Self-defense: fancy hardware is NOT the solution

I’ve had occasion in recent weeks to correspond with several former students of mine, disabled individuals whom I taught to handle a firearm for their own security.  Such people are often targeted by predators because they appear almost defenseless.  After all, if one dumps someone out of their wheelchair, and they aren’t capable of getting up unaided, they’re at one’s mercy . . . right?  That’s where situational awareness and concealed firearms come in very handy.  If you can see the attack coming, you can prepare for it;  and as long as your handgun is positioned where you can get at it in a hurry, even when rolling on the ground, you can do something about the attack.

My correspondents have been upset by the number of individuals trying to sell them “gizmos” to hang on their defensive handguns.  They rightly point out that technological aids are just that – aids;  they’re meant to help you solve the problem, but in and of themselves they can’t do it.  They can only enhance basic skills that you already have.  If you don’t have those skills, there’s nothing for them to enhance!

The problem is, too many people rely on “gizmos” for their defense (and gunshops and suppliers make a lot of money selling them).  People hang lights and lasers on their handgun;  they carry it in a “racegun” style holster, designed for competition rather than to keep the firearm safe and secure and available at all times;  they insist on loading it with the latest, most-hyped super-duper felon-stopper magnum-blaster ammunition (see my comments in this article about that nonsense!);  yet they almost never actually practice with it, and when they do, it’s typically in a non-defensive environment where they just fire a few rounds into a stationary paper target at a known distance.

To take just one example of how such ignorance affects them:  they have little or no idea how a firearm’s noise and blast will affect them in the real world if they ever have to use it the hard way.  You like carrying a .357 Magnum revolver or a .40 Smith & Wesson pistol for defensive use, or you plan to use a shotgun for home defense?  Great . . . but if you fire any of those firearms with full-house  ammunition inside the hallway of your home, without any hearing protection, you’re going to be very deaf for a long time thereafter.  You’ll almost certainly suffer some degree of permanent hearing damage.  You certainly won’t be able to hear what the intruder’s doing after you fire your first shot.  (Of course, any handgun – any firearm of any type, for that matter – will deafen you when fired indoors, but some will deafen you a lot more than others.)  This is why I keep a set of electronic hearing protectors next to my firearm on the nightstand next to my bed.  It’s a matter of a moment’s work to put them on before I investigate “things that go bump in the night“.  Not only will they protect my hearing from gunfire, they’ll actually amplify ambient sounds to help me hear and identify them more easily.

I have no problem at all with using appropriate technological aids.  I have Crimson Trace lasers on several of my handguns, and expect to fit them to others as and when I can afford them.  I have lights on some of the handguns I use for home defense.  I’ll take any help I can get, thank you very much!  Nevertheless, the brutal reality of self-defense is that unless you’re capable of putting the bullets where they need to go, it doesn’t much matter what round you use, or whether you use the gun’s sights or an aftermarket laser sight to put them there.  The basics come first.  All the technological whiz-bangs in the world can’t help you if you don’t have the basics down pat.

I discussed how to train oneself or others so that even the lowly .22LR round is a viable defensive cartridge.  Take a look at the training program I outlined there (which can be accomplished using BB or airsoft handguns, at minimal cost).  Over the course of a few months to a year, at an expenditure of at most $100-$150, you can develop your shooting skills – without using a single technological aid of any description – to the point where you can put 7 out of 10 rounds, rapid fire, into the target area of an attacker, at five to ten yards’ range, every single time.  You’ll spend less to master that skill than you will to buy a laser sight for your handgun;  and after you master it, any ammunition you use for defense is likely to prove effective, because shot placement is the primary determinant of bullet effectiveness.  A .44 Magnum hollowpoint in the lower leg or foot will make some (not all) attackers limp, and make them angry.  It won’t necessarily stop the threat they pose.  A simple .22LR round in the cerebellum or brain stem will shut down any attacker, every time.  No doubt about it.

Learn the basics and master them before worrying about new tools for your self-defense toolbox.



  1. Good reminder, including the admonition to wear hearing protection. Some folks have reported not hearing the shots they've fired, due to the effects of adrenaline – but I'm not going to count on it.

  2. Peter, very sound (couldn't resist) advice. I have kept a pair of Howard Leight electronic ear muffs by my bedside for years. I bought them because they were the only ones I found that would fit my size 8 head but they do work well. I have also practiced firing from inside a vehicle and shooting through the pocket of an old coat. One of the reasons I don't go to the local indoor range all that often is they don't allow side to side movement or a draw. Both are actions I want to ingrain by repetitive training. Luckily I have a range on my property and that helps a lot.
    Ed C

  3. Auditory exclusion — the sound may not register, but I doubt that's going to keep the damage from being done.

  4. All the points made here and in the referenced articles are more or less correct.

    That said the reference (see my comments in this article about that nonsense in part one confuses energy and momentum.

    Momentum is conserved as expressed in Newton's Third Law but energy is not (foot pounds and pounds feet in American units).

    The energy imparted to a bullet by the burning propellant in a cartridge case is matched by the energy imparted by that same propellant to the gun from which it's fired. If the bullet's leaving the barrel with an energy of, say, 400 foot-pounds, the gun is going to recoil in your hand(s) with the same 400 foot-pounds of energy.

