Tag Archives: commentary

TTPs: The Scan and Assess

One of the most oft-derided things to come out of tactical training is the scan and assess. It’s also a great illustrator of why watching a bunch of tactical videos on youtube is a bad idea. Taken out of context, both good and bad ideas all seem stupid. Or brilliant. Or both. With proper context and explanation, one can determine if something is actually good or if it’s dumb. And let’s face it, the scan and assess is really easy to mock.

But let’s talk about it, because it’s got a lot of value if done correctly.

Everyone says they ought to have Situational Awareness (TM). And, everyone claims to have great Situational Awareness. Like driving, most people suck at situational awareness. It’s not something you can quickly switch on, or something that’s easy to teach. It’s the kind of thing that you have to practice, usually with drills.

When you’re shooting, you get focused on the target (and your front sight). That’s what you’re oriented on. And it’s really easy, especially under some stress or when the goal is speed to focus on the drill too much. Maybe run things by rote. Supposing we’re thinking about training for something defensive, this tunnel vision will get a bit counterproductive.

The idea of the scan is to look around and break out of the tunnel vision. Notice I said look. Not shake your head around with a neck spasm. Look. See things. That bad guy you shot. Is he out of the fight? Does he need more shooting? What about around you? Does he have some friends? What about you? Are you hit? Does your gun need some ammo management?

It’s really easy to cheat the scan, flip the head around a few times, call it good, and then get back to growing that tactical beard. You’re missing the point. Like reholstering, there’s no prizes for doing this fast.

It’s a lot more fun to do this with a friend. Have a friend stand behind you. Maybe have that friend hold up some fingers. Or hold them out at his sides. And then check if you actually saw those fingers. Do you know how many he held up? Did he have something in his hands? Was it car keys? Are you looking?

Looking around slowly and breathing is a great way to start to bring those stress levels down. If you’re training hard, you’ll sometimes need a breather. Make it work for you.

Is there anyone in the parking lot? Maybe your buddy’s coming to test his new blaster. Maybe some sketchy guy is looking to score a free gun. Are you looking?

In addition to your surroundings, you might need some minding. You might have been hit and not know it. Your weapon has less ammo than when you started. Maybe you should see to that. Especially in classes, or if you’re working timed drills, executing the drill as written is important. If the drill doesn’t require a reload, and you haven’t been doing it with a reload, then a reload is going to throw off your times.

Someone is going to be along to quote the importance of a reload to me. Fine. Nevermind that actual CCW permitholder gunfights and the vast majority of Officer Involved Shootings don’t involve a reload. You’re going to have to reload, so you should learn to do it right. And there are plenty of drills that call for a reload, just so you can practice it. But if you’re doing some Mozambique drills, and you’re looking at by the book par times, those don’t count a reload. So keep your gun prepped. It’s a good thing to do in class too, if you’re not drilling reloads, for the same reason. Keeping that gun topped off lets you execute the drills as instructed. Are you looking?

What Is Acceptable Handgun “Stopping Power”?

Well now isn’t that a loaded term. “Stopping power.” Right now, I’ve got my Glockblaster on my hip, loaded with 16 rounds of Speer 124 grain +P Gold Dot rounds. These are commonly held to be ‘good’ handgun rounds. Let’s look at why, and what we mean by ‘good’.

First, let’s get some things out of the way. Handguns are terrible at stopping people. All of them. Long guns are way better, but I can’t concealed carry an M4 around all day, and I’m not guarded by a battalion of Marines. Pistols are concealable, and we have to deal with that. I’m using the colloquialism “Stopping Power” because it’s convenient and fun to say.

Second, no, I do not want to get shot by any of the rounds discussed here. Or any others. Getting shot sucks. Lots of people will say “I wouldn’t want to get shot with…” about all kinds of rounds. And that’s true. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to get shot by a rubber bullet or a paintball gun either. That shit hurts. And yeah, the rubber bullet has a chance of killing you if it hits you wrong.

But all of this is missing the point. Yes, some people will stop whatever they’re doing when they’re shot. With anything. Yes, some encounters between concealed carriers and would-be criminals are ended without a shot fired. Would you just carry a convincing fake gun, and figure most problems will be solved with brandishing?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Third, stopping power is not kinetic energy. Don’t let idiots try to convince you otherwise, regardless of what unrelated degrees they have. As an example, consider a 230 lb lineman, sprinting at 25.5 feet per second. That works out to 2,020 ft-lbs of energy. Now, consider a 7.62 mm, 190 grain bullet fired from a Remington 700, moving at 2,200 feet per second. That’s also 2,020 ft-lbs of energy. One of these is a lot more likely to kill an elk (or a man) than the other. Can you spot which?

If you said the bullet, you’re right. Energy is merely the capability to do work. We’ll need energy so that the bullet can function as designed, but energy alone is not the answer.

For a stop to work here in the real world, we need to get the brain to shut up and stop working. There are a few ways to do this. Obviously, we could hit the brain and ruin it. We could hit the central nervous system, i.e. the spinal cord, and that would get the brain to be unable to send instructions to the body. Or, we could disrupt blood flow enough for the brain to be unable to function. This is nominally done with blood loss, which comes from tissue damage.

When a bullet strikes living tissue (or a similarish medium like calibrated ballistics gel), we get two kinds of damage: the temporary wound cavity (this is the big thing that blossoms dramatically in the high-speed video) and the permanent wound cavity. For handguns, the temporary wound cavity doesn’t matter, because there’s not enough energy in the handgun bullet for the tissue disrupted by the temporary cavity to matter, so only the permanent cavity matters.

