Glossary of Gunspeak

Glossary of Gunspeak

Here are definitions of some concepts we teach you about in our classes. Sometimes different trainers use different words to mean the same things; this glossary will hopefully help you clarify some of the “tacticool” words that get bandied about by gun gurus.


Administrative Reload–An administrative reload can be done on a hot range without pulling the pistol from its holster. Simply reach your thumb or finger around from underneath the grip, press the magazine release, pull out the old magazine, and slide a new one in. Not to be confused with a Proactive Reload (see below), although some instructors say “admin reload” when they really mean proactive reload.


Active Killer Event–A killing (or attempted killing) spree. Often referred to as Active Shooter Events, active killers can also use knives, bats, swords, automobiles, poison gas, or bombs–basically anything that can be weaponized. On 9/11, the terrorists weaponized airliners. We used to define these as anytime there are 4 or more killed, not including the bad guy(s). That definition is changing to include any time someone is attempting to kill or maim strangers, as opposed to a specifically targeted killing where drug dealer A murders drug dealer B. There is more violence these days than in the recent past, but the broadened definition makes it look like a drastic change, when really the broadest change has merely been in our operational definitions.


Active Shooter Event (ASE)–A MCI (mass casualty incident) where the killer(s) has or have a firearm or firearms. Active Killer Events where the killer(s) have edged weapons, and vehicle rampages, are often erroneously reported as Active Shooter Events by the media.


African Carry–One of two preferred ways to sling a long gun behind one shoulder (see Sling Arms) with a two-point sling. In African Carry, the long gun is butt up, muzzle down, behind the SUPPORT SIDE shoulder. It is preferred when it’s rainy for reasons which should be obvious with a moment’s thought. Of the one-shoulder “sling arms” carries, African is the fastest to engage from, and the least likely to slide off your shoulder accidentally. Preferred by hunting guides and trackers in the African bush. Of the one shoulder sling carries, African is my favorite.


American Carry (Sling Arms)

American Carry–The other of two preferred ways to sling a long gun behind one shoulder (Sling Arms) with a two-point sling. In the US military, Sling Arms means muzzle up carry. If your muzzle is up behind you with the sling across one shoulder only, it should be on the same side as your dominant eye, which is the primary shoulder you should shoot a long gun from, regardless of your handedness, unless field conditions dictate otherwise (see Mirror Image below). Muzzle up behind the dominant side shoulder is American (as opposed to African) Carry, although Aussies, Thais and soldiers of other militaries had hat brims that folded up on one side to make room for a muzzle up rifle. One of several downsides to slinging muzzle up is that it puts a heavy portion of the long gun’s mass over the point where it hooks onto your body, making it more prone to sliding off your shoulder. See upcoming post on Slingology for more.


Antelope Principle–Whenever a group of pronghorn antelope beds down, whether it’s 2 antelope or a whole herd, at least one is always facing the other way to watch their back. Try to be like them.


AOR (Area of Responsibility)–Your lane. The part of the battlespace you are responsible for. It can be a designated field of fire but if you’re moving with a team it’s often a few hours on the clock (with 12 o’clock usually being your direction of travel). With a couple, your job might be to watch your spouse’s “6” (from 3:30 to 8:30 or so) to make sure nobody sneaks up from behind. If there is a civil disturbance in your neighborhood, Junior might be given the responsibility for watching the side yard from a window upstairs, while his sister watches the other way, dad watches the alley, and mom watches the front–or whatever.


Area Target–As opposed to a Point Target (see). This concept is more important to soldiers than to civilians, except that you may be IN an area target. An area target is so far away that someone shooting at it cannot hope to single out individuals. Rather, fires directed into that area are intended to hit someone, anyone. The bullets don’t have your name on them; they are addressed “To whom it may concern.” The Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas was a classic area target. It was 450 meters from where that wannabe sniper was holed up on the 32nd floor. A Marine can hit a non-moving target at 450 meters, but that bozo in the Mandalay Bay didn’t need that level of skill. He just poured bullets into the crowd.

View from the X of the Route 91 Harvest Festival, a textbook area target. The murderer was in a corner suite.


