I’ve started talking about the weapons found in my books. I’m planning to continue to do so, but before going too much further, there’s one thing we need to examine. Firearms experts call it “The Combat Triad.” I also want to talk about some stuff that can save your life, and that’s simple situational awareness.

So here we go.

One of the first things each and every Police Officer (and for that matter, every human being) should realize is that despite our civilization, despite our technological prowess, we’re still the same creature we were thousands of years ago. We came to where we are today through a Darwinian process. There are still, and probably always will be wolves out there. Unfortunately, most of them have two legs and look and sound just like you and me.

It was a lesson I had to learn the hard way. Like my character, Will Diaz, I like to look for the good in people. That optimism lasted just long enough to put me in the hospital. Fortunately, that’s the worst that happened. After that I learned to trust people but only to a point. The nicest guy in the world can turn killer in a heartbeat, and then go right back to being a nice guy and wondering what the hell he just did. We all have that in us, a darkness that can be easily unleashed. If you’ve never ran into that part of yourself, then drop on you knees and thank God.  It’s the most frightening revelation you’ll ever receive about yourself.

And that brings us to a very important thing regarding the carrying of firearm. If you’re a police officer, or just a civilian that feels they need one for personal protection, then you just strapped on an obligation to react at a level above everyone else. You have to be aware of what’s going on around you, understand it, and react accordingly. Not everything or everywhere is a threat, and you can handle threats through other means. There are also places you may not want a weapon (think nightclub and the wearer is drinking. Booze, a little confrontation, and a firearm makes for a good recipe for disaster. If you’re going partying, leave the gun home). In short, not everything justifies pulling a weapon for defense. Using a firearm is a very thin line, and if you cross it, you better be sure you know what you’re doing.

We start making those decisions through the aforementioned “Combat Triad.” Here’s what it looks like:


GUN HANDLING is vitally important. This means the ability to use the firearm properly and safely. You need to know how to load it, and equally import, how to unload it safely. If something goes wrong, like a misfire, what do you do?  Do you know where the safeties are on the weapon, and have you practiced turning them off, and more importantly, turning them on again?  How about the shooting position (sorry, holding the pistol sideways like a gangster on TV isn’t going to help you any)?  Know your stances, etc.

I’m going to add one here that you rarely find mentioned, and that’s firearm security. It never ceases to amaze me how often I hear of someone getting a “loaded” weapon that’s kept in a house, and shooting themselves or someone with it. I’m huge advocate of locking up firearms. I also advocate the use of trigger locks. This is a simple device, they don’t cost that much, but unless it’s removed, there’s no way, no how anyone is going to use that weapon for anything except a hammer. I know some folks say “if I need it, it’s going to take time to remove it” (which is true), but you have to balance the risk of needing the weapon to defend the home vs a five year old finding and playing with the weapon. From where I sit, the later is more than likely to happen. So my attitude is you practice loading the weapon and clearing, practice removing the lock. That way if you need it, doing so becomes second nature.

MARKSMANSHIP is nothing more than being able to hold the sight alignment on the target and hitting what you’re shooting at. This is combination of things involving how you hold the weapon, breathing, and so forth. Good marksmanship comes through one thing, and that’s practice, lots of it. It also comes with a weapon that you can handle.

Want an example? The department I was a rookie officer with had a patrol supervisor who carried a .44 Magnum (I don’t know, maybe he watched to much Dirty Harry). A .44 is a lot of pistol to handle. Anyway, we get a new chief, and the first thing he does is makes sure we can qualify with our duty weapons. Out of a fifty round course, the patrol super hit the target three times. It was too much gun for him, and he had to trade it in for a .357 like the rest of us carried. So bigger isn’t always better.

