NOVEMBER 25, 2014

Guest Editorial - Negative Outcomes: Self-Inflicted Gun Shot Wounds (Part II)

This is the third installment of Claude Werner's "Negative Outcomes" series of features. It has to do with self-inflicted gunshot wounds related to holstering the handgun.
This photo was snapped over a decade ago and depicts the result of holstering a double action auto - failure to decock the pistol and keeping the finger on the trigger resulted in a divot burned through the thigh an entry and exit through the calf. The spent 230 grain FMJ bullet was recovered from the cuff of the BDU trousers.
For those of us who carry weapons on a daily basis, holsters are an integral part of our carry system. But there are numerous self-inflicted gunshot wounds each year related to using pistols and holsters in combination. Some result in fatalities. Holster manufacturers are sued on a regular basis by users who claim that the holster is responsible for the unintentional discharge. Holster related discharges can occur either on the way out or on the way in. The original 'quick draw' holster design, the Threepersons holster, had an open trigger guard. This, or variants like the Jordan Border Patrol holster or the Safety Speed "clam shell" holster, were in common usage by police officers up until a few decades ago. The design was based on the idea that getting your finger into the trigger guard as quickly as possible was a good thing. Now we know that's not particularly desirable. Once we started covering the trigger guard, negligent discharges on the way out went into decline, until recently.
STOP! The holster has a covered trigger guard and you're about to shoot yourself. Note: the "gun" is an analog - a dummy gun - that can't be fired.
Unfortunately, once we covered up the trigger guard, the path was paved for negligent discharges going back into the holster. Carelessly leaving the finger inside the trigger guard when reholstering will result in the holster helping the finger press the trigger. That's not the holster's fault, it's the user's. The solution to negligent discharges in either direction is placing the trigger finger in what John Farnam describes as the 'Register position.' The concept is to put the trigger finger above the trigger guard in a specific place, readily identifiable by feel, unless we're ready for the pistol to fire. Thinking about the operation this way is a further evolution of the phrase "Keep your finger out of the trigger guard until your sights are on the target." Pistols are designed for our trigger finger to naturally go into the trigger guard. Shooting them would be much more difficult if they weren't. What that means is that we have to train, and practice, putting our finger into a different position when we don't want to hear a loud noise. Because the drawstroke involves complex motor skills, learning to place the trigger finger correctly isn't something that comes easily, it requires a goodly number of repetitions to become unconsciously competent at.
The index finger is high on the slide, touching the ejection port, thumb on the rear of the slide to keep the gun in-battery as the gun goes into the holster.
Something I have seen thousands of times in competitions is the tendency people have to turn their bodies partially when they reholster. That's a downside of looking at your holster while reholstering. What this does is to reposition the holster such that it is pointing at the strong side calf. A negligent discharge in that position can turn what might have been just an embarrassment or butt scratch into a serious wound. I know of one police officer who had two NDs in the same incident. The first resulted in no wound because the holster was designed with a slight rearward cant. Unfortunately, he turned to look at the holster the second time he tried to reholster while his finger was still in the trigger guard. The repositioning resulted in the second discharge going into his calf He suffered a permanent disability from the incident. (Editor's note: This isn't the incident depicted in the photo.) Don't assume that just because you are a good shot, however you define it, that you are capable of using a holster correctly, too. Most people nowadays have learned to shoot at indoor ranges where holster work is generally prohibited. Most likely, it is going to take as many repetitions at using your holster to become unconsciously competent with it as it took you to learn to shoot your gun. Why would you think one was easier to learn than the other? This is another reason why I say any serious gun owner should have a Blue Gun (inert) analogue of their defense pistol. You can use the inert pistol for draw practice at home without menacing others by using your live weapon. Video yourself or have someone knowledgeable watch you to make sure you're doing it right. And remember to keep that support hand away from the muzzle. Claude Werner is The Tactical Professor. He served in Airborne, Ranger, Special Forces and Mechanized Infantry units in the US Army as both an enlisted man and an officer. His military assignments include being a Special Forces A-Team Commander, Intelligence Officer, and Mechanized Infantry Company Commander. Well known in the shooting community, he was formerly the Chief Instructor of the elite Rogers Shooting School and has won six sanctioned IDPA Championships with snub nose revolvers. In his civilian career, he was Research Director of three commercial real estate firms and was the National Director of Real Estate Research for Deloitte & Touche LLP. His blog is Tactical Professor.