Are we being taught the right things in self-defense classes?

When you signed up for the training to get your concealed handgun license, you probably thought it would cover everything you needed to know to defend yourself from a violent predator. Well, you couldn’t be more mistaken! The basic training you get in concealed carry class covers just the minimum the state requires, and that is usually just enough to enable you to handle a handgun safely and to understand the rules for concealed carry. Seldom do they have anything to do with teaching you the skills you need to defend your life with a firearm.

Some of you have recognized this short-coming and have gotten additional training. Most of the advanced courses that are available teach you about how to select a concealed carry firearm, holster, etc. — it sure would have been nice to know this before you took your initial class and bought your concealed carry handgun —, how to draw your handgun from a holster (and sometimes a purse if you are a woman), how to quickly reload your gun and to clear malfunctions, and so forth. You also probably spent a lot of time on the range learning how to shoot accurately and rapidly. Those are all important things to learn, but are they the most important things needed for you to defend yourself from an attack?

Time at the shooting range is always fun, but improving your physical skills in using a handgun are secondary to other skills that are essential for you to know to defend yourself. The primary skills that you need to learn are how to recognize that you are about to be attacked and how your body is going to automatically react to that attack. Many of these are mental skills that have nothing to do with how well you can shoot your gun. Indeed, if used properly they may enable you to succeed in defending yourself without ever having to resort to using your handgun. If you cannot lean to master these skills, you may remain in a “freeze” state while your assailant continues to harm you, perhaps to the point of killing you. All of those shooting skills you learned will do you no good if you are never able to get your gun out of your holster.

I am not alone in thinking that most advanced self defense classes are placing priority on the wrong things. Grant Cunningham thinks so as well and has laid out what he feels are the priorities in his book, Defensive Pistol Fundamentals. He believes that most courses approach self defense from the perspective that you can recognize the attack coming in advance and proactively take steps to either escape or engage the attacker before any harm comes to you. However, the data on violent attacks show that the vast majority of them occur suddenly and without warning. The victim — that would be you! — is caught completely by surprise and unprepared to respond quickly enough to prevent themselves from being injured. In his book he states, “...the skills necessary to go from zero expectation of lethal force to actually shooting a second or two later are very different from those needed when you can see it coming and have the opportunity to get ready.”

Cunningham points out that when you are surprised, your body is going to automatically react, often in ways you do not expect, and those automatic reactions —which you have no conscious control over — can be counter to the training you received to bring your handgun into use. He believes the key is to understand how your body is going to instinctively react and to develop your self-defense skills around those automatic reactions.

When you take a self defense class, you should expect to spend considerable time in the classroom learning about the mental and instinctive aspects of defending yourself, and not so much time on the shooting range learning how to operate your gun. If the class you sign up for has you spending most of your time on the shooting range, then take it for what it is, an advanced shooting class, not a self-defense class. Ask questions before you take the class so you understand exactly what it is that will be covered. That way you can judge whether it will cover what you need to learn about defending yourself.

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