Apr/May 2009 Travel

Shooting Pistols At Paper

by Jim Parks

There I was again, burning up the Texas Panhandle and across the Bosque Redondo where the Army eliminated so many of the Navajo through exposure and starvation on their "long walk," the forced winter march, quickly skirting Ft. Sumner and the site of Billy the Kid's Lincoln County War, zooming among the balanced rocks and over the canyons at Gallup, finally emerging on the Painted Desert just at dawn when the pink and blue and burnt sienna starts to light up the horizon and soon you're among the magic and dust of your own personal history—the place where time turns around to say good morning to time.

I climbed the mountain at Flagstaff, fell off it to Kingman, made my trip through the pass onto the desert floor on the arrow straight highway to Hoover Dam, Boulder City, to Vegas and thence through the pass on Blue Diamond Highway to Pahrump with its neon ambiance and hidden brothels on the edge of town.

Power. It's all about power—who has it, who does not have it. With every unfolding mile, history tells the same story in the terrain and the people who live along that route.

So, a week after the election of Barack Hussein Obama, an ultra-liberal black President from Chicago—a city where hand guns are totally banned except to police officers—I went to see all about it, to learn how to shoot a handgun to the best of my ability, to learn how to improve my performance, to confront my belief in the mythic importance of the gun deep in my American soul.

Obama, a man with a foreign-sounding name, who multitudes of politically right-leaning Americans insist will soon send UN troops to take their firearms away from them, is perceived as a threat to the bulwark of the Second Amendment, that twenty-seven word guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Thousands of Americans are voting with their pocketbooks and their time to preserve their right to keep and bear a handgun in defense of their homes and loved ones, their places of business, and even complete strangers under attack by gunmen gone berserk.

They buy and keep quality firearms—most of which retail for at least $500, many for much more—and they spend a lot of money for training, equipment, travel, and gun association memberships.

It's a growth industry.

So far, twenty-three states have enacted model "castle" legislation composed by the National Rifle Association. It ensures that if a person is attacked in his home or in his place of business, he is authorized to use deadly force to defend himself, his family, and his goods.

The problem is this. Though you may have the finest handgun available, the best ammunition and state of the art holsters and magazine pouches, the weapon still has all the menace of throwing a rock at an attacker if you don't know how to use it for maximum, deadly effect.

It's all about technique. That means training and practice, most of which is "dry fire," in which the weapon is unloaded and "dry snapped" at a silhouette target. One practices clearing malfunctions of various types, presenting from the holster, doing emergency and tactical reloads of the magazines in automatics and the cylinders in revolvers.

They say the loudest sound you will ever hear is that "click" you get in the middle of a gun fight when your pistol has run dry and there is no cartridge in the chamber. There is no bang.

Now what?

Using and practicing the grip and stance most crack pistol shooters assume, the place where you first begin to feel fatigue is at the base of the gastrocnemi muscles, where the two heart-shaped calf muscles join the Achilles tendon attached to the heel of the right foot.

That is because the weight of the body is placed on that leg—the support leg—during the evolution of drawing from the holster and firing.

Most of those who use today's high-powered, high capacity automatics fire right handed.

Do this continuously for a day or two, draw—go the through the five-count manual at arms—and fire, and you begin to understand in an intimate way what Michelangelo sculpted when he depicted David in precisely the same stance.

The statue is considered important not just because of its heroic proportions or the fabulous detail of the musculature and skeletal structure of a shepherd boy who would some day become the warrior poet and king of Israel.

It is considered important among art historians because it depicts David at the moment when he made the decision to attack the giant champion of the Philistines, Goliath, after David and the other Israelites had heard the Philistine challenge repeated several times.

They had only to face their champion Goliath in single combat and the victor would win the freedom, bragging rights, territory and treasure due their people, according to 1 Samuel 17: 23-58.

David decided to take up the challenge, though he was the youngest. He faced the giant, who has been described alternately as standing anywhere from 9 feet to 12 feet in height, and his shield bearer, who stood before him to deflect stones, arrows and spears.

It depicts David at the moment he chose to attack but had not yet done so.

The human muscular-skeletal system is a collection of triangles. That is because any muscle connected to any bone can only contract—whether is it a contractor or an extensor.

When you step upon the earth to walk, the calf muscles contract to push down the toes and foot. The earth pushes back, and bipedal locomotion occurs.

So, there stands David, posed contrapposto, his feet "bladed" at about 30 degrees from direct confrontation with the target, his shoulders rotated to the left at about half that angle. His left arm is bent at the elbow, supporting the sling. His right arm is straight, hanging by his side, ready to fire the rock.

It is an ancient depiction of what is known today as the "Weaver Combat Stance," so named for its innovator, Jack Weaver, a Los Angeles policeman who set many international and national records in pistol competition.

