Skip to main content

Posted on March 10, 2021 by in Podcast

In Self Defense – Episode 76: Claude Werner on “Serious Mistakes Gunowners Make” Part 2

Listen to the “In Self Defense” Podcast

In Self Defense – Episode 76: Claude Werner on “Serious Mistakes Gunowners Make” Part 2

Claude Werner, “The Tactical Professor,” joins Don West, Steve Moses, and Shawn Vincent for a wide-ranging conversation based on his book “Serious Mistakes Gunowner’s Make.” Claude says, “Good decisions are made in advance,” and he emphasizes the importance of having a self-defense plan in mind before you find yourself in a potentially deadly encounter.

TRANSCRIPT:

Claude Werner:

… I’d say that there are not just only in the sense of deadly force, but there are numerous kinds of negative outcomes that don’t involve that, that level of even applying any force. But let’s say for instance, one of my categories is undesirable police involvement. And in my example of that is that at the Statue of Liberty, every year, someone is arrested by the New York police because they were under the impression that their concealed carry license, whatever it might be called by the state they’re from, they thought that was valid everywhere, like a driver’s license.

Claude Werner:

And then they see that there’s a metal detector at the Statue of Liberty and naturally being good people, they go up to the police officer, who’s stationed there and says, “Excuse me, officer, but I have a gun, what should I do about it?” Thinking it’s like a courthouse or something. And the officer says, “Okay, well, let me have your gun. And now turn around, put your hands behind your back. You’re under arrest.”

Claude Werner:

Then typically the way that process works is after about three years and several trips to New York and 15 to $20,000 worth of attorney fees, the district attorney there will allow them to bargain that down to some kind of misdemeanor and take a plea so that they don’t become a convicted felon. Well, that’s a negative outcome as well, and fairly easy to prevent, as we said, just by exploring the laws before you travel and seeing what you can and can’t do.

Claude Werner:

In New York State, you simply can’t have a gun with you. Not like you can’t carry it, you can’t even have it in your hotel room. It’s very odd that even before COVID, for instance, Steve or I could not travel to New York and teach a firearms class because without a New York State firearms license, we’re not even allowed to touch a gun.

Claude Werner:

One of the incidents in my book is that someone was in his hotel room and had his gun on the nightstand, and ordered room service. And when the waiter brought the room service, he saw the gun and just left the tray and then went and called the police, the police came and arrested him. And he went through that whole thing again. We’ll, that’s a negative outcome. So once again, a little bit of research ahead of time, thinking ahead. Thinking ahead, is that a recurrent theme when I speak?

Shawn Vincent:

Yeah, and having options. When we were talking about the binary option and recalculating, what your options are during a dynamic confrontation, it made me think of little league baseball. Because I remember being put on to third base and my dad told me — it stuck in my mind what a long throw it is from third base to first base. And there I am a third base, the ball comes to me, I got it. The play is at second base, but in my mind, I’m thinking “third base to first base” and I just instinctively threw the ball and ruined the play.

Shawn Vincent:

And so then that opened up a long conversation about always thinking when you’re in a position in baseball like, “If the ball goes here, what do I do?” “There’s a runner on second, where’s the play?” And it seems to me that, you talk about in your book, how, when you decide to be a gun owner, that’s a 24/7 responsibility, Claude. And part of that is situational awareness, and always thinking about, “If something happens, what are my options now?”

Claude Werner:

I’m very big as Steve knows, on the concept of decision-making. I try to emphasize that a lot in my classes and in my writing and good decisions are almost always made in advance. And you alluded to that with your example of being on third base, that while you were thinking about your options ahead of time, and how much time did that involve, really? Probably not a whole lot, but a little bit of thought ahead of time about, “What is my decision in this set of circumstances? And if the situation goes this way, what do I do? The situation goes that way, what do I do?” And I think that that’s a valuable exercise for people to go through and they really don’t have to make it an extremely complicated thing.

