Wednesday, September 29, 2010

THE MYTHS OF THE ISRAELI METHOD OF CARRY, or why carrying chamber empty isn’t so bad.

We’ve all heard the warnings. If you don’t have a round in the chamber you might as well carry a rock! A gun without a round in the chamber is just a hammer! Anyone who carries a gun with the chamber empty must be afraid of their gun! Not carrying with a round chambered means you must not have any training! Well, my friends, as with so many of the things we hear in the gun world the myth sometimes overpowers the reality.

Let’s start with a clarification. Although often referred to as the Israeli Method or the Israeli Technique, carrying chamber empty (C3) is not restricted to the Israelis, nor did they develop it. It is gotten that label because of the fact that the Israelis popularized it as a method of carry and developed an entire method of presentation around empty-chamber carry. And their reasons for doing so are quite pertinent: a method of carry that allows safe carry with quick response time for (at that time) a largely untrained population with a diverse variety of firearms. I use the term as one that is easily recognizable, even if not technically correct. I prefer referring to it as “Condition 3”, or C3 for short. The history of C3 goes back to the early days of the autoloader, and is still being written today.

When autoloaders first came on the scene the normal and expected method of carry was with the hammer down on an empty chamber. The handgun would be drawn and the chamber loaded only when one was anticipating trouble, and the safety used as a temporary situation until the gun could be returned to its proper mode of carry, with the chamber empty. Lots of folks aren’t aware of it, but the 1911 was originally designed without any safety, as Browning felt it was irrelevant.

The most important development in C3 history to me was the adoption of that method of carry by the members of the Shanghai Police under W.E. Fairbairn. As the result of a number of incidents, Fairbairn (along with Eric Sykes) began to develop a new way to bring Shanghai P.D. officers to a high level of expertise with their handguns given the limited amount of training time and resources available to them. This training included, in part, carrying the gun with an empty chamber and then chambering a round as part of the draw stroke. This proved to be quite successful and when World War II broke out Fairbairn and Sykes were tasked with training commando units in close combat, including pistol use. They chose the chamber-empty target-focused method that had worked so well for them at Shanghai P.D., and for many of the same reasons. C3 allowed a person to safely carry and adequately use a firearm with a very limited amount of training. Fairbairn also wrote several books which also served to popularize the chamber empty carry method.

Chamber empty carry was the dominant method of carry for military, police, and civilians for most of the 20th Century. Toward the end of the century the rise of double-action autoloaders and the influence of Jeff Cooper’s Modern Technique made significant inroads, although chamber empty is still the dominant method of carry worldwide.

So, with a history of successful use behind it why does C3 create such a storm of controversy? Critics argue it is too slow, that it can’t be used under many circumstances, and the myths flow like water. Let’s look at some facts.

1. SPEED. The most common argument is that racking the slide during the draw is just too slow. The facts are that racking the slide is only one part of a complicated picture, and not a particularly important part from the perspective of speed. Let us assume that racking the slide adds a half second to your total presentation time (which is pretty slow, by the way). And let us assume that you can draw and fire at the 2 second mark. If the attack comes before you can draw and fire (2 seconds) having the chamber loaded or not doesn’t matter, as you don’t have time to draw and fire at all. If the attack comes after a 2.5 second time frame having the chamber loaded or not doesn’t matter, as you have time to chamber a round. Only if the attack happens in that critical time frame after 2 seconds but before 2.5 seconds does the chamber condition matter. Also the speed of presentation can also be affected by such things as type of holster, where the firearm is carried, and so on. Yet we don’t see a big fight over IWB versus OWB, or thumb-break versus open top, or appendix carry versus carry at 4:30, although each of those can impact the speed of presentation just as much or more than chamber empty versus chamber loaded.

2. SAFETY. Another common argument is that you won’t be able to chamber a round under various scenarios. You might only have one hand available to you. You might be fighting off someone with your off-hand and wouldn’t be able to rack the slide. You might be shot in one hand and wouldn’t be able to use both hands to rack the slide. While there is an element of truth to those fears, let’s look at them carefully. First I would suggest that anyone who carries an autoloader should be capable of racking the slide and manipulating the firearm with one hand. If you can’t, perhaps a revolver would be more appropriate. The arguments for needing both hands to draw the gun are the same arguments that would be accurate in case of clearing a malfunction. But more importantly, this is only one side of the safety argument, and a questionable one at that.

