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· 10 things you need to know about firearms, tactics, and your self-defense journey ·

April 1, 2021 0 Comments

Well, it’s 2021. Last year many of us held in reverence be to our year, but instead, it has sent us into a tailspin of seclusion, alcohol, toilet paper hoarding, and murder hornets…maybe. Well, January 1st, 2021 has come and gone and essentially nothing has changed.

Well, it’s 2021. Last year many of us held in reverence be to our year, but instead it has sent us into a tailspin of seclusion, alcohol, toilet paper hording, and murder hornets…maybe. Well, January 1st, 2021 has come and gone and essentially nothing has changed.

That being said, as a firearms instructor, every election season is always busier than the three previous years. However, again, 2020-2021 has proven different. We are seeing an incredible influx of students. We’ve been booked solid since March of 2020. That’s unheard of for our little mom-and-pop operation of badassery that we operate in Southern Wyoming & Northern Colorado.

We are getting more novice shooters that are looking for more practice, updates on the laws of self-defense, techniques for carrying, and tactics. Afterall, making it home from a grocery haul takes tactics these days. We are seeing firearms and ammo fly off the shelf, literally. It is taking weeks for students to find the 150-round-minimum (now 100) for our concealed carry courses.

What we’re also seeing is an influx of brand-new shooters. As in “open the gun box for the first time at the range with us” new. Previously anti-firearm Americans are starting to see why it’s important to know how to use this tool, even if they don’t want to carry. They’re seeing that self-defense is more than their political affiliation; it’s about life and property preservation.

The purpose of this article is to say welcome! We’re so glad that you’re here. We know that some of the firearms/carry groups you may have joined or follow/like on social media can be scary and downright nonsensical. Take a breath.

Here are 10 things you need to know as a newbie to the firearms community.

1. The four firearm safety rules:

These rules are what we live and breathe. It is critical that we follow these when handling, learning and dealing with firearms. Firearms training isn’t like drivers ed class. You cannot back into a light pole, pop out the dent, slap some new paint on and call it all good. That’s not how negligence with a firearm works. It’s only a tool, but a tool that demands and deserves respect.

  • All Firearms are always loaded.
  • Never point the firearm at anything you’re not willing to destroy.
  • Keep your trigger finger straight and OFF the trigger until your sites are on target and you intend to fire.
  • Be sure of your target: what’s in front of it and what’s behind it.

Learn these. Memorize these. Live these. Teach these. My husband and I hold to the line of thinking that there are NO accidental discharges, only negligent discharges. A firearm cannot go bang but itself. There is always a user, therefore anything unintended that happens with a firearm is negligence on the part of the user

2. Your mindset is going to be your greatest asset: You are the weapon; the firearm is the tool.

You can never have a good enough mindset. We can always learn more, be sharper, and hone our skills. The first aspect of mindset is the OODA loop. Created by Lt. Col. John Boyd, OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. This is all about having a pre-determined course of action. Think of it like this, when you’re driving through traffic and you see a yellow light what do you do? Naturally, you take your foot off the gas and slowly press the brake. Do you have to think about that in detail? No! You just do it. Why? Because you already had a predetermined course of action. When we translate that into self-defense, when someone walks up to us and asks for our purse or wallet, we should already know what we are intending to do.

The next mindset training aid is called the Color Codes. Law Enforcement Officer and Marine Veteran Jeff Cooper came up with these Color codes to aid his law enforcement officers in critical situations be able to gauge how bad a situation was getting.

White- completely unaware of your surroundings.

Yellow– Simply aware, not twitchy or scared.

Orange- There is a specific interest, focus, or threat in your surroundings. Wargaming potential outcomes. (The orient, observe, and decide of the OODA loop).

Red- Actively engaged in emergency response (The decide and act of the OODA loop).

Black- Panicked, frozen, in shock.