ASR (Active Shooter Response) Rifle–An ASR rifle is something you keep in a lock box in your vehicle, mainly for one mission: putting down a rabid dog who is, say, shooting up a parking lot or sniping at cars from a freeway overpass. It’s something we use ONLY in the first couple minutes after an active shooter event kicks off, usually if the bad guy is in an open area, and the good guys are still a few minutes out. If you let the killing continue, the body count will pile up. Also, the longer such a situation goes on, the more on-duty protectors will arrive, and the greater the likelihood that they will mistake YOU for the bad guy (see WHEN We Unlimber an ASR and Hazards of Self-Deployment in the article ASR Rifles and ASR Med Kits). The ASR fills a niche similar to a military “designated marksman” rifle, about halfway between a standard issue M4 and a sniper rifle. NOT to be confused with the brand name Aero Survival Rifle.


Assailant–The person attacking you, or a person who preys on others.


Automatic–Sometimes, people use the term “auto” or “automatic” when they really mean semi-auto only. In common usage, “.45 auto” refers to the semi-automatic Government Model and its clones. That GI .45 goes “Bang! Bang!” rather than “Rat-tat-tat!” Hence, the term automatic can either mean Full-auto or Semi-auto fire (see below).


Bad Guy–like Airman, rifleman, and able seaman, Bad Guy is a term that started as masculine but now applies generically to either gender. We still use it for two reasons:

  1. It is widely understood, and “bad person” just sounds silly.
  2. Bad guys are, far more often than not, just that: guys, as opposed to gals. In Lone Wolf Terrorism, one of my issued texts from FBI CTIOps (Counterterrorism Investigations & Operstions) school, author J.D. Simon devotes the entire fourth chapter to “Where Are the Women?” Simon says that women sometimes participate in criminal / terrorist organizations as members (SLA), or even leaders (Baader-Mainhoff gang), but females rarely go bonkers and kill scores of people on their own. Females have been partners in suicide-pact active killer pairs; examples include San Bernardino, the Walmart in Las Vegas, and STEM School Higlands Ranch (at the STEM school, one of the perpetrators identified as male but was biologically female). Female Suicide Bombers often follow their husbands into martyrdom.

All of the above assailants are, for our educational purposes, “bad guys.”


Ballistics–The study of what happens to a bullet from the moment of primer ignition till it comes to a stop. There are 3 types of ballistics:  Internal, External, and Terminal (see each for more into).


Battery–No, not as in D-cell. When a firearm is “in battery,” the bolt or slide is all the way forward in its closed position, and the breech face is as close to the chamber as it can be. An artillery battery is a group, unit or cluster of cannons / howitzers / mortars or combination of field pieces.


Below Line of Sight Fire–Shooting from bent elbow / retention positions, usually at close contact range, where the sights cannot be used.


Bent Elbow Fire–Shooting with the gun-side elbow bent, usually for retention purposes. Could be angled down (in retention) or up (to prevent shoot through issues). A type of compressed hold.


Beyond Line of Sight Fire–Shooting from an angle where the sights are not on a line between you and your threat. Below line of sight fire is one type of beyond line of sight fire. In beyond line of sight fire, the gun may also be at or above eye level. With pistols, this could be reaching around a hostage’s head to for a contact shot on the hostage taker, or reaching around your spouse who is rolling around on the floor in the clinch with a home invader. With long guns, beyond line of sight fire can be with the stock over the shoulder, say when scanning over the lip of a dumpster in clearing operations. With either, it could be reaching across to shoot down through a windshield (say, you were putting away the shopping cart when a guy jumps in your car and is about to drive off with your kids).

Box / plug type BFA


BFA (Blank Firing Adapter)–A device, usually screwed into the front of the barrel, that takes the place of a bullet to provide enough back pressure for the gas system to cycle the operating system of a firearm. BFAs come in two types:

  1. Box, or plug
  2. “Hollywood” or internal cylinder


Bladed Stance–Standing with your support side toward the target, as if snowboarding or riding a skateboard. Preferred in some martial arts. Before rifle plate body armor was common, police academies taught the bladed field interview stance, a way to keep one’s strong side hip holster away from suspects when talking with them on a street corner.


Block Officer–military equivalent of a Range Safety Officer. Block Officers are shooting coaches responsible for a certain number of students on the firing line. Works in conjunction with a Tower Operator (see). Block officers primarily watch muzzle direction. They also ensure compliance with the required course of fire, check to make sure weapons are cleared or holsters are secure, and go forward with the students to analyze targets and give feedback on performance.


