The National Tactical Invitational (NTI) event is fully described in another article in this issue. Here, I want to concentrate on some of the tough questions that the NTI posed for me personally, in the hopes that we can all learn from my experiences.
What to wear? How to carry?
I don’t mean to sound like a ditzy female, but my biggest problem was what to wear. In all the years I’ve been shooting, I’ve never shown up at a range in anything but jeans or kakhis, and that is getting boring. The NTI is billed as an event that can be shot in “everyday” clothing, so why not wear a skirt?
My gun was the combination Colt Officer’s Model and Combat Commander built by Jim Garthwaite and given to me as ATSA’s Tactical Advocate last year. The gun is beautiful, comfortable, and reliable. I filled it with Federal’s 165 grain Personal Defense .45ACP ammo, and then I had a tough decision to make about holsters.
I got both a Kramer holster and a Del Fatti holster, but which to use? The Del Fatti holster is beautifully made, with a non-snag sight channel and a positive click-into-place form that held the gun so securely any retaining strap would have been completely unnecessary. This holster, designed for women, has a belt loop arrangement which allows it to carry quite low on the belt, adding to comfort and simplifying the drawstroke. The matching mag pouches never fought me for control of the magazines, not even the first time I used them.
The Kramer Women’s Belt Scabbard holster is a thing of beauty, with simple, elegant lines, and a smoothness to the draw that lets you know that this is the “simplicity” of superior design. It is lightweight, comfortable, lightening fast to draw from, and equally easy to holster the gun. The belt slot is lined with molded plastic which invisibly tilts the gun butt out slightly away from the waist, preventing the gun from poking the wearer in the rib cage. It required virtually no break-in time. Kramer has long been a popular designer holster for many men; this model will probably become an enduring classic for women.
At the last minute, literally, I went with the Kramer holster. Why? Because I decided to go for the skirt, and I discovered that the placement of belt loops on women’s pants and skirts is extremely varied. Whether a particular holster is comfortable and easy to draw from can depend completely on the placement of those loops. For example, the distance from the center button to the first belt loop on one of my pants is 3 1/2”; on the Norm Thompson cotton skirt I found in a catalogue (with matching vest), it is 4 3/4”. The placement of the second belt loop also varies up to 1 1/2” on different clothing. For me, this meant that the Del Fatti holster was fantastic with pants, but forced to be at a slightly awkward position when I was wearing the skirt. The reverse was true with the Kramer holster.
So, if I had worn pants, it would have been with the Del Fatti holster. But I wanted to make NTI history (some would say that I finally remembered what magazine I write for), so I donned the skirt, and the Kramer holster was most compatible with the belt loops there.
Two Del Fatti single mag pouches (not a double mag pouch, which would have given me less flexibility in positioning the mags) and a favorite Murnak belt (with an internal reinforcer to keep the belt stiff under the holster without making it thick in front), and a cotton vest that matched the skirt completed my outfit.
There certainly are some advantages to wearing a skirt at a shooting match. It is much cooler than jeans, even if you wear tights underneath. It makes going to the bathroom much easier. And it makes more interesting photos for this article!
Are there any disadvantages? Sure. The biggest one was that whenever I used low cover I had to be aware of where that skirt was, so that it would not billow out beyond the cover and give my position away. There was a minor, unwarranted, concern about dragging the hem in the poison ivy that surrounds some of the ranges. I had absolutely no problem getting through the entire NTI in a skirt, even when I had to scramble up a steep, rough bank carrying a rifle in one hand.
How much gear is enough?
Always before at the NTI I carried two guns, usually a high-capacity Browning Hi-Power and my S&W 3913 LadySmith. This year, being deliberately more realistic I went with only one gun. Boy, was I conscious of those small, single stack magazines – every shot must count!
Instead of a second gun, I carried a knife, a SureFire 6P flashlight, and a cell phone. I teach my students that a cell phone is one of the most useful pieces of self protection equipment they can own, so, I figured, why not have it handy at the NTI?
Armed with only a paint-shooting revolver resting awkwardly in my semi-auto holster, I began the role-playing stages of ATSA Village. Experience from prior years is of limited value here, since the scenarios change completely from year to year, but the basics of handling confrontations remain the same. Here are some of the situations I faced, together with what I did and how I experienced them. The questions they raise are meaningful to us all.
When is a gang not a gang?
