Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol – Revisited

I’d like to revisit a series I wrote some months ago about “Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol“.

After presenting the series at the 2nd Annual SDS Conference, I looked at how I did and coupled that with some feedback I received from an attendee whose opinion I greatly value (thanx, Sam!). His assessment and feedback reinforced my own thoughts on my performance, and with that, I figured it was right to revisit some things.


The presentation itself? I thought I could have done better. I realized as I was putting the presentation together that I had organized it well for serialized presentation on the blog, but that didn’t lend so well to a public speaking forum. Alas, I didn’t have time to revise the presentation, so I presented it with only minor adjustment. It went over alright, but I know there was structure I could have improved.

One of the biggest parts? I spent a good deal of time talking about defining minimum standards, but not enough on how one can go about achieving them. Again, this worked well for the serialized blog presentation, but wasn’t as engaging for a listening audience.

I also realized, I never explicitly defined a drill or other test that helps one assess meeting those minimum standards. I implied it to be the “3 Seconds or Less” drill, but as it stands now? Well….

On Minimum Standards

If you haven’t, go back and read the original article so you can be aware of the foundation.

In the end, I think “minimum competency for defensive pistol skills” lies with the ability to:

  • Draw from concealment
    • Perhaps with movement (sidestep) on the draw)
  • Make multiple, acceptable hits
  • In a small area
  • From close range
    • Think “within a car length” (0-5 yards)
  • Quickly
    • 3 seconds or less
  • Using both hands
    • Enables multiple acceptable hits, quickly

Skills beyond that (one-handed shooting, reloading, malfunction remedy) are useful but above minimal. And of course, both safety and etiquette are expected.

Remember: this is about “minimal”. Put it this way. You have a friend whose crazy ex is now stalking them, threatening to do them harm. They have the restraining order, but they know how useful that is so they choose to get a gun. You have an afternoon to get them some basic skills. What is most vital for them to learn how to do? That’s what I’m talking about.

So yes, I was figuring the “3 Seconds or Less” drill was a good answer to this question. But now? Not so much.

Karl has evolved the drill. One change was in the ordering of the course of fire, merely to facilitate running the drill (eased the ammo and reload requirements so you could more easily run it with semi-autos or revolvers). That sort of change doesn’t really matter towards answering the question, and frankly it’s a good revision.

But Karl also changed the content of the drill. For example, in the current version of the drill there’s a reload, some walking backwards while shooting, and a turning draw; none of these were present in the original version of the drill.

This is why I think this drill no longer answers the question: it involves skills that are above minimal. This makes sense for the context in which Karl uses it: as a core test for KR Training’s “Defensive Pistol Skills” course progression. However, it is doing more than minimal, so it’s not strictly the correct answer for “minimum competency”.

That said, I’ve maintained that minimum competency is not good enough. You need to work to a higher standard (that Paul Ford comment about 70% of your worst day). I would say the current “3 Seconds or Less” drill is a good “higher standard” to work towards. Other good “higher standards” would be:

But again, this is higher. We’re talking minimal.

A Possible Minimal Drill?

As much as I hate to say it, I think the Texas CHL test COULD be it.

But it needs work.

Here’s the drill:

  • 3 yards
    • 1 shot, 2 sec., 5x
    • 2 shots, 3 sec., 5x
    • 5 shots, 10 sec., 1x
  • 7 yards
    • 5 shots, 10 sec., 1x
    • 2 shots, 4 sec., 1x
    • 3 shots, 6 sec., 1x
    • 1 shot, 3 sec., 5x
    • 5 shots, 15 sec., 1x
  • 15 yards
    • 2 shots, 6 sec., 1x
    • 3 shots, 9 sec., 1x
    • 5 shots, 15 sec., 1x

Here’s how it could be changed to make it a better test of minimum competency:

