Expanding on The Plausibility Principle

It’s something I see and hear pretty often.  As someone who conducts a fairly substantial number of Instructor Development Courses throughout the year, it is fairly common to discuss various training experiences with the candidates who come through these courses during breaks or over lunch.  Most everyone likes to talk about the different classes they have taken from different instructors; what they liked and didn’t like, what kind of gear everyone was using, the different scenarios presented in the training exercises, the kind of techniques taught – as gun people, and especially as gun people who like to train, these are things that interest us.

So it came as no surprise when, during a recent conversation I was having with a young man attending one of my classes, he started talking about a “Tactical Carbine” class he attended earlier in the year.  I soon asked, “What kind of tactics and skills did the class focus on?” to which he replied, “We did a lot of transition drills, worked on some stacking techniques, a bit of long-range precision shooting, and some dynamic entry and room clearing drills”.  I then asked, “Do you feel as though you took a lot of valuable information away from the class?” and he answered, “Well yes.  You never know what’s going to happen.  If I ever find myself in a situation where I have to make a dynamic entry or clear a building, I want to know how to do it right!”  Just to give some perspective, this student was not a police officer or member of the military, rather, he was an average armed citizen who like most of the folks reading this article, carries a concealed handgun on his person most days as he goes about his business.

The thing is, this kind of thinking USED to make sense to me.  After all, who could argue with his logic?  Even as an average armed citizen that typically only carries a handgun, it is possible that at some point in your life you could find yourself in a situation where you really do need to be able to effectively make a dynamic entry into a barricaded building, or perhaps clear a building you entered into with your carbine.  So spending some time and money taking a training class that focuses on these kinds of techniques must surely be a good thing, right?

The Difference Between Possible and Probable

Those of you have been following along here on the AMI blog for a while, or any of you who have taken one of our classes, are probably already familiar with what is known as “The Plausibility Principle”.  For those of you who aren’t familiar, “The Plausibility Principle” is the idea that we should focus our training resources on learning techniques, tactics, and skills that allow us to efficiently and effectively deal with the most PROBABLE situations we are likely to encounter, and only after we have mastered those tactics, techniques, and skills, should we start shifting some of our training resources on training that focuses on dealing with situations that we are less likely to encounter, but are still plausible within the context of our own unique lifestyles.

The reality is, there are an infinite number of POSSIBLE situations we could encounter, but there are far, far fewer that are PLAUSIBLE, and even far less than that that are actually PROBABLE.  Depleting our training resources while chasing the fringes of what is possible does little to prepare us to efficiently and effectively deal with the things that are probable and then plausible.  And using this kind of training model could actually be a huge detriment to our overall goal: the protection of our loved ones and ourselves as we go about our daily lives in our typical environment.

Defining What is Most Probable

Determining what constitutes “most probable” is a uniquely individual task.  We all have different lifestyles, jobs, and modes and/or routes of routine travel.  Our home environments are also unique with each of us having a different floor plan in our home, different family members or roommates we share our homes with, different exterior construction features, in fact, even the neighborhoods we live in are decidedly unique.  So while there isn’t necessarily a “one size fits all” training approach that will be ideal for everyone, I do believe there are a number of things that are pretty consistent from one person to the next within a similar group.  With that in mind, the group I would like to focus on in this article is the group I refer to as “average armed citizens”, rather than folks that fall into the law enforcement and military groups.

When we talk about “average armed citizens”, we are generally referring to people who have obtained a permit to carry a concealed handgun from the states in which they live, or who carry under the “Constitutional Carry” laws of their state.  These people overwhelmingly carry a single concealed handgun in some variety of on-body holster or in some type of off-body carry device such as a holster purse or fanny pack.  They typically have a very limited supply of spare ammunition on their person at any given time, perhaps one spare loaded magazine for the person who carries a semi-automatic pistol or one spare loaded speed loader for the person who carries a revolver.  Their lifestyle and style of dress typically dictates that they can only carry a very limited amount of gear and resources as a matter of fact.

For these folks, regardless of their unique individual differences, there are a few skills and techniques directly related to the use of a defensive handgun that I believe they will all very probably need to be able to apply efficiently and effectively in their most likely situations.  This list isn’t necessarily exhaustive, but it makes up what I believe are the 4 most probable points:

  1. Access and presentation of the concealed handgun from its carry device.
  2. Balance of speed and precision.
  3. Using lateral movement.
  4. The Emergency Reload.

While we can debate whether or not we should include other skills, techniques, or tactics on this “most probable” list, such as the use of cover/concealment, “verbal judo” techniques, and de-escalation techniques, the four points I’ve listed focus primarily on our actual interaction with the firearm as it relates to a self-defense encounter.

