Exploring the Frontiers of Defensive Gun Culture at the 2018 Tactical Conference

Some time during the 20th anniversary Rangemaster Polite Society Tactical Conference (TacCon), I saw Dr. William Aprill standing outside one of the temporary classroom tents. I had been following his work for a while but had not yet met him, so I excitedly introduced myself as the author of a blog called “Gun Culture 2.0.” The interaction continued something like this:

Aprill: “Gun Culture 2.0, eh?”

Yamane: “Yep.”

Aprill: “I thought we were on Gun Culture 4.5 by now.”

It was a funny but also pointed comment, to which I used a now canned response: “We can’t have any further evolutions of gun culture until I finish my book on Gun Culture 2.0.”

Of course, we were at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference, which represents the leading edge of America’s defensive gun culture, so Aprill may well be living in the 4th iteration of our historic gun culture while most of us are struggling just to keep up with the 2nd iteration.

Tactical Conference founder Tom Givens with wife Lynn. Photo by David Yamane

What do you find if you explore the frontiers of defensive gun training? You certainly find people teaching mastery of different “weapon platforms” (i.e., guns). These include AR platform rifles (John Farnam), shotguns (Darryl Bolke), small auto pistols (Chuck Haggard), snubby revolvers (Claude Werner), traditional double action auto loading pistols (Ernest Langdon), and even the lever-action rifle (Lee Weems).

Claude Werner teaching. Photo by David Yamane

And of course you find people teaching specific classes on using defensive firearms. Defensive pistol skill builder (Lee Weems), practical carbine skills (Steve Moses), long distance pistol (Marty Hayes and Belle McCormack), managing recoil (Paul Sharp), trigger manipulation (Lynn Givens and Lori Bigley), and point blank pistol skills (Randy Harris) classes were all offered during the three days of the 20th TacCon.

Marty Hayes, Belle McCormick, and Eric Knise of Firearms Academy of Seattle. Photo by David Yamane

But my attention was drawn to courses that were primarily about things other than guns and how to shoot them. Let me mention just a few.

The title of Chuck Haggard’s course, “Between a Harsh Word and a Gun,” speaks volumes. It is often said that if you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Or in the context of gun culture, if you only have a gun, every problem looks like a gun problem. In this course, Haggard (Agile Training & Consulting) offered intermediate force options for situations “when a firearm is either unavailable or inappropriate for the level of force confronted.”

Haggard emphasized OC spray, but his class reminded me of a conversation John Johnston had with my “Sociology of Guns” students when he guest lectured last spring. Students at Wake Forest University cannot – and TBH most would not even if they could – carry firearms on campus, so Johnston talked about defensive uses of flashlights, for example in managing unknown contacts in public. In the post-class student reflections, several commented on the value of this perspective.

Chuck Haggard. Photo by David Yamane

Speaking of managing unknown contacts, one teaching block that was part of both the 2014 and 2018 TacCons I attended was Craig Douglas’s Experiential Learning Lab. Douglas’s specialty is putting students in blind force-on-force scenarios with trained role-players and simunition guns allowing them “to participate in and observe others reacting to active, thinking, moving opponents in real life circumstances.”

In this case, the scenario was set in a Wal-Mart parking lot and entailed a woman (played enthusiastically by Tiffany Johnson) running toward the student screaming for help. The situation was intentionally ambiguous and led to any number of different, mostly sub-optimal outcomes. One student pulled her gun within 5 seconds of the encounter and shot everyone. As Douglas said in the debrief with this student, “Once you start shooting, it’s hard to stop.” The default orientation of “gun in hand, gun in use” does not work well for the armed citizen.

The bottom line lesson from Douglas’s experiential learning lab is “there’s no drill that you can do to practice this decision making and response.” Experiential learning is necessary, as I learned in the “decision making with a gun” course I took recently at Alliance Police Training.

Craig Douglas. Photo by David Yamane

William Aprill’s “Violent Acts and Actors: A Conceptual and Practical Overview” to me is a course on mindset. He emphasized that we do not live in a binary world that is either “safe” or “unsafe.” As he puts it, “We’re in the water tonight, whether we want to be or not, but we can choose to learn to swim. Get your mind to the speed of the world.”

This involves not only understanding violent criminal actors (VCAs), but the many other risks we face from people who could go off – employees we piss off, stressed out guys in cars, angry people at the post office. We often focus on certain preferred risks, especially those that involve “heroic visions of gunfights,” like terrorist interdictions or school shootings, but in reality we should focus on relevant risks and allocate our training attention and gear accordingly.

Caleb Causey. Photo by David Yamane

These brief comments just scratch the surface of what was taught at the 2018 Tactical Conference beyond the gun. Further attention could be paid to the tactical treatment of casualties course by Caleb Causey of Lone Star Medics. Over and over and over again in recent years I have heard gun trainers telling their students about the importance of having and knowing how to use medical kits, especially IFAKs (individual first aid kits). Likewise, courses on ladies self-defense by Larry Lindenman and escaping common restraints by Greg Ellifritz (Active Response Training).

Larry Lindenman teaching. Photo by David Yamane
Greg Ellifritz. Photo by David Yamane

Of course, none of this is to say that guns don’t matter. In his epic 8 hour course on “Performance Under Fire,” John Hearne recognizes the various options from avoidance to less-than-lethal, but also reminded his audience, “If you don’t think you can kill someone, please don’t carry a gun.” At some point, the gun may matter and “mindset without the delivery system,” as William Aprill put it, can get you killed.

John Hearne (R) with Lee Weems (L). Photo by David Yamane

Gun Culture 4.5? Perhaps. Whether the training that goes on at the Tactical Conference represents the future of civilian self-defense (gun) culture, or just a frontier to be explored, remains to be seen.

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