Claude Werner:

One of the things that I am trying to learn to do better is make my training, and education, and philosophical goofiness more accessible to people. And I realized that one of the things that people can do is just sit around, and even if it’s only five minutes a day, and you see a news report about something and say, “Well, what would I do in that set of circumstances.” And then, if you have your decisions pre-made, then it becomes a question of, it’s kind of like a menu when you go to a restaurant, assuming you can go to a restaurant depending on where you live, that you pick from the menu of, what’s available to me. And that makes the whole process a lot easier. But if you haven’t thought about it ahead of time, a little bit, then the process becomes harder.

Shawn Vincent:

Well, and it becomes harder because you don’t have time for one, when the life or death perceived situation is on you and you’re affected by some things that are going to affect your reason, which would be the fear for your life. . . You mentioned that there’s also anger that gets mixed into these circumstances. And you write some about people being startled, being caught unaware, and those are all emotions that affect somebody’s decision-making tree. If they haven’t already decided how they might respond in certain circumstances.

Steve Moses:

One of the things that I believe that Claude said at the 29th Tactical Conference is that while it is very advantageous to have a plan in advance, there’s going to be some circumstances when that plan is not the exact fit. However, it’s much easier to make a small revision to an existing plan at a time where seconds count as opposed to coming up with a whole new plan at the time. Is that correct, Claude?

Claude Werner:

That is absolutely correct, Steve, you said that perfectly, that it’s easier to modify a plan that you’ve already got than it is to come up with a plan on the spot. I think it was George Patton who said, “No plan survives the first test of battle.” And that’s absolutely true. But if you’ve got some kind of a plan ahead of time, you can say, “Well, I can’t quite do this, but I can use these parts of the plan and modify it, and that’ll work under the circumstances.”

Shawn Vincent:

Claude, I’d like to hear you talk a little bit about fear and anger, because you write about fear, unreasonable fear, anger. And I noticed in a lot of the cases that we’ve explored, that I think that the defender is experiencing some emotions on the spectrum. I often see fear and anger on a spectrum. And you’ve seen these cases that maybe start out as reasonable fear, but then end up looking like a revenge killing near the end. And so you stress that defenders need to understand their feelings and learn how to manage their fear and manage their anger. And I’d love to hear you talk about some.

Claude Werner:

It’s very of a trap to let our emotions get a hold of us. And that’s the point, when the emotions get ahold of us and cloud our thinking, that’s when it’s easy… I won’t say it happens all the time, but that’s when it becomes much easier for reasonable fear to become unreasonable fear. And then that leads to problems in court if something comes about it.

Claude Werner:

One of the sources of data that I’m using right now is because of the consent decree that the Los Angeles police department was under with the federal government for years, every time a Los Angeles police department officer fires his or her weapon, there’s a pretty elaborate investigation conducted. And it’s published on the Board of Police Commissioners website. And I have about a thousand of those that I’ve downloaded that go all the way back to 2005.

Claude Werner:

Well, the ones that I find most significant, and they’re the topic of my next book — shameless plug: Real Shootouts of the LAPD Off Duty. And it’s the off-duty ones that are most interesting to me because when a police officer is off duty, they’re mostly in the same position that we are as private citizens. And one of the incidents was a Lieutenant, not just an officer, but a Lieutenant who had some people try to break in his house. And initially his response wasn’t too bad, but in the end, they were running away and he shot one of them in the back. Well, that resulted in what’s called an out of policy ruling by the Board of Police Commissioners, which does not have a legal basis, but can be used by the district attorney in terms of a charging basis, and is also used for disciplinary purposes by the Los Angeles police.

Claude Werner:

So I looked at that and I said, “He started out okay, but then he got mad that somebody had broken into his house. And when they decided to break contact…” And Steve knows that I use this term a lot. Our goal in personal protection is to force a break in contact. We do not have to place the suspect, subject, whatever you want to call them, into custody, the way the police do. We want them to go away or we want to go away, one or the other, force a break in contact.

Claude Werner:

Well, the Lieutenant had forced a break in contact, but then he continued on, in an aggressive manner, and ultimately he was found out policy for it. Now what ultimately happened to him legally, I don’t know, but that basically meant that his career, or certainly any hope of advancement he had in the LAPD was gone at that point. Well, to your point, Shawn, that’s where we have to think about what’s the benefit of this and what are the consequences, and letting our emotions get ahold of us does not stack the deck in our favor and set us up for success.