Note also that this is why long guns are so much better at terminal ballistics. In general, long gun bullets have enough energy for that temporary cavity to actually damage tissues enough to matter. The temporary cavity is much bigger than the permanent one, so this means more blood loss.

So if only the permanent cavity matters, how can we measure that, and what is ‘good’? Let’s look at a case study. On April 11, 1986 the FBI engaged in a shootout in Miami with two felons, Platt and Matix. Platt was an ex-Ranger who had served in Vietnam. He was a hardcore guy with a lot of will to win. Two FBI agents would lose their lives in that gunfight: Ben Grogan and Jerry Dove. Five other agents were wounded. Both Matix and Platt also perished.

The shot that would eventually kill Platt was fired by Jerry Dove. It hit Platt in the upper right arm as he attempted to climb from his car, and penetrated the chest. This shot collapsed his right lung, damaged the blood vessels of the right lung causing the chest cavity to start filling with blood, but stopped an inch from his heart. Despite this wound, Platt was able to keep fighting and moving, and was able to subsequently kill agents Dove and Grogan after advancing on their position. During the course of the battle, Platt was wounded 11 other times before succumbing.

Let’s look at that shot by Dove, scored relatively early in the fight. Dove’s gun was the FBI SWAT issue gun, a Smith & Wesson 459 9 mm semiautomatic. The FBI 9 mm duty round of the time was Winchester Silvertip, 115 grain. At the time, a big concern was overpenetration–that a round would go through a criminal and hit a kindergartener playing somewhere behind him. So, the Silvertip was designed for good expansion and limited penetration. It worked as intended, though not as Dove would have desired.

So the FBI did a number of things to try to fix the problem. One of them was to try to come up with a repeatable way to test bullets. Let’s get scientific. So they worked up a test protocol involving calibrated ballistics gel1, and a number of initial barriers, including four layers of denim and auto glass. They wanted to simulate different things in the human body, like bones, not just muscle, and also simulate clothing or cars that agents might have to shoot through. The minimum acceptable amount of penetration, even with barriers, was set at 12″.

Why 12″? Shades of Platt. You don’t know that the criminal will obligingly square up with you, arms at his sides, like a B27 silhouette target. Maybe he’s moving. Maybe he’s turned. Maybe his arms are up, with a gun of his own, and maybe your bullet has to go through those. Remember, there are very few areas that will actually make a person stop if he doesn’t want to.

Ok. So the FBI, with it’s big juicy federal budget, developed a test protocol. And we now have plenty of rounds developed that will pass this protocol. Clearly, I won’t even consider a round that the FBI hasn’t tested and given a passing grade to.2 I also look for the round to be issued to some police departments, preferably large ones, and I want no complaints from its terminal performance on the street.

Offhand, three rounds come to mind as having passed the FBI protocols, being in common use amongst police departments, and having a good record in street fights: Winchester Ranger-T, Speer Gold Dot, and Federal HST. Since I mentioned the Gold Dots in my pistol before, I’ll talk a little more about them here. The 9 mm 124 grain +P load is used by a whole bunch of large police departments, including the NYPD and Las Vegas Metro PD. Both departments have used it in plenty of Officer Involved Shootings, and it has performed very well. And it passed the FBI testing. I can’t really ask for anything else from a round. I also mentioned the others, because sometimes I can only get one of the three, and that’s ok. I currently have a bunch of Gold Dots, but I’d also be happy with 9mm HST or 9mm Ranger-T.

I don’t really deal with other chamberings for defensive ammo. I don’t see the point. I see no reason to deviate from orthodoxy on the matter. There’s lots of snake oil out there marketed to concealed carriers because it’s rare that we’ll be able to prove them wrong.

If you’re looking for other brands of good defensive ammo, look up the work of Dr. Gary K. Roberts, who has done a lot of ballistics testing. He’s got a list of good ammo that has passed the FBI test protocols.


  1. It is paramount that the gel tested is properly calibrated, or else the test is not relevant. Lots of internet bullshitters shoot at “gel”. To the best I have been able to determine, only Shootingthebull410 shoots actual calibrated ballistics gel, i.e. only he conducts tests properly. 
  2. I tend to carry guns with plenty of barrel length. As does the FBI. They issue Glock 19s and 17s in 9mm. If you carry a gun with a barrel length of 4 inches or more, you’re fine with reading the FBI test protocol results and calling it good. If you carry something with a very short barrel, like one of those new “Pocket 9mm” subcompact single-stack guns, check the performance of your round from that sort of short barrel length. Again, Shootingthebull410 is a good source for short barrel tests. Rounds that do well from longer barrels often don’t work as well from short barrels. 

A Fishy Race Gun Shootout: Beretta 96A1 vs. CZ P-09

In previous posts, we’ve looked at two options for USPSA Limited competition: the Beretta 96, and the CZ P-09. Now it’s time to decide which one I’m going to build in the 2017-2018 offseason. Two guns enter. One gun leaves.

Likely trigger characteristics

Beretta 96
I know that the 92-pattern pistols have acceptable triggers as far as creep goes, and thanks to the Wilson Combat trigger bar and lightened hammer, the 96 can handle a tremendous reduction in hammer spring weight. The double-action pull is long and takes a lot of reaching, but the single-action pull is just fine.

CZ P-09
At present, I haven’t handled a P-09 specifically. I have dry-fired a CZ 75, and my impression about that was that CZ’s factory triggers are much lighter than Beretta’s, if perhaps a bit lower-quality. The action tuning I have planned for the P-09 ought to take care of that, and I expect the end result to be extremely light.

