Massad Ayoob has been involved in firearms training for almost 50 years. He is the author of dozens of books and literally thousands of magazine articles, making him the most prolific gun writer alive today. Through his writings, his expert witness work, and training courses he conducts all over the country, Ayoob has had a profound effect on defensive firearms training in the US. See below for Parts 1-4 of his 2016 interview for Rangemaster’s Oral Histories Project.
Son, when you are alone in that freight yard that Bill Jordan talks about, it’s not going to matter what kind of gun and what kind of holster. It’s going to matter that you are alone against the unknown. And what that man who has faced that, and prevailed against it, can teach you about that is absolutely timeless.
– Massad Ayoob
Interviewer: Tiffany Johnson
Interviewee: Massad Ayoob
Date of Interview: September 2, 2016
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Q: All right, well, let’s get started with just a little background. For folks who for some reason have managed to live in this world without having heard of Massad Ayoob, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself.
Basically, I’m 68 years old at this time, a shooter since age 4, handgun shooter since age 9, carrier since age 12, started with in my dad’s jewelry store. I did a lot of research since I was a kid, seriously when I started carrying at my dad’s store, and real seriously a decade later when I became a part-time police officer. Upon becoming a police officer starting at an early age, that led me on an odyssey through a lot of different training schools and I’ve pretty much kept it up over the decades.
Q: And you say your dad had a store. A gun store?
A jewelry store.
Q: Oh, a jewelry store. I’m sorry. Okay. Now I think you probably agree that teaching is an entirely different art form than shooting.
That’s the one thing they have in common, with all communications in both cases the public generally thinks it’s a two-step process – send and receive. Both shooting and communication are a three-step process – send, receive and confirm receipt of message – repeat the message if it’s necessary.
Q: Interesting. And at what point did you realize that you were interested in the teaching side, being a trainer rather than a practitioner?
When I was asked to do it at age 23. I really didn’t think I’d be good at it, but it worked out well for me and the students. If someone had asked me when I was in high school what are the last two professions you’d want to be stuck with, I would have told them being a cop because everybody hates you or being a teacher because it’s boring as hell and nobody listens to you.
Q: That’s funny! Okay, tell me about some of the early training experiences that you can recall, either as an early instructor or with your own instructors as a student that have had the most lasting impact on you.
Basically, it was clear early on when I started in the early 70s that tradition had stagnated for a very long time. There was still supposed to be shooting below eye level even at seven yards; the barricade techniques we were taught were, shall we say less than optimal; people were telling us “well gee, you can’t see your gun sight so don’t even try”, even though history had long since shown otherwise. I gather some still say that at the time … As certain patterns emerged the people who aimed hit, the people who didn’t, didn’t by and large. And basically, the people who were into it were much more likely to survive. And particularly the competitive shooters had an extraordinary survival rate. I can only conclude where that comes from is for them, shooting a gun under pressure had become the norm. It was something they could do successfully on autopilot – their minds were free to analyze “Do I have to shoot this guy? What’s the safest angle for me to take? What’s the best cover? etc.” So, I’ve long been an advocate of competitive shooting as not training per se but as an adjunct to training, and part of the skill testing elements to training.
Q: So, that’s one of the subjects that’s often a subject of debate nowadays and I wonder if you could speak more to that through this lens. One of the things that I think Tom wants to accomplish through this work is to provide a roadmap for folks who are new to this art, who are new shooters who don’t have the luxury of having lived through the evolution of what we do from the 70s as you and Tom have, and who may not fully appreciate why things have changed in the ways that they have. So, when you mention competition I was looking through some of these old books and even Cooper’s book on hand gunning a couple of others that were published in the 60s, and just looking at some of the illustrations and thinking to myself. My goodness the whole “stand up at the extreme angle, and hand on one hip, and fire with one hand” and all of that has changed so much. So, can you talk about that a little bit about that and what the impetus is in many cases for those changes?
Yeah, sure. First, if you go back to the 19th century, Rex Applegate found some small documentation of interviews about and writings by James Butler Hickok (“Wild Bill“ Hickok). Hickok had spoken of shooting only as fast as you could get by practicing daily. While he was seen by some as an advocate of point shooting, the man clearly shot with the gun at eye level. At one of his most famous gun fights he was using a supported hold. Witnesses barely knew whether he was holding his Navy Colt with two hands or whether he had brought his support elbow forward, like a forward elbow strike and had braced the gun on the elbow. But at 75 yards he fired one shot and struck his opponent, Dave Tutt, in the heart.
