Self-Defense Tip: Three Ways to Avoid Firing Line Hypnosis

I reckon most people who go to gun ranges on a regular basis suffer from borderline OCD. Every time they practice, the use the same lane, same guns, same drills, etc. Routine keeps them safe. It lets them “rate” their performance over time, which gives them a sense of confidence (and/or a constant challenge). It’s all very . . . relaxing. But the resulting “line” or “assembly line” hypnosis is extremely dangerous. If you slip into a spontaneous trance state and repeat a physical or mental action thousands of times, you program yourself to perform the same actions unconsciously when faced with the same “trigger.” A lot of gun gurus consider that a good thing, not a bad thing. Muscle memory and all that. I disagree . . .

For example, if you always empty your gun when target shooting, chances are that’s what you’ll do in a self-defense situation. Even if it’s strategic suicide. If you grab your empty magazine with your left hand in training—instead of letting it drop to the ground—that’s what you’ll do in a gunfight. Which makes your support hand an instant liability. If you pull in your gun immediately after a string, engaging a second target will be a much slower process.

The much vaunted concept of “muscle memory” (i.e. subconscious responses) can program you to make a stupid mistake that could leave you and your loved ones in the morgue. ‘Cause you have no friggin’ idea what’s going to happen in an armed self-defense situation. The event will be fluid. Dynamic.. Violent. Volatile. Unpredictable.

As the rabbi says, a gunfight is a fight with a gun. You could be on your ass. Your right arm could be out of commission. You could be bleeding profusely. Or hidden. You might need to run forwards. Or peddle backwards. You may be facing multiple attackers. You could be in a store, on the street or sleeping in bed.

So what exactly are you training for when you head to the range? Exactly nothing. Generally, you should be training to be able to respond to a wide variety of possible scenarios with as-accurate-as-possible lethal force. In other words, you need to be able to think in a gunfight. Strategy eats gun handling and marksmanship for lunch.

Here are three tips for avoiding “firing line hypnosis,” to increase the effectiveness of armed self-defense training.

[Note: safety first. Do not practice against the clock or compete on the basis of time. If you practice self-defense shooting at a range where you can't do these drills, you need a new gun range.]

 1. Shoot consciously – vary your strings and target

It’s easy to slip into a trance state at the range. Load magazine, insert magazine, pull back slide (or click chamber into place), empty gun, examine target; wash, rinse repeat. Don’t do it. Make sure that you are aware of every bullet you fire. That every round is fired with conscious intent, aimed at a specific target.

Shoot variable strings. Sometimes fire one shot. Sometimes two. Sometimes—and this is crucial—none. There is no way to know how many rounds you’ll need to fire to stop an imminent, life-threatening attack. But you want to try to use only as many bullets as you need—morally, ethically, legally and practically.

Also make sure you vary the pace of your shooting. In the exercise above, I planned out my rhythm: a single shot followed by a double tap (a.k.a., closely paired groupings), another single shot, and then three more double taps. In other cases, I’ll decide as I’m shooting (varying my variations).

Don’t forget to slip in a random snap cap or two or . . . not. The trick: keep your head in the game by varying the firing sequence, pace and target (including distance) enough so that you have to concentrate on what you’re doing.

2. Vary your technique

Practice shooting from your “best” stance and from various awkward positions: leaning backwards, gun close to your body, shooting from the hip (where allowed), kneeling, sitting down, lying down, etc. Obviously, safety first. But know this: the chances that you’ll be able to engage a lethal threat from a perfect stance in a real world encounter are minimal.

By the same token, practice with both hands, single-handed. Then incorporate the “shoot consciously” variables. Imagine a self-defense scenario and devise a shooting position and sequence to suit. Mix it up. If you practice re-loading, add that in at irregular intervals. Don’t always load full magazines.

3. Buddy Up 

The buddy system is the best way to keep it real. As randomness is key, let your BSB (Best Shooting Buddy) choose a drill. And how the drill progresses. For example, your BSB could put up multiple targets and call out which target to shoot and how many shots to fire (including “don’t shoot”). Such as “two shots number three; no shots number two,” etc.

I’m not recommending the usual pseudo-military/police training I see at some ranges, where someone calls out a series of rote exercises and they’re judged on speed and accuracy. Again, you have to try to maintain the element of surprise by changing it up (safely). You can add physical and mental exercises as well. Some may consider shouting out math problems a dangerous distraction but I couldn’t possibly comment.

At the end of the day, nothing you can do at a gun range is as important for your armed self-defense as force-on-force training. But with a little common sense and creativity, at least you can practice at the gun range in a way that doesn’t lull you into a false sense of security and give you bad habits that can get you killed.