Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Importance of SHOOTING Ernest

The Importance of SHOOTING Ernest. 

     No, not the importance of being Ernest. Shooting Ernest. Among the literate and even the illiterate here, most people are familiar with a book called The Importance of Being Ernest.That is Ernest as a noun is defined by showing deep sincerity or seriousness. But if you know the classic story, the plot is not about being sincere at all but rather the opposite, to pretend and trick people that your actual name is Ernest, and only has an ironic twist to the popular phrase. But why would I want to shoot at Ernest? Maybe I am tired of shooting at poor Will?

     "Fire at Will!"

     Poor Will.
     Let's just say I want to give a paper target a name or give a so-called “threat” a real name. Or make something unsubstantial more substantial by giving it a human name. So I call the threat – “Ernest” so as to bring a real name of a real person into common shooting range vernacular and solve a certain disconnect problem I feel is rampant. (Warning! If you are a hobby shooter or a point-trophy shooter, you may stop reading right now and go about your happy business. This is for self-defense shooters.)

     Disconnect? Yes. Between paper and flesh and blood. It is very popular for all too many years now at the shooting ranges to fire at - of course - paper targets. What else is there to shoot at, really? Sometimes folks shoot those hard-foam-body-shaped forms, but they are quickly blasted to smithereens, and they are expensive. We are left with paper targets. People have fiddled with these targets through time. They draw big ugly people on them holding weapons or even blow-up photos of people. They even have zombies printed on them now. Oh, and they move these paper targets closer and far away or make you stand close or far.  

     Sometimes they pull a t-shirt over a target in an effort to recreate a person, but it is still ol' flat, Paper Willy. In fact, no matter what they do to a paper target, they always post perfectly still at the other end of a square range (yes, there are some rare ranges where targets are moving unnaturally on some sort of ramp). And we shoot them. We shoot and shoot them. For decades, we shoot and shoot and shoot these pieces of paper, hopefully at least some of this time imagining, projecting, fantasizing about the “threat.” What is a threat, exactly? What threat is

     And just about everybody on the planet calls the ubiquitous paper target on the range the elusive “threat” from time to time. The threat. We hear the word "threat" a lot.

“When the threat appears.”

“I draw on the threat.”

"Shoot the threat!"

"My hands come up when I see the threat."

"I shoot the threat until the threat is over."

     "When the threat is down."

     Threat. Threat. Threat. The pros love that word. But I like to call the threat instead … "Ernest.” Because Ernie is a real guy's name. And I like to think that doing this labeling is the very first toddler step on the long road to reality from the shooting range over to the actual shooting incident … the wounding, maiming, and/or killing of a real person. People. The moving, thinking people "what need shootin'," all inside an ugly situation.

     The term “threat” is rather innocuous and handy quite actually. It blankets a multitude of sins and sinful people "what need shootin'," and fast. We can't be bothered with the surrounding, situational details on range day. We have sights to acquire, breaths to hold, and triggers to gently squeeze, squeeze, and squeeze! Vests to wear, the right hat and scarf, etc. All that internal focus. The external focus is...Ernest.

     Ernest is on the move. Shooting at your head and chest. Now is not the time to worry about the details of this Ernest guy jumping around like a jack rabbit trying to kill you! Its the range! And we have to shoot at something on the range! Like Willy. I understand that, but I ask you to take a serious brain check.

     Is your brain stovepiped? Is this all you do? All you think shooting is? All that you think self-defense training is? Shooting at one-dimensional, non-moving paper targets for the rest of your life? For...the...rest...of...your...life. All under the guise of "working those basics."

     What is Ernest really doing that I need to shoot him? I often wonder what people on a range really think their shootable paper threat is? Who exactly is it? What exactly, at that very second, is he doing? Where precisely is this happening? When is this happening? How is this unfolding? And why? Why are you shooting this threat? I mean Ernest. Unless you are being assassinated, the physical act of shooting a person is a short episode inside a situation, a drama. A trauma, an event. Who, what, where, when, how, and why? These details, these preparations, are every bit as important as your trigger squeeze in the eventual big picture.

     I never really shot firearms for the sheer fun, a hobby, or a pastime. Maybe it was my job in the Army and police work that spoiled me. I took it all too ... ernestly. I was also shot at very early on. Perhaps I started out under this stressful view while too young? I have a serious work ethic about this thing people call "shooting." A certain impatience. I always worried about Ernest.

     I still worry about Ernie, and perhaps this gave me a different perspective on gun training not heard in the rapidly growing marketplace. I have what many have called a "reverse-engineering" look at shooting. I like to start at the gunfight and work backward to see what is
                                                                                    really important.

