A couple of days ago we ran an article musing on the ramifications of the Zimmerman trial (well, potential ramifications) on concealed carriers. It created a lot of conversation. Today we’re going to address the idea of too much training courtesy of Brannon LeBouef. Brannon doesn’t just have the same last name as a certain Texas Ranger in True Grit, he’s an accomplished instructor with an excellent background. He takes a look at some aspects of the ongoing ridiculosity (including appearances), and brings up one particular salient (grunts: salient) point we’d all do well to remember – not matter what happens, you better be standing on the moral high ground. We better also remember there is right and there is righteous.
If you carry a gun every day for self defense, or even just keep on in the house for that purpose, we HIGHLY recommend you read and digest this article. Call it “courtroom inoculation” for what you might expect to see happen if you have to
smoke check some thug put an intruder down in the defense of your family.
The Mad Duo
Musings on the Zimmerman Trial from a Trainer – Too Much Training?
So there was this little girl who happens upon a cottage in the woods. She enters to find three bowls of porridge. She tasted the first and exclaimed, “This porridge is TOO HOT!”,
She tasted the next and exclaimed, “This porridge is TOO COLD!”
After sampling the third and final bowl, she jubilantly proclaimed, “This porridge is JUUUSSST RIIIGGHHT!”
Then three angry bears called The Media; then The Prosecution and the Jury came in and ate her face off for daring to sample porridge even though there was a sign above the door that said “Free Porridge Sampling.”
Ok, perhaps I took some poetic license or literary liberty with an age-old childhood nursery rhyme, but the general premise is true for anyone who uses a firearm, or most any level of force, in self defense as it relates to training. How much training is too much?
How much training is not enough? How much training is JUUSST RIIIGGHHT?
Stephen Pineau brought up some very good questions as it relates to training and equipment in his recent article: Musings on the Zimmerman Trial from a Gun Carrier .
While I certainly do not propose to have all the answers, or perhaps any for that matter, I would like to lend my experience, education, and training to the “musings” we should all be making as it relates to many topics that affect us within the Zimmerman trial. My perspective is not only as a responsibly armed American for the past 15 or so years, but also as a firearms trainer, law enforcement officer, court expert, and someone who takes a personal vested interest in these kinds of situations for myself and my students. While not an attorney, I do have a brother-in-law… never mind.
Here is the secret answer…. there is none. No matter who you are, what you do or do not do, or how much training you have or do not have, the prosecution will use those facts against you. It is their job to exploit every fact and perception to get a conviction. Period. They are supposed to be honest and ethical in the manner they do it, but people being people and all. If you find yourself on the defendant side of the room, then it is because a District Attorney thinks he has enough evidence to convict you of a crime, or that he can CONVINCE a jury that he has enough evidence to convict you of a crime, or he has already sold his soul to the devil and is using you as a political scapegoat to pander to public “opinion” or some other forces working against him knowing he does not have enough evidence but wants to go through the motions to say he tried. Regardless of the case, your only hope is that the jury can understand the facts and your attorney does a good job of arguing them in your favor.
While obviously not every incident will contain all or any of the below mentioned variables, with more states going to a required grand jury hearing in homicide cases where the self-defense justification/defense is invoked, the instances will most likely rise. It would behoove of you to be aware of them, protect against them, and learn about the affects of them.
Remember, “the law” is not in contestation here. Your defense and your prosecutors have the same words in black and white that they are trying to convince twelve people (or a judge) to interpret the way they do versus the way you do. The letter of the law is not debatable. What is in debate is YOUR credibility, witness credibility, evidence credibility, and perceptual manipulation. It is basically a reverse game of playing momma against daddy with your life and freedom at stake. As I have said for years, the law is in black and white, but we all live in shades of grey. The question is what shade of glasses is the jury wearing as each attorney plays with the lighting. (Look at the Grey Life video at the conclusion of this article.)
Not Enough Training-
The reality is that for most people, this is the easiest avenue of attack for the prosecution–to paint you as reckless, negligent, and unqualified to be wielding the tool of death you chose to utilize to end the poor bad guy’s life. Even if you took the state required minimum, and should be legally protected through compliance, they will attack (in most cases righteously so) the inadequacy of the state required courses. This will include the professional resume, prior classes, personal beliefs and life of your instructor, to include his social media posts and statements from previous students. They will utilize anything they can to paint the instructor as a poor instructor, thereby making you a poor student product via association. If you have an instructor who cut corners on the state required course or has chosen to be a little liberal with his resume bullet points, those are all areas for the prosecution to attack the validity of your training, thus your knowledge, thus the validity of your decision making, thus your claim to justification through self-defense.