Those who decry the method revert to a technique much like it called the "isosceles" stance and grip. It uses the same system of isometric tension for bracing and holding the pistol on target. The support hand, the left hand, however, is held out straight. In both stances, the support hand pulls, wrapped around the firing hand, which pushes.

The point of all this is that though the body and its muscles and tendons can only do certain things, it does them exceptionally well after it has been trained through a systematic approach.

Muscle memory, they call it in sports and pursuits intensive in hand and eye coordination.

But it all starts with the conscious decision to attack or defend using the handgun, the sling, the javelin, the rock—or the baseball, for that matter. As long as the projectile comes past the eye on the firing side of the body, that hand can best control its flight path.

That's why Michelangelo—a preeminent amateur anatomist of the day—used the contrapposto pose to emphasize a psychological disposition, a representation of the moment between conscious choice and conscious action, the decision to attack Goliath, but before the battle had actually begun.

It was a battle, of course, that was settled with one master stroke.

Though it made him a hero, it also made his King, Saul, very afraid of him. He plotted to have David killed.

So what kind of young man was David? He was a shepherd. He relied upon his crook, his javelin, and his sling to drive away predators—both human and canine—and preserve his flock.

You might say he was a professional at defending his place of business and his goods.

What kind of men and women train prospective pistol shooters?


You find police officers, federal agents, special forces soldiers, Marines, and SEALS on the firing lines. Some shooting schools train as many as 500 people at a time—on separate ranges in relays of 20 each for a total of forty.

Others train small classes for a concealed carry handgun permit that will allow the students to carry a concealed weapon in as many as 30 states.

What is the point of all this? A bad actor never knows who does or who does not have a premium quality hogleg under their clothes. It could very well be a person who is trained and trained well—conditioned—to use that weapon with deadly force, deadly accuracy—no hesitation.

Pink power has thoroughly integrated firepower, as well. At a recent four-day defensive handgun course, I personally watched a middle-aged housewife place four out of five bullets in a one-inch square from 15 feet. Her weapon—a Glock Model 22, cal. .40 S&W, manufactured in Austria and marketed in the U.S. at about $500 the copy.

Here we were in an area Tom Wolfe once referred to as "the roof of the world." It's an area where the warning signs in the mountain passes have silhouettes of bighorn sheep, not deer. It's the area between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, home of Death Valley, Area 51, Edwards Air Force Base, and other garden spots such as Tonopah, Gold Strike and Pahrump. Here were 500 people strolling around with handguns on their hips, all locked and loaded.

Those four days were like the moment after the cessation of a huge and enveloping noise, a noise you have grown so used to hearing you don't notice it until it suddenly stops. The circumspection and unobtrusiveness of personalities was overwhelming.

Everyone was exceptionally polite!

Suddenly, it will hit you why the dialogue of the old timers in the west was so filled with "Do tell" and "Beg pardon," "Mighty fine," and "Yes, sir," "No, ma'am," "Reckon," and "I s'pect."

Verbal confrontation is unthinkable when you're facing someone you just watched as they put two supersonic rounds in the heart of a silhouette, then finished up by placing one more round in an area that would approximate the eyes and the bridge of the nose.

It's called the "Mozambique" drill in the ranks of shooting aficionados. Mozambique? Uh, yeah. I think we all know what they're talking about.

Is there concern among America's public that somehow they will lose their right to keep and bear arms?

The day after the election of President Barack Obama, who as a Democratic Senator voted against various recommendations of the National Rifle Association repeatedly and allied himself with Senators Diane Feinstein, Boxer, Kennedy, and Schumer on gun ownership issues, there was a run on guns at stores and pawn shops throughout the nation.

It took as long as a week to receive approval from the FBI for a gun purchase—a process that usually takes only minutes as computer records are checked to make sure the applicant is not mentally unstable or a convicted felon.


Gun store managers said they were aware that the government was especially worried about agents making "straw purchases" for unqualified applicants, attempts to acquire firearms for those who were known to be under psychiatric care or had been convicted of felonies.

There are many places to receive training for concealed carry permits. They are listed by the appropriate police agencies in your state.

One comprehensive source of firearms training is Front Sight Firearms Training Institute.

I'm not joking. They rent the guns, the gun belts and the magazines and magazine pouches to the students who do not have one or would like to fly in to Vegas and don't want to be bothered with all the hassle of air travel with a firearm.

Another organization, much more political and militant, is Jews For the Preservation of Firearms Ownership:

The Executive Director of JPFO, Aaron Zelman, likes to refer to the reliance on police for protection as "Death by 9-1-1." The truth is, he points out in scholarly articles about the law, the police have no legal obligation to protect a citizen. Numerous binding court opinions limit their role to investigation of crime and presentation of the case to the District Attorney, the Grand Jury, or to a judge at a pre-trial hearing.

Mr. Zelman is fond of pointing out that the American firearms laws adopted and codified into Federal regulations in 1968 closely resemble those enacted by the Nazi government in 1938.

