Are You Ready To Carry a Defensive Firearm?

smith wesson handgun

Being prepared to carry a defensive firearm is not as simple as just going out and buying a gun. Much more is involved in being mentally and physically prepared to use a firearm. Photo: author

I’m not asking if you passed an arbitrary state minimum course or qualification course as an armed professional. I’m asking, are you really ready to carry a defensive firearm? Many people in both the civilian and professional worlds seem to believe that passing these minimum standards means they are ready — but that could not be further from the truth.

Much more training and study are required to get to the level you should attain prior to carrying a defensive firearm. You don’t need to be an expert shooter. In this article I explain what I believe your minimum level should be prior to carrying a defensive firearm.

I teach a lot of newer students who are taking a defensive handgun training class to obtain their concealed handgun license. Many of them are able to meet the requirement but in my opinion are not ready to carry. I am open about this with students and in certain situations have even told students, “Don’t carry a gun.” Here are a few things I think are important to prepare you beyond an arbitrary state minimum requirement.

Using deadly force to protect property or money is wrong regardless of legal issues. Photo: author

Using deadly force to protect property or money is wrong regardless of legal issues. Photo: author

Mentality

Prior to carrying a defensive firearm, take a step back and check your reasons for carrying. If these reasons include to stop a robbery, protect your money, your car stereo, or any other personal property, you should not carry a defensive firearm. Trying to stop crime as a civilian is absurd. Your defensive firearm’s only mission is to protect you or others from a threat of serious bodily injury or death, not from financial loss. The financial, psychological, and social losses of using deadly force far outweigh any benefit, and killing someone over property is not acceptable in modern society.

Law enforcement officers do not get this luxury and are sent into the bad places to capture the bad people, but there are important notes for mentality in law enforcement as well. Many times law enforcement has trouble backing away from a situation to get help. The complacency of the “routine” domestic call or “routine” traffic stop, where the person is being verbally or physically non-compliant, can be a killer. Understanding that just because 100 people in the past eventually complied does not mean that the 101st is going to can save your life.

Recently in my area, an LEO entered a room with a subject who had mental health issues and was believed to possibly have a handgun. The LEO left himself very exposed, and the subject used a pistol-shaped object under his shirt to convince the LEO he had a handgun. The incident ended with the LEO shooting and killing the suspect. I believe this LEO’s intentions were good and he didn’t think for a moment he would need to shoot the suspect. I am sure in his fairly lengthy law enforcement career he had been involved in many similar calls that ended peacefully.

The fact that the LEO entered the room did not make it “wrong” that he shot the suspect, but this is a case where a life may have been saved had the LEO reconsidered entering the room. This is a perfect example of when using discretion and accepting that you cannot solve by yourself all the issues you will face is important knowledge to have.

Reading On Combat is a great way to learn about the psychological and physiological effects of combat.

Reading On Combat is a great way to learn about the psychological and physiological effects of combat.

On the other end of the psychological spectrum is the person who is not capable of using their firearm. The act of killing another human is a difficult task mentally. This is especially true in close quarters, which is where your defensive encounter is most likely to occur as a civilian or in law enforcement patrol operations. You must mentally prepare yourself for the idea that by carrying a defensive firearm, you are accepting that you may need to take another human’s life. Using techniques such as visualization, realistic training targets, or reality-based training using Simunitions can help.

I suggest reading Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s book On Combat to learn more about the psychology of killing in combat. It explains how you are affected mentally and physically in a fight and how you should prepare. Lt. Col. Grossman is also a PDN contributor and covers these topics in numerous videos here on the PDN site.

Safety

Many people carry prior to being ready from a safety perspective. People often tell me they carry without a round in the chamber for safety reasons. I am always quick to tell those individuals that they are not ready to carry a handgun if they are not comfortable with the idea of a loaded chamber. Modern defensive pistols are made to only fire if the trigger is pressed. Specifically, striker-fired semi-automatics have nearly a 0% chance of going off unless the trigger is pressed. Many times I have seen someone fumble a draw and throw their gun, and never once has there been an issue with the gun going off.

