Kenan Flasowski is a retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major after 22 years of service, including over 17 years in Special Operations. Since retirement he has operated FAST Inc, providing Firearms and Tactical Instruction for various US Government, Military and Law Enforcement organizations and select civilians.
1. How important is physical fitness when it comes to defensive shooting?
Physically preparing for a fight is just as important as mental preparedness. Owning a firearm is not the end-all-be-all answer. Firearms can be a great equalizer, but if you are able to improve your physical condition, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to do so. Proper defensive firearms training should include a fair amount of artificial stress, such as time limits, movement, competition, etc. If you are shooting knotholes on the slow fire but crater during the stress shoots due to poor physical condition, what do you think will happen when faced with an armed attacker?
Not all gunfights will start with you face-to-face at 7 yards. It might start with you being jumped from behind, or pulled from your car, or being chased through a parking lot. Also, most people should try and avoid getting into a gunfight, since there is no guarantee that you will win (or that your spouse or child won’t get accidentally killed by a bad guy’s bullet). In some situations, the better option may be to turn and sprint to your car, or back into your house, instead of being caught in the open out of breath with a pounding heart. I have seen guys in wheelchairs and senior citizens with oxygen tanks on the range, training with firearms, and that’s awesome and inspirational, but the rest of us need to do what we can to prepare physically for the fight.
2. Is there anything to be aware of when hunting for a quality self-defense handgun?
Be aware that there are dozens of manufacturers and scores of models that can pass for a “quality self-defense handgun” depending on who the salesman is. If you are shopping for a handgun, ask several knowledgeable but neutral people what they recommend for you to try – and be wary of someone trying to tell you that a specific gun is the only way to go. There are tons of great gun stores with competent employees, but I have seen a few new guns that looked to me like the guy behind the counter recommended whatever had the most dust on the box as “the best pistol for you”.
Selecting the right handgun for you involves several factors. Reliability is the most important factor, and that includes ease of operation. Reliability implies functioning without the shooter having to execute unnecessary tasks. It means simplicity. Modern pistol design allows shooters to get a safe pistol that only requires them to get a good grip and pull the trigger, just like revolvers. I repeatedly see shooters having a delay in getting that first shot off quickly because the safety is still engaged on some models, especially guns that have slide mounted safeties.
Some people don’t have a choice if they must use a pistol that is issued to them by the military or a law enforcement agency, so they have to conduct their training to insure that the safety is reliably put into the “fire” position as part of their presentation.
The gun must also fit well in their hand. The different grip styles and angles of the Glock, Smith and Wesson M&P, and the Springfield XD make it easy for civilian shooters to get a reliable handgun that is simple to operate and fits their hand.
Lastly, if at all possible, test fire the exact model you are interested in before you buy it, and at a minimum dry-fire the exact gun you are purchasing. Better to not buy the one with the 8 pound scratchy trigger pull.
3. Would you suggest shooters modify their firearms themselves or buy expensive, top-of-the-line custom guns if they can afford it?
Neither, to start with.
In terms of self-defense tools, I always recommend getting quality gear from a reputable manufacturer. Invest in the best that you can afford within reason. Most of what’s out there is fine right out of the box and that’s all a new shooter needs.
Many shooters are holding back the gun in terms of accuracy and speed, instead of the gun preventing them from being faster and more accurate. Anybody who understands the Basic Fundamentals of Marksmanship can employ a modern production gun with good results. I constantly see vast improvement in shooters once they get proper training on The Basics. If a pistol has good sights and a decent, smooth trigger, there is no immediate need to change anything if it is for self-defense.
My guidance to new pistol owners is use a 50/50 allocation of money: If you spend $500 on a handgun, then invest $500 in a good holster, some extra magazines, and above all, good training.
For carbines, as long as it is reliable and shoots decent groups with decent ammo, then you are good. If your rifle or carbine does not shoot good groups, the first thing to do is let somebody who is a trained, competent marksman shoot it to determine if it is in fact a gun problem.
A common error most shooters make is investing thousands of dollars on expensive guns and gear, but nothing on training. I have seen good shooters use a homemade $700 AR they built in their garage outshoot folks with $3000 custom rifles, simply because it comes down to the shooter, not the gun. It pains me to see a good shooter become frustrated because his brand new, highly customized handgun is useless to him because when he establishes his correct grip, the overly large aftermarket extended magazine release drops the mag after a few rounds (and he knows that never happens with his production gun that was a fraction of the price!).
Get to the point where the gun is holding you back, then use all the knowledge and experience you gained through training to upgrade. Keep your first gun as a backup.
4. A lot of people are interested in AR-15s for home defense. What would you suggest they buy, if anything, to trick out their gun?
A carbine is great for home defense as long as it is reliable so I do recommend them. The first thing anybody should hang on their gun is a light. You can’t hit what you can’t see, and civilians definitely should never engage a human target unless you can positively identify it as a threat. You cannot do that at night without a light. Plus the benefit of blinding them with 120 lumens of strobing disorientation will give you a distinct advantage.
Next would be a good lightweight two-point sling, then a red dot reflex sight. I see guns with a lot of extra weight (forward pistol grip, incredibly adjustable stocks, four pound slings, etc) added to them for not a lot of benefit.
5. When it comes to zeroing an AR, do you have any suggestions, particularly for home defense?
For most people, a good 100 yard zero is fine, but it needs to be a real, confirmed 100 yard zero. To me, that means confirmed with a 10 shot group centered on the point of aim. This it needs to be checked and confirmed regularly.
If all you routinely use is a 25 yard or 50 yard range, then make every effort to get to a real 100 yard range at least once, establish your zero, then see where it shoots at 25 and you can use that to do your routine checks. If you have a large property and are concerned with shots past 200 yards, then use a 200 yard zero. The 100 yd zero is great for urban civilian self-defense, but I think the 200 yd is best if you need to get the maximum distance from the 5.56mm with a minimum amount of holdover.
Any closing thoughts on self defense?
I cannot over-emphasize the need for training among civilian gun owners. You don’t have to shell out thousands of dollars attending out-of-state training courses every month – just get some good Basic Marksmanship Training followed up with reasonable Defensive Shooting, and then continue your training according to your personal situation.
Keep track of details, like how fast you can draw from concealment and fire three rounds into a paper plate at 5 yards with both hands. And at night with one hand. And sitting in a chair or your car. Then every chance you get, try and improve your time. Prepare for the fight before the fight, because when the time comes, you will fight with what skills you have – hopefully they are the skills that are needed.
Pictures courtesy of Joey Watson