In 2009, my wife was the winning bidder at a charity auction. She bought a 4-day pistol self-defense course at Front Sight, NV. She also purchased around the same time two pistols and a shotgun for home-invasion self-defense.
I rolled my eyes at all this. But in the interest of family togetherness, I agreed to attend the course with her and one of her girlfriends.
We attended it from Friday, 10/8/10 through Monday, 10/11/10.
It was interesting and generally fun and we learned a lot and became surprisingly comfortable with loaded guns, at least in a controlled range setting. But I also think the course needs to be improved in a number of ways and I think its students need to approach self-defense in a much broader way. Shooting another person with a gun needs to be a lot farther to the rear of the vast majority of people’s self-defense priorities than it apparently is.
Our firearms backgrounds
My dad supervised my firing a 22 rifle and a BB gun when I was a kid. Weeks after my 18th birthday, I was a West Point cadet on their firing range where I qualified expert on the M-14 rifle. Expert is the highest score level. (Sniper is a whole other thing. They are bigger “experts” on that type of shooting.) The vast majority of West Point cadets qualify expert because it is mainly a matter of following instructions and West Point cadets got into West Point because they were top high school students.
I never qualified on any other weapon but we did fire a whole bunch of other weapons for familiarization proposes including in the case of my West Point class:
• M-16 assault rifle
• .45 cal automatic pistol (1911 model)
• .50 cal tank-mounted machine gun
• AK-47 assault rifle
• M67 recoilless rifle
• M72 LAW
• M60 machine gun
• M79 grenade launcher
• 105mm Howitzer
• M60 A1 tank main gun
• M60A1, tank coaxial machine gun
• M19 mortar 60mm
• 4.2-inch mortar
I did not fire personally but was in two artillery battalions where the following were firing 20 or 30 feet away from me on many occasions:
I did a tour in Vietnam where I was armed successively with an M-14, M-16, and .45 automatic. As stated above, I only qualified on one of these three weapons. I had only shot the M-16 and .45 automatic for familiarization before walking around in Vietnam carrying them.
Do I know more about pistols than the Front Sight instructors?
How much more do they know than I?
Infinitely more. They were extremely thoroughly trained and experienced according to the biographies they stated and in terms of the knowledge and skill they demonstrated at Front Sight. Although the Army certified me an “expert” in the M-14 rifle, that was 46 years ago. I am no doubt out of practice and forgot a lot of what I learned then.
So why am I telling my firearms background?
Because without it, any criticism of Front Sight by me will no doubt be met by Front Sight true believers alleging that either I have no prior training in the use of firearms or I have no experience with firearms or I am scared of firearms or I have never been around firearms etc. I had a rifle next to my bed for the first three years I was in college—eleven months a year not just nine. That’s because my college was West Point. (Seniors there carry sabers, not rifles, in parades)
A more accurate name for the course
Often, when I write book reviews, I start by saying the title is not accurate; the more accurate title is X.
The title at Front Sight’s Web site is “4 Day Defensive Handgun.”
The more accurate title would be “How to Draw a Semi-Automatic Pistol from a Hip Holster on Your Dominant-Hand Side and Shoot Two Quick Shots at the Torso of a Paper Human Silhouette from Nine to 45 Feet Away on a Firing Range While your Body is Facing 30º to your Dominant-Hand Side and You Have About 20 seconds Warning that the Need to Shoot is About to Occur.”
The description on the Front Sight page below the title of the course is more detailed and accurate but I still think it overstates what the course really does.
What you actually learn is how to act like a police officer wearing a garment that covered up his holster drawing and firing his gun at paper targets on a police firing range. There is also about 15 minutes total of what I think is a dubious way to approach a room with a closed, but not locked, door and which you suspect contains a criminal waiting inside that room to shoot you.
It seems obvious to me that the best way to approach such a room is not to approach it at all. See my review of the book We Were One about Marines clearing houses during the second battle of Fallujah. After getting many Marines killed by using the kick-the-door-in SWAT approach, the Marines started just attacking the houses with tank guns and recoilless weapons. No more Marines died. In a civilian situation, it is probably best to bring in police dogs, hostage negotiators, infrared detectors, pin-hole cameras, and so on. Amateur entry with a gun, even after taking the Front Sight course, strikes me as criminally stupid.
The Front Sight segment on entering a closed-door room was more an exercise in showing us why you should not enter such a room than it was on how to do it. They make it sound good at the Web site, but the whole idea is simply suicidal. Even if one of your loved ones was in the room with the criminal, few would know enough about the details of exactly who was where inside the room and exactly what was happening to justify violent entry.
At the end of the 4-day course, I thought we looked like competent police trainees at a police academy on a shooting range. I did not think, for example, we would do well in a paint-ball or laser-tag fight as a result of our training at Front Sight—in spite of the fact that they repeatedly referred to what we were preparing for as a “gun fight.” I think a water pistol fight might literally be better training for a gun fight than a ritualistic police academy shooting range exercise. Front Sight was great for learning how to draw a pistol from a hip holster and shoot it quickly and to learn how to clear the various semi-automatic misfires. We also got decent using an on-then-off flashlight to identify and shoot a target in the dark. We even learned how to quickly clear a jam in the dark.
I think I speak for all my Front Sight classmates when I say that the instructors were just excellent. They were extremely well qualified according to their verbal listing of their training and experience and their actual performance when instructing us and demonstrating what we should do was top notch. At West Point, one basic idea was that the upperclassmen who were instructing us during our first summer should be able to do everything they were demanding we do as well or better.
One thing we new freshmen at West Point had trouble with was performing inspection arms with an M14 rifle. It is very similar to the way we learned at Front Sight to clear a type-3 malfunction. In both, you have to push the gun’s bolt back and lock it in the open position. One of my classmates kept screwing it up and explained to the upperclassman that it was impossible. The upperclassman said, “Give me your rifle” then performed the task instantly and crisply. My classmate then pointed out that we were wearing white cotton gloves and the upperclassman was using bare hands (less slippery). The upper classman took the plebe’s white gloves, put them on, then performed inspection arms every bit as crisply as when he was barehanded. End of discussion. The solution was one they often urged on us at Front Sight. I simply practiced when I was alone in my room at West Point until I got it. I assume all my classmates did the same. And in 1967 when I was a senior welcoming new plebes there years later—including now U.S. Senator from Rhode Island Jack Reed—I could do exactly what that upperclassman did in 1964.
The Font Sight instructors were even better than that. Not only could they do it all, they could do it far better.
Aside from the gun stuff, there is also their basic personalities. Wes Le Hullier who spoke to us twice at after-lunch lectures was excellent. He was funny enough to be a Las Vegas act. He was also authentic, genuine, comfortable in his own skin, and extremely able to think on his feet creating some of his best jokes instantly in response to audience comments or actions.
Our leader at Range 8 was Rick Morello. He fit the same description as Le Hullier. They were both also somewhat sensitive to avoiding hurting people’s feelings while still being candid and politically incorrect and willing to tell you what you need to know rather than what you want to hear.
For example, at Range 8, we got into a discussion of the differences between revolvers and semi-automatics. There are roughly three types of pistols:
• single shot like flintlocks
• revolvers like cowboy six-shooters and older police .38 specials
• semi-automatics like the military .45 automatic, luger, glock, etc. that have a magazine of bullets in the handle of the gun and which eject a cartridge after every shot
Roughly speaking, the revolver is a far simpler, better design. It works by using the trigger pull to rotate the cylinder to the next bullet and recock the hammer. Semi-automatics, on the other hand, rely on a delicate balance. They use part of the explosive gases from the cartridge to propel the bullet and the rest to push the hammer back, eject the previous cartridge, and let the next cartridge move up in line with the barrel. There are also two springs. One pushes the bolt forward to put the next cartridge into the barrel and the other pushes the bullets up toward the top of the magazine. One problem is that no one has figured out how to make a spring that applies a constant pressure. They all exert pressure proportionate to how much they are compressed. That means the pressure pushing up on the bullets is quite high for the first round in the magazine and lower for each succeeding round until the last one. In Vietnam, we were taught to only put 18 bullets in our 20-round magazines because the spring pressure with 20 rounds in the magazine was so great it caused malfunctions.