They should. Mr. Zelman insists they were copied by Senator Thomas Dodd of Connecticut. He had been a prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Tribunals.

So, what are some of the grim realities attached to using a firearm in defense of home and family?

Frontsight Firearms Training Institute has a buttoned-down approach to teaching all about that.

It's the first thing that confronts a student when he arrives at the place.

In a welcome lecture at Front Sight's Pahrump, Nevada, training center, former Kern County, California Deputy Sheriff Wes La Huillier, who is a combat master in all weapons and tactics, including shotgun, rifle, handgun, edged weapons, and barehanded defense, emphasizes the one basic reality of gun fighting.

"The best you can expect to do is to break even."

Even if a grand jury declines to indict the defender or a judge sees insufficient evidence to prosecute, a civil court could still find culpability in allegations of wrongful death—even if the actor had invaded a home or place of business and was making deadly threats.

That's the best with which you can come out of the gunfight: your life.

That's problem one, he teaches.

If you don't live through it, you won't have problems two and three.

Problem two is arrest. Problem three is prosecution, both in criminal and civil court.

Emotional reactions of fear and panic take over. A shooter might lie to the police when they arrive. That's bad juju. Police start looking with a fine tooth comb when they hear lies. Anger might make the defender lash out at the police inappropriately. Just about any time a citizen resorts to deadly force, he can expect to be placed in jail for at least 48 hours. Bail of about $10,000 is routinely assessed. Attorneys' start up fees are usually about $10,000, and expert investigators are routinely retained at $5,000.

So, you just wound up on your face with the cuffs on your wrists in your own place of business or home. You're on your way to jail for at least 48 hours, and you're facing an ordeal that might last for years to come—or for the rest of your life.

What is something you might have going for you?

Use of deadly force is justified if the shooter finds himself in a position where there is a necessary use of deadly force because there is a reasonable fear of immediate or otherwise unavoidable danger of death or serious bodily injury to the innocent.

Each of these elements has a legal definition that is carved in stone. They may be found in the Martindale-Hubbell Law Dictionary.

If any of those elements are missing, you will definitely face criminal and civil prosecution. Even so, all elements being present, you may still experience a civil suit for wrongful death of the attacker or his injuries.

There is a bright note, however.

If the assailant was within 21 feet, and all those other elements are present, including the assailant being armed with a contact weapon, a district attorney, grand jury or judge may decline to prosecute.

Here's why.

A shooting expert named Mike Waidelich designed a study which measured the time the average man can present his weapon from the holster and fire a single shot to center mass of a humanoid target as l.5 seconds. Compared to the distance a man armed with a contact weapon can travel in l.5 seconds, the answer is 21 feet—seven yards.

When facing an opponent armed with a contact weapon within seven to ten yards, you are in immediate danger of death or serious bodily injury.

Because Dennis Tueller later wrote an article on Mike Waidelich's study and published it in SWAT Magazine, the study became known as the "Tueller Drill."

By the way, serious bodily injury does not include temporary cosmetic injury such as black eyes, swollen lips, abrasions, or surface bruises. Serious bodily injuries are those which may cause permanent disfigurement or death within minutes, hours, days, weeks, or months. "Cuts, broken bones, and internal injuries to the vital organs and brain are considered serious bodily injury," according to the Front Sight training manual.

Disparity of force is another element by which prosecutors may decline to prosecute.

They are large man against small man; able bodied man against disabled man; man against woman; or two or more men against one man.

What is something a policeman might do to show his approval of the actions of a citizen who shot a perpetrator in defense of his home or place of business?

"He might give you a couple of rounds from his magazine," said La Huillier.

During my visit to the roof of the world, I was partnered with Jeff H., a tall, thin, calm, even-tempered man from Las Vegas with a very expensive high capacity Para-Ordnance .45 ACP who shot in the ninth percentile of our class. I asked him if he foresaw trouble over gun ownership, a clash of culture in the political arena.

"I know there will be trouble," he answered, his affect tight-lipped, grim.

He continued, "The next time you see a Virginia Tech or a Columbine mass shooting, they will come to take the guns away."

What could have been done to prevent the insane behavior of the perpetrators?

"Where were their parents?" Jeff asked. Someone should have stepped in to play an adult role and put a stop to the madness.

What could have been done? He mentioned the Virginia Tech shooter.

"Beat the holy living shit out of the little shit and hope he would go away and kill himself."

Driving back across the continent, the fabulous scenery unfolding in front of me, I realized that those youthful killers had done exactly that. They had just exacted the highest price for their lives that they could, then killed themselves.

After they paid the ultimate price, you could hardly call it breaking even. In fact, you could hardly call it a gunfight.

Thus, one shrugs and returns to the impeccable logic of the professionals. Winning is all that matters. Hitting the mark is the only important thing. If you can't do that, you don't have any other problems.


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