Why then do people feel the need to carry without a round chambered? I believe they are compensating for their lack of training and understanding, as well as attempting to cover themselves for their lack of trigger-finger discipline. Training yourself not to touch the trigger unless you are prepared for a bullet to leave the muzzle is the best way to prevent a negligent discharge. Your trigger finger should be high and away from the trigger and not visible from the other side of the handgun.

In every defensive handgun training class I teach, I have students with trigger-finger issues. I suggest to many of them that they practice where to place their finger – but not with their defensive firearm. Instead, get a toy gun or an airsoft gun. Hold it while you are watching TV or other such activities and make sure you maintain proper trigger-finger discipline. If you continue to have trouble, tape your finger in the proper position with first-aid tape. Continue doing this until it becomes natural to hold the pistol in this manner.

Law enforcement is by no means exempt from this rule. I have heard of departments that will not move to striker-fired guns due to worries of officers having negligent discharges. If an officer has issues with trigger-finger discipline, they are no more ready to carry a gun than the average citizen with the same issue. One department I know of with this issue carries a traditional double-action pistol that has a heavier first trigger press for this reason and will not make the switch. I have read research that shows the clenching of the hands when holding an object that is caused when the person is startled has been measured at up to 25 pounds. This far exceeds what is necessary to fire a double-action trigger. The answer is not a piece of equipment but more training for the officers who have the issue.

emergency medical kit

My everyday carry gear includes this basic trauma kit and combat tourniquet. Photo: author

Get Medical Training

I carry a firearm the vast majority of the time, but also a small trauma kit, including a tourniquet. I cannot stress enough how important medical training is. Even though I am a firearms instructor teaching defensive handgun training, I firmly believe medical training is more important. I routinely tell classes this and they look shocked. I remind them that although I have never had to shoot someone, I have had to render first aid many times. I hope it stays that way.

You are much more likely to need to bandage a wound, stop bleeding, or provide CPR than you are to shoot someone. If you are in the unlikely situation of shooting someone, your chances of needing this medical knowledge are extremely high as well.

If you are carrying a defensive firearm to protect life, you should also know how to protect life through basic medical training.

For any medical gear you carry, open the package and learn where each item is located. Having the right equipment (bandages, hemostatic agent, et al) but not knowing where they are or how to use them means you waste valuable time.

firing-line

These students were in class to improve their skill levels. This was not a course to meet a state requirement. Students attended because they take their defensive handgun training seriously.
Photo: author

Defensive Handgun Training

Taking a single intro-level class or even a law enforcement qualification course by no means completely prepares you for carrying a defensive firearm. In fact I believe you can never be prepared enough. You should continue to train not only to increase your skill levels but to maintain them. Defensive shooting skills are perishable and you do not want to find out how many of those skills you have lost when you need them to save your life.

I can personally attest to some loss of skills myself. A few years ago, I had more time for defensive handgun training and practice on a regular basis. But now being busy teaching and working full-time makes it hard to find time to practice. I have fit training into my schedule and can see a depreciation in my skill level. I am now making even more of an effort to seek out training myself to improve my skill level and knowledge. Even after taking a single class recently, I saw dramatic improvement.

This does not necessarily mean you have to pay hundreds of dollars to train every month, but you should be out practicing defensive drills that you have learned in class to maintain and improve your proficiency. Taking a new class every month or even every three months may not give you the time required to become proficient in those skills. Learn the skills and practice them, then seek further knowledge rather than just bombarding your brain with a lot of different knowledge and not being able to ingrain it.

Discussion
  • (will not be published)

43 Responses to “Are You Ready To Carry a Defensive Firearm?”
  1. David Wojtowicz

    Good article. So much to learn before the weapon. Personal protection is my goal.