In the 1920s a Hollywood script writer named Stuart Lake found out Wyatt Earp was still alive and living up at the bay area. And while Earp had been notoriously reticent his whole life about the whole Tombstone saga, he caught him at just the right time, shortly before one of Earp’s old antagonists, Billy Breakenridge, had written a book about the Tombstone years called “Helldorado.” And he just excoriated Earp and his brothers as pimps, thieves and murderers. And here’s Earp approaching the end of his life and knowing it, absolutely seething. Along comes this script writer who catches him at just the right time and says “Hey, I’d like to tell your side of things.” The book came out after Earp’s death. The title was “Wyatt Earp Frontier Marshal.” It becomes pretty clear that Lake early on lost perspective as a biographer and basically became a star-struck fan and kind of started the whole cult of Wyatt Earp, the super hero.
But reading between the lines, I’d have to go back and check the book, but I want to say it’s chapter two, and Earp’s discussion of the mind of the gunfighter. He told Lake that with one exception, every man he ever shot he brought the gun to eye level (long gun or hand gun), carefully aligned the fore sight with the back sight (nowadays what they call front and rear sights) and had to be careful to squeeze and not jerk the trigger. He takes a couple of long sentences, maybe a paragraph to say… take your time quick. Earp, if you put it all together, may have killed as many as 10 men in some hairy gun fights, and never ever lost a drop of blood to a bullet himself. If you look back historically Earp denied it, but there’s strong evidence to believe that wore a concealed steel vest that probably saved his life once or twice over. He always made it a point of carrying two guns. On horseback or in a horse and buggy he’d have a carbine and a shotgun. Basically, he was living what we teach our cops today in the year 2016. As you go back he shot in the informal pistol matches in cow towns like Dodge City and there’s indications that he apparently shot informal matches when he was in Tombstone.
He had been a buffalo hunter and used a shotgun with slugs instead of the usual Sharps rifle, and simply managed to crawl up close enough to the buffalo herd to kill with it a lead ball out of a shotgun.
Then we get into the… well I want to say the 20s and the 30s… Jelly Bryce may well have been the greatest gunfighter of the time – certainly on the Oklahoma side and the FBI side. He started his career in law enforcement when the local Chief of Police saw him win a pistol match. Frank Hamer, another one of the great gunfighters of the period, throughout his life put on exhibition shoots. Essentially, we’re talking the same thing – shooting under pressure – with 20 people watching you, maybe 100 people watching you to see if you could hit that thing you just threw up in the air when you’re shooting at it with your pistol. So, all these men had made shooting under stress was the norm, something they did regularly.
When you look at during the mid-20th century (60s, early 70s) the New York city stakeout squad, the top guns on that squad were Bill Allard and Jim Cirillo. Both were competitive shooters, both were avid gun hobbyists and hand loaders, both shot matches on the weekend whenever they could. Allard became national champion shooting for the National Guard in Bullseye, and Cirillo tied the national record shooting PPC.
Going into the 70s and the 80s, Kerry Hile, from some big Ohio city, kind of did it in the opposite direction – he was a PPC shooter, won the national championship multiple times, and the legend goes the new chief comes in, gets briefs on all his people, calls Hile into his office and says, “If you’re the best shot on the whole police force, how about helping out on the SWAT team?” And Hile said “nobody ever asked me.” The chief said “well, hell I’m asking you … I think we should have the national champion on the SWAT team.” The next thing you know Hile’s on the SWAT team. At that time the auto pistol had not taken over, the service revolver was pretty much standard. The guys on the SWAT team all had their own 38 Supers. As the story goes, Hile said, “If you don’t mind I learned my shooting with a revolver and I’d really rather use it.” The guys were teasing him saying… “mister target shooter, old fashioned.” And the time would come when the SWAT team was in plain clothes doing a stakeout, the bad guy shows up and started shooting. The version of the story I was told there was plenty of .38 Super brass on the street but nobody hit the bad guy until Hile, about 30 or 40 yards away pulls his trigger four times, shoots the guy four times in the center of the chest and the bad guy falls dead. You see that often enough – everybody says correlation is not causation. I’ll buy that, but correlation is a damn good clue. This is just something I’ve seen again and again. The guys who really invest in shooting under pressure, when the shooter is for real, pressure has become the norm, and they perform in stellar fashion.
Q: So, I think it’s safe to say that you think the up sides out-weigh the down sides to whatever complaints folks may have about the so-called impracticality of competition shooting.
