You love your spouse. You are sometimes away on business, so you know your wife needs a firearm at home for protection. So you choose a nice .22 pistol for her and take her through the process of loading and shooting it. Then you put it in the nightstand drawer confident your spouse is protected.

Except, your spouse is now in more danger than if you hadn’t purchased a gun at all. Let me see if I can explain.

I started my career as a respiratory therapist. In spite of knowing a lot about medical practices, I go to a doctor when I’m sick. I tell them what’s hurting, listen, and generally do what I’m told. I do not go to the doctor to tell him what’s wrong with me, and demand that he perform certain tests or give me certain meds. I figure if I am paying for a service, I should get it.

Similarly, being a lawyer, I do not draft trusts and wills. I leave this to lawyers who make it their practice to do this kind of thing. I believe clients are best served by experts who can give the exact advice that is necessary in a given situation.  You hire the best people if you want the best results.

When I took my CCW training I went to an instructor who had actually been in a gunfight as a concealed carrier, and who actually had some strong opinions about what people who carry concealed should do in a defensive handgun situation.

I point all this out because every one of us has things that we’re good at, and things that we’re not good at. For example, I am very good at appellate legal work, and I can hold my own in most medical emergencies until help arrives. I am a good target shooter, and I train with my firearms at least once every month, putting a minimum of 100 rounds down range each time I train. I train with pistols and rifles. I can hit where I aim. But I cannot teach firearms.  At least, not yet.  That NRA Instructor Course is in my future.

I am not a firearms instructor. I am also not a tactical firearms instructor. I have not made a habit of learning and practicing force-on-force drills so that I can teach someone else how to respond in a force-on-force encounter. I know nothing other than what I’ve read of the psychology of combat or the effects of stress on shooting. So, for me to teach someone about what to do when confronted with an armed intruder in a given situation is basic firearms malpractice. Yet, it never ceases to amaze me how it happens on a regular basis with people who believe that a handgun is the same thing as a home security system, or perhaps, a magic wand.

Today I was at a firearms range in Florida, and in the lane next to me was a 70-year-old woman with absolutely zero time with a firearm. Observing her body language and demeanor, it was obvious that she was frightened of the gun and intimidated by what it could do. But this did not deter her husband from teaching her all the wrong things to do in terms of personal defense.

First, I have to say, he gave her the standard lecture on where to point the gun, and how to aim it. This was done well. Then he ran the target out four feet from the bench. I heard him say “this is the range where an attacker is going to be, and this is where you need to learn to shoot. Handing her a .22 pistol he had her shoot five rounds. If the target had been a man, he would have had a couple of rounds in his abdomen, and she would have hit absolutely nothing vital. He never discussed combat anatomy, the reason why bullets tend to kill people, or any of the other things necessary to help her understand what she was doing. He taught her a set of muscle-memory movements. That’s all he did. And he put her life in danger because she now thinks she’s qualified to take on a home intruder.

I can hardly list all the things this man did that did his wife a disservice. First, teaching her that she only needs to be able to shoot close up is a bad idea. The Tueller information suggests that there is a 21-foot zone of danger with an attacker. At a minimum, every person who uses a handgun for self-protection must be able to shoot from 21 feet through 3 feet. They must be able to hit where they’re aiming. That’s especially true with a .22 caliber handgun because the bullets are small and it takes a lot of them (or a lot of very critical hits) to stop an attacker.

Second, and I don’t mean to sound condescending here, but women tend to be gentler souls and generally unwilling to harm others. Burglars, rapists, robbers, and criminals in general lack this depth of empathy, and so focusing on the mechanical skills without consideration of the psychological or emotional setting is also malpractice. Before any woman can defend herself she must be committed to the idea that if she pulls out her pistol she is likely to kill someone, and she must be ready to do that. More importantly, she must understand that it is her or her attacker. One of the two is not going to go home, and it needs to be the bad guy. Being able to pull the trigger is more than just muscle memory – its an acknowledgment of the severe emotional consequences that are sure to flow from that trauma.

Finally, as the husband was running out of ammunition to show her the combat handgun ropes, he hung a new target, loaded the pistol with 10 rounds, and told her to just rapid fire and shoot the heck out of the target. It took her 20 seconds to “rapid fire” the rounds and at 4 feet almost 7 of them hit the target. 8 were on the paper. Two missed completely. At four feet.

“See,” he said, “you did fine.” You could see the relief on her face. My guess: she’ll never touch the pistol again, and he’ll never take her shooting again. That’s also a crime.

At this point I asked him if he was planning on taking her to a concealed carry class. “No,” he said confidently, “she just wants this for the house.” When I explained that a CCW class carried with it an understanding of the laws regarding defensive handgun use, as well as some information on tactics, psychology, and other useful information, he shrugged. “She doesn’t need that.” This is the equivalent to teaching someone to drive by saying “turn this key in the ignition, put it in gear, and drive.” All the information is accurate, but it’s terribly incomplete.

The quickest way to get someone killed with their own handgun is not to prepare them for that frightening and violent encounter that will require its use. Someone is going to kick open a door. They’re going to have either a gun or a knife, or maybe just a claw hammer. They’re going to close that 21 foot distance in less than 1.5 seconds. Then they’re going to strike.   Only someone trained under the right conditions can respond in a manner that is effective. A gun is not a magic wand. Few criminals are scared of a woman with a gun because most know a woman is not likely to use it. So they advance within range and take the weapon. So a woman who uses a gun has to be both extremely confident and assertive in order to project the kind of authority necessary to stop an intruder.

“Please don’t come closer,” said in a plaintive voice, is no substitute for shouting “Get on the ground, now!” Similarly, holding the weapon like a live snake while your hands shake is not likely to convince anyone you mean to use it. These are the reasons that women taught to use a firearm need to be taught what they need to know by someone who has been trained and certified by the NRA on how to do it.

This means you need a basic handgun course (to qualify for CCW) and then a second, more in-depth class on combat handgun techniques that will enable you to deploy the firearm in a defensive manner.

In so doing, the class needs to teach the law for your jurisdiction, and to give you all the things you’ll need to know about what happens after the last ejected cartridge hits the ground.

In Army basic training there was a great poster that showed the rows of tombstones at a military cemetery. It said: “Let no man’s soul cry out ‘if only I’d been better trained.’” It was a reminder to our basic training instructors that they were teaching us how to stay alive. When you teach your spouse to use a handgun, you’re doing the same thing. And if you teach her just enough to get killed, that will be something you have to live with.

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