Claude Werner:

There’s nothing wrong with being afraid. And the saying in the military is that bravery is doing what you need to do in spite of fear. And so there’s nothing wrong with being afraid, but we have to understand what’s reasonable fear and what’s unreasonable fear. And that’s another thing that I would like people to think about, because I think that if gun owners have a plan ahead of time, I think that helps them alleviate their fears that, “Okay, I know what to do. I have an idea of what I’m going to do.” When you don’t have an idea of what you’re going to do, that exacerbates a fearful feeling. So that’s what I’d say about that.

Shawn Vincent:

That’s interesting. And similar to having a plan, I think is the idea of situational awareness. You talk about, there’s this one fascinating case where a woman, someone who came up to ask her for a light, for a cigarette, and she was putting her groceries in her car and freaked out and pulled her gun on him. And he ran off, and she got charged for pointing her gun at a number of people in the parking lot. And you used a term called “task fixated.” And I think, especially with smartphones now, a lot of people when they’re out and about are task fixated, they’re not thinking about their surroundings, they’re not thinking about what will they do in the threatening circumstance, they’re immersed. And then they get surprised and caught off guard.

Claude Werner:

I think that’s absolutely true. And I think one of the things that it’s important for us as people who are armed, especially going out in public armed, is that there are break points. There’s nothing wrong with walking around, talking on your cell phone inside the grocery store. But my personal policy is that as soon as I set foot outside the store, the cell phone stops until I get in my car, I get the car going in the direction that I want it to go. And then if I wanted to use some kind of a hands-free device to continue or to restart the conversation I could. So there’s that idea that actions are not continuous, but they’re appropriate to our ability to be aware of the circumstances that are around us. Is it likely anyone’s going to try to mug me inside the Publix? Probably not.

Shawn Vincent:

Right. The freezer aisle is not where you’re afraid, but you know darn well from your research that you’re more vulnerable when you’re in a parking lot, especially if it’s at night.

Claude Werner:

Exactly. So as soon as I walk out into, especially the Walmart parking lot — because Walmart parking lots are the real watering holes for criminals — and that’s the point when we ramp our awareness up and we take it down. And this was a concept I got from Bill Rogers when I was teaching for him, that Bill used the example of, and we’ve all done this, we’re driving along, we’re kind of like thinking about other things and the traffic’s not too bad, so we’re just driving along and we’re a little bit distracted and we have a ways to go. Well, then you see a few raindrops hit your windshield, and you can tell you’re starting to run into the rainstorm. Well, now it’s time to quit thinking about other stuff because it’s more dangerous driving in the rain. So now I need to focus my attention on what is going on around me, as opposed to what I’m thinking about. And I will do that here in Atlanta, the traffic varies quite a bit from-

Shawn Vincent:

From terrible to worse? I was just recalling my experience with Atlanta traffic.

Claude Werner:

Yeah. Well, where I go, it’s not hard for me to be on a US highway that leads up to the expressway and the US highway will be almost empty. And as soon as I get on the expressway, then we have “Atlanta traffic.” Well, I can get away with doing a little bit of daydreaming, maybe on the US highway. But when I get on the expressway, now I’ve got to be more on my game. And that’s avoiding a form of task fixation because daydreaming is a form of task fixation. I’m thinking about what my problems are or that nice girl, I want to have a date with tonight or whatever. And I’m fixated on that.

Claude Werner:

Now, in the case that you had mentioned, where the lady was putting her groceries away. Well, she had a cart full of groceries, and she was just fixated on putting the groceries in the back of her car. And then when the guy approached her, she said, “Well, he said something to me.” And it’s all on the Walmart’s parking lot’s security cameras, that he’d never got any closer than 10 feet from her. And he said, “Do you have a light?” Now, was this a setup for further encroachment? I don’t know. But she immediately turned around, pulled her gun out of her purse, pointed at him. And she said, “I was the most scared I’ve ever been in my life.” And when I read it, I was like, “Ah, that lady needs some Xanax or something.”