The Victor: CZ. Obviously, having not built either of these guns yet, I can’t say this for sure, but I expect the improvements to be similar, and the CZ starts from a better position.

Likely shooting characteristics

Beretta 96
The Beretta is the heavier gun out of the box, and that weight is better distributed both forward and backward and up and down, especially when taking into consideration newly-added steel parts. The 92-pattern pistols point and present very naturally for me, and given the massive amount of material already missing from their slides, are known to have a low flippiness factor.

CZ P-09
The P-09 is not dramatically lighter, only three ounces. Even though the proposed magazine well is aluminum instead of steel, it ought to suffice to level the playing field. That weight is also less evenly distributed, given the construction; like most polymer-framed pistols, it’ll be top-heavy compared to the Beretta when empty. CZs are known for their low bore axes, and that should help keep muzzle flip down.

The Victor: Toss-up. Both seem similar.

Magazines and magazine wells

Beretta 96
Here, the Beretta gives up some ground. Given the two-round improvement from the MecGar extension (which makes total magazine height about 130mm instead of the USPSA Limited-regulated 140mm), I suspect that the 17 rounds is perfectly plausible, given the MecGar spring and follower plus a custom-made 140mm extension. It may even be possible to get as far as 19, with a custom, flat-wire spring and a reduced follower. Only giving up two rounds of capacity against a tricked-out 20111 is nice, but it would take a lot of work, of which none has, at present, been done. The magazine well situation is also pretty bad. Beveling is about the best you can do, and that doesn’t get you much of a funnel, and in fact reduces your weight.

CZ P-09
The parts may be expensive, but the P-09 has options for large-capacity competition magazines and magazine wells. 21 rounds of .40 S&W in a 140mm magazine is entirely competitive with widebody 1911s. It might be nice to have a steel magazine well option in terms of weight, but the aluminum funnel is perfectly functional and large enough to make a difference in ease of magazine insertion.

The Victor: CZ.

Parts availability

It isn’t even close here, so I won’t bother with headers for each pistol. CZ Custom makes just about everything you might want, including a whole bevy of improved action parts, and Cajun Gun Works goes further still. The only aftermarket parts maker for Beretta guns is Wilson Combat, with the occasional spring from Wolff, and neither has anything like the same variety you can get for the P-09. Given CZ’s popularity on the competitive circuit, it seems likeliest to me that the situation will only tilt further in the P-09’s favor in the future.

The Victor: CZ.

Tinkering potential

Beretta 96
The tinkering potential for the Beretta excites me. Since so little can be found from the factory, I’d get to experiment with actual gunsmithery. At a minimum, I’d eventually want to design a custom 140mm floor plate for the magazine, along with a smaller follower. I’d also want to find a flat-wire spring (for minimum compressed height) to push capacity as far as I can. There would be fun 3D printing of prototypes and, eventually, 3D-printing-as-a-service of metal parts. I could do, for instance, a proper magazine funnel, too. If I wanted to move up to Open, I would have to work up an even bigger magazine extension to fit the 170mm limit.

CZ P-09
Tinkering on the CZ is more about buying and installing parts, and tuning what’s already on the gun. There’s less call for building things from scratch, because most of it already exists. I would still have to build 170mm magazines to play in Open effectively.

The Victor: Beretta.

Ergonomics

Beretta 96
I’ve extolled the Beretta’s pointability and presentation before, but the magazine release is a bit of a reach for me.

CZ P-09
Having not handled a P-09, I can’t say if I’d like it or not. The controls are different than my Production gun (an M9), so I have to ding it for that.

The Victor: Toss-up.

Suitability for Limited

Beretta 96
After the modifications discussed in the article, poor to average. The magazine capacity deficit means I would have to reload one or two times more than a 2011 shooter in your average USPSA stage, at a penalty of 2-3 seconds per reload. That will materially affect my performance in the long run. Also, even with a decocker conversion, I have to take the first shot as a double-action shot, which requires practicing a second trigger pull.

After developing better 140mm magazines, average to good.

CZ P-09
After the modifications discussed in the article, great. The magazine capacity is competitive with the guns at the highest end of the field. The trigger ought to be at least comparable, though it will still give something up to a tuned 1911 trigger. With the safety installed, the P-09 can be carried cocked and locked, removing the requirement for a double-action pull2.

The Victor: CZ.

Suitability for Ghetto Open

It’s difficult to separate the guns for Ghetto Open. In that division, I’m not aiming to compete quite as much; .40 S&W is often seen as a compromise when .38 Super and 9mm Major are on the table, for reasons of magazine capacity. For both guns, I’d have to mount an optic to the accessory rail on a cantilever mount. There are good solutions for that problem, though John might disagree, but it’s less ideal than mounting directly to the frame. For both guns, I’d have to work up a 170mm magazine. With the CZ, I can just stretch the 140mm extension. For the Beretta, the same applies; I’d just have to build my own 140mm extension first.

The Victor: Toss-up.

Intangibles

Beretta 96
As I said in its article, it’s cool, and it’s pretty. It has vintage cred, and is likely to attract more attention on the range, simply because it’s a well-known gun but not an ordinary competition one.

CZ P-09
It’s still a hipster competition gun—a hammer-fired, polymer-framed CZ pistol which is not a 75 or derivative. It’s doesn’t have the cachet of a Beretta, nor is it half as pretty.

It’s also $300 cheaper. In fact, if you ignore the magazines3, the CZ race gun with all the trimmings comes in under $1000—a pretty tremendous price point by any standard.

The Victor: Beretta. The CZ just doesn’t have the cool factor.