  • Needs to be shot from concealment
    • Current test has you working off a bench, and shooting from a ready position. Unrealistic.
    • Must shoot from concealment, whatever your chosen carry and concealment method would be. If that’s from a hip holster under your shirt, fine. Pocket carry, fine. If that’s from a purse, fine.
  • Use a better target
    • The B-27 is like hitting a barn wall. Furthermore, it’s not anatomically correct.
    • Use a target like an IPSC or IDPA target. There are a host of such targets out there. The key is a target that provides a smaller “acceptable hit” zone, and that is anatomically correct.
    • Make scoring more difficult. It’s “hit or miss”, “acceptable or unacceptable”. There is no graduated scoring scale, it either is or is not. If it’s on a line, if it’s questionable, score it unacceptable. 90% minimum score, or better, 100%.
  • Do not adjust the listed par times.
    • Having to shoot from concealment adds enough time to make the published par times more difficult.
    • This could be debated, and probably debated per-string. Like the first string (3 yards, 1 shot, 2 seconds) is probably sufficient, but the last 3 yard string (5 shots, 10 seconds), should that time be lowered? Probably, but this is splitting hairs at this point. Keep it simple and keep the test as written. These other modifications are more important.
  • The 15 yard strings are debatable.
    • That’s a pretty long car…
    • If I was using my above example of needing to get a friend some quick skills in an afternoon, I’d focus on the 3 yards, then on the 7 yards; I’d skip the 15 yards.

Shooting the TX CHL test with these changes (call it “TX-CHL++”, that’s “Texas CHL plus plus”) doesn’t make you any sort of bad-ass gunfighter, but I think it does a fair job at addressing the minimum requirements.

Remember: the intent of trying to establish “minimum competency” is because we, as humans, tend to overestimate our skills and abilities. We tend to think we have the skills, that we’ll handle ourselves just fine when the flag flies. It’s better to test yourself against standards such as these to see if you really do or do not. It’s better to have a dose of reality now, when you can afford it and can then work to remedy any shortcomings.

How to get there

So you’ve shot some tests and determined you need some work. How to get there?

After talking with Sam, I felt like maybe there should be a program to help you out. Like when doing all this weight lifting, a program like Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program is a great way to get going and address a lot of things. Could such a program be devised for shooting? I think so. Look at the books and DVD’s from Mike Seeklander. He takes a bit of a different approach, but that could certainly get you there.

I think in most regards it’s going to come down to the individual. What is your learning style like? Are you self-motivated?  Do you have enough to be able to self-diagnose and improve? In the beginning, we all need good teachers, and there are good schools and instructors out there. Take advantage of those opportunities to have a teacher, a mentor. There’s a lot of DVD product coming out that can be a help for sure, but I’ve found that those tend to be most useful to folks that already have a clue. You don’t have a be a master, but a rank beginner is going to get a lot more from having a real instructor looking over their shoulder, that can see precisely what’s going on and offer ways to correct, improve, and progress.

You have to practice the things you don’t want to practice. You have to be willing to push yourself outside your comfort zone. And I think another key factor is having a tangible goal. You can have a lofty goal, then break it up into smaller milestones. Perhaps it starts with shooting the TX-CHL++ clean with no time limits. Then you work towards the time-limits. Then you pick a harder standard, like the Farnam Drill, with a 15 second par, then 14 second. As you work, you’ll find where your weaknesses are and use dry fire practice to improve those. And so on. Be willing to be patient, but work consistently.

In the end, the desire is improvement. That we understand what “minimum acceptable” is so we can ensure we’re at least that, but then work to exceed it. Set a new level, then rise above it. And so on, and so on.

13 thoughts on “Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol – Revisited

  1. Hsoi…

    Having been through Karl’s Defensive Pistol class (and not doing as well as I’d have liked) I think you are correct in that curriculum being too advanced. But not by too awful much.

    And I also agree that the CHL drill is not anywhere near enough to prepare you.

    I’d like to see where your deliberations lead you with this ‘CHL++’ idea.

    • I don’t think it’s too advanced, rather I understand the method to Karl’s madness.

      First, most of the time any class a person takes is going to be “more advanced” compared to where the person presently is — that stands to reason because one typically doesn’t go to class that’s beneath them; you are going to learn something new, thus it will be “more advanced”.