    IIRC, it takes about 90 horse power (SAE) to accelerate a hot .22 rimfire bullet as it goes from zero to circa Mach one very quickly indeed. It doesn't take anything close to 90 horse power to slow down the firearm over a greater distance and time. Energy is a function of velocity squared, momentum isn't squared.

    This doesn't invalidate the point made but reminds us that there are choices between big and slow and small and fast but big and fast is too much for hand held firearms.

    Folks might also consider looking to the future in considering that a certain level of recoil might be tolerable today and even for years to come but nothing lasts forever. People today might have forgotten or never heard of Skip Talbot but consider this from the New York Times: Talbot has pursued a variety of endeavors over the years — broncobusting in New Mexico, ranching in Arizona, outboard motorboat racing in California. But he made his mark in target shooting, where he set the 200-yard record with the .44-magnum pistol, Dirty Harry's weapon of choice. The pistol has such a fierce recoil that after about 30,000 rounds the tendons in Talbot's right hand collapsed.

    There's a case for not over doing even though the consequences might be delayed.

  5. @STxRynn: There are plenty of worthwhile options out there. The lowest-cost solution that's proved reliable in my hands is the Howard Leight Impact Sport: . That's what I keep by my bed. Another good, but more expensive, compact choice is the Peltor 6S: . In full-size muffs, either the Howard Leight Impact Pro ( ) or the Peltor ProTac II ( ) are very good.

    The Peltor ProTac II is very expensive compared to the others, but it's used by many SWAT teams and LE professionals. There's a reason for that, and it's not to make a fashion statement. If you can afford it, you'll notice the quality difference right away.

  6. Thanks again for steering me in a good direction. I appreciate it.

    I owe you supper when you get out this way for all the good advice over the years. If I have your town pegged right, I'll get to visit my brother, too!


  7. Some of the high-end guns I see pushed are so pricey and sophisticated I should be able to just chuck them out the bedroom door and let them go see what that noise was.

  8. Stereo microphones in a air of muffs is a huge advantage. I went out one night after a coyote , with a single mic (mono) set of phones, and even though it was yipping 30 yards away, was completely unable to determine where it was by listening. I suspect the same effect would be true in a house, listening for an intruder.

  9. If I may….the 3M Peltor TacticalPro Communications Headset MT15H7F SV is outstanding. It's also not cheap ($195 at amazon) but one gets what one pays for, and they do drop to $160-180 occasionally; whenever they do I buy another because I use them with my students. Between student uses, one resides at the bedside, one on the coffee table, one on top of the fridge and one hangs from the side of the computer desk I'm using at the moment. Should I have to engage in repelling boarders, as Cooper termed it, I want every advantage I can get.

    As for amplification, when i got my first one (after trying several less effective brands and models, some of which were very much less effective), wearing them around the house led me to believe they were defective – I was picking up an intermittent rasping hum. That turned out to not be the muffs, but the dog quietly snoring under the dining room table.

    RE: lights. I encourage the use of small very bright lights, but i'm not a fan of putting one on a gun because that leads to using it as an independent flashlight, meaning you're pointing a gun at something at which you should be pointing only a light. A gun-mounted light is there only to confirm "last second" point of aim on a target you have already identified and determined it needs to be shot, and very, very few instructors have the skill – or the necessary facilties – to successfully train to that. Crimson Trace grips are excellent, – I have them on several student guns – but train yourself to managing the gun without turning the laser on before you use it for "bump in the night" tasks.

    And, as Peter said, practice, practice, practice, then practice some more. I'm a huge fan of Next Level Training's SIRT pistol, particularly the Pro model (much spendy, but a terrific training tool); a house-clearing practice session with a SIRT has never failed to brutally educate a student (Pro tip: an empty darkened classroom (or two car garage) can be used to very roughly simulate house clearing by creating hallways and doors with cardboard panels cut from refrigerator boxes, clamped to chair backs and target stands with 99 cent spring clamps from Home Depot. It's not a true representation – one needs a more sturdy shoot house, and at a minimum, Simunitions for that – , but a coarse simulation that at least introduces students to the immense difficulties of house clearing).

    Mindset and practice, practice and mindset.

  10. For all of that have never been in a shooting. Indoors or out. The "first time" you are dragged from sleep and THINK you need your weapon you will be so jacked that you will be damn lucky to remember the position of the safety catch. Putting on Hearing protection? REALLY? Most of you might remember it the next morning. But most likely an ordinary person woken from sleep will be damn lucky not to shoot the dog or kids , after groping in the dark for a headset that will make IFF just that much harder. The more you complicate your response to a possible intruder, the more likely you are to get "flustered" and do the stupid. Fear is your real enemy in a shooting. It will grip you from the "get go". "Gadgets" only make that harder to deal with. They distract you and make you lose focus. TRAINING TRAINING TRAINING !!! If you cannot come out of a sound sleep to the sound of breaking glass. Load your weapon, clear a stoppage , and tell your kid/wife/mother in law from a "hood rat" IN THE DARK. Then you need MORE TRAINING. NOT more gun toys.

  11. Gosh, thanks for letting us know how incompetent we'll be in an emergency. I never imagined.

    I'll sell my gun today and start figuring out how to hide under the bed because I don't want to chance shooting the cat. Or, maybe just lie there and let the bad guy do whatever he wants.

    Yeah, that's the ticket…..

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