There is also the problem that this delicate explosive-gas-springs balance can be undone by the shooter doing what we were all trained to do in sports: cushion the impact of the bullet explosion. (Football receivers are taught to have “soft hands.” Baseball infielders are taught to give when the impact of a hot grounder hits their glove, and so on.) A semi-automatic in a vise probably will not jam or would jam rarely. But in the hands of a human, if the shooter absorbs the recoil by flexing his wrists, elbows or shoulder joint, part of the force that was supposed to be used to cock the hammer, eject the prior cartridge, and reload the barrel is drained off by the “soft hands” of the shooter. The result is cartridges that do not get all the way out of the firing chamber or two new bullets trying to get into the barrel at the same time.
Front Sight taught us how to deal with four types of semi-automatic misfire:
• Type one—magazine in the handle but no bullet in the chamber (slap the bottom of the magazine to drive up all the way up then cock the gun to put the top bullet in the magazine into the firing chamber)
• Type two—ejected cartridge still stuck in the breech (same solution only you tilt the gun over so as to use gravity to help get it out when you cock it)
• Type three—top bullet in the magazine pressing against the back of the bullet in the chamber (lock bolt open, drop magazine out of the handle onto the ground, cock the gun three times, put in a new magazine, cock the gun)
• emergency reload—you’re out of bullets completely (drop magazine, put in a new one, and cock the gun)
If, however, the gun in question is a revolver, the solution to a Type one is to simply pull the trigger again. That rotates the next chamber of the cylinder into alignment with the hammer, firing pin, and barrel. There are no type 2s or 3s in revolvers. With a revolver, an emergency reload requires either hand reloading of each chamber of the cylinder or use of a revolver reloader which is a device that fills all six chambers in the cylinder with one quick movement.
In other words, a semi automatic is a pain in the ass compared to a revolver with regard to jamming.
Every single one of the 34 people at our range had a semi-automatic including those of us who rented them from Front Sight. We had Glock 9mms.
Rick Morello was asked why was everyone using a semi-automatic if the revolver was so much more reliable.
“Because it looks cool,” was his response.
Well, that’s really stupid and childish. He would not back down. The only reason for using a Glock or 1911 or whatever semi-automatic was they were currently fashionable.
Stupid and childish.
Although my wife and I had rented Glocks at Front Sight, we owned only revolvers—at the time—we now have a semi, rifle, and shotgun. We could have taken them and used them for the course, but we did not because of TSA laws and restrictions on transporting a firearm. We live in the San Francisco area and flew to the Front Sight course was about 40 miles west of Las Vegas. Many of our fellow students there said they drove to the course, including from San Francisco, in order to take their own guns and avoid flying restrictions.
I believe you may be able to fly with a gun in your checked bag but you have to disclose it.
Some may say that a semi can carry more bullets. Well, OK. Revolvers come in sizes ranging from five to ten chambers. Our Glock magazines held ten rounds but we were admonished that the gun was more likely to jam if we put all ten in the magazine. In Vietnam, we were also told not to put more than 18-rounds in the 20-round magazine for the same reason. The M16 is a semi-automatic or automatic rifle. As with a semi pistol, a spring in the bottom of the magazine pushes the bullets up into the firing chamber level using the recoil of the previous shot to do so. They also had 20-round magazines for the Glock but we were told they were illegal in California.
FYI: There are also revolver rifles. Gatling guns are a sort of revolver although they do not use a trigger pull to rotate the cylinder. Another type of gun, the bolt action or lever action or pump action, is rarely used in pistol design. It uses a manual cocking to eject the prior cartridge and put a new one into the firing chamber. Such guns can be more powerful because they do not use any of the explosion gases to recock the weapon. All of the explosion is used to push the bullet out of the rifle.
A reader told me Massad Ayoob wrote a book about semi-automatics and says they have a firepower advantage that is a decisive factor in handgun combat. Here is my answer to that reader:
It has no firepower when it jams. I also would like to see his research data from which he draws conclusions about what is decisive in firefights. I do not get the impression that anyone has gathered such data systematically.
I also note, for whatever it’s worth, that Massad Ayoob’s webpage has a photo of a revolver and revolver ammo and no photos of semi-automatics.
I can see this is a religious issue. Some people BELIEVE in semi-automatics and others BELIEVE in revolvers. Many already have one or the other and cannot admit they made a mistake. (My wife bought her revolvers without my knowing or thinking about the issue.) Each type has advantages and disadvantages.
Bottom line: the instructors at Front Sight are great. Whoever hired them is a genius at selecting extremely competent, good, intelligent guys with no agenda other than teaching the students as well as they can. All companies of all types should do the same if they could.
Going to Front Sight was not my idea. I was leery and expecting to be surrounded by gun nuts there. The sight picture when I arrived only alarmed me more. There were hundreds of country-and-western-looking men and woman each wearing a holster with a gun in it. Lots of pickup trucks, RVs, and SUVs, couple of motor cycles, although also many regular cars.
Our range of 34 students included seven women. That seemed about average for the whole school. Lots of women students; one female instructor.
Am I saying Front Sight is a great place to pick up chicks? If you think hitting on married grandmothers who are standing next to their grandfather husband and both are wearing loaded pistols is a good way to meet chicks, go for it.
However, as we got to know them, we met no gun nuts. I would say they were tea partyish. No liberals. But they were not gun nuts. A few were competitive, mostly returning students who had taken the same course before and, I presume, not graduated. That angered them and they came back to prove they could graduate. Only about fifteen percent seemed to graduate. Neither I nor my wife nor her girlfriend graduated. I do not remember whether we had to wear the concealment garment for the final test was the reason. We all chose to do without the garment. Or maybe we just did not score high enough on marksmanship.
Basically, I qualified expert with little effort in the Army on the M14. That neither I nor most of my fellow Front Sight students graduated tells me the course is designed to get you to attend it twice to pass it. Plus I’ll bet those returning students fired thousands of rounds of ammo and did thousands of dry drills in between when the took the course for the first and second times. Dry drills are doing everything but firing the weapon—draw, reload, unload, after-action checks, etc.—essentially ritual sort of dance steps that you do before and after firing the weapon. They sell a book on the dry drills at the course and I surmise the returning guys spent hundreds of hours mastering those movements and learning to be more accurate in the rushed firing tests at Front Sight. They were probably also using their own gun rather than a rented Glock.
If you want to pass the first time, buy and follow the dry drills book, buy a rubber gun for that purpose, (you can practice with an empty real gun which is what we did in the army, but it is strictly forbidden at Front Sight) find a range where you can learn to draw fast and shoot fast and accurately.
Other than the few competitive students, the others were all in the same boat and very supportive of each other. The course seemed to be deliberately rushed so you could not master it. To his credit, Rick Morello repeatedly urged us to engage in dry drills which would make the various steps automatic thereby allowing you to concentrate on marksmanship. But the days in the formal course were extremely long so there really was little time for dry drills, admonition or no.
Edward L. Thorndike was an expert on learning. Apparently the course designers at Front Sight missed or rejected this Thorndike teaching:
Law of readiness: Interference with goal directed behavior causes frustration and causing someone to do something they do not want to do is also frustrating.
a. When someone is ready to perform some act to do so is satisfying.
b. When someone is ready to perform some act, not to do so is annoying.
c. When someone is not ready to perform some act and is forced to do so, it is annoying.
The average age of our class seemed to be about 50. I am 64. I was not the oldest. We had a “Big dog” competition. I won the first two rounds then washed out in the third because I shot the hostage twice. Previously, I shot the hostage taker three times, as you are supposed to do. Subsequent to the Big Dog competition, I shot the hostage taker six times without hitting the hostage. But for reasons unknown to me, my third-round shot hit the hostage. Anyway, the Big Dog contest was barely won by a grandfather whose final target fell a split second before the runner-up—a grandmother. I think they were both first timers although the grandmother seemed quite practiced from the first day. That contest was big on accuracy and the only time pressure was the one person you were competing against. You had to hit the targets and beat them to the final target. I took my time and concentrated on marksmanship which is probably why I won the first two rounds.
In the graduation test, you were shooting at targets that only flashed open briefly. I do not believe either Big Dog finalist graduated.