      Second, the “3 seconds or less drill”, as it presently stands, does end up being a little more — at first. I mean, when you’re in DPS1 and run that drill, you suddenly are doing one-handed shooting, weak-handed shooting — whoa! That was never done before, and the first time you do it it’s on a test? Well… yeah, because life’s like that. 🙂 Welcome to surprises! welcome to stress! The trade-off is that the grading of the test in DPS1 is lenient (relatively speaking). Frankly, I think it’s reasonable to do this because it gives a preview of what’s ahead… it helps to set the stage and continue framing and mindset shaping.

      What I think is “3 seconds or less” is a “beyond minimal” test. It does test things that I consider “above minimal” (like reloads, movement, weak-hand only). That doesn’t make it a bad test, just not the right test for this “(minimal) standard”. I do think it’s a good test tho, and really if folks are going to strive for something, I’d rather they strive to be able to clean “3 seconds or less” on demand cold, than to hit the lower bar of a “CHL++” test.

  2. I should have been more clear. My comments were with regard to the scenario you presented where somebody needed to become ‘minimally’ trained as in your example of an abusive or violent soon to be ex…

    Otherwise I agree with you and your comments on the DPS1 course.

    My personal goal is to be able to perform the “3 seconds or less” on demand.

    • OK, thanx for the clarification.

      FWIW, I’ve got a post coming up in a few days that talks a little more about “progression” (and drills). You might find it useful and relevant here.

  3. Pingback: Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol – Revisited Again | Stuff From Hsoi

    1. Guns are ALWAYS LOADED unless the bolt is removed and you can see through the breech, the slide is off the auto pistol frame, or the revolver cylinder is removed or hanging out the side.
    2. NEVER put your finger on the trigger until you are on target and ready to fire.
    3. NEVER point a gun at or even close to a human being unless you are already legally and morally justified to shoot him/her. As a practical matter, you should be about a second or so away from being mortally injured yourself, or going past a “point of no return” like being seized or dragged into a vehicle or other closed place. Preemptive shooting is permitted only to state agents acting within their legal duties.
      Any of us fallible humans WILL violate (2) or (3) sooner or later but unless both are violated at the same time, no one is hurt and only property damage results at worst.
    4. Put the gun out of sight BEFORE law enforcement or “helpful” citizens come on the scene. LEOs may not shoot you but other civvies WILL shoot the first person they see holding a gun. If you feel (REASONABLY feel) that your life is more in danger from an aggressor by putting the gun away, do your best to get away from the situation if at all possible. Let the cops chase the badguy.
    5. Guns are ALWAYS LOADED. “I didn’t know it was loaded” is NO excuse. It shows carelessness and incompetency, an “accidental” shooting looking for a place to happen.
    6. Guns are ALWAYS LOADED. Thousands of people, innocent and guilty, have been killed with “unloaded” guns.
      If you are a concealed weapons permittee, buy a “CONCEALED PISTOL LICENSEE” badge and belt holder to attach to your belt next to your holster, or affixed to the holster itself. It may keep you from being shot. Police DO NOT like these but pleasing the police is not the purpose; it is deterring an armed civilian being “helpful” from shooting you simply because he/she saw a gun in your hand. Also to intimidate the badguy into giving up or running away (let the police chase the badguy) if he thinks you are a plainclothes cop. You can mislead, deceive or lie to a criminal if it will help stop the aggression.
      The police may arrest you and charge you with some BS like “impersonating an officer” (despite it plainly stating that you are not a LEO) but they won’t shoot you for having it. An arrest, impounded gun (which you should get back if you weren’t doing anything illegal with it), towed car, etc., are all minor irritations compared to getting shot. I speak with authority on that! There is hardly anything worse than being shot. Being shot AT and missed is a VERY distant second. After all, the reason you drew the gun was that you or some other innocent person was about to be shot, knifed, beaten to death, or kidnapped, not to protect property.
      Get rid of the badge before the cops arrive, if you can do so safely. Never flash anything that looks like a badge to a cop, even if you are one. In a stop supposedly for something you did wrong, that you are a cop is irrelevant and immaterial. Many cops are tired of misbehaving cops trying to get off for personal misbehavior for being a cop. In actuality, today’s cops are as likely to go harder on you for giving a bad impression of law enforcement to the public as to let you go. Only if he or she sees it and asks you for or about it should you first deny being a LEO or official of any kind and then tell what it is and why you have it.
      Certainly do not have the badge in your possession if you are not carrying. Leave it wherever you are storing the gun.
    7. Guns are ALWAYS LOADED.
  4. Just my ideas, mostly (like all) borrowed from others.
    If you care to respond, what in particular? “Unloaded” comment or something about the following “badge” paragraphs?
    If so, perhaps I am a little paranoid about getting shot … AGAIN?