“Why don’t you stop in at the bank for a moment?” the judge suggested. The “bank” was a freestanding building. Being in condition yellow, I approached it cautiously, pausing across the street from the bank to notice the surroundings. Across the street to the right, a man sat on a bench, not paying any attention to me. I could not decide if he was one of the role-players or one of the other village participants, resting between scenarios. As I started toward the bank, my attention was drawn to another man who appeared to be lurking around the other side of the bank, with no apparent reason for being there.
I began moving toward the bank door, keeping my eyes on the lurker, who came around the corner of the building and started toward me. His hands were empty, and he didn’t seem threatening, so I continued toward the bank door, glancing to my right to check on the first man I had seen. He was no longer sitting casually, he was standing, about 15-20 feet away from me, with a gun pointed right at me!
My first thought was “If he wanted to shoot me, he would have done it by now, so there must be some way out of this situation.” I had no cover nearby, and knew I could not draw and shoot before he had time to get several shots off. It would be better to create an opportunity for diversion and cover.
I put my hands up in the way that, hopefully, he would interpret as non-resistance, but that actually put me in a better position to reach for my gun quickly, and turned so that I was facing the gun-guy, but was a few steps closer to the bank. The gun-guy began to talk, and it was clear that his objective was robbery.
Meantime, the other man came around from behind me to my right side, about 6-8 feet away. He was clearly in cahoots with gun-guy. Gun-guy started giving him orders to get my money, but he said, “No, this one’s a woman. Let’s have some fun with her first!” I glanced at him, and he was starting to fumble with his belt and zipper.
I took another step back toward the bank door, keeping my hands waving in a “Don’t do that.” way, glancing back and forth from gun-guy to rapist-guy. This was it. There was no way to get help or to simply get away, there was no doubt that I was in danger of death or grave bodily harm. I had to act, right now!
In a fraction of a second, I rehearsed the plan I had made (“Get off the line of force, and shoot”) and put it into action. With the speed and grace that I had not shown during exactly the same maneuver on the Standards Stage, I leapt diagonally left and backward through the open doorway of the bank; this got me off the line of force, provided cover, and allowed me to shoot.
I don’t remember consciously deciding which one to shoot first; it was so obvious that gun-guy should be shot even though rapist-guy was an easier target. I remember trying to maximize my use of cover as I leaned just far enough (visually “clearing” the door frame) to see my front sight against the bulk of gun-guy’s body, where I put two rapid rounds, and then turned slightly to the right and fired once at rapist-guy.
There was no doubt in my mind that all three shots met their intended targets. The judge called an end to the scenario at that point, and I was both pleased to see a beautiful centerline paint splotch on rapist-guy and distressed to see that it was on his Plexiglas face shield (one of the NTI rules is to try to avoid head shots).
Gun-guy had managed to fire one shot at me, but because he had to swing his gun to follow my lateral movement, he over-swung, and his shot made a beautiful pink blotch on the doorframe, not on me, though it was so close my Plexiglas mask was splattered with pink mist!
During the scenario, at least part of my actions were on automatic pilot. I do not remember drawing the gun, I only remember deciding to draw it as I moved back into the bank doorway. One of the NTI staff who witnessed the scenario said later, “I’ve never seen a gun come out of a holster so fast!”
With the leisure of Monday-morning quarterbacking, one might ask whether I was entirely justified in shooting the rapist-guy, once I knew I had taken the gun-guy out of action. There is a school of thought that says, “No. Once a gang has been reduced to an individual, and an unarmed individual at that, that individual is no longer a threat, and should not be shot.”
There is another school of thought that says, “A gang is a threat until they are all neutralized.” This thought has been embodied in at least one important court decision, in which Justice Holmes noted “Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.” In this scenario, as soon as I knew the two men were partners, I considered them a unit. I made only one decision to shoot, not two, and I kept shooting until I was sure their threatening actions were stopped.
In other such scenarios in the past, when I have had to shoot more than one individual, I distinctly made a conscious decision to shoot before shooting each person. Perhaps it was the closeness of these two men (close to each other, as well as to me) that made the difference here. I can only report what happened in this particular scenario, your mileage may vary.
Means? Ability? Danger?