     In my decades of police work, I was mostly an investigator; and I have worked numerous murders and even way more attempted murders, robberies, rapes, and shooting incidents. Atop that, I have been trained by other investigators and medical examiners from Los Angeles to New York about their cases since the 1970s. I am here to tell you that Ernest is a very sick, twisted, clever, tricky, emotional attacker who operates in rural, suburban, and urban areas day or night, inside or out, within an unlimited amount of predicable and unpredictable situations. Yes, our Ernest! He is a criminal, a soldier, a parolee, a pervert. He has impulse control "issues." He is the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, the guy or gal next door. The guy you passed too close in your car. Ernest - the threat - the guy you are eventually going to kill. Well,  I mean, of course ..."stop."

     I wonder when classic range shooters are training on a classic range and looking at a classic paper target. I wonder what they think they see. As their eyes flicker back and forth from the sights to the target, from the target to the sights, when the instructor defines the paper target as this intangible "threat,” will he- or she-student project his or her version of a criminal upon the paper? A crazy from the Taliban? An abstract concept from last night's TV cop show? Or perhaps one just sees a point-ratio target score to pass the day's events.

     If you are in this for survival and not sport or not a hobby, at some point you have to start really learning about Ernest. But are you there at the range for the thrill and joy of using a new gun? A new holster? Checking out that new spring? Forever hitting that bulls eye? Or are you there from the fear and hate of a criminal or an enemy soldier or a craving to survive? Are you just … addicted to the range? Just slap-happy to shoot paper targets for decade after decade after decade for the rest of your life? Does the course itself become your end task? Do you lose yourself within it? Trapped within range of the range, not a means to an end. The end is the gunfight set in "ernest" and chaos with an Ernest and maybe a few of his buddies?

     People should want more. I am encouraged that there are newer training movements to solve problems in car jackings and now inklings of a popular push to dissect possible home invasions and shootings right in the actual homes that people live in. Reduce the abstract! But if you look at the chaos of crime and war, there are many other common episodes to cover. The best aspects of our military train to shoot and kill the specific enemy while said enemies are doing the very tactics that they do to us in the field. Reality training. And this practice should be done with ... brace yourselves … some kind of simulated ammunition and at an off-the-square range in realistic environments. The range only exists to support the reality. Need I repeat this point? The range only exists to support the reality.

     People understand that if you spend your life punching a heavy bag, you will not really be prepared to handle a real interactive fight. If you only punch bullets through paper targets, it is just like the perennial heavy bag puncher. You will always need to punch a bag some and always shoot live fire some at the range, and it will be on paper targets. What else is there? But the range only somewhat supports the reality.

     At some point in your shooting "career," the range becomes a session of weapon familiarization. You have simply got to learn about dealing with Ernest. And you are not really learning how to gunfight unless you fight against a moving, thinking Ernest who is shooting back at you. This is accomplished with interactive, simulated ammo in crisis rehearsal situations constructed by knowledgeable instructors. It is the next step. The step most can't or won't take, even though simulated ammo, interactive, situational shooting training has already won the respect of police and militaries around the entire world. What about you?

     One final mention on the ugly word "disconnect." One of the causes of post-traumatic stress is the hyper-leap from shooting paper targets to maiming and killing people. It is a hyper-leap too large for many folks. Training with simulated ammo against shooting, moving, thinking people who are shooting back at you will help desensitize you for this mess in stages and may help defer PTS. Scored 98 on the target range? Looks good. That's cool. But as the old adage goes, "can they fight?"

     One final point to add here. People, hesitant or even against this kind of interactive training are sort of old school in their jargon. They use terms like "Force on Force, or "Role Playing." Force on Force conjures up images of a little freestyle sparring with rubber guns. And Role Playing? I have seen more than a few instructors shun it. They turn the idea of role playing into huge, anal retentive, academy award productions with windy, professitorial, lectures on blackboards about how vital every phrase and face scrunch should be by the "actors." Such great thespian care must be used! Oscars! Emmys! Look, take two guys on parking lot full of cars. Put one guy with a safe ammo gun on one end and another guy with a safe ammo gun on the other end. They try to kill each other. How much acting do you think is involved? None. Zero. Put them on stairways. Put them anywhere. There are plenty of important short situations to experiment through. Let them experience the moving, thinking shootout with Earnest.

     This is the importance of shooting Ernest. We have been firing at the non-moving, flat, Mister Paper Willy for way, way too long. Give ol' Will a break. It is time to implant Ernest and his chaos in your training DNA. They don't call it "crisis rehearsal" for nothing. It is the importance of shooting Ernest. And well, let's not forget Ernestine, too, and all their goddamn relatives and buddies.

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