To truly look at the safety issue we need to move beyond the “I’m in a gunfight right now” mentality and move more toward the “What is the risk involved in carrying a gun day in and day out?” Let’s face it, for most of us the actual gunfight scene is not going to happen. If it happens it is going to involve a few seconds of our life. Admittedly they are going to be extremely important seconds, but we have to balance that against the thousands of hours we will carry the gun, and the thousands of times we administratively handle the gun. Only then can we do a proper risk assessment.

Whether we like to admit it or not, mistakes happen. And even though we talk a lot about how if people will just follow the 4 safety rules, or if they will just get more training, an honest assessment shows that we don’t follow the safety rules all the time and even the best trained among us make mistakes. Fairbairn recognized this long ago and formalized a response: Keep the chamber empty until you need to use the gun, and then empty the chamber ASAP after you are done. Let’s face it, if there isn’t a round in the chamber the gun cannot discharge.

Chamber empty lends itself to situations where there is a lot of administrative handling. Visualize the person who has to go into the Federal Courthouse several times a day. He has to unload and reload each time. Loading and unloading are the times that are the most prone to negligent discharge. Many shooters have said they want an empty chamber on their house gun because children or others may get hold of it. So they charge the chamber each morning and remove a round from the chamber each night. Perhaps these folks could be better served by maintaining the gun C3.

3. FIREARMS. Lots of folks out there still have, and for whatever reason, still carry/use a firearm that is literally unsafe to carry with the chamber loaded. Noted firearms author Mas Ayoob discussed this in an article for Backwoods Magazine (Feb. 2007) stating, “You don’t want to carry a round in the chamber of any semi-automatic pistol that doesn’t have a firing pin lock. It’s not drop-safe.” Those include most autoloaders made before the 1970s, the first generation Smith & Wesson autoloaders, a number of inexpensive pistols like Jennings, Lorcin and Raven, and so on. Even some modern guns, in certain conditions, can be problematic. Ayoob (Guns Magazine, Feb. 2001) again says, “Condition Three does have its place for carry, however. If I am carrying a gun like a Glock, which does not have a manual safety per se, and do not have access to a holster which covers the trigger guard (as is strongly recommended by the Glock factory), and have to shove the gun into my waistband, I'll make sure the chamber is empty.”

4. PERSONAL ISSUES. Here we get into an area that covers a multitude of issues. Some folks just aren’t comfortable with a round in the chamber. We all know that being comfortable about what you carry is important, so that personal preference and concern can matter. For me personally, I find the safety and long, heavy initial DA pull of some traditional DA/SA guns troublesome. When using firearms like those based on the Walther PP-design I find I actually get an accurate first shot of faster by racking the slide and firing SA than flipping the safety and then fighting through the DA pull. A friend has used a Browning Hi-Power for decades, and has always had trouble with the safety. For him, chamber empty works better.

5. MINIMAL TRAINING. Sadly, many if not most gun owners do not train regularly. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that most gun owners don’t train much at all. And it was for those people that the Israeli Method was designed. Going back to Fairbairn, the chamber empty carry was designed to allow those with minimal training to safely carry a firearm. That was also the rationale behind the method early on for Israel. We do a lot of carrying and administrative handling of a firearm, not so much actual shooting. So recognizing that failure and working it into the system is a good idea. C3 carry recognizes that the danger to the carrier is as great as or greater from negligent discharge than actual attack by a criminal. By acknowledging this problem of minimal training by many gun owners and carriers we can then examine a carry method that reduces the danger while still allowing an effective response.

To conclude, most people tend to look at problems from their own point of view, without considering that others might have different concerns, different needs, different levels of training, and so on. Failure to recognize this is harmful to open and honest debate, and in some cases becomes blatant elitism. From my position, I tend to suggest chamber loaded carry as the normal and standard default position, just as I tend to suggest a DAO autoloader as the standard default weapon for those who choose to carry an autoloader. But just as a SA auto might be better for some persons or for some situations, chamber empty might be better for some persons in some situations. There are advantages and disadvantages to each method. The Thinking Gunfighter looks at his own situation and tries to identify what maximizes his advantages and minimizes his disadvantages and makes an informed decision.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


It's an important skill to be developed at most training programs. It is an essential part of the gun game known as IDPA. Many have said that it is a required technique for the well-trained gunman's toolkit. We say that claims of the need are a myth, and the so-called tactical reload truly fits that old cliché of "a great solution to a non-existent problem.” Let’s start by identifying just what the TR is.