Well, there are certain things that are not practical, yet you’d think by now the bad guys might have figured out if they all carried a whistle, and when the shit hits the fan blew their whistle and screamed cease fire all the time we’d be reflexively emptying our guns, but so far that hasn’t happened yet (more laughter). One thing that used to drive me nuts after I got out of IPSC shooting in 1980 or so, I was in the Middle West and I shot in a stage they called the Sidewinder, where you have to step out from behind cover into the open to engage multiple targets. Now, forgive my language but I was thinking “WTF! That’s it… I’m so out of this shit!” (even more laughter) Eventually I did get back into it because I figured, you know what, if I’m stupid enough that I can’t tell the difference that people are shooting at me and I’m going to step outside of my cover to engage them, I’m probably too damned stupid to be carrying a gun to begin with. So, if you think you’re not smart enough to tell the difference, maybe you shouldn’t shoot competition, and maybe you should reconsider whether you should carry a gun at all. But other than that, it’s a piece of the puzzle – no one thing is the whole thing you know. Go to my school and you’ll be a deadly gunfighter in 10 easy lessons… that’s bullshit.
But the competition side is a piece of the puzzle, force on force has been a huge piece of the puzzle so long as it’s done right and the integration of combatives training. Back to the 70s. I wrote in Law & Order magazine that you’ve got this young kid in the academy, by the time he reaches his field training officer the firearms guy has told him to do one thing against a guy with a knife, and the hand combat instructor has told him to do something else against him (shit, it’s only a knife… only a pussy needs a gun against a knife), and the PR24 baton trainer says oh no, no here’s my magic PR24 baton technique. I thought, oh my God, we’ve got to integrate this. It’s force. It’s going to go up and down the scale in micro-seconds and the kid’s got to flow with it. We now see integrated levels of force much more than we used to, but the transition is still not complete. That’s why I love seeing the emphasis on integrated combatives that we see for example in Tom’s Tactical Conference seminars. So, we’ve made great strides on that. There was absolutely nobody doing that in the 50s, 60s and early 70s.
Q: Are you confident at this point that over the past 30 or 40 years both in the competition scene and in the private training scene that the changes that have been made – the introduction of force on force, the introduction of combatives, changes in techniques, those sorts of things – are you confident that those changes are well founded or based in data? Like you said you used to make your own personal decisions.
I think a lot of them are. I think certainly as we look at some of the stuff from the competition side for example. When I started there were some PPC matches when we weren’t allowed to use speed loaders, because those were seen as gamers’ gimmicks. And time went on before the revolver got bypassed entirely by the sea change to the auto, the speed loader was virtually standard issue by the departments that still had revolvers on the street. I wrote a book back in 1988, “The Semi-Automatic Pistol in Police Service”, when it was still “Oh, my God, we can’t give up our trusted friend the service revolver,” and “If you can’t do it with six you can’t do it at all.”
Some of the stuff I have seen is the guys being taught when your pistol is at slide lock, you point it to the sky to reload, because that will let your eye guide the magazine into the butt 1/10 of a second faster. Two huge problems with that: 1) adjusting your training to the safety side. You’ve spent enough time on the range to see guys who leave their finger in the trigger guard during a sustained fire speed relay. All you’ve gotta do is combine those two things – is the slide slams forward, the gun pulls slightly forward, the trigger literally hits the finger, and the shot goes skyward. Maybe it just lands in a local subdivision and shuts down the police range; or maybe like 10 years ago in Ohio it lands a mile away, strikes someone in the head, and kills a 15-year-old girl. That one was not a semi-auto reload, but you know what I’m talking about. And 2) the other huge tactical problem with that is when you bring the pistol to that position you are showing your opponent… my pistol is empty.
What I do on the range, I tell folks okay, I raise my hand and I just stop and I say… “this is the international hand signal for what?” Everybody says… “Stop!” I say okay, and I take the empty pistol at slide lock, turn it sideways towards them, muzzle up and say “and this is the international signal for what?… My gun’s empty, you got two seconds to murder me. Get your free shot!” What the fuck are we doing that for? A tenth of a second less you simply keep the muzzle on target, flex the arm in, turn the butt 45 degrees, slap the mag in, close the slide and go. By the time the other guy figures out you were empty it’s past tense because you have already reloaded. So, I see little things like that. But by and large we are leaps and bounds beyond where we were 40 years ago.
Q: Well, you’ve mentioned a couple of names so far and I’m going to stick to that for a moment. Tell me some the folks who have had the greatest influence on you, as you were coming up both as a student and as a trainer and, also, if you know, maybe going back another generation, some of the folks who were the biggest influences on them.