Shawn Vincent:

That goes back to your idea that spontaneity is not great when you’re a concealed carrier. And responding to being startled is when spontaneity takes over. You said something else in your book about instincts that people have in conflict situations, and you said “Beware the instinct to chase.” So you talk about the idea is to break contact from the threat, whether you leave or they leave. And what that would mean is you’d never, what Andrew Branca likes to say, “go to the fight.” And we see a lot of people get in trouble when they make a decision to go to a conflict that’s not happening or has happened already.

Claude Werner:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Or to continue a conflict that didn’t need to be continued. That’s the one that I… I taught in a force on force course for about 10 years. And I observed this probably the better part of a thousand times, that when my friend who was one of the role-players, he played the part of a… What’s the politically correct term for “bum”?

Steve Moses:

I’m not going to say anything.

Shawn Vincent:

A vagrant perhaps?

Claude Werner:

Well, at any rate, so he was an urban cash solicitor, that’s what it was. So he played the part of an urban cash solicitor, but he had played this role many, many times. And his instructions were very specific that when it became obvious that the person was not going to give him any money, that he was then to break contact with them, and just go his own way. Well, the person would inevitably follow him. And this is literally like seven times out of eight. I won’t say every single person did it, but seven out of eight did. And they would say, “No, I didn’t do that.” And because we videoed everything, we’d say, “Well, we’ll show you the video.” And they would continue to follow him and continue this conversation.

Claude Werner:

And that’s where I started to realize how that, I call it the “prey-predator role reversal,” where when somebody comes up to you and solicits money from you on the street, they are essentially the predator and they’re trying to get something out of you. So you’re the prey. But as soon as they try to break contact with you, then they become the prey and you become the predator. It’s an interesting dynamic that I would never have believed if I hadn’t seen it as many times as I did.

Claude Werner:

And I believe I have several examples in the book about people who — even involving home invasions — and the example that I just cited about the Los Angeles police Lieutenant, that’s a perfect example of it, where he was the prey initially, and when they broke contact, then he became the predator and chased and shot at them and got into trouble for that.

Claude Werner:

And that’s something that the way we get around that is to have a plan about what to do when contact is broken. Storekeepers are probably the easiest one to fix that, in the sense of dealing with a tactical situation, because as long as they know, when that guy goes out the door, I go up to the door, I plan to go up the door and lock it. So he can’t get back in. Well, that prevents me from going out the door and chasing them. And that would have perhaps saved Jerome Ersland in Oklahoma from going to prison for the rest of his life.

Shawn Vincent:

Sure. He shot one of the two intruders that came in to rob the pharmacy that he ran. And then he ran out the door, for the second guy, he ran and actually fired at him while the other perpetrator ran down the street. And then it gets worse from there. But to your point, a lot of the home invasion cases or the intruder cases, we see the defenders will have that tendency to want to chase after them, if they’ve scare them away or conversely meet them outside before they get into the house. And that’s another example of going to the fight instead of breaking off the contact. And I think in your book, you talk about finding defensible places in your home.

Claude Werner:

Don’t go outside. Don’t open the door and don’t go outside. If I could provide any level of counsel to anyone who keeps a gun for home defense, that’s it. Know who’s outside before you open the door. And if it’s not somebody that you really want to have in the house, don’t open the door. Because like you say, if you go outside, then you’re looking for trouble, you’re not dealing with trouble. And our best bet is to always try to avoid looking for trouble. There’s no benefit. Once again, what is the benefit? What is the benefit of going outside? No benefit. So don’t do that.

Shawn Vincent:

Yeah. And we’ve looked at a couple of cases where… One of the options that we gave for the homeowner defender was to… We tried not to use the word retreat, but a tactical withdrawal to a more defensible part of the home. And I saw in your book, you mentioned something about retreating to an area in the home that can be secured and defended.