There are various terms used for various reloading techniques. For clarification, we will confine this discussion to autoloading pistols and use the following terms:
SPEED RELOAD (SR): while there is still a round in the chamber and the slide is forward, the magazine is released from the gun and allowed to fall free as a new magazine is placed into the magazine well.
EMERGENCY RELOAD (ER): similar to the speed reload EXCEPT all rounds have been fired and the slide is locked back with an empty chamber.
TACTICAL RELOAD (TR): with rounds still in the magazine and a round in the chamber, the shooter secures a spare magazine with the off hand, brings it to the weapon, releases the magazine in the weapon into the off hand where it is held while the replacement magazine is placed into the magazine well. The partially spent magazine is then secured for later use.
RETENTION RELOAD (RR): with rounds still in the magazine and chamber, the magazine in the firearm is released into the off hand and secured for later use. The off hand then gets a spare magazine and inserts it into the magazine well of the firearm.

Why would we argue against the need for the tactical reload? There are a number of reasons. First and foremost is the fact that outside of the military there has been no verifiable instance of the rounds saved with a tactical reload making a difference in an actual gunfight. I can say that with a fair amount of confidence because several different people in several different venues have been trying for several years to find an example without any luck.

Second, the tactical reload is the reload that is most likely to be messed up. By its very design the TR is complicated and cumbersome in comparison to other reload techniques. It requires manipulation of two magazines at the same time and with the same hand. As can be regularly seen at matches, when a reload is flubbed it is almost always a tactical reload. Under the stress of an actual incident we can only expect the problem to increase, not decrease.

Third, the tactical reload does nothing that cannot be done as well or better with another method of reloading. If your concern is saving the ammo in the used mag the retention reload works better. It is more reliable, as you only have to manipulate one magazine at a time. If your concern is getting a new magazine into the firearm the speed reload or the emergency reload are better. Again, one needs only manipulate one magazine. So if our concern is speed, the SR and the ER provide a faster reload than the TR. If our concern is saving the remaining rounds of ammo, the RR provides greater reliability than the TR.

Fourth, learning the tactical reload is actually anti-tactical. It takes time from our limited training resources to develop a skill that is not needed, and it creates another decision-point for us by increasing the number of options we must pick and choose from. Both of those issues adversely impact our overall fighting ability.

"But wait" some say. "The TR is designed to get you a full magazine into the firearm during a lull in the action." And they are right...but there is a huge problem. How do we know if there is a lull in the action? Literally by definition we cannot know if there is a lull until the lull has already occurred. I've fired a few rounds at the Bad Guy, and I'm securely behind cover. My opponent seems to be down and out, so I start to reload. He suddenly jumps up and charges my position. No lull any more. If I am able to do the TR, I am gambling, as I don't know if my "lull" is actually sufficient until after the TR is completed.

But let's stay with this scene for discussion purposes. We've had our encounter, the Bad Guy is down, and you have some cover and want to top off the gun. The SR is a better choice here because we have no idea if we have a lull or not. Just drop the partially spent magazine. If things are really over or there really is a lull, then you can pick the magazine up after your firearm is fully loaded. If you happen to be in a position where that is problematic, such as wading through the floods after Katrina or in mud up to your ankles, the Retention Reload shines. You have greater control over both magazines at all times, thus reducing the chance of fumbling one or both of them and losing them in the mud or water. Remember, we need to decide what we want to do. If we are reloading because we think there is a further need for our gun, we need to reload as fast as we can, thus the SR or ER. If we want to save our partially expended magazine and there are no time constraints, the RR provides the greatest reliability.

Michael Bane, well known shooter and writer, relates the following comment from a discussion with an Israeli security specialist and top firearms instructor:
"We stopped teaching tactical reloads," he told me, "because the people who tried to do them kept getting killed." That is the basic problem with the Tactical Reload. I won't go so far as to argue that it gets you killed all by itself. But the time and effort spent learning to perform it well is time and effort that is not spent learning something that could make a difference for you. It is a nice trick for the range, but nothing that can't be achieved just as well with a Retention Reload.

The Tactical Reload can be learned, and it can be done. I learned it well and can do it quite quickly. But it still remains a solution searching for a problem. Many things can be done well given enough training, but their actual tactical benefits are few. And that is the crux of The Myth of the Tactical Reload, the idea that it is tactical in any way, shape, or form. It is the only reload that substantially differs from the others. The SR, ER, and RR all rely on a simple task...take one magazine in the off hand and insert that magazine into the magazine well of the firearm. The TR complicates that task in a way that provides no benefit to the shooter.