  1. Access and presentation of the concealed handgun from its carry device.  If we are talking about deploying our concealed firearm in nearly any environment outside of our home, the need for this skill is pretty near a 100% certainty.  Since we can’t just “wish” the gun into our hands when we need it, we need to be able to efficiently and effectively access the gun in its respective position, defeat any retention mechanism(s) the carry device may contain, obtain a solid grip and draw the gun from the device, and then with a proper two hand grip, drive the gun straight out towards our target in one smooth motion.   Unfortunately, this is something that I fear far too many armed citizens fail to obtain proper instruction on as well as failing to spend sufficient time practicing even if they do obtain proper instruction.  This skill is important enough that we should be willing to dedicate a significant amount of time and resources to actually getting it right, and our training model should provide us with an intuitive technique to help facilitate that.
  2. Balance of Speed and Precision.  This is another area of skill that is nearly a 100% certainty in any defensive shooting scenario, save for the possibility of an attacker that might disengage due to the mere presence of a firearm.  All shooting is a balance of speed and precision.  Whether we are talking about a hunter taking a long-range shot at some far away game animal, or an armed citizen using a defensive handgun in a close-range situation where his or her very life is hanging in the balance.  It is imperative that a defensive shooter train in such a way that he is pushed to his personal limits and beyond, so that he can learn to recognize at what speed he can get the hits he needs to get on any given target under the widest range of plausible circumstances.  Placing multiple combat accurate hits on a human attacker at 6 to 10 feet is much different than placing precise hits on a static paper bulls eye target from 25 feet, and it requires a very different approach in our training.  The training model we use when learning and developing these skills should involve the use of various targets set up in different plausible situations, and should force us to process information (use critical thinking skills) while we work out the best way to “solve” the problem of getting the necessary hit(s) as quickly as possible using both kinesthetic alignment and intuitive sighted fire.
  3. Using lateral movement.  You can call it “getting off the X” or “moving off the line of attack”, or whatever other terminology you choose to use, but the concept is still the same.  In a defensive situation that is of such gravity that it rises to the level where the use of deadly force is justified, it is usually not a good idea to be standing/sitting around in a static position for longer than it takes to make our shots.  As a general rule, if we are not shooting we should be moving, and if we are shooting, we should be planted (albeit momentarily) so as to have the most stable platform from which to achieve the proper balance of speed and precision that was mentioned above.  Lateral movement is preferred to rearward movement because, not only does it serve to put distance between us and our attacker, but it is also a much more intuitive and balanced direction of travel for the human body to efficiently engage in and it forces our attacker, at least to some degree, to change his/her tracking of us in a way that any form of straight-away movement would not.  Our training model should properly incorporate this movement into our threat recognition responses as well as into our pistol manipulation techniques.  While the need to use lateral movement may not be a 100% certainty in any given defensive situation, I believe it is certainly desirable more often than not.
  4. The Emergency Reload.  If we look at the data released annually by the FBI that pertains to defensive shootings, we will likely come to the conclusion that in most cases, only a very few number of rounds are fired in the “average” gunfight.  In fact, many instructors I know are teaching some variety of “the rule of 3’s” that claims: “Most gunfights take place at 3 yards, involve 3 shots being fired, and are over in 3 seconds”.  While I’m not sure how accurate “the rule of 3’s” actually is (the data supporting this theory is less than comprehensive), one thing we do know for certain is that it is fairly common for people who use their firearm under the stress of a lethal force encounter to quickly exhaust the ammunition supply normally stored in the gun.  We also know that, in the case of a semi-automatic pistol, the proper mechanical operation of the gun inherently relies on a properly working magazine with properly functioning ammunition in it, and in the case of the revolver or in states with magazine capacity restrictions, we are already working with a very limited supply of on-board ammunition in the first place.  Subsequently, learning the proper process for getting the empty gun “back in the fight” as quickly and efficiently as possible, should consume an appropriate portion of our training time and resources.  It is important that our training model approach this skill in the proper context.  Learning and developing this skill in isolation will do little to prepare us to apply it under life-threatening stress when the situation is chaotic and changing from moment to moment.  Our training methodology should provide us with an intuitive technique for both recognizing the need to reload, and for the actual mechanical process of the reload.

Moving to the Plausible

At some point, no matter how long or short our own personal “most probable” list is, we will likely reach a point where we can check off all of the items on the list.  We will be able to honestly say that we have put in the time, resources, and hard work that was required to “master” those skills and techniques.  So what is our next move?  Enter the “most plausible” list.  This list will likely be much more unique to the individual.  It will probably contain skills and techniques that are specifically applicable to the unique work, home, and social environments the individual spends most of his or her time in.  With that said, some of the “plausible” defensive shooting skills many of us might have a common need to learn could be along the lines of one-handed shooting skills, low-light shooting techniques, use of cover/concealment, malfunction clearing procedures and stoppage remedies, one-handed pistol manipulations, shooting from compromised or “unorthodox” positions, shooting from/around vehicles, shooting while moving, and a host of other skills we might typically consider more “advanced”.  When compiling your “most plausible” list, it is very important to keep the true context of your personal situation in mind.  If, after some critical thought, you don’t believe your limited time and resources are best spent learning certain techniques and skills, it is probably a good idea to trust your own judgment and direct those resources towards more pressing needs.  There is nothing wrong with choosing to take a class that more closely matches your needs rather than one you feel might be more fun, and there is nothing wrong with using your practice time developing essential skills instead of moving on to something new just for the sake of trying something different.

Putting the Probable and Plausible to work for you

I make no bones about the fact that I believe these “most probable” and “most plausible” lists should guide our training and our practice, and as an instructor, I try to also use them as a guide for my course development.  While I understand the recreational aspect of shooting, even with defensive shooting, I also recognize that we are training and practicing for the most serious business we could ever engage in. Subsequently, I don’t believe it is wise for us to waste training resources on “fantasy camp” types of training courses without fully understanding what it is we are getting and why we are taking part in it.  There is nothing necessarily wrong with taking a class just for fun mind you, and for those who have more time and resources available, it might be a viable form of entertainment.  But for the “average” guy or gal I typically work with, they have a very limited supply of time and resources to expend on training classes and practice.  For them, there is a real need to get as much practical value as possible out of any training or practice endeavor they take part in.  Keeping the underlying idea of The Plausibility Principle in mind is critical as it allows all of us to get the most mileage out of every minute we spend in a training class, and out of every bullet we send downrange in practice.  As we usher in the new year, it is my sincere hope that you too will take the time to sit down, engage in some critical thought, and compile your own “most probable” and “most plausible” lists and then use them as a guide for your future training and practice endeavors.

As always, be safe!
~ Chris Shoffner ~

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