Blue on Blue–A “friendly fire” incident resulting from improperly identifying another good guy as a bad guy. We never shoot at sounds, or at anything else we have not properly identified (Rule 4). Remember, there’s nothing “friendly” about friendly fire. Blue on Blue might also be used to describe a Crossfire situation. 


Bore Line–An imaginary line running down the center of the barrel and out the front of the gun. We use the term primarily to illustrate concepts when referring to exterior ballistics, what the bullet does after it leaves a barrel (the trajectory, another invisible line, is an arc that starts along the bore line at the muzzle and drops off from there). A rearward extension of the bore line runs through the firing pin channel in the middle of the slide and out the back of the gun. When discussing Grip and Hold, it’s important to remember that the higher the bore line is above the hands holding the pistol, the more leverage the recoil will have to flip the pistol up after it is fired. With a rifle, the bore line is actually pointed slightly up, rather than horizontal, when your sight line is horizontal.


Boat Tail–A bullet, usually a spitzer (pointed) bullet, with a tapered back end to make it more streamlined.


BorSTAR–Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue. The USBP equivalent of USAF’s pararescue.


BorTAC–The Border Patrol’s national tactical team; their equivalent of SWAT.


Brewing Fight–A fight that is likely to happen, but you are not yet actively, directly under attack. You have some prior indication that trouble may be coming. Brewing fights may initially involve deception on the part of the perpetrator. If you read the signs correctly, you have time to be more proactive when the fight is brewing.


Carbine–A rifle, usually a shorter rifle, that fires pistol bullets or intermediate cartridges.


Carry–As a verb, it means to be armed, usually with a concealed handgun For example, “Do you carry?” or “Are you carrying?” (something you might ask your gun owning friend as three unsavory looking characters approach), or “Thank you for carrying to keep us all safe.” As a noun, carry refers to the state of being armed. When preceded or followed by a modifier (for example, African Carry or Open Carry or Carrying Concealed) the phrase refers to the way we are toting a weapon around.


Carry Condition–The level of readiness of your firearm. Jeff Cooper defined four levels of readiness based on where the ammo is (or isn’t) in the pistol. For more detailed information, read Alert Carry Conditions.

  • Condition 1Round in the chamber, charged (loaded) magazine inserted, hammer back or striker fully cocked. With firearms that have a safety, the manual safety is ON. With the venerable Government model (M1911 and its many clones), as well as with ARs, Condition 1 is called “cocked and locked,” as the safety cannot be placed on until the hammer is cocked back. When the US military adopted the M17 (SIG 320), they insisted that it be retrofitted with an external manual thumb safety like the M1911, even though the striker physically cannot be released until the trigger is pulled (see Condition 2).
  • Condition 2: This applies specifically to Double Action (DA) pistols and revolvers, although you can also (ill-advisedly) carry a Government model this way if you manually lower the hammer. It is identical to Condition 1, with a round in the chamber and a charged magazine in the pistol (or loaded revolver cylinder) but the hammer or striker is forward / down, so it must be cocked (either via the trigger or manually) first, in order to fire. A Beretta M9 with the hammer down over a loaded chamber is in Condition 2, regardless of the position of the decocker / safety, as is (arguably) a chamber loaded Glock or SIG 320 that has no external manual safety. The Glock striker is half-cocked when the trigger is in the forward position.
  • Condition 3, otherwise known as “Israeli carry,” has a charged magazine inserted, but NO cartridge in the chamber. Condition 3 seems to work for the Israelis, and is probably advisable with shotguns or ARs transported in vehicles. However, it has several downsides.
  • Condition 4 (sometimes called “Condition Zero”), has nothing in the gun. A charged magazine may be stored elsewhere, ready for insertion, as long as you have enough time (and 2 hands) to load the firearm. Condition 4 is legally required during storage or transport in some states. Some jurisdictions require the magazines to be unloaded as well.


CATM (Combat Arms, Training, and Maintenance)–Air Force small arms instructors and repairmen–the “Red Hats.” Formerly SAMTU (Small Arms Maintenance and Training Unit). For many years it was its own career field; kids who shot well in basic training might be recruited into SAMTU / CATM to teach other Airedales how to shoot, without ever having used or carried firearms outside a firing range. In the 1980s there was a push to make CATM training more “tactical” and less marksmanship oriented; to which many CATM instructors replied, “As soon a you give ME some tactical training, I’ll be glad to pass it on.” For that and other reasons, in the 1990s, the Air Force made previous experience in the Security Forces (to at least a 5 skill level) a prerequisite for assignment to CATM (it still is). About that time, the name was shortened to simply Combat Arms, although they still repair firearms in addition to teaching and qualifying USAF personnel to carry guns. Not to be confused with what the Army calls Combat Arms (see below).