Conclusions

On the scorecard we have a CZ victory, 4-2-3. This puts me in an interesting spot. Truth be told, before I did this comparison, I wanted to build the Beretta. As parvusimperator said when we were working up this article series, “It speaks to you more.” And it does. I do very much want to return to the Beretta race gun someday.

The end of the previous paragraph gives away the game, though. My goal shooting USPSA is not merely to improve my own shooting. I want to improve my shooting relative to the rest of the USPSA—I want to be competitive. The Beretta could get me there, but especially in reloading, it’s a handicap the CZ isn’t. It’s also, as I mentioned, much cheaper, to the point where I could buy a case of .40 S&W and a proper aft-cant drop competition holster for the CZ before I even get to the Beretta’s price.

So that’s where I find myself. This winter, I’ll be building a CZ P-09 race gun. Maybe in a few years, I’ll put together a Beretta 96 Limited 10 blaster, and work on some of the other tinkering at the same time. Until then, though, the Production-class M9 will have to do for my competitive Beretta shooting. I could maybe justify building the Limited 96 if it were a little more expensive and just as effective. Unfortunately, it’s a lot more expensive, and I’m forced to admit it’s also not as good. The P-09 wins the day.


  1. The largest-capacity 2011 140mm magazines I’ve seen are 21 rounds. 
  2. I’ve heard good things about tuned CZ double action, though. It may be the case that I can get away with the decocker instead, which reduces the number of things to do on the way from the holster to the target. 
  3. Humor me. 

Glockblaster Shooting AAR

I’ve spent more time with my Glockblaster since I last wrote about it. Since then, I’ve taken it to class, taken it to a two-gun match, taken it to a USPSA match, shot it a bunch on the range, and carried it frequently.

So let’s review, Q&A Style.

Is the red dot an improvement over iron sights?
Yes. The red dot is amazing. It does require practice, especially on the presentation, but it is a superior sighting system. It makes moving targets and long-range targets easy.

Does the compensator function as advertised, or is it just a barrel weight?
Yep! The compensator does its job. If dry and run with underpowered ammo, the gun may jam. The compensator definitely works to compensate using gasses. Note that a bigger compensator would be more effective, but then it would be harder to conceal and we’d have to mess with recoil spring weights. I’m running a stock recoil spring assembly, and the pistol functions well.

Is this gun as good as a 2011 in USPSA Open?
No. It comes close, but we can definitely get more performance out of the system. It’s not uncompetitive in Open, but it’s definitely suboptimal compared to a tuned 2011. It’s also a lot cheaper than a tuned 2011. And, requires a lot less tuning. Tuned 2011 mags are $130+, Glock mags are $20. At this point though, the limiting factor is definitely the knuckle-dragger behind the trigger. Yeah, I’ll probably get a custom 2011 someday, but for a guy getting started it’s fine.

Is this gun concealable?
Yes. It’s big, especially with the light. But not more so than a Glock 34 with light or government model 1911 with light. It’s no Ruger LCP, but it is concealable with a good holster and a little effort on one’s part.

How was the optic choice (RMR06)?
I really like the RMR for its class-leading battery life and durability. It’s got a smaller window than a number of competing sights, but I haven’t found this to be a big deal, given presentation practice and the compensator. I like having manual intensity control much more than automatic intensity control. Also, I really like the smaller dot size. That’s a preference thing, but mine is for the little dot.

How is the magwell?
The magwell is well made, but probably not worth it. It does help push my hand higher, and it closes off the gap at the back of the frame. Those are nice. It doesn’t make the magazine opening that much bigger, so I don’t notice much difference on my reloads. That said, I also suck at fast reloads, so maybe I’ll see a difference down the line with more practice. I will say that I have had zero problems with the magwell either coming loose, or not working with magazines. All magazines I’ve tried work fine, even stock Glock 19 mags with factory basepads. No problems inserting those.

Is the flat face trigger worth it?
Oh yeah. Love the trigger. It feels way better than stock. If you’re on the fence for this one, go for it. Do it. You won’t regret it.

Do I regret not getting a lot of slide work done?
Well, my slide doesn’t have front cocking serrations, windows, or little skulls. I don’t care. It’s got the RMR milling, cerakote over the milled surface to fight rust, and that’s it. Don’t need anything else. Also, why bother with front cocking serrations when you have a milled mount for an RMR? It’s a sight with a bonus cocking handle built right in.

Tesla Motors: Ignoring Facts of Human-Machine Interaction Since 2014

Okay, I’ve had about enough of Tesla’s zombie legion of brainwashed fans reflexively and ignorantly defending them on autopilot grounds, so it’s time for a good old fashioned rant. I have two targets.

First: autopilot itself. Tesla’s autopilot is a nifty technological achievement. In its current state, though, it’s dangerous, and it disregards seventy years of research into how humans interact with machines. This book, on the specific topic of human reliability in transit systems, cites just over two hundred sources. In the world of trains, locomotive cabs usually feature a device called an alerter. If the driver doesn’t flip a switch or press a button every so often, the locomotive automatically stops.

The locomotive, actually, is a good analogue for the specific sort of cognitive load imposed by driving with an assisted cruise control system. If you read my Train Simulator review, you have some idea what I mean. For the benefit of you who did not read it, let me sum up.

Driving a car manually is a task with relatively evenly-distributed (low) difficulty. It takes constant attention to keep from hitting something or driving off the road. It may take more attention at times, but there’s a certain minimum cognitive load below which you can no longer drive a car. Sure, it’s no helicopter, but you do have to be paying at least a little bit of attention. This is materially different from driving a train or a semi-automatic car.