Monday, January 18, 2010

THE MYTH OF MURPHY'S LAW: Why "better to have it and not need it" fails the test.

We've all heard it, frequently from the guy who is carrying three guns, 90 rounds of ammo, two tactical folding knives, a cell phone, a couple of flashlights, a can of Mace, an expanding baton, a Kubotan, and so on. "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." A close companion is "Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it." While technically true I suggest that this is a poor way to plan, and thus becomes a myth that the thinking gunfighter needs to recognize.

Yes, anything that can go wrong will go wrong...given enough time, enough incidents, and so on. The actual problem is not will it go wrong, but how likely is it to go wrong at any particular time or place. The same is true of the concept that it is better to have it and not need it. Technically true, but "what is the actual likelihood of needing it and how much does having it impact your resources" is the better way to look at the issue.

Let's look at the issue from a few different viewpoints. A question I often see is "how much spare ammunition should I carry" or the similar "how many spare magazines should I carry?" At which time we begin hearing horror stories about being attacked by roving gangs of street thugs, or shooting someone and then having their friends come to their defense and having an on-going, running gunfight, or some such. Folks, it is possible, but not too darned likely. You are going to solve the problem with what you have in your gun, or the chances of you solving it at all are almost non-existent. Even in law enforcement, with a much more offensive role, reloads are needed in a very small percentage of gunfights.

Let's say that you have 30 rounds with you. Do you really think that that you are going to be able to accurately and effectively fire 30 rounds at the bad guys? Equally important, if you were attacked by a dozen people, (A)do you really think they would press an attack after you shot the first 3, or 4, or 5, etc. and (B) if they pressed the attack do you really think you would be able to shoot them all before they got you? Let's think about it.

"But wait!" comes the cry. "What about if I have a malfunction and need to clear it? That requires another magazine." First, if you are worried about your weapon malfunctioning, you need to get a different weapon. Yes, I know that guns do malfunction. I see it on the range quite regularly. Why do they malfunction? Bad ammo, cheap aftermarket equipment, modifications designed for the range instead of real life, and so on. A well made, quality firearm that has been properly checked out and is well maintained, using ammunition proven to feed in that gun will not suddenly decide to start malfunctioning on you. Yes, magazines are the weak link in most autoloaders, but not good magazines. If you are going to the range and practicing and checking out your equipment, you will know what works and what doesn't. If a magazine malfunctions don't carry it for serious social purposes. Use that magazine only for the range. And if it continues to cause problems, throw it over the berm and get rid of it!

Second, let's think about this for a moment (Thinking Gunfighters, remember!). A spare magazine only addresses problems that are related to the magazine. If one wants to worry about malfunctions one should look at all malfunctions. After all, isn't that the essence of Murphy's Law? Why worry about and provide a solution to one narrow malfunction problem. Let's solve ALL of our malfunction problems and just carry a spare gun. Realistically, what are the chances that your quality-made, well-maintained firearm will pick this particular time to have a malfunction? Given that, what are the chances that particular malfunction will be the result of a magazine that is defective? If we truly believe in the Murphy concept carrying a spare magazine is rather silly.

OK then, but still isn't it better to have it and not need it than the other way around? Again, sure, but let's think about it. We can't carry around everything, so we need to rationally consider what equipment will be useful to us and what won't. It is always going to be a compromise. Most of us don't carry around a big-game rifle to kill a tiger if it attacks us. Why not? Isn't it better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it? "Wait a minute" you say. "I don't need that rifle because the chances of me getting attacked by a tiger are so small that I don't need to worry about it!" And with that you have effectively done away with the myth of "better to have it and not need it." Having something does cost us. Whether it be money, time, physical effort, convenience, or any of our other resources, there is a cost. We should balance that cost against the need.

The reality is that we all make decisions about what we will need, and we all compromise what we carry based on what we think we will need. Based on perceived need one person might decide a 1911 with 8 rounds meets their needs. Another person might decide that a Glock 17 with a spare mag and 34 rounds meets their needs. But the decision on where to compromise on what to carry should be made based on a reasonable and realistic understanding of what is needed (risk assessment) accompanied by a cost/benefit analysis.

"Remember Murphy's Law" and "better to have it and not need it" are the rationalizations of people who are unable to decide what their needs actually are or people who are unwilling to accept the conflict between the world of fantasy and reality. No matter what the case we will all compromise on what we decide to do for our personal safety and security, even though we might be unwilling to acknowledge that fact. The important thing is if we determine that compromise based on thinking about it, or do we base it on the non-thinking mythology of Murphy's Law?