    Reply
  2. Roy Payne

    I disagree with “Your defensive firearm’s only mission is to protect you or others from a threat of serious bodily injury or death, not from financial loss.” While I will not shoot someone attempting to take my car stereo, I will most definitely shoot that same person IN MY HOME attempting to steal my possessions. And I believe it is my right & responsibility to do so. I’m not going to call out, “Get away from that TV!” at 3 a.m. in my living room. I’m going to shoot … period.

    Reply
    • Anthony

      H/O insurance can replace things! Not lives… you must be in a life threatening situation to shoot, otherwise you may become a “perp” in need of a defense lawyer!!! Just sayin IMO!

      Reply
      • Keith

        So you don’t consider someone in your home without permission at 3am a life threatening situation? You need to reevaluate your thought process. No matter the situation, even if you’re in the right, you’re probably going to need a defense lawyer anyway.

        Reply
      • James

        When attacked by an enemy military unit, you do not look at individuals to see if that one has a rifle or the other one a RPG. You shoot, preferably aimed fire to kill.
        If someone breaks into your house at 3 a.m., you do not turn on all the lights, wait for you eyes to adjust so you can see well, and check whether the intruder has a gun or not. You command him to freeze, and if he does anything that seems a threat you shoot, knowing it may kill.
        Do try to assess the intruder so you do not shoot the drunk from five doors down who thought he was breaking into his own house when his key would not work, but bear in mind that failure to defend could be a fatal mistake.

        Reply
    • William H

      Your life is more important to your family, friends, and you. I rather have you to chew me out and cuss me for the agreement that your insurance can replace your hard earned things, but you can not REPLACE A LIFE. I have to have insurance to have a defense lawyer, but that is still better than a premature death. Family needs you. If the bad guy demands the TV give him the table too.

      Reply
      • Scott

        Just make sure the perp is not shot in the back. If he is leaving he is no longer a threat.

        Reply
    • Paul

      Even if the law in your state allows you to shoot in defense of property, morally it would be wrong to take a human life over something that can be replace by insurance. You may think you would be ok doing so but you would suffer great emotional and psycological consequences from the incident that would stay with you the rest of your life.

      Reply
    • Gary

      If you use deadly force to protect your “stuff” you will, more than likely, go to jail. Now, if you have the “I’d rather be tried by 12 than carried by 6” mentality, so be it – it’s your life. Using deadly force is not a subject to be taken lightly – this is coming from a 40 LEO veteran. I would concur I have never given anyone permission to be in my living room at 3 AM but, I don’t believe I would arbitrarily shoot to protect my TV. IMHO

      Reply
  3. Ed

    Shooting someone to prevent financial loss is slippery . Where is your fear of loss of life? Especially if, after you shoot, there is no weapon found on the perp? I do agree however no one has any business in my home at 3am. Yes, there is so much to learn and be prepared for both mentally and physically. Great article. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  4. David Wojtowicz

    Good article. Makes me think about my readiness of using a weapon. How intense must be one’s conviction to carry a weapon and under what circumstances. I don’t pretend to be a “citizen /cop”, so why my need to carry outside of protecting myself. I don’t live in a bad-ass community. Albeit, something COULD happen st any time. So, you have me thinking.

    Reply
  5. Derrick

    Does anyone have any other suggestions on the “must haves” for an IFAK kit beside just quik-clot and tourniquet?

    Reply
    • David E

      Gloves. A couple of times I’ve helped accident victims and ended up being covered in (their) blood, but you have no recourse (legally) to even find out if the person has any type of blood-borne disease.

      Reply
    • Frank Witter

      Several gauze pads, at least 6×6; surgical tape or elastic bandage (ACE).

      Reply
  6. Clint

    Based on the comments here it sounds like this article is spot on. The people who will kill over a stereo are not prepared to own or carry a weapon. However, a situation of someone in your home at 3 am requires instant and accurate decisions, which is why your article is spot on. I think some of the people here need the courses big time!

