that it was unreasonable for Hamel to believe that Charlie was going to his car in an attempt to carry out his threat. The judges also held that the evidence did not support a belief that retreat was a reasonable option given the totality of the circumstances.

The court acknowledged that although Hamel would not have been entitled to a self-defense instruction if his use of force was in response to verbal provocation alone, Charlie’s threat did not stand alone. Charlie’s move toward the car was the physical act that rendered his conduct more than a mere threat.

The Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that Hamel was entitled to a self-defense jury instruction and to an instruction on defense of a third person. Since Hamel properly objected to the charge, the court concluded that reversal was required given that the error was calculated to injure Hamel’s rights as the defendant. Reversed and Remanded.

Hamel v. State 916 S.W.2d 491 (1996)

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Thursday, April 14, 2022

Low Light Class Assessment -- 2022

We finished the our Low Light Fundamentals class for winter 2022 with a great group of engaged students. Some might ask why we should learn and practice low light techniques. I suppose the answer to this question depends upon your personal circumstances and perhaps where you live. If you live in a large city where it is literally never dark due to street lights, parking lots, etc., then learning and practicing low light techniques is probably not worth the time and effort. However even though I live in San Antonio, Texas, in my neighborhood there are no street lights and you can easily find yourself effectively in the dark when outside if there is little or no moon. As a result, I find value in practicing under low light conditions.

Low light environments pose additional challenges with a pistol. To be successful in low light conditions, a shooter should have decent mastery of marksmanship fundamentals under normal lighting conditions. A shooter who cannot keep their shots within an eight-inch circle at 7 yards will have difficulty in low light. A problem I have noticed previously and I saw again in this class with newer shooters is a tendency shoot high on the target. Shooters new to low light engagements often subconsciously tilt the pistol muzzle up slightly in order to see the front sight better and end up hitting high or missing the target entirely. Regardless of the lighting conditions, with iron sights you must properly align the sights and then concentrate on the front sight while simultaneously pressing the trigger to the rear without moving the pistol. Hard to do for some under normal circumstances with good light--more difficult to do under low lighting conditions.

Shooting accurately with a flashlight is much more challenging than simply using a normal two-handed stance. Some low light techniques require one-handed shooting or as in the Harries technique the use of a modified Weaver Stance.

How about a flashlight on the pistol? We have had several police officers attend our low light classes and practice sessions and some departments issue pistols with mounted lights. I have no objection to pistol mounted lights and they can make hitting the target much simpler with the proper switch configuration. However, I expect students to master hand-held light techniques since searching with a mounted light virtually guarantees that you will point the pistol in unsafe direction at some point. In class, shooters search with their hand-held light and then they are free to release it and go to the pistol mounted light if they wish to engage.

We completed two decision based-scenarios in the class. These scenarios are a surprise where proper mindset, target recognition, use of flashlight techniques, movement, and marksmanship are critical to success. We use photo realistic targets with a mix of threats and non-threats.

Scenario #1: Knife Attack

In scenario one, the student is walking down a dark street when a bystander warns the student of another individual lurking in an alley opening. The individual doing the warning has nothing in their hand, however, they do look intimidating and they are pointing a finger toward the student’s right. Another individual initially hidden from view to the student’s right is holding a knife and begins demanding their money.

Several participants immediately engaged the innocent individual with one student (a retired peace officer) drilling the innocent man through the heart. Another student fired six shots at the innocent, missing him every time. When I asked her why she shot at the person, she said, “He scared me.” Some students were so fixated on the innocent that they admitted they never saw the man with the knife even though he was loudly demanding their money.

Two students who did notice the knife wielder tried to rapidly back away from him without looking where they were going—this despite my repeated exhortations in class to ensure you are pointing your feet in the direction you intent to move to reduce the possibility of falling. We had practiced low light engagement techniques for just such a circumstance; however, this practice did not translate into technique under stress.