Well, first I look at people whose work I read growing up and people I knew and trained with personally. In reading, Charlie Askins. I got to know him later, and while some of his shootings might have resulted in an indictment today, he was a pioneer and a man you’d want on your side of the fight. And certainly Jeff Cooper. I don’t think there’s any question without Cooper it would have been a long, long time before anybody figured out hey, you know what, we’ve got a whole lot of better hit potential with two hands and aiming, than we can doing this shoot-from-below-line-of-sight shit, one-handed. A lot of people disrespect Cooper today; a lot of people teach his core rules of safety without giving him attribution; but I think Cooper made tremendous strides.
One of Cooper’s contemporaries, Ray Chapman, who I personally learned more from than anyone else, was one of the guys who Jeff dedicated Cooper on handguns to, the first world champion of practical pistol. And Ray, who was an engineer throughout most of his career, applied an engineer’s approach to it. And that’s something that I think we’re still doing and I think a whole lot of people don’t realize…you know this guy was doing it before we were, and he kind of set the tone for it. Certainly John Farnam… in the 70s John was the first of us to become what he calls an itinerant instructor. And for all the people that couldn’t save up the money for the trip to Gunsite, he used to say instead of the 24 of you to paying the travel money to come to us, how about one of us pays the travel money and comes to you. And that has been huge in the training industry. It’s simply gotten the knowledge flowing into the capillaries as well as the main arteries. And we really owe that to Farnam. He was the first of the traveling instructors.
Well, in my day in the late 1970s, Frank McGee. He was the guy who in 1970 when he took over the firearms training unit at NYPD, turned it from firearms training unit to firearms and tactics unit. He went from the one-handed bullshit to two-handed isosceles for virtually everything – don’t point shoot, aim the goddamned gun, use cover. If you went out to the range on Rodman’s Neck you’d be shooting from telephone poles, mailboxes, fire hydrants, all of that. He literally took that department from a 50/50 win/loss rate to an above 11 –to-1 win/loss rate. Here’s a guy who told me don’t focus on the gun, you focus on the officer and what they’re doing with it. You may know that we need better ammunition and better guns than we have but know what battles you can win, and what hills you can climb. He said “Look, I get it when you talk to me about 45 automatics, but if I recommended this department go to 45 automatics (what was then 28,000 police officers and now about 36,000) I’d be walking a foot patrol on Coney Island tomorrow and some guy from the bullseye days would be in here taking over firearms training . Well, pick the battles you can win and be a realist about it.” I kind of learned that the hard way with my own department, but it was absolutely true.
I think Jeff Chudwin – of the ITOA (Illinois Tactical Officers Association), competitive shooter, many times national champion of patrol rifle, Chief of Police for many years – a former prosecutor, his knowledge of liability case law is a role model for all of us and the man is a splendid teacher as well.
Bill Jordan (whom I knew in the early 70s), a phenomenal shooter, unbelievable ability to point shoot and stuff, he would shoot aspirin tablets from 10 feet from the hp. It was not a transmissible skill, but it was a joy to watch. While the techniques were not anything I wound up using, the mindset was – the absolute determination that before it happens you’re ready to do what you gotta do. If you ever met Bill Jordan the guy was a tower, 6 feet 7-1/2 inches tall, and his hands were so big he had to have his gloves custom made. They sent him into pill boxes to kill enemy soldiers in the Pacific in WWII. And when you think about it, there’s only one reason you’d pick a guy that big to go into structure made for people a foot and a half shorter than him, he’s the most efficient killer you have at your disposal.
Going around the country, I’d sit down with people like Dick Newell when he was over training for LAPD, and getting to meet Larry Mudgett and John Helms, guys like that at LAPD. Basically, all of them had a piece of the puzzle. All of them were inspirational. Without exception they used their sights, they used two-hand holds, they made it work and they showed other cops how to do it. I talked about this in the book but, I don’t think Bill Jordan was ever able to teach anybody else to hit aspirin tablets from the hip at 10 feet (God rest his soul), but Helms and Mudgett taught thousands of officers at LAPD to hit center with two-hand holds, watching their gun sights. Essentially certain things every generation seems to have to rediscover.
Some of the other guys, John Hearne, there was no early analog with John Hearne. Ultimately what he is doing was combining physio psychological aspects of learning with combatives, with shooting, with what the young professional has to do with gun in hand. John, I think is one of our brightest shining lights of the current generation.
Tom Givens, of course is another one with the pragmatic integrated approach, the let’s see what works, it’s not about theory people, this is applied science. This is life or death.
Q: You kind of touched on my next question with mentioning John Hearne, but I was curious who you think the torch should be passed to?… with respect to civilian, personal defense and, also in the law enforcement context.