In ATSA Village, I went into a store and browsed for a while. Two men came in, one around 6’, probably 250 pounds, and strong-looking, the other a bit shorter and lighter, but also young and strong. One of them started some small talk, but I didn’t like the way they moved apart to opposite sides of the room, as if to flank me, so I walked out of the store without incident. Were they good guys or bad guys? I didn’t know, but I listened to that little voice in my head that said “Something about these guys makes me uncomfortable. I’d be better off somewhere else.” Listening to that little voice probably kept me out of a lot of trouble there.
Then I headed for the video store to browse for some entertainment. Nobody, not even a clerk, was in the store.
Suddenly, a man entered the store, or rather stopped just inside the door. He was the larger of the two men who had made me nervous enough to leave the previous store. He started his small talk, “Hi, how ya doin’?” as his buddy came in beside him. Together they blocked the doorway, the only way out of the video store. The smaller guy reached in his pocket and pulled out a baggie with some white powder in it. He put it on his palm and held it out to me. “Hey, look what I got!”
I walked over as if to look, but when I got close to them, I accelerated and pushed between them and went out the door. They weren’t expecting me to do that, so I got out into the street without having them grab me. Once in the street, I thought I was safe, but, unlike most public thoroughfares there was no one around, and the two men turned and came out after me.
I used my best command voice to order them to leave me alone, but they did not. The larger one kept talking to me in a completely inappropriate way, asking if I was new in the area or <…>; his buddy hung back just behind him.
Calling for help was useless. Ordering them to back off had no effect. I made it absolutely clear the them that I was not interested in talking to them, but he persisted in trying to start a conversation.
I backed up as much as I could; we were now about 12-15 feet apart. I wished desperately that I could simply run away, but my knee was bothering me that day, and I didn’t dare to run. I wished desperately for some pepper spray, but since I had not carried it during the live fire stages of the NTI, I was not issued an OC inert spray for use in ATSA Village. I kept watching his hands (empty) and his actions (continuing to be verbally inappropriate, though he was standing still).
I was watching for signs of imminent attack, such as the production of a weapon or a movement toward me. Suddenly, I felt a rush of fear as he started moving toward me fast; he said something like “Let me show you…” and reached with his right hand under his jacket and toward his back, exactly the kind of motion that results in a drawn gun or knife.
My gun was out in a flash as I yelled, “Don’t move!” He froze, then slowly brought his hand out, holding a piece of paper and saying that he just wanted to show me a map. He didn’t come any closer, nor did he obey my commands not to move. His buddy scampered away, but I noticed that he seemed to be going around the video store. If he came around the back of the store, he might be able to come up behind me. I maneuvered to where I could cover the big guy and see the alley behind the store, and sure enough, the junior drug dealer popped around the corner, though he ran away when he saw that I had seen him.
“Police!” I yelled, wanting to bring assistance before this crazy-acting man who seemed so oblivious to my gun forced me to shoot him.
The police did show up on the scene, first in the person of the Deputy, Vicki Farnam. I explained to her that these two men had apparently followed me from another store, had tried to offer me drugs, had tried to block my exit from the video store, and were trying to maneuver me into a defenseless position. I explained that a bad knee kept me from being able to run away. The big man was right there, and kept interjecting his version of the story, which included “I was just trying to ask her for directions,” and “I was just trying to show her this map of Gettysburg” which he produced from the back pocket he had been reaching for. “Did you see a weapon?” she asked me, reasonably. “No, but they were attacking me, and they are both stronger than I am. The map story is a ruse.” The Sheriff of ATSA Village showed up next, and I had to go through the entire explanation again and again.
The judge of this scenario thought long and hard about how to score my performance. On one hand, there was no overt weapon, so was it justified for me to draw mine? The judge knew that for most of the NTI participants, it would be reasonable to penalize them for drawing their gun prematurely. But was it premature for me to act in that circumstance?
Perhaps for the first time, the judge had the opportunity to hear the explanation from a 5’4” 115 lb woman about how it feels to be in a situation where the danger comes from the disparity of force and from threatening behavior, not from an explicit weapon. He realized that if it had been his wife or his daughter in the same situation, he would have wanted her to draw her gun. In short, it was an object lesson for us all about how applying the standards of a “reasonable man” and a “reasonable woman” in the same situation can lead to different conclusions.
After careful reflection, he decided that my actions had been justified.
This article first appeared in the Sep-Oct issue of Women&Guns magazine. Copyright (c) 1988 Lyn Bates