Access: First you have to get to your gun

Regardless of the armed defense scenarios “reported” in media, in police reports, or in the “Hell, I was there” stories, one element seems to be the most common: acquiring the defensive firearm. Whether it’s in a drawer (bad idea), in a bag (ditto), holstered on one’s person, before you can [start your drawstroke to] deploy the firearm for defense you have to get your hands upon it.

Note: This article was written by Rich Grassi, who is on my list of People To Pay Attention To. It was originally published on The Tactical Wire.

For support, we need to look no farther than Concealed Carry Skills and Drills: A Guide for Average People by Claude Werner, the  Tactical Professor. He charted the “common tasks involved in personal protection with firearms” via a study of 6 months’ worth of Armed Citizen column entries in the American Rifleman magazine — those stories clipped from ‘news’ accounts. He found the following:

Draw to shoot – 13 instances

Draw to verbalization (please, not ‘challenge;’ this ain’t a duel) – 6 instances

Draw to ready – 3 instances

Draw to shoot (seated in an automobile) – 4 instances

Retrieve from car – 2 instances

Dumping for the moment the acquisition of the off-body sidearm, we are left with the draw. Ideally less fast than deliberate, the “right” draw is the one that gets the gun in your hand in a sure firing grip the quickest.

Dumping for the moment the acquisition of the off-body sidearm, we are left with the draw. Before you can begin your drawstroke you have to get to your gun.

Holsters differ, even holsters made to be similar to other existing holsters. Each product line has a difference, from ride, tilt, attachment, securing apparatus. More complex issues come from those holsters that are user-adjustable: altering one element of the ‘ride’ affects other aspects. Making adjustments requires a plan.

When you get into a new holster, plan in some practice time. The type of practice is critical. There are those who scoff at “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” The saying is shorthand, a mnemonic – a tool to assist retention — and doesn’t tell the whole tale.

More accurately, it’s “go slowly for perfect form.”

Learning physical skills – and practice – requires some ‘rewiring.’ This is a system like that I saw described by MSG Paul Howe, US Army (Ret’d) of CSAT; work the technique dry, slow for perfect form.

Practicing gun access, establishing grip, and the drawstroke.

Follow that with a gradual increase in speed. If there are time and resources, you can go to exceed the expected operational speed – on the range or in dry practice. Before you complete the training session, stop to execute the technique perfectly.

You end on something that you know you can do 100% of the time at the original “perfect for form” cadence.

Before you can start your drawstroke you have to be able to get to your gun.
Before you can start your drawstroke you have to be able to get to your gun. Starting above, your hand has to reach the holstered sidearm. Waste no time in getting it there. Below, put on the brakes and ensure that firing grip while the gun’s still in the holster.
Rich Grassi explains training to a drawstroke
Get to the gun quick, then put the brakes on a bit as you start the drawstroke. (Note: the model starting his drawstroke above is Chuck Haggard of Agile Training, not a mustachioed Michael Chiklis.)

Ending on that pace leaves you with a success and the last rep in the brain is ‘perfect.’

An instructor, Paul Smith, explained learning the draw in more-or-less this way: “Quick to the gun, sure to the grip. Quick to the eyes, sure to the sights.” It’s being deliberate, being precise to acquire after ‘rushing’ to get there.

Going quick, then putting on the brakes.

Once the grip is acquired, race the gun to eye level.
Above, once the grip’s acquired, race the gun to eye level. Note the shooter’s finger is still clear of the trigger guard, hooked against the frame. Finally, settle on sights and trigger – below. That requires slowing.

The time came that I needed the gun quickly. It came to hand without conscious reflection.

I didn’t have to shoot, hence the next lesson. I figured, and was happy for it, that for every draw made operationally, no shots were fired – nearly 100% of the time. The only time that a draw culminated in shots fired as a matter of routine was on the range; we were practicing to shoot at the end of every draw, a bad idea.

My practice had been the smooth, swift draw ending at point or at guard. I could take the time of the non-reflective, reflexive draw to occupy my mind with assessing the situation before me on the street. That saved me from lots of potential shootings – and I imagine my clients were delighted at that too.

Practice access – mostly – drawing without shooting.

You have to make an investment in your own survival. Only part of that is gear. The other part is skill. The more reflexive the draw, the less thoughtful it has to be. This leaves the brain to process sensory data without trying to remember how to draw.

Analyze the process. Know the ‘how’ – to see where speed is relevant and where slowing for sureness is necessary. Then work the parts that take the longest to “get” the most. Breaking it down is an analog to square range work versus the simulators; it’s learning a defensive tactic by the numbers before grappling freestyle.

The most time is consumed in getting the hand on the gun – moving the cover garment, defeating safety features of the holster. It’s “quick to the gun then sure to the grip.” Getting the firing grip in the holster is a deliberate move.

Then “quick to the eyes” – bringing the gun level – and “sure to the sights/trigger” – the deliberate move.

I recommend this system of practice as an investment against the day you hope never arrives.

David Reeder's Wu Tang name is Lucky Prophet. He is a retired AF veteran, former Peace Officer, and current Tier 2.5 writer-operator. Over the course of his career, he has worked a variety of military and lE billets, served as an Observer-Controller at the National Homeland Security Training Center, a MOUT instructor, and an MTT tracking instructor - all of which sounds much cooler than it really was. Although he only updates his website once in a very great while, he can absolutely be relied upon to post to social media (@reederwrites) at least once a month. -Ish.

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