I saw no consistent education level among the students. I would guess most were college grads. I also saw no career choice consistency. There seemed to be every type of career there. I am a writer. My wife is a bank examiner, Her friend is a bank loan officer. We all graduated from college. My wife and I are MBAs. There was also an airline pilot. A masseuse. A retired nuclear submariner. An owner of a furniture factory and a property management company. They seemed to be more affluent than the average person. I heard no dumb or ignorant conversations and I am pretty quick to find such.
Among both the instructors and students there seemed to be a greater-than-normal percentage of former military, former law enforcement, or both, in other words, people who once carried weapons for a living.
Were the instructors at Front Sight big on safety? Absolutely. More so than what I experienced in the U.S. Army including at West Point.
However, I saw a number of safety flaws that they should fix.
Much of what we did did not require fireable guns or live ammunition, namely:
• drawing the gun from a holster
• putting the gun back in the holster
• clearing misfires
• tactical reloads
If it did not require fireable guns or live ammunition, why were we using those things? We should have had guns with no firing pin and fake bullets for those drills.
During our four days, there were four or five bullets discharged when no such thing was supposed to be happening. We were loading or clearing artificially-created misfires or some such. No one was supposed to be pulling the trigger with a live round in the gun, but four or five people did just that. No one was hurt. None of those incidents would have occurred if we had been using unfireable guns or dummy bullets. But we would have learned what we needed no learn exactly as well.
There is no excuse for using real guns and ammo for those drills.
Do they ever need live ammo and real guns at Front Sight? The students should probably experience the true kick and noise of a real gun if they are going to be able to use one for self-defense. Although they wisely required acoustic earmuffs for all firing or even possible firing. Indeed, for each of those five accidental discharges, we were wearing our eye and ear protection.
Does marksmanship require live firing of the pistols? I don’t know. I would expect you could learn marksmanship these days from laser or other electronic simulators—perhaps better than with live firing. That would save ammo ($22 plus tax for each box of 50 Glock 9mm bullets in the Front Sight Pro Shop) and be safer. I am not aware of the capital cost and maintenance costs of such simulators.
So if most of what we did there could be done as well or better with zero safety hazard and/or lower cost with fake guns, fake bullets, and electronic simulators, why did we never use any of those and fire close to 1,000 real bullets each in those four days?
One fact that immediately comes to mind is that Front Sight sells bullets. It is difficult to transport more than eleven pounds of bullets by air and Front Sight students seemed to come from many western states. For most, air travel is probably the most sensible.
Then there is the “bang bang” aspect. I once saw a war correspondent get interviewed about what he showed and did not show in his reporting on a war. He was asked why he did not show more of the boredom and civil projects the troops were engaging in. “The producers back in New York want bang bang.” “Bang bang?” “Yeah. They want video of the U.S. troops blasting away with their guns and cannons. So that’s what we give them.”
So maybe we had so much bang bang at Front Sight for a similar reason. It is very exciting. It is thrilling. It is dramatic, especially during the night firing exercise. After dark, noise is louder and the muzzle flashes of the guns are spectacular. It causes the release of adrenaline which cause far more vivid memories of the experience.
I and others in our range group independently observed that Front Sight was a sort of lethal weapons theme park. Indeed, Rick Morello said there was talk they were going to open a second one in the Orlando, FL area. As you may know, Orlando, FL is the theme park capital of the world. Florida is also flat as a pancake. If you fire a bullet there it does not stop until it gets to Georgia. Perhaps just a shotgun theme park in FL.
Economically, I think a lethal weapon theme park could succeed. I like the people at Front Sight and hope Front Sight succeeds. But let’s not lose sight of what we are talking about here. Military weapons are designed to kill large numbers of humans as efficiently as possible. Police weapons are designed to intimidate or kill criminals. These are extremely serious matters; not fun activities for the family.
To their credit,the Front Sight lecturers were sincerely trying to convey this message to the students. But I still detected a student feeling more along the line of, “If some punk criminal tries to rob me, I’ll show him now that I am highly trained in how to use a gun.”
The message from the Front Sight instructors—generally former police—was that shooting a human being will change your life for the worse regardless of whether you were in the right. I believe them. Rick Morello said it was not uncommon for the shooter to have to move far away and change their names putting themselves into a sort of self-witness-protection program to avoid retribution from the relatives or friends of the person who was shot—or the guy who was shot himself if he was not killed.
There were a number of safety lapses that I saw at Front Sight in our 34-person class. During the night firing, I was in the front row for a loading or unloading. It doesn’t matter which. There are almost identical only in reverse. The procedure was that the front line of 17 people would do the exercise while the second line coached their front line partners. When the exercise in question was completed, we were told to “Turn and face.” When I turned and faced, I saw that my second row partner who had been about six feet behind me had mistakenly done what only we front line guys were supposed to do.
That means he had a bullet in the firing chamber of his pistol and had that pistol pointed at my back. When I complained, he said it had been pointed at the ground.
That doesn’t mean shit. The ground was covered with coarse stones and rocks. A bullet could ricochet off one of those or send the rock or stone at me at a lethal speed. Plus, it is an extreme safety violation for a a second-row person to ever have bullets in their gun. Had that guy’s gun gone off inadvertently—as I said happened about five times with other people during the four days—I probably would have been killed or wounded.
On another occasion, one guy realized that he had not put his acoustic earmuffs on when he and the other 16 people in his row blasted way with their guns simultaneously. He immediately left the line to get his earmuffs. I do not know whether you lose your hearing as a result of cumulative noise or peak noise. If it’s peak, it only takes one such episode to cause permanent hearing loss.
On another occasion—on the last afternoon—a woman executed the “turn and face” command before she had holstered her gun—an extreme violation that caused her to point her gun at half of her line and at me and others sitting in the classroom chairs and at the instructor standing behind her before she turned.
In each of these cases, the three or four instructors did not see what I just described. They have to prevent or stop these sorts of things in progress. In these three cases, they totally missed them and never knew they happened even though they were looking at each violation when it happened. They need to have and use more complete written checklists and not rely on memory and habit to make sure these things do not happen.
Front Sight went out of its way to say they were not a military boot camp. I agree. The instructors were just that: instructors. They always tried to teach us. They never lorded over us that they had more experience or skill or training. In the Army, some 19-year-old who just graduated from, say, advanced infantry training, will treat those who are only about three months behind him as if there were untouchable, low-life dirt.
There was absolutely none of that at Front Sight.
However, much of Front Sight is military. They wore a uniform that included black combat boots and black bloused pants. Their gray shirts had vertical ironing seams down each side as well as their name on the right side above the packet and Front Sight above the left pocket—the same placement as name tags and “U.S. Army” on military uniforms. They also wore a Front Sight uniform baseball cap.
And the situation—34 people on a firing range with loaded weapons—required the giving of commands. We got excellent training on that and much experience doing it at West Point. A command consists of two parts:
• preparatory command
• command of execution
The preparatory command must be loud and enunciated clearly so people know exactly what they are supposed to do. The command of execution comes out like a gun shot or whip crack. In many cases, it is more of a noise than a word, although at West Point we were taught to use the word not the noise version. For example, to call a group to attention, the preparatory command is “Atten-” and the command of execution is “Shun!”
I also taught my high school football quarterbacks and linebackers how to give commands using leading stretching for practice.
Generally, they do this at Front Sight but they are a bit sloppy varying the command words at times and speaking them too quietly at others and in the case of one roving instructor, getting into a theatrical “Let’s get ready to rumble” style where some words were deliberately distorted for style purposes (e.g., Whitney Houston singing the Star Spangled Banner such that the word “free” has five syllables) and others were distorted by the mistake of pushing the vocal cords beyond their limit.
Bottom line, we who were wearing acoustic earmuffs and holding loaded guns in our hands did not know what we were supposed to do. That is, at best, annoying and unproductive and, at worst, if two armed people interpret the same command differently, dangerous.
1. The commands must be unified. Everyone reads the exact same words at a lectern behind the firing line out of a loose-leaf binder containing laminated scripts. This is the way it is done in the military and was how we did it in high school football (we had no written scripts but then neither did we have loaded guns most of the time). Sticking to the same words every time eliminates confusion. The Front Sight instructors sometimes used different commands for the same actions. That is no good.