Massad: Well John I think is one of the rising stars. He hasn’t reached nearly the exposure he should have. I wish the hell he’d write a book. Rory Miller certainly is another. Greg Morrison – his historical work, I’m not sure it’s been published in it’s entirety. But just hearing him talk about what he did find comparing the early training methods with later, is absolutely fascinating. He was for many years one of Jeff Cooper’s acolytes, and a criminal justice professor in, I want to say, Indiana. Rich Grassi I think is a very sound voice of reason, and I honestly don’t think has had as much exposure as he deserves. Chuck Haggard is another one who’s applied that sort of thing. Paul Sharp, Craig Douglas, Karl Rehn — we have a bright, strong regiment of handgun instructors.
Q: Well, that’s encouraging because the training community has had a rough couple of years I’d say. Wouldn’t you agree?
Oh, God. We lost Walt Rauch, we lost Todd, we lost Pat Rogers, we lost Louis Awerbuck
Q: You mentioned changes in techniques over the years. Can you think of any concrete examples of techniques that you yourself used to either use or teach that you have abandoned, and why?
The stuff I taught worked, so it wasn’t so much of abandoning this or that, as it was supplementing. I did very early on teach the double tap and very quickly got away from that. It’s simply not adaptive enough. The two to the body and one to the head I teach as an option, not doctrine. The head shot is extremely difficult to make on a facing man. And if you’re absolutely positive you can do that, why did you take the time to shoot him twice at the chest to begin with. (laughter) Shoot him in the goddamned head now and have fewer bullets lost in the interim. I still teach the pelvic shot as an option and a whole lot of people just reflexively discard it but as I look at the history it has worked extraordinarily well. That’s certainly not the primary defense against the guy with the gun because as I tell my students, look at things as of your opponent is a human tank, a mobile artillery piece. If you stop it in place you haven’t neutralized it, you turned it into a fixed artillery piece and you’re still in danger from it. But if the guy’s coming at you with a knife, or the guy’s coming at you with a club in a contact weapon situation, you can take out mobility faster with a hip shot then you can shut down circulation by putting a bullet through the fuel pump, and a whole lot more likely than you’re going to be able to short circuit the computer with a deep brain shot.
As far as shooting I didn’t go from Weaver to Isosceles but while I personally like isosceles as a default, I teach Weaver, Isosceles, and Chapman’s stance as sort of a middle ground between the two. Here’s why. You’ve got to take into account physical build, things of that nature. The classic Weaver is not my favorite stance, but if I’m moving, it’s what I want to use because that shock absorber effect of taut flexed limbs that controls the recoil is also to some degree reducing the skeletal bounce that you get each time your foot hits the ground. I’m sitting here right now in the front seat my car talking to you, and if a carjacker came up on my left side and I saw him in my rear-view mirror, being righthanded I’d have a choice. I could shoot him from Weaver and succeed, or I could try to get to my isosceles and die because you can’t do isosceles to 8 o’clock behind you. Classic Weaver you can go as far as 180 degrees behind you to your weak hand side. And some of us may not like Isosceles – you might be an old fart and Isosceles hurts your elbows. But, you know what? If that same carjacker as I’m sitting here comes up to my right, if I’m a Weaver shooter I can try to shoot up in weaver classically approved doctrine and die because I can’t get the gun around that far, or I could simply turn my shoulders and shoot him from my Isosceles and nail him direct at 3 o’clock to my right. So, each of these is a tool for the tool box. I don’t teach “keep it simple Stupid” cause it ain’t simple, you ain’t stupid, and basically the more tools you have the better you’re gonna be… the more techniques you’re going to know… the better practitioner and diagnostician you’re gonna be.
Q: What do you recall being some of the most egregious misapplications of technique? You know, something that you’ve seen or someone who was doing something so wrong it just made you pull your hair out? Or something that you’ve taught… maybe a student who you’ve seen misapply a technique that you’ve taught? And what were the consequences?
Well, there’s still a guy running around on the internet trying to get people to point their index finger to aim with and use their middle finger to pull the trigger.
Q: Oh, wow! (laughter)
I simply cannot look at that with a straight face. I know you’re on PF, Pistol Forum, right?
Well, I forget which section it’s under but there’s a guy who says “Hey, any advocates of P&S shooting?” And you hear the entire PF community rise up with… what’s this bullshit? (laughter). The guy’s name is John something.
Q: Wow! (laughter) I’m not sure I want to even see that!
Uh, down range drills I’m not a big fan of. I understand the rationale, but the risk to the student I think is simply too great. People tell me… “well, my students have been under fire because of the down range drills and are therefore seasoned.” And my answer is “No, they weren’t facing a man trying to kill them, you’re standing them before a man who is desperately trying NOT to shoot them. This is bullshit!” (laughter).