Many out there in the firearms and self-defense industry see these as archaic training aids. They have been around for a while, but it’s simply how our brain operates. We have data input (color code yellow & orient, observe), data processing (color code orange & decide), and data output (color code red & act). Without data, our brains cannot process information. What this looks like in real life is depriving our brain of using its senses appropriately because we are distracted. The more distracted by our phones, children, friends, family, etc. the more signals we miss from our environment. In most cases, our environment tells us everything we need to know about a situation. That weird gut feeling you get walking into a store sometimes is your body telling you that it’s received weird data from your environment; that is important to pay attention to also.

3. FBI pre-attack indicators & normal vs. abnormal behavior.

In 2013 the FBI put together a study of pre-attack indicators of active shooters. However, there are many things that we can learn from this. What we see is that these indicators are behaviors. They are choices that the potential threat makes that we can pick up on when we are listening to our environment. Some of the behaviors are as follows:

-Clenching their fists.

-Erratic eye blinks.

-Target glances.

-Fighting stance.

-Hesitating in an odd environment, like a parking lot.

-Flanking you.

-Following you.

-Removing clothing.


-Confirmation touch (pressing their forearm against their side to confirm that their weapon is present).


-Googly eyes (inappropriate, “undressing you with their eyes” look).

Now, whether you can give me a list like this or not, you know what is normal for your community and what isn’t. You know your community’s routine, demographic, primary religion, common courtesies, etc. You also know what is abnormal for your community. When something abnormal happens in your community, it stands out.

Notice that this has nothing to do with their race, gender, skin color, or religion. These are what are called protected characteristics. They’re identifying factors that a person cannot change about themselves. Religion can be changed obviously, but still is something that cannot be discriminated against.

The FBI pre-attack indicators are behaviors or choices. Therefore, while clothing did not make this particular FBI study, it is a choice. When individuals are wearing a floor length leather trench coat in 90-degree weather, that is abnormal. It is ok to notice that something is abnormal. It is not racist, prejudice, rude, or hateful that you notice something abnormal for your community. It’s simply how our brains operate and when we deny ourselves the honesty of identifying an abnormality in our surroundings, we could potentially be allowing a threat to present itself easier.

Grayman Techniques:

Grayman is a term that simply means to not stand out. It doesn’t mean to wear all gray attire or wearing what I would call tacticasual (not not trying to look like an operator, but still not blending in well) but rather not wear anything flashy or anything that will draw attention to yourself. This goes back to knowing what is normal and abnormal in your community and the community you may be traveling to. What is normal in downtown Denver, for example, is not normal in rural Oklahoma. It’s knowing your environment and having the ability to blend in and look like you belong. Www.superessestraps.com has some great downloads on this very topic that we were able to contribute to. We highly recommend downloading his whole digital download library. It’s an incredible wealth of information.

4.Understanding the Escalation of Force:

The use of force is critical to understand and varies state-by-state. First and foremost, you must have a thorough knowledge of the self-defense laws in your state. It’s simply negligent not to. If you’re not sure where to begin, take a concealed carry course where that is covered extensively and/or pay the money to talk to a lawyer for an hour or two and get their knowledge and understanding.

That being said, we explain escalation of force like this. Think of escalation of force like a ladder. The bottom rung would be running away or exiting the scenario, the next rung would be yelling or screaming (because what attracts more attention then yelling in public?), and the top rung is the use of lethal force with your firearm. As private citizens, we want to have as many rungs in between the top and bottom as we can, therefore its on us to train appropriately. We can add more rungs by taking martial arts courses, Krav Maga training, flashlight self-defense courses, hand-to-hand combat, and the like, we can also expand our knowledge on firearms by taking more firearms courses. We can take less-than-lethal defense courses on pepper spray, stun guns, Tasers (we’ll cover more next), and vehicle defense courses like the one that Costa Ludus offers. Every parent needs to take that course from Chris. It’s incredibly eye opening.