Piloting those two forms of transit requires so nearly zero input from the driver as to be indistinguishable therefrom. In both cases, the vehicle handles the moment-to-moment input required to keep itself from crashing into things1. The driver has no ongoing task to keep his mind focused. A quick sampling of Wikipedia articles on train crashes shows, broadly speaking, two sorts of accident which capture almost every incident: equipment failures causing derailment, and driver inattentiveness causing a train to run into another train2. In fact, the trend with trains is increasing computerization and automation, because—shocker—it turns out that humans are very bad at watching nothing happen with boring predictability for dozens or hundreds of hours, then leaping into action the moment something begins to go wrong. This article, by a self-proclaimed UI expert3 goes into great detail on the problem, using Google’s experience with testing self-driving cars as an example. The train industry knows it’s a problem, too, hence the use of the alerter system I mentioned earlier.

“Well then, you ought to love what Tesla is doing!” I hear you say. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re making intriguing products4, and the technology which goes into even the limited autopilot available to Tesla drivers is amazing stuff. That said, there’s a twofold problem.

First, no self-driving system—not even Google’s more advanced fleet of research vehicles—is perfect. Nor will they ever be. Computerizing a train is trivial in comparison. There’s very little control to be done, and even less at the train itself. (Mostly, it happens at the switching and signaling level, and nowadays that’s done from a centralized control room.) There are very few instances driving a train where you can see an obstacle soon enough to stop before hitting it, and very few instances where it’s worth stopping to avoid hitting the thing you might hit. Again, though, hitting a deer with a train is materially different than hitting a deer with a luxury sedan. More generally, there’s a lot more to hit with a car, a lot more of it is dangerous, and it’s a lot more difficult to tell into which category—dangerous or no—a certain piece of stuff falls.

Second, there’s a problem with both driver alertness systems and marketing. To the first point, requiring that you have your hands on the wheel is not enough. There’s a reason a locomotive alerter system requires a conscious action every minute or so. Without that constant requirement for cognition, the system turns into another thing you just forget about. To the second, calling something which clearly does not drive the car automatically an ‘autopilot’ is the height of stupidity5. Which brings me to the second rant I mentioned at the start of the article.

Tesla fans.

You see, whenever anyone says, “Maybe Tesla shouldn’t call their assisted driving system Autopilot, because that means something which pilots automatically,” an enormous gaggle of geeks push their glasses up their noses and say, “Actually…”6

I’m going to stop you right there, strawman7 in a Tesla polo. If your argument starts with “Actually” and hinges on quibbling over the definition of words, it’s a bad argument. Tesla Autopilot is not an autopilot. “What about airplane autopilots?” you may ask. “Those are pilot assistance devices. They don’t fly the airplane from start to finish.” Precisely. The pilot still has lots to do8, even to the point of changing speeds and headings by hand at times. More to the point, it’s almost impossible to hit another plane with a plane unless you’re actively trying9. Not so with cars. Cars exist in an environment where the obstacles are thick and ever-present. A dozing pilot is usually a recipe for egg on his face and a stiff reprimand. A dozing driver is a recipe for someone dying.

I also sometimes hear Tesla fans (and owners) saying, in effect, “Just pay attention like I do.” The hubris there is incredible. No, you are not unlike the rest of the human race. You suffer from the same attention deficit when monitoring a process which mostly works but sometimes fails catastrophically as does the remainder of the human race. It is overwhelmingly more likely that you overestimate your own capability than that you’re some specially talented attention-payer.

To quote Lenin, “What is to be done?” Fortunately, we have seventy years of research on this sort of thing to dip into. If your system is going to require occasional human intervention by design, it has to require conscious action on the same time scale on which intervention will be required. Trains can get away with a button to push every minute because things happen so slowly. Planes have very little to hit and lots to do even when the plane is flying itself. Cars have neither luxury. To safely drive an Autopilot-equipped car, you have to be paying attention all the time. Therefore, you have to be doing something all the time.

I say that thing ought to be steering. I’m fine with adaptive speed, and I’m also fine with all kinds of driver aids. Lane-keeping assist? Shake the wheel and display a warning if I’m doing something wrong. Automatic emergency braking? By all means. These are things computers are good at, and which humans can’t do: seeing a specific set of circumstances and reacting faster than humans. Until the day when a car can drive me from my house to my office with no input from me—a day further away than most people think—the only safe way for me, or anyone, to drive is to be forced to pay attention.

Update 04/21/17
I’m not usually one to revisit already-posted articles, but this is just too much. In this Ars Technica comment, a Tesla owner describes “multiple uncommanded braking events” since the last software update. In the very same post, he calls his Tesla “the best car I’ve ever owned”.

If you needed further proof of the Tesla fan’s mindset, there it is.


  1. Whether by advanced computer systems and machine vision, or by the way flanged steel wheels on top of steel rails stay coupled in ordinary circumstances. 
  2. Sometimes, driver inattentiveness causes derailments, too, as when a driver fails to slow to the appropriate speed for a certain stretch of track. 
  3. I like his use of a topical top-level domain. We over here at .press salute you, sir! 
  4. Electric cars weren’t cool five years ago. Now they’re kind of cool10
  5. In a stroke of genius, Cadillac called a similar system ‘Super Cruise’. I’ll be frank with you: when a salesman is going down the list of options for your new Caddy, and he says, “Do you want to add Super Cruise?” your answer is definitely going to be, “Heck yes. What’s Super Cruise?” It just sounds that cool. Also, it has a better, though not quite ideal, solution to the driver attentiveness problem. There’s a little IR camera on the steering column which tracks your gaze and requires you to look at the road. 
  6. Yes, I realize that also describes me and this article. I also just fixed my glasses. 
  7. Never let it be said that our qualities do not include self-awareness and self-deprecation! 
  8. The occasional embarrassed dozing pilot story notwithstanding. 
  9. That’s why it’s always news on the exceedingly rare occasions when it happens, and frequently news when it doesn’t, but merely almost happens. 
  10. If poorly built, but Tesla say they’re working on that. 