Q: You take advantage of any opportunity you get to interview folks, or you debrief folks that have been involved in shootings when you can. Is there any particular technique over the years that you’ve seen pay the most dividends or view the most successful?
Essentially the single thing I’d have to say is sighted fire. What I would see again and again, including people trained in modern times, was “I was firing as fast as I could, and something told me I’ve got to aim.” And very often it happens at the reload. In Indiana a state police SWAT guy said he’s seen the wake-up call so many times he has a name for the syndrome. He calls it “the re-set.” The shooting stops, the other guy is behind cover and there’s some proverbial lull in the action. The guy realizes “what the fuck am I doing wrong?… oh, wait a minute.” And the next thing you know the other guy is out, the officer uses the sights and hits. I have seen that so many times – the complete utter bullshit junk science of “you will not be able to see your front sight.” But history shows us otherwise. Logic shows us otherwise. That’s your classic example of junk science. Look at John Hearne’s work on it. John has probably debunked it much earlier than anyone else.
Q: I know that you also, especially in your work in the legal field, that you’ve become quite the student of semantics, linguistics I guess I could say, or word choice.
I actually call it combat semantics.
Q: And I remember reading your book about how things have changed over the years – like non-lethal, less lethal, less than lethal for example – and then you’ve also got some things like aiming which some folks prefer to talk about sight alignment, and then you’ve got your trigger squeeze vs. Tom says, trigger press. How important do you think that is? And I’m curious especially now that lately it’s been trendy to chastise folks for being overly concerned about word choice in language and political correctness, if you will. Do you think we overthink that sometimes? Or do you think the labels are really important?
I think the labels are important. Whenever I hear somebody say something like… “this shoot to stop stuff”…, “that came from the lawyers”…, “we’re aiming for the center of the chest, aren’t we?”…, “we real men we shoot to kill.” They don’t get it. That to me is one flag I’m dealing with a fantasy cowboy here. When we’re defending people in court – I’ve been doing this since 1979 – the other side is going to throw everything they can at them, and I’m talking to a lawyer here. You know better than most of the legal scholars do. Smart lawyers take more advantage of Webster’s dictionary of the English language than Black’s dictionary of legal terminology. If they can trick you into saying you shot to kill, the closing argument is going to be:
You’ve heard the defendant. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury), basically both sides have stipulated to you the defendant shot and killed this man, and you’re here to determine why he did it. They’re saying he was righteous. He even admitted his purpose was to kill, to end the victim’s life. That was his intent, and intent is what this hinges on.” And that’s why we want you able to say, “No sir, I shot to stop his extremely violent life-threatening actions.”
It makes all the difference, literally night and day, but you know that better than probably 99% of the people reading gun forums.
Q: Yeah. Well, the perspective from the appellate bench is often a lot different than the perspective from the trial courtroom, and I know that you spend as much time reading appellate opinions as you do hearing testimony. Have you noticed a change in trend from the appellate bench over the years? Are courts leaning one way or the other since Graham, and what affect do you think that should have on training, again both in the law enforcement context and the civilian context?
I’ve never yet heard any judge agree with the Police Executive Research Forum that Graham vs. Conner is too loose a standard. (laughter) You must be on top of their recommendations and all that? Oh, my God!
Q: Yeah. (laughter)
One thing they have that I did agree with and do agree with, and I’ve been preaching it through the years, is that we need to get ahead of the other side’s meme. The history of it was always that we are the keepers of the secrets in the community. We can’t talk about the case or about the trial. “We try our cases in the courtroom, not in the press.” And today at the time of the riots and all that, the other side is trying our case in the court of public opinion and we’re writing the defendants epitaph. It’s definitely time for that to change. We’re starting to see it in some places. I think we saw it wonderfully in Dallas with the chief’s defense of the use of the C4 on the cop killer.
Q: Uh huh. That was a phenomenal press conference, wasn’t it?
Aw, man…that guy’s my new idol.
Q: (laughter) He was great, he was great. And I think if we’re going to start leaning that way in the civilian context, I think it lends even more credence to what you were saying earlier about the importance of verbiage and semantics, because you just can’t unleash a bunch of CCW folks out there and say well alright we’re changing the standard, and you know, shut up until your lawyer gets your advice. And you know it might be to your benefit to talk without giving those folks guidance on how to talk.
Yeah, we need to catch up. We’re fighting World War III by World War II methods.
Q: Yeah. I’m not sure if you focused on word choice in particular with regard to the Zimmerman case, but I know you wrote prolifically about the Zimmerman case. And I remember some of the things that really came to his aid from a legal standpoint were exactly how he phrased things.