2. All commands that sound the same must be changed so they do NOT sound the same. This is the reason for the existence of the phonetic alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie, delta, etc.) and for pronouncing the number nine as “niner” to distinguish it from five. For example, at Front Sight they often said “Turn and face” which meant to stop facing the targets and turn around and face the instructor and the line of coaches. But they also had a command “Check and tape” which sounded like “Turn and face” when slurred and heard through acoustic earmuffs. “Check and tape” means to move forward of the firing line and put masking tape on the bullet holes you just put into the target. For anyone to move forward of the firing line when others are not is very dangerous. Front Sight must make those commands sound quite different by choosing different words and grammar. For example, “Tape over your bullet holes” sounds sufficiently different from “Turn and face.”
3. All commands must be enunciated clearly so they are understood by all. There can be no stylizations that confuse. Voices must not be strained to the point of making words confusing. And the instructors’ bull horns must have fresh batteries. When we took our final test on the afternoon of the fourth day, I and others could not understand the leader’s commands through our acoustic earmuffs. It sounded like his bull horn’s batteries had died but he still thought it was working so he was speaking into it in a normal conversational voice that was not getting amplified to the level we needed to hear the commands through the earmuffs. The instructors also wore earmuffs. I and others scored less well on the final test partly because we could not understand what we were supposed to be doing.
I am concerned about the instructors with regard to skin cancer. They looked like coffee beans, which is precisely what you would expect considering they stand in the sun in the Nevada desert about 12 hours a day. They are wearing a baseball cap which provides no protection for ears or neck. They also have an open-collared dress shirt.
They should be wearing broad brimmed hats with a cloth hanging off the back to cover their necks. Some students there had such hats. I wore a Tilley Hat but with no cloth hanging off the back. I should have had that cloth. A couple of Tilley models have the cloth off the back. All students and instructors there should have those cloth off the back broad-brimmed hats.
I told Rick the official shirt for both students and instructors should be a long-sleeved mock turtle. He said it was actually a good idea. I wore a mock turtle every day. It protects you from the sun better than sun block and it prevents hot brass cartridges from going down your shirt collar and burning you. If that sounds funny, you have not yet been to Front Sight. When you shoot, there are others doing the same thing about three feet either side of you and others three feet on the other side of them. For a while I had a left-handed woman on my right and a right-handed guy on my left. When we were all shooting, hot brass cartridges were raining down on me from both sides. Because of my broad-brimmed hat and mock turtle, I shed all of them. Others repeatedly took a hot cartridge to the face or ear or neck or down their shirt.
You spend almost all day at Front Sight at your range. They have plastic chairs under a sun roof but unlike rain which falls straight down, the sun comes under the roof early and late in the day. We had to move our chairs to the shade twice a day. The instructors always stood out in the sun. That’s wrong. Both students and instructors need to get out of that desert sun. In my area of California, many of the homes in horse areas have private horse arenas that have a high metal roof but no walls. That is what they need at Front Sight. The current shade roofs are too low-budget and small.
Of course the students and instructors could also be inside in the air conditioning for the fake-gun-fake-bullet activities I described above. Ditto for marksmanship training using laser or other electronic simulators. The notion that a firing range needs to be outside stems from low-budget military bases. Eventually, Front Sight will have competitors and those competitors will recognize that putting a thousand people out in the Nevada desert all day for two to four days is insane.
Common sense self defense
Here is my common sense self-defense program:
• live in a safe neighborhood
• work in a safe neighborhood
• do everything else in a safe neighborhood
• get a steel door in a steel frame so bad guys cannot kick it in
• don’t open your door to unexpected strangers
• call 911 if you suspect violent criminal activity
• get a watch dog or a trained guard dog
I doubt the Front Sight instructors would disagree with any of that.
If you want to get personal firearms into the list, do a study of all the violent actions that have hurt people and work your way down the list after sorting it by frequency, that is, protect yourself from the most likely violence from criminals or dangerous animals. I expect you will find that home invasion and kidnap are so far down the list that lightning strike is a greater danger. I am sure I will be enlightened by readers if that is not the case.
There are also a great many non-lethal weapons that you should probably consider before using a lethal one, like tasers, mace, heat rays, loud noise projectors, a flash that briefly blinds the criminal, stun guns, and so on. These have the advantage of reducing the probability that you will be prosecuted, successfully sued, or illegally harassed or assaulted by friends or relatives of someone you shot.
I acknowledge that numerous studies have revealed that armed citizens deter crime and that ownership of a gun implies getting instruction on how to use it legally and safely. My problem is those who turn early to guns seem to have lost perspective on the self-defense big picture. Lethal weapons should be the last resort.
Then there is running away. That’s not macho, but it has one great virtue: it is required by law. You are not allowed to shoot anyone if you have the option of running away. Suppose you do not have the option of running away because you are fat, lazy, and out of shape. Does being fat, lazy, and out of shape give you the right to shoot a guy who is about your age but in shape, because you cannot outrun him?
If I were the plaintiff’s lawyer, I would point out to the jury that you could have run away if you had eaten the proper amount of food and gotten the moderate exercise doctors have long recommended. I would point out that my client was dead not because he behaved in a way that entitled an average citizen to shoot him, but rather he was dead because you were fat and lazy and substituted killing someone with a gun for a diet. So if you want to defend yourself, get your weight down to what it should be and get your strength up to what it should be. Take some physical self defense classes, although running away is generally best and, as I said before, required by law.
By the way, Front Sight offers such classes, although I know of no reason to go all the way out to Front Sight for them since they are typically available in every metro area.
Some Front Sight instructors, like Gregg Estep in our range, seem to be in top physical shape. However, the average Front Sight instructor would most accurately be described as portly. I know. I know. Being portly does not preclude being a top notch firearms instructor. I agree. But being portly is not a good idea for self defense or just living to a ripe old age and those who are in compliance with medical advice on weight and fitness are better able to avoid needing to use a gun to defend themselves. Arguably, the law that requires you to flee requires you to be in physical shape to flee. Whether you go by law or morality, it is questionable for a citizen to shoot someone with a lethal weapon because the shooter is in too poor physical shape to flee.
A reader of mine highly recommends the book How to Own a Gun & Stay Out of Jail by John Machtiger. Machtiger is a lawyer.
Another reader points out that you do not need to run away if you are in your house in a castle state. OK, but maybe you should anyway. Let me tell you about a case Rick Morrello told us about. Guy hears crashing sounds downstairs in his home. A man has kicked the door in and is smashing furniture and other personal property in the first floor. The homeowner tells the man to get out, police are coming," I have a gun," etc. The man says "I’ll kill you" and starts up the stairs. The homeowner shot him dead.
It was a neighbor who lived in a house with the same house number on another street in the development. He was drunk, thought he was in his own home, and that someone had stolen it and his furniture.
The state had a castle law, but the homeowner sees the children of the dead man walking to school past his house most days.
Was he within his legal rights to kill the drunk? Yes. But neither being drunk nor trespassing nor vandalizing a home are capital crimes (crimes that carry the death penalty). Approaching another person yelling, "I will kill you" is not a capital crime per se but it permits shooting if the perpetrator has you cornered, etc.
The homeowner regrets shooting the man.
Castle laws are also called “Make my day” laws. That sort of trash talk in matters of life and death belongs in Hollywood, not in law books or in the minds of law-abiding citizens. If you have to defend yourself, it should be legal to do so. But making a person’s real estate a sort of free-fire zone is morally questionable.
That being said, I welcome the castle law because it is more likely to protect me and my family than to result in our deaths. I am glad my state of California has a castle law. However, from a moral and peace-of-mind perspective, I think you should consider escaping if you can rather than killing the intruder, even if you have a castle law.
As the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case revealed, there are also some stand-your-ground laws that do not require you to retreat if you can. I do not care for the motives of the liberals and blacks using the Martin case to call for repeal of stand-your-ground laws, but I think such laws pander to machismo at the risk of encouraging more violence than is necessary. I think standing your ground should be police behavior, not private citizen behavior.
I got the impression that a concealed carry permit is the Holy Grail of Front Sight. Apparently, courses like Front Sight are sometimes required to get a carry permit. We had to wear a garment that concealed the holstered gun, sweep it out of the way, then draw the gun and put two rounds into a target within 1.5 seconds.
We live in California where concealed carry permits are almost impossible to get. Our fellow students expressed sympathy for us and wondered why were had not yet moved to a more gun-friendly state like Nevada or Arizona where open carry is even allowed. Open carry means you can wear a gun in plain sight all the time like a 19th century cowboy.