    Reply
    • George

      Great article. Very thought provoking. People need to fully understand consequences of their actions; training for various situtations allows a person to be ready if such happens. You can’t over train, and you can’t under think.

      Reply
  7. gordon miller

    I know that Pincus must turn out articles almost daily, but I think we’re approaching the overdone stage. Gun fights where you life is at stake depend more on getting your weapon out of your belt (holster), pointing it, and pulling the trigger at about 10 feet. Spending time at the range, after becoming comfortable with your weapon, is of little benefit.

    Reply
  8. William Murmann

    What level of training is realistic for the average person? I sometimes get the impression from experts that the average concealed-carry permit holder needs to train 24/7 and spend every weekend shooting hundreds of dollars worth of ammo to become proficient and that the goal is to be prepared for an OK Corral shootout, etc. How much training is too much? How much is enough?

    Reply
  9. william

    I have had the 3:00AM situation with 3 at the back of the house screaming they are coming in to kill everyone inside and a 4th person guarding our front door from the bed of a pickup with a rifle pointed at the house. All because 1 of the guys was embarrassed that my youngest college son who lived at home while completing his degree had forceably stopped him from beating on his girlfriends face at a football game earlier. He got with his male buddies drank a little more, popped some pills and smoked some grass with them before they decided to come to our home snd kill the 3 of us. A call to local police dispatch resulted in an explanation that all available officers were working a fatality wreck on the interstate highway 10 miles away so the call was forwarded to the State Police where the dispatcher said their only trooper on duty was at the far area they worked and would be at our home in 45 minutes. This dispatcher said do not go out on them even though my wife explained they had picked up an 8 foot landscape timber and were trying to break our door down. The sheriff dispatcher said her night deputy was sick with the flu and had gone home. She said, “Since they have screamed they are going to kill you all, you would be justified in killing them from a window if you all have any guns.” I could have legally killed each according to my long-time criminal attorney and friend . What I did was unlock the heavy bolt for the door and as soon as they struck the door with the timber so as they prepared to hit the door again it flew open and 3 young men fell on the floor only to look down the barrel of my Smith &Wesson 5906. I disarmed them and took their driver license to give to the commonwealth attorney and press charges the next day. I also made the 3 have their 4th buddy throw his rifle out of the truck bed and come lie down to listen to me tell them how hurt their families would be if they had succeeded and they got the death penalty as well as how it would have impacted my life if I had justifiably killed them or had my wife or son who also were armed watching for what their budfy at the front would do had killed 1 of them.. The court system pleaded them down to terroristic threatening from attempted murder and the judge gave them a suspended sentence with the stipulation they not be in a thousand feet of myself or my family. Every situation is different and if possible the firearm like any tool must be used with discretion.

    Reply
  10. jd

    I would not shoot someone over property but I feel I have the right to confront anyone taking my property and say “What the hell are doing with my…..” And if that person advanced towards me in any kind of menacing behavior I would consider defending myself. I was burglarized once and the perps came back after a month thinking they had an easy target. I confronted them at that time with a steel pipe in my hand. They dropped what they were trying to steal and ran for it. If they dropped what they had and came towards me I would have struck them. They never came back because I confronted them the second time.

    Reply
  11. Gary Tuckey

    I think that this article should be required reading for anyone desiring a CCP. Well written!

    Reply
  12. Rich

    I find shooting clays sharpens my skills better than paper targets. I set clays out on the berm and shoot them moving and from various distances working at hitting them with the first shot. One shot one clay. Having someone call out which one to shoot at also helps. My goal is 15 round Mags 15 clays. When the mag is empty no clays remain. The helpful part is if I miss I ca see right away where the bullet went by the dust spray and I can correct with the next shot. When all the clays are hit I then work on the fragments till none are left. Each shot I’m aiming at something smaller makes me more accurate.
    That said the only time you shoot is if you are afraid for your or someone else’s life. If no one is in danger let it try to stop them but let it go. Try to explain to a mother you shot her son in your kitchen because he too food from you fridge. Kids do strange things sometimes. But if your going to shoot make sure you know you are going to hit what you aim at. The law doesn’t like stray bullets killing bystanders.

