Leave the Gun Lessons to Us

Now Paul Helmke is getting in on it too, speaking about a force-on-force training exercise Phil Van Cleave went through in West Virginia. The kind of training Van Cleave was describing is more appropriate for law enforcement officers, who have to confront armed criminals and take them into custody, rather than citizens trying to defend themselves. The main lesson Van Cleave is stressing here is that it’s a bad idea to go on the offense with an opponent who is or could be armed, because we have police, who can arrive with overwhelming force, and who also have the advantage of body armor. I think most sensible people understand this. Paul Helmke, however, draws inappropriate conclusions from Van Cleave’s wisdom:

I know Phillip Van Cleave is still a strong believer in gun rights.  But his story should be a cautionary lesson. After tragedies like the recent one in Manchester, Connecticut, when a disgruntled employee shot and killed eight coworkers, there are usually comments from the gun love community about how the tragedy could have been avoided if only someone else there had been armed.

The problem, Paul, is the defender would have been in the opposite position Van Cleave was in with his training. The active shooter would be the one in Van Cleave’s position. In this kind of scenario it’s the aggressor who has the disadvantage. No one believes no-win scenarios don’t exist. If someone rounds the corner of my office door with a drawn gun, and with intent to kill, I could have a flame thrower right next to me and it’s not going to do much good. But that doesn’t mean there’s no situation where having a gun isn’t helpful.

If there’s a raging fire upstairs blocking my exit, using one of my fire extinguishers is going to be about as effective as pissing on it, but just because a fire extinguisher can’t put out all fires, isn’t a reason not to have them around. People can still be killed in automobile accidents despite the presence of seat belts and air bags too, yet we mandate both be in automobiles. Helmke is obviously worried about people carrying guns for the wrong reasons, as is evidenced by his description of “many” who carry guns who “think they are ready for a showdown, and ready to be a hero.” It’s a legitimate concern. But is that a many? Is it most? Is it even few? No doubt there are some, but I would think most people carry because a) they are comfortable with firearms, and b) want to be able to protect themselves.

Again, it boils down to “Do you trust your fellow citizens to do the right thing most of the time.” We say, “yes.” They say, “no.”

17 thoughts on “Leave the Gun Lessons to Us”

  1. In my first year of college, years before I became “gun conscious”, I carried a plastic butterknife on my keychain (I won’t explain why…it’s a longish story). Every so often, usually when I was down in the basement in my college’s computer lab, I would imagine how I would use my only weapon–that plastic butterknife–to attempt to stop a mass shooter shooting at everyone in sight.

    Even then, I think I realized that I didn’t have a snowflake’s chance in heck against an armed shooter, with the weapon I carried. Having said that, it’s important to think about what you would do in different scenarios…because the mental preparation alone may very well give you the determination to survive such a situation.

    Now-a-days, I realize that having a pistol, while no guarantee, will give me a much greater chance of surviving such a scenario!

  2. Now that I’ve read Paul’s essay, and part-way through the second, it just occurred to me: one fatal mistake people like Paul make is the assumption that all gun-fights involve guns!

    When someone is out to dominate, and perhaps even kill you, there are many options available to him: bats, knives, umbrellas, ropes, your own pantyhose, fists, brute force, pitchforks, etc. I’m a smallish man, so while I don’t wear pantyhose, I’m not much of a match against a 200-lb linebacker, either! And if such a person decides to make mincemeat of me, I don’t have much of a chance without a gun.

    But a 200-lb man with a pitchfork is at a severe disadvantage if I could transform his attack into a gun-fight…and I do so, the moment I pull my gun from my holster!

  3. As I finished reading the second link, I remembered some other advice (which the article itself pointed out): if at all possible, bunker down! Then the bad guy is at the disadvantage!

    Of course, that’s not always possible. You may have small children in your home who need to be rounded up, and/or defended. Paul would have us believe it would be better to just give the bad guy free access to the entire house while you are unarmed, though, rather than do anything to save the life of a child.

  4. I don’t doubt for one second there are those who carry who are just itching to be a “hero.” But I do suspect the number is very small.

    I don’t carry myself, except to take it to work and back home, working alone in a traditionally cash-business. But I suspect that the first day you have the permit, and probably for a while after, one is very conscious of the fact it is there. Maybe not anticipating or wishing, but more aware than before. And I would also think that after a while, just like first getting that cell phone (at least for us stubborn old folks), it soon becomes just another accessory one dons in the morning like the belt and key chain.

  5. All the advice I’ve ever heard or read is that, as the law-abiding citizen in an armed opponent scenario, you should bunker down and cover the entrance. Your goal is to stay alive. So you hide in the corner or behind cover and wait for the shooter to expose himself.

    OTOH, does Mr. Helmke want to shut down paintball and/or airsoft? You learn the same lessons their (only not as well, likely). Heck, you learn the rudiments of clearing a room in Counterstrike!

