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For the last five years, about a dozen or so Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) members have taken advanced tactical training at PFT (Practical Firearms Training) in  West Virginia. Our training has far exceeded that of the average police officer (with the exception of a SWAT team member). We’ve shot at moving targets, including targets coming quickly straight at us. We’ve shot laying on our side and our backs, single-handed (including racking the slide and clearing jams). We’ve shot from a retention position while our weak arm was above IN FRONT of the muzzle (our weak hand “spearing” across the bad guy’s upper chest). We’ve shot from inside a vehicle. We’ve used vehicles for cover. We’ve cleared a live-fire shoot house. We’ve shot at night. And now we’re taking it to the next level.

Recently, PFT owner Pat Goodale arranged some “force-on-force” training, where students shoot—and get shot by—paintball and AirSoft guns. The idea: nobody likes to get shot. By attacking and defending with guns that, at best, sting, and at worst, draw [surface] blood, a gun owner gets a more realistic education in how to survive and win a genuine gun fight.

We trained at a K-12 school building scheduled for demolition.  We went through five realistic shooting scenarios. This series will examine these sessions one a time, staring with scenario number one: a doctor’s waiting room.

The room had a sofa, some chairs, a table magazines, and a receptionist’s desk. Two students were armed with holstered and concealed paintball guns that looked like Glock 17s.  They wore a mask protecting their eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. The rest of the people in our  group were “unarmed observers;” we wore shooting glasses against a stray shot.

The scenario was repeated until each student had a chance to run the gun. The instructor changed the scenario each time, so no one could anticipate what was going to happen. The simulated events that unfolded might not even require a gun. Personal judgement was key.

Some scenarios left us with two choices – bad or worse.

In the scenario where I was one of the two armed good guys, a “patient” came into the waiting room acting agitated. He approached the receptionist and demanded to see the doctor NOW. The receptionist said that the other people in the waiting room were ahead of him and to please sit down. The patient started to get more agitated and belligerent, saying he  was “off his medicine.” I was watching him like a hawk.

About this time, Pat Goodale, playing an “old codger,” tells the patient in a loud and obnoxious voice, “Shut the [expletive deleted]  up! I’m on the phone.” I casually walk over to the old codger and in quiet voice ask him to please not agitate the patient as he seems to be unstable.

Finally, the patient takes a seat on the sofa and picks up a magazine. One of the unarmed students attempts to make small talk with him, to try to diffuse the tension. A minute or so later the patient gets agitated again and goes back up  to the receptionist. He demands again to see the doctor immediately.  When the receptionist says “no,” the patient shoves everything on the  receptionist’s desk onto the floor.

My eyes are now glued on the patient. I’m holding a  magazine in my left hand, thinking I might throw it in his face as a distraction—if things get dangerous. At this point, nothing the patient has done would justify any defensive actions on my part, much less brandishing or even unconcealing my handgun. Still, to say I was uncomfortable would be an  understatement.

The patient, now extremely agitated and belligerent, started pacing back and forth, very near me. In an instant, before I even knew what was happening, he said  something (I don’t know what it was now), pulled out a handgun and stuck it in my chest.

I remember it clearly. Time slowed way, way down as my brain began to realize my grave predicament. While I had a powerful sinking feeling in my stomach, I felt no panic. My focus dropped down to, and locked on, that gun over my heart. My hearing disappeared, as did everything else in the room. My vision  narrowed.

It was too late to get away now – I was stuck.  One squeeze of that trigger and it was over for me.

In my mind, I wondered if I could draw that Glock from under my concealing shirt and shoot him before he realized what happened and  could shoot back. I decided it would be too risky. If the gun snagged on the covering garment, the element of surprise would be gone forever. And so would I.

I asked myself if I could grab his gun and wrestle it away from him. That wouldn’t work; he was younger, taller and much stronger than me.

I decided that I only had one chance of survival with someone this dangerous and unpredictable.

In a sudden sweeping motion, I hit the inside forearm of his gun arm with the outside forearm of my left arm, causing his gun to be deflected off my chest and away from my body. At the same instant, I drew the Glock paintball gun from its concealed holster with my other hand and fired three shots into his chest from a retention position.

Realizing the shots were fatal, he dropped his gun and fell to the ground, never getting off a single shot. Even if he had fired his  gun, the shots wouldn’t have hit me, as I had deflected his gun.

As I stood there coming to grips with what had just happened—that I  had actually survived— I didn’t even notice that my left hand was  still clutching the magazine I had been reading – now in a death grip.

Afterwards I was told by several of the observers that I briefly had an “Oh, crap!” look on my face as that gun was put to my chest.  They said that an instant later I deflected his gun, drew and fired three  shots at an amazing speed.  What seemed like eternity to me, was only  a second or so in real time.

It is said that action beats reaction. It surely does. A lesson I learned twice-fold in this exercise:

* The patient drew his gun and put it in my chest before I realized what was happening, much less before I could draw my gun and shoot  him. Lucky for me he didn’t shoot me immediately, but hesitated.

* I deflected his gun and shot him so fast that he couldn’t react quickly enough to stop me. Had I hesitated in shooting him, my  hances of surviving would have dropped off precipitously.

Future installments:

Death walks into a convenience store

Danger on steroids – clearing a room

The longest minutes of your life: waiting for an armed invader to  enter your room

Stopping an active shooter in a school, NOW

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  1. Towards the end, "hances" should be "chances."

    Yours is a well-written article, but dismaying.

    First, because it confirms my sense that carrying a weapon isn't much use if the other guy gets close, draws first and doesn't hesitate.

    Second, because it is my nature to agonize over important decisions, and making a life-or-death decision in a heartbeat sounds very difficult. Advantage to the desperate, or psychopathic guy.

  2. Yes, it is hard to stop an assassination or execution, where the bad guy is going to draw deliberately and shoot at point blank range. However, the good news is that that is rarely what happens in the real world. In my case, the person said something shoved the gun in my chest and hesitated every so briefly. But that was long enough in my case.

    You can't be indecisive one the person is clearly out to kill someone. You must act and act quickly in such a case. In the second part (convenience store) I was pushing my own envelope by waiting almost too long to take on the bad guy who had ordered everyone to the floor.

    There is no doubt the bad guy has the advantage. Only he know when and how he is going to attack. You are always having to respond after the attack has begun. But, bad guys are usually poorly trained, if trained at all, and that should give you back a lot of that advantage.

    The bottom line is the only gun fight you are guaranteed to survive is the one you don't get into at all. But if you must get into one, you simply don't have very long to make up your mind about what action you are going to take and when you are going to take it. A quick response can catch the bad guy off guard as much as his initial attack caught you off guard.

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