Although this article is titled “Don’t Look at Your Gun While Reloading!” it is also meant to cover the reasons you shouldn’t look at your gun while working on it, period. This includes loading, unloading, and clearing malfunctions. Though this is a highly debated and emotional topic on social media and the interwebz, most progressive trainers agree that if you are training for personal defense, looking at the gun to complete complex motor functions is not a good idea.
To look at this topic with reason and logic, first we must cover the contexts we are training for in regard to personal defense. Not all law-abiding citizens have the same context. But, even over the probable or likely scenarios we could find ourselves immersed in, the importance of not relying on visual data to complete complex motor functions is still significant.
The context of a match or course of fire that is being scored (including but not limited to qualification shoots), is to win, be safe, shoot straight, get quality hits with the least amount of deviation, and do this as fast as you can. As a past competition shooter and member of USPSA, GSSF, and IDPA, I understand the allure of matches. You get to hang out with friends and likeminded folks and shoot firearms. What’s not to like? Just because it “works in competition or qualifications” does not mean those techniques are the best for real life-or-death scenarios, which are often ambushes, in the public space.
Life-or-death scenarios involve natural reactions that are rarely realized by the person perceiving the threat, and in many cases are not even observed by onlookers, at least the external natural reactions. This is why the skills that will place you at the top of competition matches and qualifications are, most of the time, not the same that will help you stop a threat in real life. If you are worried about shaving .10 or .25 second off your reload time to help better your score, that’s great, it’s just not the goal (or shouldn’t be your goal) if you are training as a law-abiding citizen to stop a threat efficiently.
Your goal should be to learn skills that are efficient in the context you are training for. Efficiency is probably the most poorly defined term when it comes to personal defense, largely because of the competition industry, which heavily affects the way people train and think about training. Law enforcement and military/security contractor-type training, which also focuses on different contexts than your average law-abiding citizen, has affected the private-sector training industry immensely. I define efficiency as “in as little time and with as little effort and energy needed to complete the task in the correct context.” “Context” is probably the most forgotten and vital piece of information when it comes to firearm training, specifically, personal defense training.
There are exceptions to these contexts that you should train for. Instructors should avoid absolutes: you could help your students form the wrong opinions or ignore the need for training for something that is possible, although not likely. Having said that, it is our job to help our students learn how to train more efficiently, but having them stand at the 25-yard line and take head shots for 45 minutes out of the hour is ridiculous when it is much more likely they will need skills in the seven- to 15-foot range. I tell my students to look at the statistics for defensive gun use (DGU). This statistical data should help you form a solid training plan.
I am not saying you shouldn’t practice 25-yard precision shots. I am saying that if about 80% of all DGUs are near the 12-foot range, that is what you want to spend a majority of your time training for. Spend more time training for things that are likely to occur and less time training for things that are less likely to occur. If you are interested in this perspective, search for articles relating to the “plausibility principle.” Having said all of this, whether you are at zero or 50 feet from an adversary when you need to do a reload or clear a malfunction, there are concrete and vital reasons you should not be looking at your gun while working on it.
WHERE SHOULD WE WORK ON THE GUN?
Although this is covered in other articles I have written, I will touch on it again because it relates to this topic. The answer is, “in your high compressed ready position.” Where is this? It is in front of your chest, around the sternum, with the firearm parallel with your line of sight but not in your line of sight, and elbows at your sides. You should also have a proper grip on the gun, whether that be with one or both hands. You do this because it is a strong, ergonomic position that allows you to work on the gun with higher dexterity, strength, and retention when needed. The gun is also close to your chest, hence the name high “compressed” ready position. I like to think of this as the default position when not in the holster but also not shooting. You could be scanning for a potential threat after engaging and stopping the first, reloading, loading the gun, or possibly clearing a malfunction. Think about where humans are most efficient at working on things. If I were struggling to get the top off a jar of mayonnaise and I handed it to you, where would you place that jar to attempt removing the top?
Another reason to mention the high compressed ready position is because by having the gun in this position, it also leaves your field of view clear so you can take in new information, what many others and I like to call processing information. The more information and stimuli you can gather for your brain to process in your environment, the better your brain can filter this information accurately in order to produce learned and/or stimulus responses. For those who don’t train frequently and realistically enough, at least it will help you decide and act on better and more complete information in your environment.
Now that we have some foundation, let’s discuss why we shouldn’t look at the gun while working on it. In severe stress situations, especially those involving life and death during violent encounters, there is a tendency to have a threat focus, more accurately described as having a rise of visual acuity in the center of your field of vision. This is colloquially known as “tunnel vision,” which puts a negative connotation on what is really happening and also is not accurate in defining what and why this is happening. In relation to vision and this rise of visual acuity, here are a few points to consider.