Yeah. And one thing I mention in all my classes on this is, early on in his first bail hearing – and you can see it all because it’s all on video, thanks to the Florida Sunshine Laws – he gets up on the witness stand and before he says anything he says, “I just want to tell the family I’m sorry.” (Treyvon Martin’s family). Well, this obviously is not a confession. This is a devoutly Catholic kid who detectives themselves said he was absolutely wrenched by finding out he had killed this young man. This occurred on a Friday if I recall correctly, and the next morning every newspaper I saw including the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal had the headline on it entitled “Killer Apologizes”, or something to that effect. Okay… killer admits wrongdoing… is how everybody in the world sees that.
I hate to use popular culture phrases, but the best defense is never having to say you’re sorry. If someone asks you how you feel about it, tell them it was the most terrible thing in my life. I feel profound sadness that this young man would throw his life away trying to murder someone who had never harmed him. My heart goes out to his family because I know what it’s like to lose people you love before it’s their time. But I can’t be sorry that I survived. If I hadn’t done what I did I’d be dead now. I hate having to play those stupid word games, but in the end when the other guy picks the game and throws the ball, whether he’s passing a football or batting a baseball, you gotta know where it’s coming and how to catch it. It may not be the game you wanted to play but it’s the ball you’ve got to intercept.
Q: Switching gears a little bit, you mentioned earlier several of the people who had influenced you. What books would you say folks who do what we do must have in their library?
Well, certainly Tom’s book, Fighting Smarter. On the legal side I’d recommend Mine and Andrew Branca’s. And Jim Fleming now has an excellent book out also called “Aftermath.” He’s a very seasoned criminal defense lawyer. I taught a CLE with him and the guy knows his stuff.
Going back to the old days, of course Cooper On Handguns was classic. If you can find a copy of Cooper’s very first book on the topic, Fighting Handguns, it kind of shows you what state of the art was in the mid-50s. Back in time, Askins’ work certainly, Ed McGivern’s book, J.H. Fitzgerald’s.
The new book out now on Frank Hamer which does not go back much into technique but does kind of show you what his tactics were. You can certainly learn a great deal from that. The title is “Texas Ranger” (subtitled the autobiography of Frank Hamer) and is by far the best of the Hamer biographies. It just came out this year and for the life of me I cannot remember the author’s name… forgive me.
Certainly, anything by Cooper.
In the 1960s, the work of Chic Gaylord and Paul Weston shows pretty much where it was at the time. The old Street Survival text has a lot of good tactical stuff, and much of the gun handling stuff. The subsequent books are “Tactical Edge” and “Tactics for High Risk Patrol.”
Let’s see, what else… Some of the other guys I wish had written books. I’d like to see John Helms, for example, write a book. Jimmy Siemone, who was in 14 gunfights, has a book coming out, actually I think it’s out by now, his biography. But very little on the shootings. If focuses much more on mindset of aggressive policing, what it was like the two times he got shot, what he and his family went through. It’s certainly useful reading.
Alexis Artwohl’s work with Loren Christensen is probably the best we have right now in print on understanding the physio-psycological aspects of violent encounters. Rory Miller, as I said. Stanton Samenow’s book on the criminal mind. Obviously, you can’t defeat criminals you don’t understand.
So many other people in our circle. When is William Aprill gonna write the definitive text? (laughter) When is Craig Douglas gonna do the encyclopedia on the ECQC? (laughter)
Q: I’ll be sure and tell him you said that. (more laughter)
We are in a golden time as far as the volume of training. There’s probably more bullshitters around than ever, but you don’t need that many IQ points to sort the wheat from the chaff.
Q: Well, it’s interesting, as soon as you finish with some of the more contemporary stuff you immediately went back to, I think what your phrase is – “the old days.” What would you say to guys who are coming up now who would, you know, balk at that and say what is point of me reading some book from the 60s by some old guy who’s dead, who used to shoot one hand with a revolver when that has nothing to do with my context and my technology?
I will tell him son, when you are alone in that freight yard that Bill Jordan talks about, it’s not going to matter what kind of gun and what kind of holster. It’s going to matter that you are alone against the unknown. And what that man who has faced that, and prevailed against it, can teach you about that is absolutely timeless.
Certainly Charles Askins, who is another. I knew Charlie as kind of a mentor, though not so much as Jordan or Chapman. And, a lot of the stuff he’s written, particularly his autobiography, “Unrepentant Sinner”, there is a lot you can pick up from that too. Essentially the mindset. In the old days it was like us against them, it’s like we’re the heroic Americans against the evil Axis, and it’s really not like that today, at the same time when it’s one on one and you facing it, only one of you is likely to walk away. It’s something you will have wanted to absorb. So, it’s not hard to put together a pretty good library of the been-there-done-that folks.