The point is, we need to understand that depending on the variables of the scenario, we may only be able to be on the 4th rung (whatever that rung entails for you). However, I better use that 4th rung at 100% of my ability. If the potential threat jumps to the 7th rung, then I need to use the 7th rung at 100% of my ability. (I’d love to take credit for this, but I learned this particular rung concept from Chris Costa from Costa Ludus.) Be 100%, wherever you are.

5. Less-Than-Lethal Options:

Every firearms instructor has a soapbox of something in the industry that drives them batty. Less-than-lethal happens to be my husband’s. Not because of the products themselves, because they have a time and place, but because of how they’re marketed to women and those new to this community.

Let’s take a look at the name, Less than lethal. Based on that name, do you feel that they are capable of stopping a threat without question? Absolutely not. That is simply not their job. But many companies (even those that market directly and solely towards women) market them as if they are a less scary substitute to a firearm and that is simply false advertisement, and it will get people killed.

               A quick refresher on the less than lethal options:

               A.  Tasers: a pain-compliant device where a cartridge of two barbs at the end of two wires are shot out towards the threat. It sends a current through the threat only if there is good contact of the two barbs and it is a cross-body hit. Anything less than that could create a situation where the threat is not immobilized.

               B. Stun Guns: A cousin to the Taser that does not have the wires that shoot out. Meaning that this device must be used in direct contact with the threat. This also means that the threat has direct contact to you. It is also considered a pain compliance device that ensures that a threat will comply with law enforcement commands or get pain until compliance.

               C. Pepper Spray: Pepper spray is aerosol spray or gel spray that contains capsaicin. This is meant to be sprayed into a threat’s eyes and cause pain, burning, tears etc. How the issue that we’ve always had with the spray is the blowback. Meaning you spray the threat and if the wind is not in your favor, then you get some of that spray on your own eyes, meaning you are not fully capable of protecting yourself against that threat because now you are also incapacitated. The pepper gel has changed the game with pepper spray, but it is still a less-than-lethal product.

Again, our biggest issue with these products is how they are marketed. Their purpose is in the name. They are intended to be another rung on your ladder, not a substitute for a firearm.

6. Legal defense:

A relatively newer concept to shooters and concealed carry permit holders is self-defense insurance. Sounds crazy right? Well, it makes a lot more fiscal sense than some other insurances that we hold. Essentially self-defense insurance is a lawyer on standby when you get into a self-defense situation. You can read more about this in Recoil: Off-Grid Issue 41.  There are a few main companies that offer concealed carry/self-defense insurance.

Here are a few questions to ask to ensure you pick the best company for your family and lifestyle:

  1. Do I pay out of pocket and get reimbursed or is my case directly covered?
  2. What constitutes self-defense?
  3. What if I lose my case or am found guilty? Am I responsible for the attorney fees?
  4. What is my monthly premium?
  5. Does my policy cover my kids?
  6. Does my policy cover me while traveling out of state?
  7. What methods of self-defense are covered? (does it have to be a firearm or is it any weapon of opportunity?)
  8. Can I call and talk to a lawyer in a non-emergent situation? (i.e., I just have questions and don’t want to use Google)
  9. Is a lawyer assigned to my case or do I get a call list to choose from?
  10. What is the cap on coverage?
  11. Does your call go to a call center or are you granted immediate attorney-client privilege when you call in an emergency?

Please be thorough. This is your family’s future. We purchased policies for this reason: Even if we did everything right, but still had to go to court, we are still responsible for those costs. I do not want to lose my house, or savings, or financial stability just for it to be proven that I did something correctly. My kids deserve better than that. We use U.S. Law Shield; we feel that they have the best coverage and options for our family.

If you’re interested in signing up, go to: www.uslawshield.com and use the promo code: RHOADES for a discounted rate.

7. Finding the right equipment:

The right equipment can be a tough one. The retail market is so overly saturated with firearms equipment that is daunting, and a bit ridiculous. Our approach is to NOT reinvent the wheel. The “wheel” has been tried and tested in blood. Literally. There is absolutely NO reason to use weird, new fangled carrying methods when the standards work fine.