Lessons from Scenario #1:

A key lesson from scenario #1 touches on the legal aspect of using deadly force. Five of seven students shot at the innocent individual. One student’s comment of “he scared me so I shot him” is legally indefensible and likely represents an immediate trip to jail. Other students clearly violated the fourth firearms safety rule in that they did not take the time to know their target.

On a flat square range with no obstacles, you can get away with backing up and not looking where you are going. I see this all the time in competition and I believe that this behavior is a competition training scar. Backing up for more than a step or two in the real world creates a significant fall risk due to obstacles in the environment.

­­­­Scenario #2: Home Invasion

At home, noise coming from a young boy’s room. A female resident goes to the child’s room to see what is going on; however, she does not return nor does she respond when asked what is happening. The electricity to the house suddenly cuts off. As the student approaches the door, an unknown male immediately tells the student to come into the room. As the student looks into the room, on the right is a male with a pistol in his hand climbing into the room via a window and the female resident standing frozen in front of him. On the left side of the room, another male is holding a pistol to a young boy’s head. The student must solve the problem.

Several students tried to negotiate with the threatening home invaders. Of course, politely asking home invaders to leave or release their hostages is unlikely to enjoy much success. Playing the role of the threat, I started counting down while threatening to shoot the child. These students ultimately fired on the threats; however, once again technique went out the window under stress and the students achieved few hits.  

One student shined her flashlight into the room, noted both violent criminal actors and the hostages, and then turned her flashlight off and stood on the side of the doorway. I started counting down while threatening to shoot the child. The student continued to stand frozen. When I asked why she was doing nothing, she replied that she did not believe she could make the shots. I knew she could if she concentrated and talked her through making successful hits.

A couple of students immediately responded to the threats and opened fire. Only one managed a peripheral hit, so the success rate for the engagements was very low. One assistant instructor completing the scenario held the flashlight in front of his face while shooting (and missing). I asked what technique he was using he replied, “Huh, I guess the nose technique?” One assistant instructor successfully completed the scenario and made his hits on the home invaders.

Lessons from Scenario #2:

You must practice low light techniques to have any hope of using them under stress. As we’ve discovered, students simply don’t master the low light techniques from class--you cannot practice it once and get it down pat. Using a light in conjunction with a handgun is difficult and it requires practice. Thankfully, you can practice the techniques with live fire during daylight if your range will not allow night shooting. 

So how do you practice engaging multiple threats and shooting on the move with these techniques? If your local range has IDPA matches, shoot the course of fire using your flashlight if the match director will permit it. Your score probably will not win the match; however, you will learn how to shoot and manipulate your pistol under some stress. Remember to practice turing the light on and off.  

Practicing how to search a structure (like your house when nobody is home) in the dark is important as well. Do this empty handed, with a blue gun, or with an UNLOADED PISTOL (check it 3 times!). This helps you identify how the various angles and corners in your house make one technique a better option than the others.


To my knowledge, no data exists concerning private citizen-involved shootings with criminals under low light conditions; however, since a lot of criminal activity occurs after dark we can assume that there is a likely correlation. There are several reasons to use a flashlight: to observe and detect, to illuminate and navigate, to eliminate anonymity, and to identify and engage threats. Used properly, a flashlight lets you see danger before it can affect you and it can encourage the danger waiting in the dark to go elsewhere.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Don't Get Punched: Dealing with Police at a Crime Scene

Penn waving at police while holding a pistol
Kevin Penn, a liquor storeowner in Decatur, Alabama has sued a police officer who punched him in the face and broke his jaw during the police response to a robbery on March 2020. The suit in federal court alleges that the officer violated Kevin Penn’s constitutional rights by illegally seizing and falsely arresting him and claims that the incident is an example of the Decatur Police Department’s systemic use of excessive force.

A summary of what allegedly occurred during the incident:

Penn had called police after he trapped an alleged shoplifter with an electronic lock and the individual was laying on the floor with Penn holding him at gunpoint. A surveillance video shows Penn unloading his pistol and placing it on a counter as police approach. The officers told Penn to get away from the pistol; however, Penn very aggressively yelled at them stating, “I am allowed to have my gun.”