Expect them to subpoena the powerpoint, course outline, handouts, etc from your instructor. Expect them to vet him and who he claims to be. Expect them to question his competency, experience, or lack thereof, and his past courses.
Expect them to call in other students that were in your classes to testify as to your behavior, comments, jokes, and attitude during training. Were you paying attention? Were you participating or sleeping? What questions did you ask specifically? Did you take notes? Were you the first to qualify or did you wait to last? What did you wear to class? What equipment did you use? All of these questions, as well as others, will be used by the prosecution to paint the picture that you were either inattentive and did not get the info from the course, or that you were overly attentive, gung-ho, and teething for mo
re “killer” knowledge.
Too Much Training –
Of the sides of the defense to fight from, this is the one I would begrudgingly choose. You will be painted as a vigilante, bloodthirsty killer, and wannabe. You will be described as someone who spent every spare dollar and waking moment training to be a killer, waiting, LOOKING, for the opportunity to take a human life with all your skills and fancy equipment. Remember, when it comes to arguments in court, there are those facts that are relevant to the material information in a case, and those facts that affect public / jury opinion. Both are equally important. It is for this reason why I tell students to seek out training other than just firearm manipulation and tactics courses. Seek medical courses, verbal de-escalation courses, and other non-firearms courses that help you deal with people. Not only are these kinds of classes important for the lifesaving skills they provide, but they also show a jury you were interested in surviving and learning instead of just killing more efficiently.
When it comes to “too much training” I look at it like this. They will use everything against me. If I continue to train, I increase the likelihood of me surviving to fight the legal battle in the first place. The same training that they will argue makes you a “trained killer” can be argued as training that makes you safer through making you more efficient and confident with your tools. Someone who takes an additional 40-100 hours of driver’s training, including race track time, might be painted as a Mario Andretti wannabe with a need for speed if they get in a legitimate accident. However, the argument can also be made that they drive their kids to school everyday and wanted to be as safe and proficient a driver as possible, but there was no way for them to avoid the accident they were in.
That is a great example if I do say so myself, now have that same driver with 3-5 speeding tickets in 2 years and suddenly the “I am safer because I train” argument is a little harder to sell and the “He took those classes because he is a wannabe and has a need for speed” picture of the prosecution starts to take shape.
JUUUSST RIIIGGHHT Training–
How much training is just right for the courtroom?
I would offer that the answer is however much training is needed to make sure you make it to the courtroom. Even better, I would hope you are taking training and making decisions that do not lead to the courtroom. Good decision making is the best avoidance tool we have and avoidance is the best tool we have to …. avoid the very situation we are discussing.
Given that we have no idea what that level of training will be, the obvious answer seems to be to train. I would rather be in a position where I have to defend making myself a better and safer decision-maker than a position where I am either dead or made a mistake because I did not train enough due to fear of perception. Likewise, my law enforcement and legal experience leads me to believe that it is more about how you live your life rather than what classes you have taken. See my Mario Andretti example above.
We are and will be judged by all that we do. None of us are perfect and we all have elements of our lives we would rather not be public information. Once you shoot someone in self defense, that stops being an option. So if you spend weekends helping out at the local soup kitchen or the local cross-burning, each will have an impact on how a jury sees your state of mind, personal belief system, and perceptions to race, gender, sexual preference, or socio-economic status — even if they are completely unrelated. We should question those choices in our lives first and foremost based on our own moral views, but we must also ask ourselves how we live our life will be perceived by a jury. While it has not come up yet in the trial, the claims of Zimmerman publicly being racist are harder to sell when we find out all the things he has done in his community and others to volunteer directly in support of other races. If he instead was posting questionably racist meme’s to his Facebook wall…well, it is not that those things cannot be explained or are illegal in and of themseleves, but you are adding paint to the prosecutions pallet as they attempt to paint you a villain.