Claude Werner:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). At least to have some barrier. That California case, the recent one that I just mentioned. Well, what the homeowner did was, when the guy shot through the door, the homeowner then immediately withdrew into his kitchen, where he had a wall between him and the outsider who was shooting at him, which I thought was a very good tactic on his part. It was smart that he didn’t open the door. And then when he started taking fire, he immediately withdrew and got into some place. And he had already placed his wife and his child in a semi-protected location before he even went to the door. So this is from someone who apparently had no training, but I thought handled the situation as well as it could be handled and like, “Good for you guy. You did the right thing.”

Shawn Vincent:

Yeah. And I kind of look at that as deciding where your Alamo is going to be — where are you best positioned to make your last stand? And where are you most likely going to be to win that gunfight if it turns to that. So here’s one thing that I liked in your book, where you talk specifically about the shoot/don’t shoot decision, and the reason it stuck out to me is it seems like that should be so clear. And squeezing the trigger, that is the actual shoot/no shoot decision, but you’ve talked about decision-making and having options. It comes right down to that. I don’t think a lot of the defenders that we’ve looked at always made a conscious split-second moment to say, “What are the criteria that need to exist before I’m willing to use deadly force — almost from a military go-no-go, are we here? Is it justified now?” Is that what you’re getting at with that?

Claude Werner:

Yes, absolutely. Although I’ve come to think about that slightly differently now, that rather than calling it “shoot/no shoot.” I refer to it as “no shoot/shoot.” I like to put the emphasis on the no shoot part first, because as we’ve seen, we see periodically or regularly, and as Don, I believe mentioned that in many cases, a display of the ability to use deadly force will solve the situation. So displaying does not necessarily imply shooting. So I have reversed the order of that when I talk about it now.

Claude Werner:

But I think that that’s a very important thing, and I think about it in terms now, I’ve evolved my thinking about this to the idea of having personal policies. And I know that’s, for reasons I don’t understand completely, it’s repugnant to a lot of people, the idea of having a personal policy. But what’s your policy about, for instance, when I was teaching at… There’s a ladies event, once a year called “The Mingle,” and I was able to teach there this year. About 50 ladies who were involved in the firearms field, either from manufacturers or trainers or whatever.

Claude Werner:

And I said, “Okay, write out real quickly, what is your personal policy for simply displaying a weapon, for taking it out of your holster? Or if you had to show it to somebody, what would be your personal policy for that?” And I had to guide them, many of them through writing out two or three sentences about when you would actually produce a gun.

Claude Werner:

Well, I also think that it’s useful to have thought ahead of time about, “Well, what’s my personal policy for shooting or not shooting? And that could be something as simple as saying, “is there any other way for me to avoid death or serious bodily injury, if there is then it’s a no shoot. If there is no way for me to avoid death or serious bodily injury, then I’m going to shoot.” That’s relatively a simple policy, but I don’t think that people think about it in that way as you’ve alluded to. And that’s another one of those things where spontaneity is overrated.

Shawn Vincent:

One last thing I definitely wanted to hit before we end our conversation today is you used the term the “bad decision cascade effect.” And I think that’s terrific because, we often talk about, there’s choices made before the choice to pull the trigger. And some of these cases we were looking at were so easy to avoid if the defender had made any one of five different ridiculous decisions differently. And so what’s your experience with this and maybe some of the cases that brought you to pointing this term?

Claude Werner:

The best one that I can elaborate on. And this is why I put it in the book is … we had mentioned earlier about the person who saw a shadow in his garage and shot. Well, that case was actually a police officer, an off-duty police officer in Virginia, and the shadow in his garage was his daughter sneaking back in, his teenage daughter, sneaking back in at three o’clock in the morning after being at a party because she crawled out her window and then came back in through the garage. And so he just shot her, didn’t try to identify her. So that was obviously a bad decision. He didn’t kill her, but she was wounded.

Claude Werner:

Then he loads her into his car and drives too fast and gets into a single car crash, en route to the hospital. And then the ambulance has to come and get him and her and take them to the hospital. Well, that was a cascading set of decisions because it is impossible, I would say for anybody who’s not a cold blooded killer to shoot someone and not have some kind of adrenaline dump happen to them, that’s a natural physiological response. And at that point, our decision-making is not going to be as good as it was five minutes prior to it. So then it causes us to not think as clearly, even less than we were before that situation started, then we’ve gotten less and less clear and start making compounding bad decisions as in that case. “Well, yeah, I’m going to get into a single car crash after I’ve shot my daughter and the ambulance has to come and get us both.”