Uh, I can see where a gun might be necessary for self defense in extreme circumstances, but I do not want to wear one openly or concealed. Why not? I guess I’m just nutty that way. I have only seen one such person—at the grocery store. I almost called the police. She was an obese 50ish woman who revealed the gun every time she twisted her upper body. (Failure to keep the gun concealed is a crime and can cost you your concealed carry permit.) I decided to wait until another day to go shopping.
In my area, a person wearing a gun would freak out almost everyone around them. In any area, a loaded gun is a dangerous thing. It can cause people who have a gun in their car to feel they need to go get it. It can be taken away from and used against you. A child might innocently grab and fire it. It can be lost or stolen and used in a crime where it would be untraceable to the criminal.
Guns and their bullet-filled magazines are also heavy and somewhat uncomfortable to wear all day. In 67 years, I have only wished I had a gun once—when I was in Vietnam. Even there, I never had occasion to fire it. Most Vietnam vets who did fire their weapons there probably were just spraying the jungle and never saw an actual enemy soldier.
I had a sense at Front Sight that those who had concealed-carry permits and who carried guns regularly felt it gave them some sort of exciting, action-hero status. Doonesbury’s “Red Rascal” would probably want a concealed-carry permit.
Makes sense for law enforcement and heavy duty security guards like those who work on armored cars or wild animal trainers, but I am not aware of any statistics that say it makes sense for an ordinary citizen. Guns in the home, yes; but not on the hip.
Front Sight’s 4-day handgun defense course was extremely arduous and unpleasant in a number of ways. I have long been amused at the amount of misery people will put up with when they are in an “I’m having fun” mind set. A couple of my Army ranger school classmates were at a college football game after ranger. It was pouring rain and cold. People in the row in front of them commented that they were the most miserable people in the U.S. at that moment. The recent rangers assured them the guys who were in ranger school at that moment were far more miserable and would be thrilled to trade places. I have also seen people at ski resorts buying leather face masks and continuing to go back out into brutal conditions because they had paid a lot of money and had to get their money’s worth.
That same “I paid a lot of money for this and it is fun therefore I cannot be as miserable as I actually feel” was in evidence at Front Sight. For starters, I got no sleep the night before the first day. My wife got little more. Why? There are no hotels that met my wife’s standards in Parump, the closest town to Front Sight. So we stayed at the South Point near the intersection of South Las Vegas Blvd and NV 160—the road to Front Sight. South Point is a hotel-casino and South Las Vegas Blvd is “The Strip,” but there are no other casinos around it. They are several miles north. We did not sleep because the room was too hot. We set the thermostat the same as at home but the temperature was something like five degrees hotter in the room. The next two nights, we set it lower and lower and finally found that 62 to 64 was the equivalent of 67-68 in our home.
We had to get up at 5AM the first morning to eat breakfast and be at Front Sight at 7AM. It’s a 45-minute one-way drive from South Point. The other days, we had to get up at 5:40AM. The instructors repeatedly told us it was not a military boot camp, but getting up at oh dark thirty every day felt pretty military except for the absence of a bugler playing reveille. As a writer who works at home, I am used to getting up between eight and nine.
They talk about a future hotel at Front Sight but it exists only on paper, if there, at present.
At Front Sight, it was cold the first morning and generally very hot the rest of the time. It is desert so the humidity was very low which beats high humidity but it dries you out. We had four GatorAde coolers. They had ice water the first three days and just cool water the fourth. They repeatedly warned us against dehydration and told us to drink even if we were not thirsty. Good advice. But they only gave us five-ounce cups and the flow of the instruction was such that you had time to get one cup before you needed to sit down to listen to the instructor. You could have stayed at the cooler drinking and refilling, but few did. It seemed like it would be a bit rude to the instructors.
Speaking as a former football coach, the water needs ice and some of the four coolers should have a sugared drink like Koolaid or lemon aid. When you make it ice cold and have some sweetened liquid, the people you are trying to protect from heat stroke tend to drink more of it. That’s not my theory. It is medical advice on the subject of preventing heat stroke, which can kill or cause permanent brain damage surprisingly quickly. We experienced it in ranger school and Vietnam and it is a constant danger in early season football practices.
They had no indoor plumbing for us students. I am told they are building it, but all we had was porta potties. They were so dirty at times that I ended up throwing away a pair of jeans. Had I been home, I would have washed them. But on a six-day hotel trip, I did not want to lug them around. The porta potties were hotter than the great outdoors and as smelly as you would expect in the heat.
We got an hour or two in an air-conditioned lunch room/lecture hall the first three days. On the fourth day, we were sent to a fabric quonset hut that was air-conditioned but inadequately. Apparently it’s their ju jitsu room and the air-conditioning is designed for those classes, not hundreds of sweaty gun range students sitting elbow to elbow.
We spent a lot of time sitting in chairs outdoors that were sometimes in the shade sometimes not. The other half of the time was spent out in the sun doing drills or shooting—time-wise, like migrant farm workers picking grapes in the fields. There was always shade somewhere for the seated instructions if you moved the chairs according to the angle of the sun at the time.
It was hot in the shade; hotter in the sun. We had trouble staying awake for the after lunch lecture or movie and for the first-thing-in-the-morning lecture one day. There is a reason hot, dry, dusty countries have siestas every day. Front Sight is a hot, dry, dusty venue. If they cannot move the instruction indoors to air-conditioned space, they’d better institute siestas. Just demanding that students stay awake based on politeness is not going to happen when the students spend ten hours outdoors in the heat.
There was one vending machine in the lunch room containing some snacks and drinks. I tried to use it four times. It was out of order twice.
Basically, our situation regarding running water and toilet facilities was identical to that of migrant farm workers in the fields.
There was no food other than box lunches that you had to prearrange. My wife and her friend get them and liked them. The beverage with the box lunches was bottled water stored at room temperature. I bought an ice-cold Coke in a cooler in our rental car as well as some convenience store stuff like beef jerky and cookies. There were no box suppers including on the day when we had to stay until 9:30 PM. And there was no availability of food at breakfast. One of their future dreams is a restaurant.
There was nowhere to go to buy a hot meal or fresh sandwich. Parump was too far—about 25 minutes one-way drive—for a one-hour lunch. The other direction—toward Las Vegas—was about 35 minutes to the first gas station with snacks for sale. You either get box lunches and those just for lunch, or you eat non-refrigerated, non-chocolate, non-fresh, packaged foods. Those who drive from their home can probably bring large coolers full of ice and thereby have wider BYO food options. We flew to Las Vegas and rented a car so we had no large cooler.
A few people had RVs. If you could plug in the air-conditioner at Front Sight, or run the engine all day to keep the RV air-conditioned, you could take refuge there during the day, have full cuisine options, and take a nap.
Total time from leave the hotel until return to hotel was about 7Am to 7PM; 11 PM on night-firing night—about 12 to 16 hours a day. I don’t think they are allowed to work the migrant pickers that hard. Except for an hour or two in the lunch room, all the non-commute time was outdoors in direct or indirect sunlight, sometimes with a breeze, and in extremely dry conditions. You need lots of chapstick. I find this sort of exposure to the great outdoors wipes me out physically. We all had good morale and soldiered on with few needing to take a timeout. Misery loves company. But it was very draining. You do not go to a “resort” to be miserable.
Our hands were damaged—everyone in my group of three and I think other students said they suffered the same injuries. Our hands, both of them, were swollen and still are a week later. Our hands also got cut in several places and they were bruised (by slapping the magazines into the guns and cocking the gun) and our thumbs were ground up by the steel buttons you have to push to release the magazine and to lock the bolt open for type three jams. I’m starting to wonder if I have permanent nerve damage in my thumb from repeatedly pushing on that magazine release button and forcing bullets into half-full magazines.
My wife’s girlfriend said we should have gotten a half hour to an hour in the lunch room of handling the gun and working the various slides and buttons so we learned a non-injurious way to do it. That is how we learned to perform inspection arms without injury at West Point. But we never learned a smooth way to deal with those buttons at Front Sight so we performed those actions in ways that hurt because we were constantly so rushed and never got a chance to experiment and discover the body mechanics or angles that make it easy to do. We rented our guns so we did not have them until about 8 AM—when class started—and had to turn them back in when class ended at 5PM or later.