On Faith and Shooting

Ordinarily, I’d leave the posts on faith to Fishbreath. But this one is quite specific, and there’s an interesting point to be made with it.

Last year, one of my pistol classes had a long-range component. A really long range component. We had plates at 25, 35, 50, 80, and 110 yards. Pistols had iron sights, nothing too fancy. Shooting from the usual offhand1 unsupported position. There was no real time limit. Just you, and your pistol, and a steel, man-size plate.

The first thing I had to learn, having come off a bunch of speed drills, was that my trigger finger had a speed other than maximum. We had trained for the past day and a half on a continuous speed trigger press, and since these were 10 yard timed drills, the correct technique was to grip the hell out of the gun and get on that trigger hard and fast. Now, there were no follow-up shots to worry about. So grip wasn’t as important to manage recoil. And we had to learn how to work that trigger slow without stopping. Stopping tends to mean “jerking” and screwing up the shot.

I was missing a lot, but I was learning a lot too, and getting my hits. And I brought six 17-round magazines for my Glock 34. Prepared. At least until round four. That damned 80 yard plate. Everything went all to shit for me, and I’m not quite sure why.

I can tell you the symptoms though. I was switching eye focus rapidly, between the target plate and my front sight, which was wobbling, and back to the plate. Back and forth. It was odd. There were stops in my trigger press, with the predictable shanking of shots into the dirt like a damned noob. I took a break in frustration, and talked to my instructor.

He said, “The plate isn’t fucking moving. Relax. Pick your aim point, have faith in yourself, and focus on your fucking front sight.”

Faith.

Faith in myself. Faith in my pistol. Faith in those Warren sights I liked so much. Faith in my instructors. Faith in the fundamentals of marksmanship. Faith in my trigger press technique, which had worked well throughout the class. Faith in the cables holding the target in place.

Did I mention faith in me? Yeah, that’s a big one.

So I took a lot of deep breaths. And tried my best to forget all those damn misses. Stepped up to the line, picked my aiming point, and focused on my damn front sight. Like I was supposed to. Took the shot.

“LEFT!”

Okay. No problem. Adjust your aim. Focus on the front sight, nice continuous speed trigger press. Nice and slow. Press and let the gun do it’s thing.

PING

“Just like that!” called out my instructor. I started getting results. I guess those fundamentals meant something. The drills continued.

I’m not quite sure why it took so long to really run into problems that required me to understand what’s really meant by a hard front sight focus. Nothing highlights problems in your fundamentals like long range pistol shooting. It took many more reps to get the trigger press right, but there’s a lot to be learned from my front sight issues.

One of the other shooters ended up exhausting his supply of ammo at the 80 yard target. He was new at this too. My instructor called endex. I checked the mag in my gun. It still had ammo. I asked if I could have a go at the 110 yard target, at least until other, more-ammoed students showed up. And so I went back to the line.

Front sight focus. Constant speed press. BANG!

“LEFT.”

Part of shooting, especially long range shooting, is understanding that you can’t take that shot back. That bullet is gone. Move on. Focus, focus. BANG!

“LEFT.”

Focus. Front sight. Trigger press. Slow. Let the gun do its thing. Maybe that’s what whoever coined the term ‘surprise break’ meant. We’ll go with that. Don’t get impatient. BANG!

PING
“HIT!”

Good. Just like that. BANG!

PING

BANG!

PING

See, it’s working. I might have smiled a little. BANG!

“LOW.”

Ugh. What was that about not getting cocky? I’m even missing in a brand new way! Let. It. Go. Breathe. Are we breathing? We need to do that to live. Breathe. BANG!

PING

Slide locked back. I dropped it, and experienced the awful feeling of running your hand along your belt pouches and discovering they’re all empty. My last mag went splorch in the mud.

I reminded myself to breathe again. And then there was quite a bit of uncivilized whoopin’ and hollerin’ on my part. Because I showed that 110 yard plate who’s boss.

And I couldn’t have done it without finding faith at 80.


  1. i.e. standing 

TTPs: Shooting on the Move

A few of my previous TTP columns have talked about how to use shooting on the move to your advantage in a defensive situation. From these, you might conclude that I’m a fan of shooting on the move. And I am, except when I am not. Which is probably frustratingly zen, so let’s dive in.

First, a brief disclaimer. These are talking about defensive-ish gun uses for the CCW holder or off-duty cop with a gun. We are NOT talking about the following areas:
1. Competition. Depending on the rules and stage layout, shooting on the move may or may not be a good idea in a match stage. I will leave the discussion of stage planning to another time.
2. The SWAT Team/Special Operations Entry Stack. Because there are men behind you in the stack, it is vitally important that you not stop moving, so as not to jam everyone up and cause problems. You had better shoot on the move here.

Okay, that out of the way, let me talk you through a brief experiment that you can do do think about shooting on the move, and help reason when it is and isn’t a good idea. You will need the following items:
1. Some gallon milk jugs full of water.
2. A buddy.
3. A pulley and stake.
4. Some rope.
5. Your pistol of choice, with ammo (duh) and a holster.
6. A steel pistol target.
7. A permissive range bay to yourselves. Private shooting land will also work well.