      • Why? Because at least some police don’t like them? I’m more interested in avoiding getting shot … again … than in pleasing police. They may not like the CCW Licensee badges but they won’t shoot me for having one. They, or another armed citizen, just may shoot me for having a gun at an active crime scene. Shoot first, ask questions later.
        Legally the CCWL badges are “party favors” (county judge in Fla.). Like the Chattanooga Choo-Choo “passports.”
        First incident involving two open carriers under the new law in Ga. One open carrier spots an openly carried handgun on another person. He orders the other to show his ID. The other tells him what he can do to himself and tells him he has no authority to tell him anything. The first guy pulls his piece. The second finishes his purchase, leaves and calls the cops. The first goes to jail. Nothing serious happened. Both the nutcase and the victim acted with restraint as far as violence goes.

  5. No, because they are a bad idea. They give you no authority, and yes you risk massive amounts of legal problems for having one and trying to use one. If you don’t get shot, are you prepared for the tens-of-thousands of dollars in legal bills and other legal hassle that will likely come?

    They also are no guarantee against getting shot. Consider the high number of police — both in uniform and especially undercover — that get shot by fellow blues all the time. The pressure and realities of a shooting situation are what they are, and having a piece of shiny tin will not keep you from getting shot. In fact, I’ve run enough force-on-force scenarios where people mistake innocuous items for guns all the time and people get shot.

    Those two open carriers you mention had issues because they had mindset and mentality problems. They failed at good tactics, they failed at basic contact management, they failed at having the right attitude. They both have deeper problems to overcome, that no “badge” is going to ever overcome.

    • Genuine peace officer badges in the possession of the ones they are issued to likewise give no authority. They give notice that the bearer MAY have authority. His/her authority is conferred by the issuance of an official identification card to the officer. if the putative officer is not in immediate possession of the official identification card, she/he has no more authority than an ordinary citizen, unless I know that the putative officer actually is one from prior knowledge.
      The CCWL badge is not to be “used” in any active sense.
      Yes, I am so prepared, at least better than I am prepared for surgeon and hospital bills from getting shot. Or cremation and interment bills paid out of my estate.

      Such “legal hassle” as you describe has no basis in law. You are describing knowing false arrest, knowing false prosecution, officers of the executive department abusing the law as retaliation for personal annoyance.

      I don’t expect any “guarantee” against being shot. I never expressed any such fantasy. If you have never been shot, not even shot at, you know NOTHING of the physical and mental trauma that results, or the mental trauma from being shot at and missed. I remember as if I had a color video in my head of each incident, even the one in which a peace officer brandished a pistol at my wife and children, then at me, and then falsely arrested me.

      As long as the CCWL badge doesn’t increase my likelihood of being shot, I’m prepared to risk being persecuted by perjurious officers and prosecutors in retaliation for their personal problems. Neither the police nor the prosecutor will shoot me for having a CCWL badge; my fellow armed citizen just may shoot me for having a gun, not for having a CCWL badge.

      I’ll take a cursing spell, a mild beating, being dragged around, by an irritated cop to being shot by anyone.

      • I and just about every other respected firearms trainer out there would disagree with you regarding the use of “CCWL badges”, but as I’ve said before, you’re welcome to do as you wish.

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