I had something like that happen recently. I’d purchased a new SCCY 9mm as a concealed carry weapon. I took it to the range to practice with it. I’m at the 7 meters line and engaging my target. I’m shooting center mass, and I’m looking at the target thinking where’s the bullets going (at 7 meters I can almost touch the target)? The SCCY has a long trigger pull, and that was causing the barrel of the pistol to dip when it finally engaged fully. Instead of shooting the target in the chest, I was blowing the target’s testicles off. While this might take the bad guy out of gene pool, it probably wouldn’t stop him from shooting at me in a real life situation. I ended up having to use what we call Weaver Stance to engage the target properly. This gave more support for the weapon. and I was hitting where I was aiming. I’m now proficient with the weapon, but again, it takes practice to know how it handles.

The last part of the triad is MINDSET. This is simple, it defines the willingness to use the weapon, and understanding the right time to employ it. Part of that is training, and as a police officer we always went through “shoot, no shoot” drills. Part of this is being aware of what’s going on around you and not allowing yourself to be distracted.

An example of this is friend and I ran a training course for some of our MPs. We called it “Dodge City” and we were going to make certain they learned from their mistakes. The idea was to teach them. One of the scenarios we had is one a police officer does everyday. The MP makes a traffic contact with Corvette. The driver is a hot, blue eyed, dark haired beauty dressed in such a way that a there’s a lot to see. The MP approaches, and while he’s distracted by the view, she kills him.

Situational awareness is paramount. The girl wasn’t going to kill the MP with her legs but her hands. He’d failed to watch what was going on and had allowed himself to be distracted. Guess it gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “boobs to die for” because that’s what happened in the scenario.

Now some of what follows next is directly applicable to everyday life. Every human being should have a mindset for survival. Hopefully this help.

Mindset also involves recognition of threats. Here’s an explanation I like:

White Alert. No threat at all – or so you think. We call this “Dumb and Happy,” and usually is in a location you think you’re safe (your home for instance). Problem is, you’re not looking  or watching what’s going on around you. If you’re attacked while at white alert, you probably aren’t going to make it.

Yellow alert. No threat, but you’re alert to the possibility of something happening. Want a regular everyday example? Try putting on your seat belt. We don’t expect a collision, but if one happens, you’ve some protection. Another good example is when I’m at work. I work in downtown Denver, just across the street from the state capitol. Nice location, but it’s a haven for the homeless, drug addicts, pimps, and so forth. Then there’s everyone else. Staying aware of what’s going on around you can keep you out of a lot of trouble. One of the surest ways to paint a target on yourself in the area is to be stay looking straight ahead, or worse, be on your phone and oblivious that what’s going on. It’s a lot easier to go from being aware of a potential problem to fighting or running than being oblivious to it. One thing you do need to do is “check your six” once in a while. Know what’s going on behind you. In that kind of an environment, it’s easy to have a pick pocket or mugger come up from behind. That happened to me recently. I’d cleared my six, walked maybe twenty yards and glanced over my shoulder and there’s this guy maybe ten feet me. I don’t know what his intentions were, if it was a harmless thing or not, but my knowing about him caused me to keep an eye on him, and to do a quick check of my wallet, etc. He disappeared from my six within a few seconds of my being aware of him. You decide.

Orange Alert means there is a potential for a threat. A protest is always a good place to avoid, or you see a someone yelling on the street. There might be a harmless explanation of what’s going on, but till you know exactly what’s going on or have cleared the area, you need to be ready to go to the final stage.

Red Alert. There is a definite threat. It can be a man charging you with a bat, knife, someone shooting a gun. You need to recognize this, and have your courses of action. A recent incident in the Denver-Metro area illustrates this. We had a guy in the check out line who killed several other people. There were several people with concealed carry weapons who drew on him, and he ran. Now a lot of people wondered why they didn’t shoot him, but I have to applaud their restraint. Crowded store, panicked people running. It was a recipe for shooting the wrong person if they chose to engage him. Either way, they scared off the threat, and the police were able to apprehend him. If you don’t have a weapon, knowing where the threat is and getting away from it is a definite help. Also know where exits are. You might not be able to fight back (and if you do choose to fight back, be prepared to take it all they way. Remember, you’re fighting for you life), but knowing how to get out can save your life.