1. You may not be able to break that focus on the threat to do a reload in the middle of an attack.
a. Why spend time training to look at your gun while reloading when it is highly unlikely that you will be able to anyway? This is why context is so important. I understand this is not happening on the range while practicing, but if you understand the context you should be training for, you will understand that this is likely to occur in real life.
b. If you know this, why would you continue to train in a way that is not congruent with what actually happens to the human body in real life?
2. Even if you could break that focus, you shouldn’t be looking away from the danger area until you have determined that the threat(s) are over.
a. And even if you could, would you want to? Wouldn’t it be better to keep processing the area while you are completing the reload? I think so. You could be scanning your area for new information to help you make better decisions, e.g, Where to move to? Is there cover or concealment? Are there more bad guys? Are police arriving? Was anybody besides the bad guys injured? Where is your family?
3. If you are attacked in a low- or no-light situation and need to work on the gun, you may not be able to see it because of the limited lighting. Being able to work on the gun without the visual information may prove essential.
4. In an entangled fight where a gun is present and needs to be reloaded or cleared of a malfunction, you may not be able to see the gun.
TIME DISTORTION AND TASK FIXATION
Under this type of stress, other things are happening internally to your body. In this case it relates directly to the rise of visual acuity in the center of your field of vision, which means you are able to take in more information about the threat. The problem is you cannot process that information any faster, causing what is called a “time distortion,” where things appear to be in slow motion. In reality it’s just your perception. Time is not actually slowing down. You have most likely not been in a shooting, but almost all adults have experienced time distortion.
Think back to when while driving, you almost hit a deer or almost ran into someone who jumped out in front of you. Close your eyes and recall that incident. You probably have very vivid recollections of it and can remember feeling like things were moving in slow motion. Now imagine you are in the middle of a critical incident and are able to break that threat focus (albeit unlikely) and you look down at your gun to do the reload and it appears you are moving in slow motion. What are you likely to do? Speed up because you think you are moving too slowly, then you will likely mess up the reload, which now could take even more time, meaning more time exposed to the threat and less time processing information in your environment.
Task fixation is another possible byproduct of looking at your gun. You can watch numerous videos online that drive home this point. I have been in force-on-force classes where a bad-guy role player was attacking a good-guy role player and, when the good guy drew his (sim) gun and pulled the trigger, it went “click,” and most of his focus went from the attack and controlling the adversary to trying to get the gun up and running. During that time, the good guy received what could have been fatal blows and was taken to the ground almost every time, which ended up in a fight for the gun because the good guy relinquished control and traded it for trying to clear and reload the gun (i.e., he was fixated with a task).
If you encounter a malfunction while shooting, do not try to diagnose the issue. You can also use the “plausibility principle” in this approach. Rather than looking at the gun, you can follow a linear set of steps to work on it based on the likelihood that it will clear or help you get your gun back up and running so you can stay in the fight and prevail. This is called Non-Diagnostic Linear Malfunction Clearing. The steps in this procedure are:
1.Tap the magazine with your support-hand palm.
2.Overhand rack the slide all the way to the rear and then let it go. (This will clear 85 to 95% of malfunctions that you could experience when using quality firearms and ammunition.)
3.If the above steps don’t clear the issue, and you should know by the stimulus or feedback you get from the gun, go into a reload. (This will clear about 3 or 4 of the remaining percentage points.)
4.Strip/rip, lock or remove the magazine, clear x3, then do a reload. (This will clear the remaining 1 to 2% of malfunctions.)
Having a non-diagnostic linear clearing method in your arsenal is very important. It also allows you to de-select yourself from some of the negative things we have already discussed in detail, like task fixation.
Whether you are loading your gun before you leave your house and putting it in your concealed carry holster or unloading it when you come home for safe storage, keep the gun in the high compressed ready position with the proper grip … and don’t look at the gun.
Practice efficiently and consistently. A key to developing this skill is having the gun in the correct position in front of your chest. Proprioception and ergonomics help you to interact with your defensive tool much more efficiently and easily. Now it’s time for you to head to the range and start practicing these skills. It may feel slow at first if you have never done it, but just like any other shooting or personal-defense skill you’ve had to learn, you can’t just snap your fingers and you’ve mastered it. You have to slow down, internalize what you’re doing, practice it frequently, and keep developing and evaluating your skills.
Stay safe and I hope to see you out on the range. Train smart, train hard, train realistically!
All pictures were taken with an NEX-5R and a remote capture phone application through an iPhone. The remote was controlled by Laura Carson.