Let’s look at the standard. The standard is what the professionals use. By professionals, I mean Military, Law enforcement, and private military contractors. Individuals and organizations who are paid and who pay others to carry firearms for a very specific purpose. Let’s look at how they carry:

On their waistline (usually between 1 o’clock and 4 o’clock for right-handed shooters, 11 o’clock and 8 o’clock for left-handed shooters- never at 6 o’clock). The majority also use a kydex holster. The trigger guard protection, ability to re-holster 1 handed, and the ability to use the holster for single hand manipulation is crucial. Most professionals also carry a Glock or a Sig Sauer.

So, to recap. Carry a Glock, in a kydex holster, on your waistline. This is a great baseline for beginners. While stock Glocks are not top of the line, they’re great, simple firearms that provide a good jumping off point. Many choose to stick with Glocks because they’re simple and effective to use.

There are a plethora of other options wrapped up in placement and equipment. Almost too many options. Our best advice is to not make it complicated. It doesn’t need to be convoluted. It just needs to be effective.

8. Vetting firearms instructors:

Finding a good instructor is tough. It seems like every man with 4 years in the military and an NRA basic pistol certificate thinks they are God’s gift to the firearms community. While that can be the case (although rarely), there are certain questions and qualifications that instructors need to have.

First, let me encourage you to not be afraid to ask questions. These instructors and companies are going to give you the skills to ensure the survival of your family. It’s ok to be picky here. Start with these questions:

  1. What is the focus of their curriculum? If you’re someone who wants to be the next Seal Team 6 dude (or lady), then a company that teaches the basic PowerPoint for a concealed carry course may not be the right fit for you. Find out their focus and their motivation; what they hope to imbue to their students. You’re paying them for a service, make sure the service is what you want and need for how you do life.
  2. How do they carry in everyday life and at the range? This is important and can usually be found on their social media pages. How an instructor carries can tell you a multitude of things. For example, if the instructor open carries, I would question their tactics. This is a personal opinion (albeit with a slightly professional bias as there are myriads of discussions on open carry vs. concealed carry), but if you’re new to the firearms community, focus on concealed carry for now and once your tactics and techniques are more grounded, you can contemplate open carry.

    If your perspective instructor carries in a shoulder holster, ankle holster, corset holster, or anything other than on the waistline, in a kydex holster, keep looking. See point 7 for any questions.
  3. Do their courses have range time? This is important for beginner and concealed carry courses. There are many of companies out there who simply give their students a 4-hour death-by-power point, take your money, and bless off on their ability to carry a firearm. This isn’t the time or place to argue about the constitutional aspects of required training, but you need to get behind the firearm and get intentional practice. Both states that we teach in don’t require any range time. But we make each of our students run through 3-4 hours of practical drills, including drawing from concealment, marksmanship, the fundamentals, and basic tactics. Why? Because the students need the confidence of operating a firearm. If they’re not confident, they won’t carry. If they won’t carry, then they’ve wasted time, money, and still don’t have the ability to protect their family. This is about giving the students what they need, not just making money.
  4. Do they teach more than one way to do a drill? You know an instructor is good if they give you multiple options for completing a task or drill. A good instructor should be able to show you their favorite and explain why it’s the most tactically sound. Ultimately firearms is not one-size-fits-all. Although it is one-size-fits-most, some lifestyles and body shapes require a different approach. So, ask the prospective instructor if they have options, which just equates to more tools and techniques for your foundational toolbox of self-defense.
  5. Lastly, Where does their training come from?  This is critical. If their training is good and extensive, then the first 4 points will likely fall into place. A student needs to know that their instructor is over-qualified to teach them how to defend themselves and their family.