    Reply
  13. Peter

    Regarding the 3AM home intruder. I’m a single guy living alone and sleep in an upstairs bedroom. As a light sleeper, I think it highly likely that I would hear an intruder long before he or she would get upstairs. My rule is-let them take whatever they want downstairs but if I hear them on the stairs, I will have a .357 trained on that door and a small flashlight trained on the door. If that door opens, the light goes on and the gun goes off.

    Reply
  14. Michael Alan Bemiss

    your training is always strong on common sense. A very rare trait these days.

    Reply
  15. Eric Phillips

    You and I agree right down the line. At 70 I lack the strength, stamina, balance and endurance that I had even a few years ago; yet I still travel the upper Midwest to do consulting and training for jewelers. Whether I carry anything of high value or not, there may be that perception on the part of some really bad people. Other than Illinois, which I try to avoid, my carry permit is honored wherever I go. As a Christian I pray that I will never need to shoot a human being. That said, if my presence places others at heightened risk, or if there is a risk that I might be followed by nefarious individuals, then I feel a responsibility to carry. Rather than using a semi-auto, I carry (in a pocket holster) a five shot Ruger LCR loaded with 357 JHP’s, with which I can hit center mass consistently at 30 feet. The thought of firing multiple shots to get a couple on target, or allowing my bullet to pass through an attacker and possibly hurt or kill an innocent bystander is not acceptable. I do find that occasionally using dry fire with snap caps and a laser in the barrel helps me to stay sharp; but visualizing potential situations and reading what experts have to say are the primary ways I try to stay focused.

    Reply
  16. uberbaron

    To answer the person asking about minimum requirements for a first aid kit- in addition to a tourniquet and a clotting agent, I would include a compression bandage, and nitrile gloves to protect you from blood-borne infections like HIV. This is for an ON-BODY minimal kit. From personal experience, I would recommend carrying the tourniquet separately from the other items- otherwise, the kit will usually bulge far too prominently, even for cargo pants carry. Your in-car kit can be more extensive, as should be any kit you carry in or with your range bag, and should include, at minimum, a dressing to seal chest puncture wounds and a device to treat pneumothorax/hemothorax (air/blood between the chest wall and the lung itself) to preven loss of life from a collapsed lung.

    Reply
  17. Philip

    Re-think your home defense plans if your plans include shooting someone who wants your TV. Shoot to protect LIFE only not property. Would it make me angry to have some crook take my property? Absolutely! But I’ve seen the aftermath of shootings. It will change your life in a negative way FOREVER. I wouldn’t hold the door so a crook could walk out with my property, but deadly force is not the only option. We can not just blast away into the dark folks. Target identification is a MUST. A threat to life must be present and deadly force should be a last resort.

    Reply
  18. Mike

    Interesting piece. What I have a problem with though is this idea that the armed citizen should not choose to intervene in a civilian crime. I’m not suggesting we begin shooting shop lifters, but once a weapon is brandished and a round is fired, the game’s on baby. In an active shooter situation, in a public space, I believe citizens who choose to be armed have a responsibility not to run for the door, if they are in a position to stop the carnage. How would you feel if a dozen people were gunned down when you could have stopped the bad guy early on, but instead decided the parking lot was the better place to be?

    Reply
  19. Steve

    To those that want to blow the “stranger” away that broke into your house at 3am, what if it’s your teenage or college aged kid. Kids do stupid stuff, take a low light class and learn to use a flashlight. Even if someone steals all your possessions, replacing them will be cheaper than paying your lawyer when the civil suit comes. When it’s you or someone you care about pull the trigger, otherwise let it go.

    Reply
  20. Frank Witter

    Every one of the commenters regarding someone in their house at 3 a.m. misses the FIRST rule. Dial 911 before attempting to confront the intruder!