Item 6 might be the hardest for you to acquire. Fear not. After I detail the setup, I’ll walk you through the results that I got when I did this. Also note that a shot timer is optional but extremely helpful.

The setup is as follows. First, we’re going to look at, of course, shooting on the move. Set up your steel at the end of the range, and then mark out a line for you to move across the bay at a spall-safe distance from your steel (7-10 yards). Warm up by shooting that steel at your marked distance. Now, do a few runs across the bay, gun holstered. Get an idea of how quickly you can move across your bay. Try to put a couple in as if your life depended on it. You can probably do this pretty fast if you’re not all that fit.

Now, shooting on the move. Draw your gun and move along the line as best you can, shooting the steel. Move as quickly as you can and still get some hits, and shoot when you think you can guarantee a hit. Don’t hose. You have a buddy there to mock you to keep you honest. He should also do his best to keep you on that path. You’re probably going to move off of it.

Even with proper, bent-knee, ‘rolling-heel-toe’ gait, you’ll find you moved across the range a lot slower. And you’re probably shooting a lot slower than you did in the warm up. That’s expected. Or at least, that’s what I got. I had decent technique but not a lot of practice. If I had more practice, I could probably do better. But I’d need a lot more.

Okay, now for some more fun. Place a gallon milk jug at one side of the range, and the pulley at the other. Mark off a firing position in the middle of the range, at about the same distance you were from the steel. Tie the rope to the handle of the jug, run it through the pulley, and then down the side of the range to your buddy. For safety, your buddy will stand behind you, holding the rope. When he wants, he’ll run away from you, pulling the rope. When you see the jug move, draw and shoot it before it gets to the other end of the range. Have your buddy vary the speed of the jugs on different attempts.

Shooting a moving target is difficult. Some will find it more difficult than others. I didn’t find it too bad. What I did find, as did most other people who tried this with me, was that we could hit the jug when it was moving faster than we moved while shooting. So moving and shooting didn’t help us avoid incoming fire all that much. A dead run to cover was a lot harder to hit, but then we wouldn’t be shooting back either.

It’s something to think about. Does this mean you should never shoot on the move? Certainly not. Hopefully it has also convinced you that there are times when shooting on the move might not be the best plan ever. There are no easy answers. There are no simple answers. Shooting on the move is fun to practice, and can be useful, but there are a lot of other techniques out there that you should practice too.

On the .40 S&W

.40 S&W is an interesting cartridge. It started as a shortened version of the reduced-power load of the 10mm Auto round, and it’s often been branded as “short and weak”. On the other hand, it’s been a bridge in the caliber debates between .45 “size/weight guys” and 9mm “capacity/velocity guys”. It’s now fallen out of vogue somewhat. Let’s take a look.

The .40 S&W has been a super popular law enforcement caliber for the past twenty years or so. The FBI led the adoption. In the .40, for a round a trifle bigger than 9 mm, cops got a more powerful round that was a lot more effective. But the overall length was similar to that of 9 mm, so you didn’t need a big frame like 10 mm auto did. This meant that smaller hands had a chance of controlling guns firing the .40 round with good technique. And it could happily pass all of the FBI’s ballistics tests where 9 mm generally couldn’t.

But technology advances. By now, 9 mm hollow point rounds have caught up with .40, and can also meet the FBI’s ballistics test standards. This makes the advantages of the 9 mm round readily apparent:

  1. More rounds1
  2. Lower cost
  3. Lower recoil

That said, the .40 still holds some advantages over the 9 mm round. Clearly, if you are a LEO, your agency might issue something in .40. In which case, it behooves you to carry and practice with .40. And if you just like the round, by all means. Carry it. I’m not going to stop you.

  1. Makes Major power factor easily
  2. Does very well against intermediate barriers.

Let’s pull these apart. For USPSA and similar competitions, shots landing outside the A-zone of the target are penalized less if your power factor is high enough to “make major.” Power factor equals bullet weight in grains times velocity in feet per second divided by 1,000. Presently, it must be over 165 to make major. It is possible to do this with a 9 mm round carefully loaded, but this is somewhat dangerous, as you’re exceeding the pressure specs for the cartridge, with all the hazards that entails. Most commercial .40 loads will easily make Major, and it’s also a lot easier to handload .40 rounds that make major. As a result, .40 S&W is a popular caliber for competitors.

Intermediate barriers are pesky things you need to get to in order to reach your target, like auto bodies. For a CCW holder, this probably won’t be an issue that often. But it might be for law enforcement agencies, and it’s a reasonable consideration for issue weapons.

So, while 9 mm might make more sense, .40 is still an effective choice. If you like it, rock on. If you don’t, there are other choices that work well too. And it’s a great way to make major.

For the curious, I own an M&P 40, and might make another for open division gun games. I usually carry and train with 9 mm.


  1. Two more rounds in Glocks and M&Ps, more in some other designs. I don’t think two rounds difference is all that much better. It is better though. And other designs have a bigger spread, which might become significant. 

On Iron Sights

While I’m slaying sacred cows, let’s talk about iron sights on rifles. Pistols are a topic for another time.

Should you “master” iron sights on rifles before moving to optics?

Hell no. Next question.

Iron sights are outmoded. Obsolescent. There are better choices right now, namely optics. For any given purpose, there is an optical sight that will perform better than iron sights on long guns.

Close range shooting? Red dot or low-power variable. Boom. Faster than irons.

Long range shooting? Get you some magnification. Make the targets bigger. Done. Better than irons.