What’s in a Name? –
Also noteworthy is the name of a course. “Kill Em all in 1 Sec”, “Tactical Eye Gouging for Dirtbags” “Dirty Street Fighting to Win” might all sound really cool, but imagine them being repeated hundreds of times in a courtroom as justification that you were trying to learn to kill people. I recently worked a case as a defense consultant where the name of a course a police officer had taken off-duty was called into question. Just something to think about. Marketing is marketing, and I get making courses sound cool so people will be interested in checking them out, but think how that course title would look on the front page of the newspaper with your depressed picture right beside it and the head line “Shooter in the XXX case took “Killing People Who Get in Your Face Immediately” course in 2013.”
The choice in one’s carry equipment plays as large a role as training, comments, and clothing. Remember, EVERYTHING is open for misinterpretation. That said, I believe the logic falls on the same side of training. Carry what is necessary for you to win and then win again at explaining why you carry it. That said, there are things to stay away from for both the perceptional as well as the applicable elements.
Extremely light or extremely heavy triggers – Changing your trigger in and of itself is not that big of an issue. The officer involved shooting I mentioned earlier also had an enhanced trigger which became a point of issue in the trial. However, we were able to explain how that was an improvement in safety and reliability versus a detriment. Obviously for law enforcement, such enhancements must be departmentally approved and installed correctly. Even the way the trigger is marketed as duty / carry / competition / etc plays a role in how it can be used against you. The fact that the enhancement did not deviate from the factory weight was a point to be made. It is equitable to changing your tires from stock to aftermarket. In most cases, the change increases safety, durability, and ease of use. The same argument is made for appropriate trigger/sight/grip/etc enhancements.
Extremely light is just a bad idea realistically given what we know humans do under stress. For a carry gun, anything under about 4 pounds is pushing the safety envelope in my opinion. Likewise, an excessively heavy trigger (talking to you NYPD) can be a detriment to survival and safety. Heavier triggers are harder to shoot accurately at a faster pace then lighter triggers based on physics. We want a happy medium between light enough to be accurate, but heavy enough to not be a unintended discharge waiting to happen. I find in the 4.5-6.5lb range to be about right for most people and most firearms.
“Personalization” or Decorations – I would advise against adding your Punisher logo grips, Molon Labe barrel&
nbsp;layering, and “Smile and wait for the flash” muzzle bling to your carry pieces. I would also stay away from custom paint jobs that do not offer an articulable enhancement in the finish for reliability purposes. Basically no pink tiger stripes or multi-cam. Again, while we all know this does nothing negative to the firearm, it gives the prosecution something to blow up 6’x6′ on poster board for the jury to see and paint you as some crazy redneck.
Add-ons – Things like night sights, red dot optics on pistols, stippling, trigger guard undercuts, grip reductions, etc can all be explained to the jury by a competent court expert as an INCREASE in safety and accountability in the hands of a trained user. I would not worry about those items as long as you have trained and practiced with them. That argument can be used against you when you put all these enhancements but never train with them. Personally, I would not carry a firearm with any of the mentioned enhancements until I have taken a documented professional course with that firearm in that state to show competency in a court, but that is just me.
In closing, I think while training plays a role in your defense, you have to be alive to sit at the table in the first place. A skilled attorney can argue away any implications a prosecutor may make about training with relative ease. Most people understand training is designed to make you better at a particular skill. What you choose to then do with that skill actually has nothing to do with the training and more to do with your mindset and intent. Mindset and intent will most likely be judged based on all other areas of your life and behaviors instead of your training. i think we have more to fear from what we do in FaceBook and Twitter than what we do on the range when viewed from the jury box.
Train and practice to the point where you feel comfortable in your ability to defend yourself and your family with your chosen tools, then continue to train and practice to maintain and constantly add a higher level of skill. Make decisions in life based on solid morals, legal precedence, and survivability. All the lawyer tactics and legal jargon aside, your are doomed if you are not defending from an honorable and righteous position in your actions.
Brannon LeBouef is the owner and founder of NOLATAC Training and Consulting and The St Bernard Indoor Shooting Center. Brannon is an 11-year veteran of the US Marine Corps, a 15 plus year veteran of law enforcement, a former private military security contractor, and professional firearms trainer. He can be reached at [email protected], www.nolatacforum.com, or www.facebook.com/nolatac.
Pretty serious food for thought eh?
Mad Duo, Breach-Bang-CLEAR!