I recall no hand injuries to me or my follow students at West Point or ranger school from firing weapons.
Front Sight calls itself a “resort.” It is the only resort I know of that relies entirely on porta potties and GatorAde coolers for plumbing. It reminded me of a resort called Kona Village on the Island of Hawaii. It is an all-natural “paradise” where the guests stay in sweltering un-air-conditioned thatched-roof shacks and the local help takes your money through ticket seller window slits into their quite air-conditioned offices. The pro shop at Front Sight was extremely well air-conditioned; the lunch room for the students less so, and the karate tent struggling to keep up with the heat. Most of the time we sweltered outdoors in the heat. At most other resorts, the guests live in nicer conditions than the full-time staff of the resort.
Front Sight is very big on the Second Amendment. Front Sight Founder, chiropractor Ignatius Piazza, more or less said the NRA is wimpy on the Second Amendment and that Front Sight was its main defender. Perhaps so.
I am a big supporter of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, but I cannot get as excited about this one amendment as many others do.
The Second Amendment says,
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
It is perhaps noteworthy that when Piazza spoke of the Second Amendment in a film we were shown, he left out the militia clause. The significance of that clause is disputed, but it is part of the Second Amendment whether Front Sight or the NRA likes it or not. Leaving it out when talking about “The Second Amendment” suggests Second Amendment lovers want the Second Amendment amended to leave out the militia purpose statement.
Front Sight seems to wrap itself in the Second Amendment. I got the impression that failure to become a “Family Life Member” of Front Sight sort of suggested you were weak on the Second Amendment, that taking courses at Front Sight and becoming a Family Life Member was in part, helping to preserve the Second Amendment. Perhaps, but Front Sight appears to be a for-profit business, not a non-profit charity.
I agree with Piazza however, that the Second Amendment has been partially repealed unconstitutionally by various state and federal laws and that those laws should be declared unconstitutional.
Piazza says they often get press inquiries. They welcome them but insist that the reporter take one of their courses to get their cooperation on the story. They claim they have won over many a hostile reporter by doing that. I do not doubt it. The instructors are very professional and great guys and the students are nice, intelligent, normal people. But the problems with Front Sight probably would not be evident to a novice reporter even over the course of a multi-day training. They would need to take an expert in the law enforcement use of firearms and observe about not only what goes on there but also what is left out, what is rushed, what unnecessary risks are being taken, and so on.
I am an expert on expertise and imparting expertise to others. I have written 33 how-to books (92 if you count editions) and about 5,000 how-to articles.
Front Sight’s full name is Front Sight Firearms Training Institute. Their instructors often talked to us about being “in a gun fight.” Their ad slogan is “The World's Premier Resort for Self Defense and Personal Safety Training.” And they promise that “a Weekend at Front Sight Resort [will result enable you to] Leave with the Skills to Safely Protect Yourself and Your Family.”
Translating that into the generic language of expertise, Front Sight claims to have discovered the best practices for a law-abiding person or family to use in a gun fight with one or more criminals. Furthermore, they claim to be able to impart those best practices and the skills required to implement them within the two to four days of the course in question.
I question whether anyone has true expertise in gun fights. The typical retired career police officer never fired his weapon. The guys with the most gun fight experience are probably street punks who have no training and who are generally dead or paralyzed. One problem with the idea of gun fight experience and expertise is that each gun fight is unique. They are not conducted under rules like depicted in Hollywood fast-draw competitions on Main Street at high noon.
The most Hollywood thing we did was take on four bad guys at once all by ourselves in one drill. Did we shoot all four in the thoracic cavity rapidly? Yep. Was it a good idea for us to do that? Yes, we could get into such a situation and having done it, even if only two times, greatly increases the chances we would do better in such a gun fight. I learned how valuable just one repetition of a skill can be as a football coach—and how ineffective mere verbal coaching with zero reps can be. But you cannot shoot four guys or any guys unless each and every one of them is imminently threatening your life and you cannot escape. That means all four are aiming guns at you. I doubt they are all going to withhold fire or miss while you are picking them off. But I must admit we did deliver mortal wounds to each amazingly quickly. (One of the tricks we learned was that after your first shot, you can be careful not to let the trigger of a semi-automatic go back out farther after you feel it reset. Once it’s reset, you can fire again only now you have a hair trigger for doing so. So for the four-bad-guys drill, we generally had that hair trigger capability for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th shots.) Am I saying four such bad guys would be in trouble against a Front Sight attendee? Yes, but I am also saying that Front Sight attendee would also be in trouble.
A serious person who aspired to become a true expert on gun fights would probably need to track down as many videos of them as possible and study them like we football coaches study game and scout film. There have also been a number of forensic experts testify in court about various gun fights. The non-fiction book The Evidence Never Lies has the sort of facts that a gun fight expert would need. I have seen various documentaries on TV about gun fights like the LA bank robbers who had assault weapons and bullet-proof vests in their prolonged fight with the FBI. The Evidence Never Lies I believe talks about the extensive forensic investigation of the shootout between police and the Chicago black panthers. I have also seen forensic archaeologists on TV analyzing battles like the Little Big Horn, Gettysburg, and World War I trench warfare based on the locations of bullets and cartridges they dig up.
My general impression from those scientific sources is that the main thing going on in gun fights is bullets missing their targets. But you cannot count on that.
The biggest true experts on gun fights are probably slacker paint ball addicts and computer gun fight gamers. My Football Clock Management book, which is purchased by NFL and college coaches, says that coaches can use football video games to practice clock management and they should because they only get 10 to 18 real games a years to practice in. Furthermore, it says that the best football clock managers in the universe are probably slacker football video game players who have thousands of games worth of experience.
I suspect the expertise of paint ball and video game champs relates more to knowledge of the terrain and objects used for cover on their favorite course than it does to the sort of generic firearms instruction provided by Front Sight. The biggest surprise for me at West Point about warfare was the importance of terrain and objects like houses and trees. There can be no useful generic gun fight expertise because there are no generic gun fights. Front Sight graduates say they gained a lot of confidence from the training there. I agree, but is it overconfidence? We’ll find out if and when we get into a real gun fight.
My classmates and I were trained in hand-to-hand combat at West Point and in Army ranger school. Did we gain confidence from that? Yes. Should we have? Not really. During a brief break in ranger school, three of my West Point classmates unwittingly went to a laundromat in a bad neighborhood. They removed some laundry from a washer that had finished. Three local toughs returned and were outraged that their laundry had been removed. Actually, I think they were more outraged by the fact that three white guys were in their neighborhood. One huge guy picked a fight with one of my classmates. The other two pulled knives to prevent my other two classmates from intervening. My classmate in the fight was nearly killed. The guy who attacked him let him go after asking, “Had enough?” From what they told me, a judge would have awarded my classmate zero points in the fight. He still has a mangled finger because the guy bit it hard and my classmate did not seek medical treatment for it because he feared being made to recycle through ranger school with another class.
Think about this. Three against three. Two guys had knives, but our hand-to-hand combat training including disarming guys with knives—although our instructors recommended not doing that if there were any other alternatives. My West Point classmates had been taught hand-to-hand combat techniques three times: West Point physical education, West Point Recondo training, and Ranger school just weeks before the incident. How effective was the training in that incident? Zilch.
One of the guys in question later became a black belt in karate. He found a burglar in his apartment once in the dark. The burglar did not know my classmate was in the room until he hit the guy full force with a karate uppercut. The burglar fled the apartment at a terror-stricken rate of speed.
But in general, I think so-called martial arts self-defense training is too much ritualistic choreography and not enough real self-defense skills and I felt the same about some of the instruction at Front Sight.
If you can shoot without the enemy knowing you are, you use sniper techniques and the enemy is probably doomed—and vice versa. In a close gun fight where you and the bad guy both know each other’s location and neither has cover, it is likely to be a crap shoot based on the combination of accuracy, luck, and speed. Front Sight almost entirely based their training that I took on two guys facing each other out in the open cowboy high noon style. They mentioned moving to cover, but other than the brief room clearing, we never practiced it further. We had about 15 minutes of screwing around with entering rooms of a house. But in a real gun fight, I suspect the first order of business for everyone would be to haul ass to some sort of cover then continue the fight from behind that cover if at all. Finding a way to escape the area entirely would be even better and, again, is required by law.