    Reply
  21. John Davies

    After reading “Are You Ready To Carry….” through several times to be sure I have a full grasp or your thought process before commenting. I am just months away from my 85th birthday and a veteran of military service in Korea where I had my 20th birthday just weeks after the signing of the ‘cease fire’. I did have a permit to carry a firearm in California for a 2 year period when I was involved in private security. I allowed this permit to lapse when I decided to retire 20 years ago. If I were ever to consider carrying a firearm again it would be strictly for personal protection of myself and my wife. I liked your coverage several thoughts I had never considered. I enjoy having my older mind challenged from time to time.

    Reply
  22. Ronald S. Tamoschat

    In the Army , we carried our .45’s in condition 3. Magazine loaded , chamber empty , hammer down. If it was good enough for the Army , it’s good enough for me. Incidentally , the FBI jerk who did the backflip , losing his firearm in the process and then accidentally firing when he grabbed it (And obviously fingered the trigger) must have had a round in the chamber. And that appeared to be a Glock.

    Reply
  23. Gary Tuckey

    Here’s my question: If I’m on the street and a man pulls a knife and demands my wallet and I have the space and time to pull my pistol; don’t I have the right to present it and tell the dude to just go away? Now granted, if he got the drop on me, I give him the wallet, and I let him run off with it without issue. But again, if my “spidey sense” is tingling upon the approach of a fella and I pull my pistol as he pulls his knife; I’m of a mind to prevent this crime and give him the chance to go away. If he continues to advance upon me even after I warn him off, then it’s no longer a robbery issue. That’s my thinking, where am I going wrong with this idea? P.S. I love these discourses!

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hello Gary,

      There are too many unknowns for a scripted “one size fits all” response. It is for this reason that you should be incorporating the processing of information in your training as well as training responses that work well with what your body will be doing naturally during a lethal encounter. In your scenario, it is a contact weapon so maybe you can just run away, maybe the environment provides a barrier to keep him far enough away while you draw a gun, or some other option. Check out this PDN video that goes deeper into the concept incorporating counter ambush methodology of processing of information in your range drills.
      https://www.personaldefensenetwork.com/video/worlds-collide-toss-the-timer-012857/

      Thanks,

      Deryck
      Personal Defense Network Video Membership

      We’d love to have you be a part of our community. We are convinced you will enjoy the benefits of becoming a member and having access to the best instructional how to videos and professional tips. We would like to offer you a special promotion for your first year membership.
      https://go.personaldefensenetwork.com/C12646

      Reply
  24. L.L. Dawson

    The article is both thorough and interesting. I agree wholeheartedly with the mental and physical aspects of the issue of carrying firearms. I am a retired police officer from a very large city in Texas. I have had to use a firearm twice in my 30 year career. many seem to think it is an easy issue to use a firearm and merely walk away from the consequence of its use. I still shoot quite a bit (at least twice a month) with the handguns I carry. From what I have seen out shooting ranges, most people need more training.

    One issue I think was missed in this article is knowing the law in your individual states which allow for the use of deadly force…know those laws well as it may save you mental grief and money. I can see from many of the comment even some here will question whether they will or can use deadly force….KNOW THE LAWS IN YOUR INDIVIDUAL STATES !!!

    In Texas if the shooting has been justified (grand jury) there can be no civil action against the “shooter” for bodily harm or death…KNOW THE LAWS IN YOU INDIVIDUAL STATES.

    Reply
  25. Dead Eye Rick

    One point missing here is your legal responsibility. Suggest you read Andrew Branca’s ‘The Law of Self Defense’. His website, thelawofselfdefense.com is also worth checking-out. Be sure to understand these points: Innocence, Imminence, Avoidance, Reasonableness, and Proportionality!

    Reply
  26. rudy

    good read ..i always like learning tips and tricks on carrying a concealed sidearm ..i dont have a permit yet and i havent taken a course yet..and thats because i want to learn more before i decide to try for a permit……

    Reply