Shawn Vincent:

Hey, Don, is there anything that stood out to you from Claude’s book that you wanted to ask him about while we got him?

Don West:

Well, I remember back in law school when I would be required to read something, and then as I would go through it, I would begin to highlight those things that I thought were well said or important to remember so that I would be sure to be able to pull them back up when I needed to review them or present on them. And I’m now looking at Claude’s book, and I realize that it’s page after page after page of yellow. It’s all yellow. There’s such good stuff in here. And the ability to explain things well by using enough words, but not so many that people get bogged down, is a gift. And each page, each paragraph here is a gift, I think, to the readers, because it’s the jumping off point for those things that we’ve talked about today, to stimulate people, to think about things, to visualize things that they thought they already knew, frankly, but really never thought about in detail.

Don West:

So I’m not going to just try to pick out one thing or another. I do though really want Claude to tell everybody how they can download and read his book and encourage people to do that. And to read it slowly and to read it more than once, because this is a terrific resource for people, especially if it’s the beginning of their journey. So while you do that Claude, I’ll take one quick look here and see if there’s something that I want to specifically ask you about, but I don’t think so. I think it was a terrific experience to have read it and I would encourage everyone to do that.

Claude Werner:

Well, thank you for those kind words, Don. I appreciate that. And for anybody who would like to purchase a copy of the book, they can go to my website, tacticalprofessor.com, which will then take them to my blog. And at the top of the blog, there is a menu item that says Tactical Professor Books and “Serious Mistakes Gunowners Make” is in there along with several other books that I’ve written about Indoor Range Practice Sessions and Conceal Carry Skills and Drills and so forth. And that’s very kind of you to say that about the book. I appreciate that.

Don West:

Well, you’re very welcome. I do want to point out though, that you do include the tips that we’ve talked about today. A lot of other issues and aspects of gun ownership and responsible gun ownership, and you even include a section on where not to put your pistol in the toilet.

Shawn Vincent:

Yeah. In the bathroom, where we’re not to put it. That’s funny.

Don West:

Talking about how many people that go into a public bathroom somewhere. And as they finish their business and leave, they forget the most important thing they took in there with them, their firearm. And it’s sitting on the back of the toilet tank or hanging on the back of the door or something. That just cracked me up when I saw that. But I’ve never done that. I’ve never left a firearm in a bathroom. I tell you I’ve left more than one cell phone. And I really appreciate your point there. Thank you.

Steve Moses:

Hey Shawn, this is Steve.

Shawn Vincent:

Yeah.

Steve Moses:

I would like to encourage readers also to go back to CCW Safe website, and there is an article there that I wrote titled “Strategies for Personal Protection.”It’s based largely on the block of instruction that Claude did at the 29th Tactical Conference. And there’s some also very good information put out in that article that I obtained directly from Claude that I think readers might find of some value.

Shawn Vincent:

Awesome. Don, when you talk about how much yellow is on your copy of the book, I agree. I like to keep notes on a separate document of the things that really stood out to me, and my document is several pages long. And the book itself is a quick read. It’s about what, 50 some pages, right Claude? So I got a not unreasonable percentage of the book copied over into my notes. And here’s the last note that I made. And that might be a great way to finish up this conversation — it is that firearms need to be a thinking person’s tool. Embellish on that a little bit for our final thought, if you don’t mind, and it might just be recapping some of the themes we talked about.

Claude Werner:

Firearms are relentlessly unforgiving of not paying attention to them. And they just require our attention all the time. And if people are not willing to pay that level of attention, they really should consider whether a firearm is right for them. And I am not a person who proselytizes. A firearm is a good, an excellent tool for many people. And for some people it is not. And if you’re not willing to think about it, then that’s part of that decision process of which is better, A or B? Having something that’s a liability or having something that’s an asset. And if you’re not willing to think about it, firearms are probably more of a liability than an asset.