During a press conference concerning the incident, Decatur Police played a bodycam video that appeared to show Penn then move his hand over a pistol laying on a counter next to him while holding a magazine with his other hand. In the blurry video, Penn certainly appeared to be reaching for the pistol when Decatur Police officer Justin Rippen punched him, wrestled him to the ground with other officers, and then arrested and charged him with obstructing a robbery investigation.

So how do you avoid a punch in the jaw during a police encounter?

When police arrive at the scene of a crime, the officers are in charge. They must secure the scene, determine what happened, identify who may be a criminal and who may be a victim, collect evidence, and a myriad of other tasks.

In Texas, a private citizen does not have a right to continue to possess a weapon at a crime scene if the police decide to disarm the citizen. Texas law for example provides police with the authority to disarm a person at any time if the officer:

    -- Is discharging the officer’s official duties; and

    -- Reasonably believes disarming the person is necessary for the protection of the person, the officer, or another person. 

The law requires the officer to return the handgun to the person who was disarmed before allowing the person to leave if the officer determines that the person is not a threat to the person, the officer, or others, and if the person is not arrested.” (see the HB 1927 amendment to Article 14.03 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure).

It is not clear from my research whether Alabama has a legal provision similar to that of Texas. The 2016 Alabama Code, Title 31 - Military Affairs and Civil Defense, Chapter 9 - Emergency Management, Section 31-9-8 - Emergency powers of Governor does permit a person whom the police have detained to be disarmed under certain circumstances similar to Texas law. However, it is unclear whether this applies to all citizen/police encounters or just those during an emergency.*

Regardless of whether the law technically provides a right to continue to possess a firearm at a crime scene, common sense must apply in these circumstances. Failing to comply with police orders and confronting a police officer who tells you to drop a weapon is a great way to be shot or punched in the jaw. In the picture below Penn is walking away from police with a pistol in his hand. The time to argue your rights comes later—not at the crime scene.

Responding police can see Penn at this point

So what should you do in similar circumstances? As soon as the first identifiable uniformed officer arrives, he or she has command of the situation. Immediately obey the officer’s commands without argument or hesitation.

Before the officer’s arrive, move to a good cover position ideally where you can see the bad guy as well as responding police. If no cover is immediately at hand, put some distance between you and the downed bad guy. If possible, you should chose a position from where you can see the police before they see you.

The ideal circumstance when encountering police responding to a crime scene is to have your hands empty. You want to present a non-threatening appearance to responding officers; you absolutely SHOULD NOT have any type of firearm in your hand as the police arrive at the scene. Police may shoot the second they say “drop the gun!" if you do not instantly comply.

If you have holstered your pistol but feel that you must have your hand on it due to the potential of a continuing threat of deadly force from the bad guy, slowly remove your hand the instant an officer arrives on the scene. If an officer you did not see confronts you and demands you show your hands, tell the officer: “I’m going to lift my hand without the pistol.” This is one reason I prefer carrying concealed is that as you see an approaching officer you can simply remove your hand from your pistol that is now concealed from view. 

Was the officer’s punch in this incident excessive force? That is for the court to decide. Based on the surveillance video, Penn certainly had time to holster his pistol and meet responding police with empty hands. I believe the encounter with police would have unfolded very differently if he had cooperated with the Decatur Police rather than aggressively confronting them.

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*Alabama Code Title 31. Military Affairs and Civil Defense § 31-9-8 d. (2) A law enforcement officer who is acting in the lawful discharge of the officer's official duties may disarm an individual if the officer reasonably believes that it is immediately necessary for the protection of the officer or another individual.  The officer shall return the firearm to the individual before discharging that individual unless the officer arrests that individual for engaging in criminal activity or seizes the firearm as evidence pursuant to an investigation for the commission of a crime or, at the discretion of the officer, the individual poses a threat to himself or herself or to others.