Now, optics don’t magically make you a better shooter. They do take out one component of shooting: sight focus. Iron sights give you three focal planes at three different distances from your eye: the rear sight, the front sight, and the target. Your eye is physically capable of focusing on one plane at a time. So you acquire the target, then focus on your front sight. It’s not intuitive. It’s not easy, especially when your target isn’t easy to see. Then you have to align the front sight with the rear sight and the target. And then you have all of the other trigger control issues, steadying the rifle, dealing with recoil, etc.

With optics, the sights are in the same plane as the target. So you look at your target. That’s intuitive: you want to shoot that. Then you align the sights with the target. Which is a lot easier, because they’re in focus too. Same plane and all. You can see your sight (where the bullet is going, more or less) at the same time as you can see the thing you want to shoot. Then, trigger control time. Recoil management.

I’m always in favor of making my life easier. As is just about every other serious user. Choose a special forces unit, they use optics on their rifles. Most militaries of repute and with some ambition issue optics for all of their rifles. If rules allow optics, competitive shooters put optics on their rifles.

And they’re one I like to pick on, because they’ll do anything (at least, anything not prohibited by the rules) for an edge.

Optics are better. There basically isn’t a downside. Hell, most new rifles don’t even come with iron sights these days, whether they’re flat-top ARs or slick new hunting rifles. And do you know how hard it is to actually kill good optics?

Okay, now that I’ve said all that, let me preempt a few comments.

I’m not saying iron sights won’t work. They’ll do the job if you can and do. Optics will make your life easier.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t know how to use iron sights at all. They are on most pistols, after all. Plus they’re on all manner of old rifles, like an M1 Garand or the Lee-Enfield. And shooting old rifles is plenty of fun. But you’re probably not going to use those as your primary longarm. So focus on your primary. Which has an optic.

What about using iron sights as a way to “get better at shooting”? Well, if you can use iron sights, you can certainly use optics. True. And irons are way harder. Also true. My turn for a question: what is the goal?

If your goal is to get better with iron-sights, perhaps for an iron-sight competition like the National Matches, rock on. Mission is driving the gear train.

If your goal is to get better with your optic-equipped hunting/defensive/competition rifle, you should probably be training with that. You know, the gun you’re actually going to use. Familiarize yourself with the quirks of your optic. Familiarity brings comfort. Remember, all of the other things you do when shooting are there. You still have to work on those. Optics are one of the few ways to reduce the complexity of the shooting problem.

Iron sights aren’t a thing you can work in isolation. You make the sight alignment problem more complicated, but you still have all of the other issues. For most of us, misses occur because of a combination of factors. We didn’t do just one thing wrong, we did a bunch of things wrong. Put them together, you get the (bad) result. If you’re very good, you can figure out all of the problems. More likely, you can figure out some of them, but not all of them.

You can get great at shooting with optics. You can probably even do it faster than with irons, because you have fewer difficulties.

What about durability?

Modern optics are extremely durable. And most shooters don’t abuse their weapons. The vast majority of optics will happily survive moving from gun safe to bag to car to range to car to safe with no issues at all. And if you abuse your optics, buy accordingly. My Aimpoint Comp M4, for example, is stupidly durable. Go google some “test videos” where people do dumb things like hit it with a hammer or set of explosives nearby. You can probably find a way to kill it, but your gun (and you) will be similarly out of action. So don’t worry about it.

Mindset And Equipment; Equipment and Mindset

A shooter’s performance in competition or combat can be broken down into two big categories: internal things (mindset, training, skill, and confidence), and external things (what gun, caliber, etc.). There are a lot of stupid arguments on the internet about which is more important.

And they’re stupid precisely because they’re very difficult to tease apart.

Clearly, internal factors are super important. If Jerry Miculek and I were in a shooting match together, and for some bizarre reason Jerry had a box-stock Hi-Point, Jerry would still outshoot me. Wouldn’t matter which gun or how many mods I put in it. Jerry is that much better than me.

That said, while Jerry could beat me with Hi-Point, he doesn’t shoot one at matches. For one thing, they don’t sponsor him. Smith and Wesson does. So he’s shooting out a super tricked out Smith and Wesson. Set up just the way he likes. See, he’s competing with a lot of other hardcore guys like Max Michel, K.C. Eusebio, and Rob Leatham, who are also very skilled and have tricked out guns. They’ve got guns set up the way they like to maximize their skillset. Lighter triggers are easier to shoot well for example. So the hardcore guys have hardcore equipment.

Let’s look at another case. The infamous 1986 Miami shootout, between two criminals and a number of FBI agents. The guy who had the most combat experience and the most will to win, Platt,1 also came with the most gun. He had a Ruger Mini-14 chambered in .223, plus two revolvers chambered in .357 Magnum. Once again, skill and equipment go hand in hand.

The dangers of equipment is the thinking that you can buy skill. You can’t. Good equipment will mean you can use your skill to the best of your abilities. Focusing on one kind of equipment will let you have some constants to make developing skills easier. Always chasing the next best thing isn’t the best plan. There’s quite a bit of maturity in knowing when to stick and when to jump. For example, in most applications, the difference between a revolver and a semiauto is very significant. The difference between semiautos is much less so.

So some basic “good enough” satisficing will help you in the short term. You can save the optimization for later once you know what you like in a gun. Or once you have a big company like Smith & Wesson paying for your stuff.


  1. One of the criminals. He was a Ranger in Vietnam. Note that better equipment and mindset weren’t enough to prevail. C’est la vie. In this case, it’s a good thing.