Even in the military they generally react to enemy fire by seeking cover then calling in artillery or air-support to blow the enemy that was shooting at them away. Just duking it out with small arms Front Sight style is considered suicidal and dumb. Calling 911 is probably your best solution to the vast majority of potential gun fight situations.
I think the expertise we were taught at Front Sight was police academy firing range stuff, not real gun fight stuff. It was related, but a water pistol fight where if you get wet, you lose, is probably more realistic and more likely to truly teach you how to defend yourself and your family. Mainly what it would do is teach you that it is very hard to avoid getting hit when the enemy has cover and you do not know where he is.
Here is a simple question that I think reveals that Front Sight is not a gun-fight-winning school: Who is the biggest expert in the world on winning gun fights and how did he acquire that expertise? I expect the answer is no one or that the biggest expert has relatively little such expertise. Real gun fights are, by definition, a very hard thing to acquire expertise at. You are more likely to acquire a mortal wound before you acquire much expertise.
The least Hollywood thing we did was reload. Boy, did we reload! Reloading was probably the thing we did most. Do the math. We fired 850 to 1,000 rounds each in four days. Most magazines hold ten rounds. Do the math.
They do not reload in Hollywood. Reloading is boring theater. They always seem to have guns that are connected to bullet hydrants by invisible bullet hoses. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a war movie, cowboy movie, or cops-and-robbers movie. You rarely see anyone reload unless it a dramatic element like the “I gots to know” scene in the Dirty Harry movie.
Harry Callahan: I know what you're thinking. "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?
Bank Robber: I gots to know.
Not only did we reload as many times as the math would indicate—100 times to shoot 1,000 rounds using ten-round magazines—we also did “tactical” reloads and practice reloads. A tactical reload means taking out the old magazine then putting in a new one even though the old one is not empty yet. The idea is supposed to be that after you fire a couple of shots, you have more in the magazine on your hip than you do in the one in your gun. So every time you have a couple seconds, you replace the magazine in your gun with one that has a couple of more bullets. So we frequently reloaded after every two shots not every ten. Pushing the magazine release button for that purpose chewed up the thumbs of those of us who never learned the right way to do it—assuming there is a right, less painful way to do it.
Then we also had to do another reload that hurts the same thumb: refilling empty magazines with more individual bullets. The reload tool helps but you still end up shoving metal objects very hard with your thumb a hundred or more times a day.
Bureaucratic military versus private enterprise military
I think the actual U.S. military is a profoundly inept, inefficient, dishonest Kafkaesque nightmare. Front Sight instructors repeatedly referred to the U.S. military as a hidebound bureaucracy with regard to weapons instruction.
I have often thought a private enterprise military would run circles around the government one. We had a private enterprise navy during the revolutionary war. They were called privateers and were essentially private naval bounty hunters. It seemed to work quite well.
Modern day drug cartels are also private enterprise militaries to a large extent. They do seem to run circles around the government military and law-enforcement organizations who are supposed to stop them. True, you read of the occasional success by the government. When you read that the price of drugs on the street is going up, you’ll have something. Until then, the occasional arrest is merely an insignificant cost of doing business to the drug guys.
So I was intrigued by Front Sight which is a sort of private enterprise infantry branch small weapons school. Are they more cost effective than the Army schools? You bet.
Do they do a better job? Overall, I would say Front Sight was better than the weapons training I had at West Point, which is probably the best in the Army. But I must also admit I saw some problems with Front Sight’s private enterprise version of an army training center.
One was apparent pandering. As a writer of how-to books, I tell people what they need to know. My competitors, if you can call them that, in real estate investment, are get-rich-quick scammers. They tell people what they want to hear. It appeared to me that Front Sight crammed ten pounds of skills into an eight-pound bag. That probably makes the students feel they are getting a lot for their money and makes them blame themselves when they don’t quite get it. In fact, they need to teach a little less and spend more time so that the students can truly learn lesson A before rushing to lesson B.
Haste makes waste. Since safety is so important, they need to slow down to reduce the probability of injury. They were proud that no instructor had ever been hurt there, but they also noted that students who shoot themselves or others have to be taken to a hospital by helicopter by Front Sight policy and that it is expensive. I surmise from that that many students have been shot and helicoptered out. Probably, some of those were caused by rushing the students through too much instruction.
Although there was some mention of the need to be cognizant of what’s behind where you are shooting, we got no practice in holding our fire because of the possibility of innocent persons behind the criminal we were shooting at. Police do get that training. Why would we not need it at Front Sight? I think the answer is such a range would cost more and not lend itself to 17 people shooting simultaneously.
Similarly, they talked briefly about bullets going through things and continuing to fly lethally, but again, we got no demonstrations or practice. Hollywood is forever showing people taking cover behind car doors or building walls. In fact, bullets rather easily go through all sort of building materials, car bodies, and even human beings.
There also was no training or even discussion of ricochets. If a bullet hits something insubstantial, like a sheetrock wall, it just goes through it and keeps on going. If it hits something soft and thick, like a lawn or the berms at Front Sight, it buries itself in the material. But if it hits something hard, it bounces off in unpredictable directions and is still lethal.
Except for the 15 minutes of entering a room, the whole course assumed we were in a shoot-out on a city street. We practiced for that shooting at paper targets right in front of an earthen berm. We were always to keep our guns pointed “downrange,” i.e., at the targets and berm.
But where, pray tell, is the safe “downrange” in your home or in a suburb or city? If a street punk brandishes a knife and says he’s going to kill you, you may be entitled by law to draw your concealed pistol and shoot him. But where does the bullet go after it passes through his heart or lungs or head? It keeps going down the street until it hits something substantial. That something may be other humans, pets, thin walls that do not stop a bullet, thin car bodies that do not stop a bullet, or a solid metal or stone object that cause the bullet to ricochet perhaps killing you or one of your party, or some person off on a side street that you never could have seen. You may be prosecuted and/or sued for any damage or injury the bullet does after it passes through the criminal. Same is true if you miss the criminal, which is perhaps more likely. It is generally illegal to discharge a weapon in an urban or suburban area. In flat areas like FL, DE, and NJ, it is often illegal to discharge any weapon but a shotgun for hunting.
This was barely mentioned at Front Sight. It needs to be taught and practiced.
Friendly fire was also barely mentioned. I suspect that many if not most firings of weapons at “intruders” actually are caused by family members assuming one of their other family members is a criminal. Students need far more discussion and practice in avoiding that.
Not martinets but sometimes they need to be
Front Sight instructors were not martinetish. They took pride in saying this is not a boot camp. Military guys typically are martinetish. But with regard to operating a firing range, martinet is better than the more casual Front Sight approach. Martinet avoids ambiguity and confusion which can get someone hurt when a bunch of mostly beginners fire off more than 30,000 lethal bullets in a space the size of a basketball court within four days.
There are also some conflicts of interest. Front Sight sells bullets so it would appear to be in their interest to have you shoot as many as possible even though as I said above, we probably should have done most of our training with fake guns, fake bullets, and used mostly electronic or other non-lethal marksmanship devices. We scrupulously bought the number the instructors told us to buy for the remaining part of the day or course yet well still ended with with 300 Glock 9mm rounds we do not need and cannot use in the revolvers we own. That cost us about $150 at Front Sight’s pro shop, where there is a sign on the cash register that they do not give refunds for bullets.
Front Sight also needs to expand their discussion and training with regard to avoiding hurting people you do not want to hurt and with regard to the limitations of firing-range training as far as real confrontations with violent criminals are concerned. The training seemed to hyped somewhat to increase sales, returning customers, and word-of-mouth referrals. I think those who take courses there are probably dangerously overconfident with regard to their ability to do well in real gun fights. That is a danger to the Front Sight students themselves as well as to others around them out in the real world.
The first morning, we had to sign a legal release. It seemed to say that we could not sue Front Sight no matter what but they could sue us. I could not see it at their Web site. It should be there. I never saw it until we were already there. So you could sign or walk away from the time and expense you had incurred to attend. Wikipedia says, Defenses to formation of contract [include:]
Vitiating factors constituting defenses to purported contract formation include (1) mistake; (2) undue influence; (3) misrepresentation; and (4) duress.
