The most neglected part of self-defense training

By Ken Hanson

Most self-defense advocates take training very seriously. We cover mindset, awareness, equipment, ammunition and scenarios in most any training. However, there is one component of concealed carry training that is completely ignored by most schools. This is unfortunate, as this one component is the one that is statistically most likely to result in the arrest of a concealed carry license holder.

Click 'Read More' for the entire commentary.

Let’s take a moment to review why we train in order to understand why it is so important to add this component into our training regimen. When we are taught about mindset, we learn that awareness of our environment is the foundation. Further, having the determination to win or persevere in whatever encounter you are in is often the difference between life and death. We also are taught about our body’s various reactions to encounters so that we may understand the reactions and accommodate them.

When we are in a stress encounter, several predictable psychological and physiological reactions happen automatically. We get the adrenaline dump, tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, time dilatation, loss of fine motor skills and general loss of higher cognitive functioning. Additionally, several predictable reactions are likely to occur – fight, flight, posture, freeze and submit. All of these reactions go back to our more primitive brains, pure survival instinct. We all understand fight or flight, and to a lesser extent, submit. Further, posturing and freezing are understandable when viewed in the context of the animal kingdom. We’ve all seen cats circling each other, burring up their back hair and hissing. This is posturing. Similarly, we have seen how animals will freeze in an attempt to camouflage their appearance. Predator’s eyes are attracted to motion, lack of motion is a tool to survive.

So the basic reactions and effects are clinically understandable to anyone that has watched Animal Planet. This clinical understanding allows us to incorporate this reality into our training. We are told to act physically confident, speak loudly, clearly and with authority. We are posturing, trying to get the other party to submit, trying to break through their freeze or auditory exclusion to take charge of the scenario. We train with our manual of arms repeatedly so that when we are under stress, our manipulations come naturally without conscious thought. No need for the higher brain functions, we’ve trained so well we react automatically. No thought, no freezing from stimulus and analysis overload. We act!

The most concise description I have seen of this phenomenon is that when we are under extreme stress, we revert to the level of our worst habits, so we need to make sure our worst habits are sufficient to see us through the encounter. I know I have personally been on the range with police officers who shoot wonderfully when standing up shooting normally, but put the officer on their back, or shooting upside down, and they revert back to bad habits and put a thumb behind the slide and get “slide bit.” I have been at competitions where guys draw $2,500 guns from $250 equipment rigs and promptly hit the magazine release rather than the safety.

We have all seen it, we know it is true. When we are under stress, we aren’t thinking, we are on auto-pilot and will revert to the lowest common denominator of our training.

License holders, statistically, do not get in trouble shooting or otherwise using their guns. Conclusively, experience with concealed carry laws has shown that the one area where license holders get in trouble is in their interactions with police officers. Many states have a strict regimen placed upon the license holder when interacting with police officers, and failure to follow the regimen can result in drastic criminal consequences. Experience also shows that most license holders consider an interaction with law enforcement to be a high stress encounter. We’ve already reviewed what happens in a high stress encounters in the discussion above. Why should we expect our reactions to be any different when we are unexpectedly thrust into a stress situation with law enforcement?

I receive reports of the most incredible interactions with law enforcement. Rolling down the window and yelling back to the officer “I have a gun.” Jumping out of the car and pulling up the shirt to show there is a gun present. Picking the gun up and holding it out the window. Stupid, stupid actions, yet sadly predictable. Why? When the stress hits, the brain shuts down.

That is why I urge all license holders to practice interacting with law enforcement. The simple fact is that a license holder is extremely unlikely to be involved in an armed encounter with a bad guy. The license holder is infinitely more likely to have an interaction with law enforcement while armed. License holders spend almost all of their training investment on pulling the trigger, which almost certainly will never happen. The license holder spends none of the training investment on how to interact with law enforcement, a scenario that the 24/7 armed citizen is almost guaranteed to encounter.

Clearly, experience has shown that the license holder will face charges for screwing up a law enforcement encounter, not screwing up an armed bad-guy encounter. Statistically speaking, you will get far more benefit by sitting in your driveway practicing a traffic stop than you will by going to the range for an hour. Yet how many people do this? Not enough, the license revocation statistics clearly show this.

Know your state’s laws. Know what is required of you during a traffic stop, and practice doing it. Make it second nature and automatic, just like all of the other parts of shooting a gun. When the lights and siren go on behind you and the stress hits, you need to survive this encounter, just like any other. We prepare for the other armed encounters we expect.

Dealing professionally with law enforcement should be no different.

Ken Hanson is Buckeye Firearms Association Legislative Chair and author of The Ohio Guide to Firearm Laws.

Help us fight for your rights!

Become a member of Buckeye Firearms Association and support our grassroots efforts to defend and advance YOUR RIGHTS!

Subscribe to our FREE Newsletter

Get weekly news and instant alerts on the latest laws and politics that affect your gun rights. Enjoy cutting-edge commentary. Be among the first to hear about gun raffles, firearms training, and special events. Read more.

We respect your privacy and your email address will be kept confidential.


Buckeye Firearms Association is a grassroots organization dedicated to defending and advancing the right of citizens to own and use firearms for all legal activities, including self-defense, hunting, competition, and recreation. Read more.