Q: Just one last question. We talked about adding combative and force on force – you just mentioned ECQC. What type of training would you like to see come to the fore in the future? In the next 20 years what would you like to see everybody focusing on?
The integration of use of force training is not yet complete. I would like to see more of that. Basically, it’s going to be about recognizing it all the time when it’s unpopular to say warrior and police in the same sentence. One prepares himself to say, “we’re not warriors, we’re guardians.” I need someone to explain to me how you can be a guardian without being a warrior? The sheep dog needs fangs . I was using the sheep dog analogy before Grossman. Who, by the way, Dave Grossman is another inspirational speaker. Some of us don’t agree with everything. But his stuff on the psychology of facing violence and the “why are you there as the protector with a gun?” is inspirational. We do have to touch on that. It’s not, oh, I don’t want an inspirational speaker. For Christ’s sake, I can get that on Sunday morning television. No, you can’t. When you’re training young people, and it amazes me now with so many people coming back from the war zone, that we’re still seeing so many new cops who have never got beyond junior college criminal justice associates degree, and never done anything more aggressive than playing Area 51 in the college rec room. These are the people who need to hear Grossman; who need to hear this is the responsibility that you have taken on; these are the powers and the skills you will need to fulfill those responsibilities. But it’s a very complicated puzzle and each of us only has one or two pieces at a time.
Doing what Tom does, doing what we do with the International Law Enforcement Educators & Trainers Association, bringing in a bunch of people who’ve each got pieces of the puzzle helps to nuance a whole lot; to put it together enough to see, if not the whole picture, to get a damned good idea of what they’re looking at and what needs to be dealt with.
Q: What do you think is the biggest threat to the training community right now?
Uh, right now, the politicians. It’s ironic that just before it takes a tank to breach the wall and rescue those remaining hostages in Orlando, our President had said no more military grade equipment for police. Effing what? Like it or not, it sounds pompous to say it, police are society’s gunfighters. The same politicians who are saying oh, no, you don’t need guns to protect yourself, the police will do it. Just call 9-1-1. Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association was absolutely right when he said, “you need a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun.” The snowflakes say no, you need to call 9-1-1. What’ll 9-1-1 do? Well, let’s see. They will send the good guy with a gun. (laughter) Are you listening to yourself speak? When you’re being surrounded by heavily armed Secret Service agents, are you listening to what’s coming out of your mouth here?
I think the general public needs to know a lot more about just how thin the thin blue line is. And in a world where people take responsibility for learning things like CPR, emergency trauma care and to be considered irresponsible if you don’t have a fire extinguisher in your car or in your home. Tell me how that is at all different from the pistol on my hip or the pistol in Tiffany Johnson’s belly band that’s there for the exact same purpose – emergency life-saving rescue tools for a first responder – when we’re waiting for your 11 … minute … response?
Q: 11 minutes is pretty good actually. (laughter) I would hope for that in Memphis! Well, knowing kind of where Tom’s going with this project, I think what he’s focused on is putting down some of the history that now just might be more oral history among the folks that have lived through the evolution of the training community. I think he wants to document that for some of these new folks coming up, and maybe talk about the rationale behind what changes have taken place in what we do. And so, with that in mind, is there anything else you’d like to add?
No, not really. One of the things that’s been kind of sad to see take hold going on for 20 or 30 years is the half-assed grasp of civil liability. Some of these police departments that used to say okay, I’m gonna give you a master’s badge, or we’ll give you an expert’s badge, depending on how you qualify, so you can wear it proudly on the front of your uniform before the public. That’s gone to nope, we’re going past that. We’re going to disregard the incentives for excellence. Okay, I get it…
Q: Yeah. Chuck Haggard talks a lot about that. A lot!
Yeah, Oh my God! And your stupid liability thing, I want to slap the lawyer that told you that upside the head! That’s going to last 30 seconds in cross examination:
Q: Mr. Instructor, bearing in mind you’re under oath, are you aware of why they went from rewarding superior performance to simply pass/fail?
A: Yes sir.
Q: For civil liability reasons?
A: Yes sir.
Q: So, there would be no record of the extremely poor or extremely good practitioner with life-saving tools?
A: Uh, I guess so.
Q: Okay thank you, Mr. Instructor. No further questions.
Q: (laughter) Exactly. How is that helping?
Very sad. He just got a stake in the heart. …
Q: Well, I sure do appreciate your time, Mas.
Oh, sure! It’s my pleasure. Sorry to take so much of your time, Tiff. Really looking forward to seeing the book….