I wrote an article about pre-nuptial agreements once. Once defense against them was if one of the two fiancees sprang the agreement on the other party just before the wedding. California, for example, requires that the parties wait seven days after it was first presented before they sign it. Many laws require that the consumer have a three or more day right of rescission or cooling-off period before a signed contract takes effect—like the Federal Trade Commission Act. I do not know if there is any such federal or Nevada law that would apply a cooling-off period to the Front Sight release.
Another question about enforceability is it seemed to be an adhesion contract.
Obviously, you should have your lawyer read the release before you sign it. So get a copy before you go there for that purpose.
Generally, the Front Sight people were our big buddies, but I did not feel that way when they were going over that release.
I do not know what their policy is on showing it to prospective customers beforehand. If they refuse, I expect your lawyer will advise you do the same to their offer of a course.
Family Life Membership
We were strongly urged by a lunch time pitch to become Family Life Members. Apparently this gives you discounts forever.
Among other things, I am a real estate investment expert. In real estate, there are two kinds of leases: short-term and long-term. You evaluate a building with short-term leases like an apartment building or beach house on the basis of its rental market value, that is, what rent you could get in the current market. Other buildings, especially nonresidential ones, like a building rented to your state department of motor vehicles or a warehouse rented to IBM, typically have long-term leases. You do not evaluate those on what you could rent them for because they are already rented and will remain so for a long time. Those buildings are evaluated based on the amount of the rent specified in the lease and the credit of the tenant. Indeed, they are often called “credit leases” or “bond leases.”
The same principle entering into any long-term contract with a supplier of goods or services. Front Sight’s Family Life Membership is a long-term promise. If you buy a Family Life Membership in Front Sight, you are essentially making a long-term, unsecured loan to Front Sight.
A financial advisor should tell you that you need to check the financial statements and credit rating of the entity in question before you agree to a long-term contract. That applies to health-club memberships, long-term warranties, insurance, and so on. Indeed, the sale of long-term warranties and life memberships often is a sign that the entity in question will or may soon go out of business. When Chrysler was in financial difficulty in the late 1970s, just before it got bailed out for the first time by the federal government, it extended its warranties far beyond those of Ford and GM. Many experienced business people noted that such changes in warranty terms were often preludes to going out of business. I once bought a newsletter to combine its subscribers with mine. But during the negotiations, I refused to take on their “lifetime subscribers.” They had sold those lifetime subscriptions before offering the newsletter to me. They ceased publication of their newsletter and those subscribers are not getting mine.
Bottom line, before you enter into a lifetime contract with Front Sight or anyone else, check their credit and financial statements, i.e., balance sheet and income statement. With publicly-traded companies that’s easy. Just go to the SEC’s EDGAR web site and read them. But I saw no indication at the Front Sight web site that it is anything but a closely-held, private company. In that case, they are not required to divulge their balance sheet and income statement.
That’s fine. They are entitled. I am a sole proprietor who does not need to, and does no,t disclose financial statements. But neither have I ever sold lifetime memberships or subscriptions.
If you cannot check the financial statements of an entity from whom you are considering buying a long-term service, you should deal with them only on a short-term, case-by-case, pay-as-you-go basis. As I said above, that applies to all long-term contracts and leases with all persons and businesses.
Talking to the police after you shoot someone
The instructors gave their backgrounds the first day. They were impressive—many former military and former police. No former lawyers, which is surprising because they spend an awful lot of time talking about the law of weapons and using them. One former cop at Front Sight essentially advised us not to lawyer up after we shot someone because it tended to make the police treat you worse.
Uh, I am not a lawyer, but I think that is extremely bad advice. I do not doubt that police do not like a shooter invoking his right to remain silent, but that is a minor issue. You could go to jail and/or go bankrupt as a result of shooting someone. I think you need to talk to a lawyer before you talk to anyone else including your own family members. There is spousal privilege, but other family members and friends can be compelled to testify about what you said privately to them under oath. I hope some lawyers read this and comment to me about that.
A few days after I got back from Front Sight, I was talking to a car service adviser. When I mentioned the Front Sight experience, he said he had wanted to be an instructor there but could not get his wife to agree. When I mentioned the don’t-lawyer-up advice, I said, “I doubt a police officer would talk before seeking a lawyer or advise his kid to talk to anyone but a lawyer if they shot someone.” The service adviser said, “Speaking as a former law enforcement officer, I agree with you precisely. I would not talk to a police officer nor would I let my child or spouse do so. Lawyer up.” He had been a deputy sheriff in two counties and had graduated from a police academy.
The Front Sight instructors also talked extensively about the law of owning, carrying, and shooting guns in criminal situations. I think they got that right, but the general tenor of Front Sight is they are the best at what they teach and very professional. If they truly want to be the best, they need to hire a former prosecutor, former criminal defense counsel, and a civil tort trial lawyer to teach those subjects.
What to take and where to stay
Shoes—the ground is white dust plus stones and rocks. Waffle-stomper sneakers that you can wash are probably best.
Pants—lightweight hiking cargo pants in hot weather; regular cargo pants on cold weather. You need lots of loose pockets—for extra magazines and bullets and empty magazines. I and many other wore jeans. No good. Not enough pockets and the pockets were tight patch pockets.
Belt—Use the one with the holster and magazines to hold up your pants. If you rent a gun, they give you the best, holster, and magazine pouches as part of it.
Holster—rigid not leather or fabric. This is a fast-draw course and the rigid holsters are the only ones for that.
Magazine pouches—ditto for the same reason.
Magazines—I recommend revolvers with many loaded speed loaders but if you use semi-automatic, you need about five magazines. I had two for a while, then three, but I kept running out of bullets and its hard to reload a magazine on the firing line.
Magazine reloader tool—They loaned me a magazine reloader tool. Must have. My wife tried to get one and they said they were out of loaners. Again, if you use a revolver, no need for this but you do need multiple speed loaders full of bullets and the rigid belt pouches from which to take them.
Shirt—long sleeve mock turtle. These protect you from the sun and keep hot cartridges from other people’s guns from getting inside your shirt.
Hat—mandatory; most wear baseball caps. Forget that. They do not protect your ears or neck. Wear a broad-brimmed hat like my Tilley hat. Get one with a cloth down the back French Foreign Legion Kepi style. You also need to wear acoustic earmuffs. Some can be worn with the connector on the back of the neck. I got by with one that went over the top of the head but I had to use the chin strap on my Tilley hat to keep the hat from falling off with the ear muffs underneath it.
Acoustic earmuffs—my wife bought some for me. Front Sight also gave them to you with the gun if you rented one. Mine were fine and the Front Sight ones they gave me were the identical brand and model.
Protective eye wear— We bought our own but they were too tight and like a vise. The ones given to me by Front Sight as part of my rental were not tight but were dirty and uncleanable so you simply could not see through them well. I had to endure the vise the whole time. Try them on before you buy or rent them.
Concealed weapon garment—some fairly substantial jacket. A shirt is too light and tends to get blown back over the holster or is too hard to brush back cleanly.
As I said above, we stayed at South Point and recommend it. They have eight restaurants and you do not want to look for a place to eat after a long day at Front Sight. Make a reservation. One day it’s empty; the next, they have a convention.
Rent versus take your own gun—take your own. I think you can do that with checked airline baggage or by driving. Check the pertinent laws.
I have met a lot of guys who consider suggestions on their merits. Surprisingly, but logically when you think about it, NFLNCAA coaches are often more receptive to my football coaching books than many high school coaches. That’s because NFL/NCAA coaches can and do judge ideas on their merits. High school coaches often do as well, but there are also many high school coaches who judge an idea on the résumé of the person with the new idea. Rick Morello of Front Sight appears to be one of those who judge ideas on their merits. Others take suggestions as a personal attack. Rick said Piazza reads all the evaluations his students send in. That suggests that he too, is one of those guys who truly welcomes constructive criticism and adapts new ideas that make sense. Well, her ares mine and we’ll see how to responds to them.
I like the staff at Front Sight a lot. I like the basic idea of Front Sight. I wish them success. Paraphrasing John F. Kennedy’s 1960 campaign slogan, ”I believe this is a great country, but I believe it can be better,” I say
I believe Front Sight is a great gun training range, but I believe it can be better.
John T. Reed