It’s not personal, truly. Only being certified with the NRA isn’t enough. At the end of the day, the NRA is a political organization. Their standards are extremely low for instructors unfortunately and you have to be approved by them to be able to sign off on a concealed carry permit. Also, having only 4 years of the military isn’t enough. Liking guns isn’t enough. Being on a reality show isn’t enough. If their experience is taking ONE course from a famous-named instructor like Haley Strategic, Costa Ludus, Larry Vickers, Pat MacNamara, etc. it isn’t enough. They need to have a multi-faceted training history. Their training needs to come from a variety of places to ensure well-rounded instruction. It’s their history and experience that will allow my children to have a mother. You’d better be worth your weight in gold because my kids’ lives depend on it. Again, it’s not personal against the instructors, it’s personal for my kids.

(Click the #8 header for more info on choosing a firearms instructor).

9.Training with your family/safe storage at home:

If you have children or live with loved ones storing your firearm safely at home is a must. We teach our clients that the holster should always be with the firearm. The firearm stays in the holster, regardless of where it is. This ensures a quick, safe way to carry the firearm if you need to move from your current location. This is also why we preach having a good kydex holster with good retention. Our favorite brands are Tier 1 Concealed and Long’s Shadow Holsters. Their kydex options are fantastic.

We also recommend getting a safe of some kind that makes the firearm accessible to those who need it and inaccessible to those who don’t. Whether it’s your kids, or that one weird friend, not everyone needs access to your self-defense tool. We own and use the Hornady nightstand safe. It has 4 methods of entry and we’ve been very happy with how it operates. It ensures that your firearm is quickly accessible to you, but not to everyone.

Another aspect of safety is training with your family. I don’t mean taking your kids to the range (although that’s not a bad idea either) but sitting down and having a conversation with them about firearm safety, situational awareness, and take the taboo away from the firearm. We take the taboo away from the firearm by getting on their level and explaining how it operates, what its intended purpose is, ingraining the 4 firearm safety rules, and all on their level. We’ve taught our kiddos to respect any firearm that shoots projectiles. Meaning their Nerf guns and rubber band guns are held to the same safety standards as a real firearm unless it’s mutual combat by agreement. Because let’s face it, Nerf wars are awesome, and kids need to be kids. But they don’t get to walk up to their siblings and shoot them in the face with a Nerf bullet if they’re not both playing the same game.

10. Playing the What-If Game:

Lastly, we’re going to talk about the mind game. The what-if game. The game that allows us to plan for and mitigate against threats. The deep, dark corner of our mind where the worst-case scenarios replay over and over.

We don’t need to spend a large amount of time in that dark, scary place (because I enjoy sleeping at night) having intentional time in that space allows me to figure out what threats exist and how I can mitigate and protect against them. Here are some things to consider when diving into the recesses of your mind:

  1. It’s not real; it’s just an exercise.
  2. You’re doing this for a very intentional purpose. To save lives.
  3. You don’t have to go there often: Once you have a solid plan, that plan should last until something drastic changes.

If you’re not sure how exactly to wargame a scary place session, try this:

  1. Each physical location has a scary place. Your home, the grocery store, library, mall, etc. Find the top 3 places that you spend most of you time.
  2. Think of the top 3 worst-case scenarios per location.
  3. Find solutions for those top 3 scenarios for each location.

And that’s it. Come back to reality and go on with life. Planning is essential. Understanding what threats could be present is essential. Not living a life of fear is also essential. (Click the #10 header for more info on The Scary Place).

To recap, get training consistently. Even if it’s only once a year. If you’re unsure of what to do, look to the professionals; those who carry firearms for a living. Lastly, ask questions. Lots and lots of questions. You’re in control of your education and training.



Mil-Spec Mom

Nila is an Army Wife, mother of two boys, and a firearms instructor. She is currently pursuing a double masters in Homeland Security & Emergency Disaster Management, while trying to balance the daily life of being a SAHM/WAHM. She loves ice cream and learning about self-defense as a mother. For more info please click the "About Mil-Spec Mom" tab at the top.