  6. Oh, and Mr. Van Cleave was on the offensive; and LOST. As you said, he was in the position of the active shooter, and the defender got him without being harmed himself.

    Mr. Helmke focuses on the aggrewssor-training part of this, but the real value of the training is (as Mr. Van Cleave noted) to instruct you to stay defensive.

  7. You nailed it, Sebastian. Good post. The point about not every fight starts out with a gun is good too. It is something a few of us bloggers continue to point out.

    The issue here is, if I have a firearm, I have an option. I do not *have* to use it if it would not be smart to do so. I can bide my time.

    Not having a firearm, I just get to bide my time, until he makes the decision on what he is going to do with me.

  8. “… I would think most people carry because a) they are comfortable with firearms, and b) want to be able to protect themselves.”

    I think that’s something that the general public isn’t able to grasp, honestly. Heck, I’ve been there. At the age of 21 (2001) I bought my first firearm, a pistol, and was on the fast-track to get my CCW license with Michigan just going shall-issue. For reasons I’d rather not share the CCW didn’t come immediately. Then I sat on the issue for 8 years.

    In the meantime the guns I owned became less scary or dangerous to me. They were just things I used to open up various calibers of ammo and punch holes in targets. My comfort level increased to the point where I look the first 9mm pistol I bought with little more emotion than a can opener. They were just things I used. Nothing more.

    “Gun” was no longer a scary word. Not that it ever was much of one with me, but carrying a handgun? I never thought of that until 2001.

    My wife has made a similar journey over the 4 years we’ve been together. She wasn’t fond of guns when we first met up but she knew it came with the package. Today me putting on a gun is just a familiar occurrence, not much different than my cell phone. She only gets annoyed when I spend too much time tracking down a holster or maybe a magazine I misplaced.

  9. “I stepped out from behind concealment to get a clean shot, still trying to stay somewhat behind the closet door.”

    Is this something he was taught? If he was taught to do this, this is the school’s fault.

    Why not just shoot your threat in the leg?

    “Shoot what is available until something else is available.” Clinton A. Smith.

    It is called school for a reason. Seems to me Phil, like all of us who train, learned a lesson through a mistake. A mistake he will not repeat.

  10. Paint rounds won’t penentrate, but in real life (and dependent on his RoE) he could have shot through the door on an estimated location. With foot and part of leg visible he might have been able to make a very good guess as to location of torso.

    I say this not to encourage the good guys(tm) to shoot through concealment (it’s often a bad idea and potentially a 4 rules violation), but to remind the people who have hunkered down and are waiting for the cavalry of the difference between concealment and cover. (Not something that often comes up in sims due to the lack of penetration of most sim munitions).

  11. Well, where Paul really falls down is in his recommendation for the alternative. Mandated helplessness.

    No thanks, Paul.

  12. Am I the only one thinking that this was just 1 training session on this task?

    How many of us master something the first time around? Heck, how many times does a Law Enforcement Officer master something the first time around?

    Most of us don’t, that is why we practice over and over again. Not until we get it right, but until we can’t get it wrong.

    And all of us realize that just because we did everything right doesn’t mean we aren’t going to get hurt or no succeed but it’s better then not trying.

  13. Thats it. Paulie says that I might get shot by the bad guy even if I have a gun. I give up! It’s not even worth being armed because I MIGHT not win a gunfight if one happens to find me. Might as well lay down right here and wait for the inevitable. No use in putting on clothes today because I might freeze to death anyway if I ever get caught in a blizzard. No use in wearing shoes because they might not protect my feet if I ever step on a nail. Spare tire? Throwing that fucking thing away! I would probably get two flats at the same time anyway! HA! Can opener my ass! I might accidentally once buy my spagetti sauce in a JAR once! Throw all the phillips head screw drivers away because that next screw you need to… well… screw… might be a flat head. The flat head ones are useless too because those bastards who make screws might make the next one a TORX. Sockets? All in the trash I say! How the hell do you tell between a metric and a standard bolt anyway? Car? Blow the damn thing up. You might run out of gas!


    what a putz.


  14. @Stuart the Viking: I can’t think of a better description of Paul’s thinking! It’s glorious!

  15. Shootin’ Buddy,

    Why not just shoot your threat in the leg?

    If I can only see his leg, how do I know he’s a threat? Is he wearing “Threat Brand” jeans? The world is not a free-fire zone; remembr Problem #2.

    The minute I read this scenario (“This is a convenience store. There is a bad guy in there…”) I would have drawn my heater, taken a position of cover or concealment in sight of the door, whipped out the cellie, and “Hello? 911?”

    The instructor can grade that however he wishes. ;)

  16. There you go, Tam, bringing logic and sense to the internet. We can’t have that – if it weren’t for flamewars I couldn’t afford to heat my house :)

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