By Vicki Johnson, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mental and physical preparation to defend yourself against another person intending to do bodily harm was, in a nutshell, the purpose of a 12-hour class I attended recently preparing students to get a license to carry a concealed weapon.
Known as a "concealed carry" class, the 12 hours of class time and hands-on practice contained entirely too much information to relate here.
But I jotted down highlights as instructor Kent Nord taught from video, from the National Rifle Association Basic Pistol Shooting Course book and from his own knowledge.
So I'm going to relate a broad overview of what I learned and some of the things I think are most important for the general public to know.
Nord invited me to attend the class to make people more aware of concealed carry laws and decisions.
He said each person who carries a gun must mentally prepare themselves to pull the trigger if necessary.
"Actually pulling the trigger is about the middle of the process," he said.
First comes training and being prepared to handle a dangerous situation. Then comes acting during a situation. Then comes handling the after-effects.
"If you pull your gun in public, you're guaranteed to be taken into custody," he said.
At home it might be a different story.
"We now have the right to defend ourselves in our house and that even carries over into our car," he said. "The bad guy is presumed to be there illegally and we are presumed to be acting in self-defense."
I learned there are four levels of awareness.
The first level is unaware, "where most of the people are most of the time."
He encouraged people to move toward awareness, when they are aware of their surroundings and the possibility of danger.
At that stage, a noise or unusual circumstance might trigger the next stage, "alert."
Generally, alerts downgrade back to awareness, but sometimes they escalate to "alarm" when action is needed.
"When the economy goes down, break-ins go up," Nord said. "That's our goal for today. To move you from being unaware to aware and have a plan in place."
I used to walk around unaware most of the time, but I find I'm not much more aware of my surroundings since I took the class.
"We want to move you out of unawareness and start becoming more aware," he said. "Start role playing in your mind. "
For example, when you're sitting in a restaurant, where would be the safest place to sit?
He encouraged everyone to have a "safe room" in their home where they keep the equipment they'll need in an emergency.
"Charge your cell phone in your safe room," he said. "I encourage you to have your cell phone with you all the time. It's almost as important as having your gun with you."
That's where the gun safe belongs.
"I strongly encourage you not to have a loaded gun in your house that is not in a safe," he said. "They will find it."
Part of the mental preparation is thinking about a time when you might have to use your gun.
"You have to start thinking, 'Can I do this? Can I take the life of another?'" he said. "If you are not prepared to take the life of another, you should not carry a concealed weapon and you should not have a loaded gun in your home.
"If you can't make that decision, don't do it," he said.
Families should have a plan in case of intrusion just as they should have a plan in case of a fire, he said.
"Think of a gun as a last resort," he said.
"If you're forced to defend yourself, it's going to happen at very close distance, usually an arms-length away," he said. "It's going to happen very quickly and it's going to be extremely violent. That's what you have to be prepared for. Shoot to eliminate the threat."
Nord also said people who carry a gun must practice shooting on a regular basis - at least once a month.
"Self-defense shooting is different from target shooting," he said. "It's just like everything else. If you don't practice it, you're going to lose it."
Nord encouraged people to shoot outside in all different types of weather and temperatures because you never know when you might have to use your gun in adverse conditions.
"The bad guys sometimes use the weather as a cloaking device," he said.
Yes, Kent used "bad guys" frequently in reference to people who might be looking to rob you or rape you or have other ill intentions.
If you pull your gun and the intruder runs away, he suggested letting him go.
"It's not worth sacrificing your life," he said. "Every time I put that gun on my hip in the morning, I run through the same scenario."
The course went through basic knowledge of guns and gun handling, which I'm not going to go into too much. It included information such as the main parts of a gun, how they work, types of ammunition, types of powder and, of course, safety.
I learned more details on some of the points about firearms that had been kind of "fuzzy" inside my head. But the main point I remember from this section was: "Keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to shoot."
Also, more obvious to me were pointing the gun in a safe direction and keeping the gun unloaded when not in use.
But carrying it for self-defense means it is in use.
We reviewed several types of guns and the best ones for self-defense as opposed to target shooting. Again, too much information to relate easily here.
In learning how to fire a handgun (which I had only done once before the class), I discovered something very important. I'm left-eye dominant, which means I must focus with my left eye to aim accurately.
In summary, we learned how to aim with sights, control breath, limit body movement, use a good grip and use trigger control.
The term "acquire the target" was new to me, which simply means see the target through the sights.
I learned shooting with arms fully extended is usually best for beginners to help with the timing on when the finger goes on the trigger.
But mostly, your technique has to be comfortable.
It ends with follow-through.
"It's putting all of this together so you repeat it over and over and over as quickly as possible," Nord said.
The best target to use for self-defense shooting is a sheet of typing paper.
"Any shot into center mass is a good hit," he said.
The goal is to develop a consistent habit, like a baseball pitcher who uses the same wind-up before each pitch.
"What we're trying to do is develop a habit until you don't have to think about it anymore," he said.
We practiced some indoor dry firing before we went outside in the very cold weather to practice on a range.
How did I do? Not bad at all.
When we returned to classroom to wrap up the day, we learned about legalities such as where you can and cannot carry a gun. For example, you can never carry a gun inside law enforcement stations, correctional institutions, airports, colleges or universities, daycare centers, government buildings or bars and restaurants that sell liquor by the glass.
Churches have the option of allowing guns.
You can't carry a gun inside a school, to a school activity, on a school bus, or on school property unless you are simply picking up a child and not getting out of the car.
This list isn't complete, but you get the idea.
The only government building where a gun can be carried is at rest facilities along major highways.
Private businesses must post a notice if they don't want people to carry concealed weapons on their property.
Nord handles it this way.
"If there is a private business that has a concealed carry sign up, I don't go there," he said. "I don't do business there."
He carries a business card with him that he gives provides to the owner or manager outlining the reasons they should allow guns.
To carry a gun on your person, it must be contained in a holster of some sort.
But, ladies, you can carry a gun in your person as long as it is closed in some fashion - for example, by zipper, button or snap.
To reiterate, much of the preparation for carrying a concealed weapon is mental.
"Just because someone's coming into your house doesn't mean you can blow them away," Nord said. "You have to be in imminent bodily harm."
Shooting is a last resort if you believe you are in imminent danger of being harmed.
"The last thing you really want to do is take somebody's life," he said.