Mindset vs. Hardware

I have a confession to make. I like guns and gear. If you are reading this website, then you probably do as well. Nothing wrong with that. Guns are cool. Having the latest and greatest new gear makes people happy and drives growth in an industry where many of us make our living. But understand this: cool guy guns and gear won’t guarantee you’ll win your next life threatening confrontation. In fact, spending too much time buying and talking about hardware issues may prevent you from doing the work required to ensure your victory.

Let me tell you a little story….

In my cop job I once responded to a call where a man had received death threats. The guy had legitimate intel that a former employee with a grudge was planning a home invasion. The employee and his friends planned to break into the guy’s house in the middle of the night, killing him and his wife, and making off with cash and guns they knew the employer owned. These weren’t just idle threats. The guy had reliable information that the home invasion was going to go down that particular night.

I didn’t recognize the guy’s name or address before I arrived at the call. But once I got there, I remembered the caller as a man with whom I had shared several gun-related chats over the years. He was a guy who would randomly start talking to cops about guns, gear, and tactics. Lest I make it sound like this guy was some “wannabe” or “crazy gun nut,” I’ll say that when the guy had approached me in the past, he was exceptionally friendly. He wasn’t weird, he just liked talking guns. Being knowledgeable on the topic, he was always pursuing the “next big thing” in terms of firearms and accessories. Being a gun nut myself, I enjoyed talking to this guy when we crossed paths.

That night, as he told me about his former employee’s plan to kill him, he was visibly shaking, sweating profusely, and stammering. He looked completely different from the dude I had spoken with so many times over the years. Granted, he was in a scary situation. It’s hard to stay calm when you know that a couple of guys are going to do their best to ensure that you don’t make it to daybreak. The problem wasn’t that he was scared; it was that he was completely paralyzed with fear.

As we made plans to temporarily evacuate him and started the process of tracking down the suspects, I asked the man if he was carrying a gun. This was before the time that my state had concealed carry licenses, but there was an “affirmative defense” clause that allowed people who received death threats to lawfully carry a weapon. Knowing this guy was a “gun guy,” I assumed that he was packing.

The man lifted his shirt and showed me the $2500 custom 1911 pistol shoved into his waistband. He didn’t have a carry holster and had never really contemplated having to use the gun outside the shooting range. The pistol’s hammer was down and chamber empty. He told me he didn’t feel comfortable carrying his expensive gun “cocked and locked.” Unfortunately, he had no idea that his chance of prevailing against multiple armed attackers wasn’t very likely given his shaking, sweaty hands, empty chamber, and gun flopping around in his waistband without a holster. He spoke the language of guns and tactics, but when it was time to put his knowledge to work, he failed miserably. He was relying on his expensive gun as a “hardware” solution to what was essentially a “software” problem, where mindset, skill, and tactics were more important than the weapon he carried.

The story had a happy ending. We got the guy a safe place to stay and soon had the potential home invaders locked up. Even though the deadly confrontation never happened, I often think back to the guy’s behavior that night.

I especially think about it when I see and hear my new students talking about gear instead of mindset and tactics. I shake my head when I regularly see students show up for my gunfighting classes geared up like their favorite special operations soldier or looking like the mismatched lovechild of a 5.11/Crye Precision/Arcteryx threesome gone wrong. I automatically wonder if they are going to turn into a quivering mess like my friend did when things become serious.

It’s cool to have the gear. It’s cooler to have the skills to use it effectively.

Greg Ellifritz is the full time firearms and defensive tactics training officer for a central Ohio police department. He holds instructor or master instructor certifications in more than 75 different weapon systems, defensive tactics programs and police specialty areas. Greg has a master's degree in Public Policy and Management and is an instructor for both the Ohio Peace Officer's Training Academy and the Tactical Defense Institute.

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