Center Axis Relock (CAR)–A bladed, close range shooting system developed by Great Britain’s Paul Castle. As the body pivots around one’s vertical center axis, you re-lock your support hand further around the front of your support hand.


CFLCC–Pronounced “see flick.” Coalition Forces Land Component Commander. Usually the head Army honcho in a given theater of operations.


CFLCC Arming Conditions–Conditions of small arms readiness for US troops in a given area (such as “the Green Zone”), as dictated by the CFLCC. Sometimes influenced by Status of Forces agreements with the host country. Very roughly analogous to the Carry Conditions (see). CFLCC arming conditions are designated by color, thusly: 

  • Green: Like Condition 4, with nothing in the gun. Often required in cantonment areas, but sometimes outside the wire as well. Does NOTHING to prevent negligent discharges, as Green perpetuates the dangerous notion that such a thing as an “unloaded” firearm exists. Also puts our troops at far greater risk.
  • Amber: Charged (loaded) magazine inserted, but nothing in the chamber. With pistols, only moderately less dangerous for our troops than Condition Green, for the same reasons.
  • Red: Round in the chamber, safety (if any) on. For M-4s and M1911s, it’s cocked’n’locked (Condition 1). For M9s, M11s, and other Double Actions (see), it’s Condition 2.


Clinch–A fight at grappling distance. Like freeways, often used in conjunction with “the,” e.g., ” . . . when in the clinch.” Spelled with an e (“clench”) in some of the literature.


Close Contact Distance–Within two arms’ reach of your opponent (about 2 meters or less). Where most crimes, and most pistol fights, take place. Given that bad guys use deception to get closer, or can put on a sudden burst of speed to close the distance, close contact holds should be used within 3 meters.


Close Order Battle Drill–How to move and shoot around your buddies. It was hugely important in the era of the smooth bore. Without training, shooting and reloading with 5 foot long, muzzle-loading muskets around other people would be dangerous slapstick at best. At worst, it would get you and your teammates killed. To get the timing and critical positioning right, soldiers needed to practice close order battle drill extensively. It’s just as important today that you practice moving safely around your family in the close confines of your home.


A modern day close order battle drill, for a couple instead of a platoon. Note that the “up” defender’s knee is braced against the “fetal” defender’s shoulder, to remind him not to stand up into her field of fire while his attention may be “tunneled in” on a threat.


Cold Range–A firing range where the rules state that firearms must be unloaded first and last, before and after you do anything else with them. The concept has some little merit with brand new students, if for no other reason than to give them practice loading and unloading. Perhaps counterintuitively, “cold” ranges are actually, statistically, more dangerous than “hot” ranges, because cold range procedures program the dangerous notion that such a thing as an unloaded gun exists. Also, unloading is not a combat skill, it is an administrative skill. Immediately unloading (or decocking) our gun after we shoot it could be detrimental to our health, if we’re in that habit the one time in our life we get into a gunfight.


Combat Arms–In the Army, Combat Arms refers to the big 3 on the pointy end of the spear:

  1. Infantry
  2. Armor
  3. Artillery

In the Air Force, Combat Arms is the section of the base Security Forces unit responsible for training all personnel to use their issued small arms. USAF Combat Arms instructors wear red hats when they work on the firing line. Formerly called CATM (see above).


Compressed Hold–Shooting from something other than full arm extension. A continuum, from moderately bent elbows to one handed retention holds by the ribs.


Contact Weapon–An instrument, such as a knife or club, that requires proximity, permitting direct contact between the weapon and the recipient, to injure. The “big 3” contact weapons are:

  1. Edged (anything that pokes or cuts)
  2. Impact (blunt instruments like baseball bats)
  3. Flexible (for example, a bike lock on a chain)


Cross Dominant–a person who is right handed but left eye dominant, or vice-versa. Such a person might carry a handgun in a right side holster but fire a rifle primarily from the left shoulder (or vice-versa), using their dominant eye to look through the sights. See Eye Dominance.

Army Ranger Max M, a cross dominant warrior, who has forgotten more about small arms than I will ever learn.


Cross Draw–a holster set up at an angle, on the other side of your belly button from your dominant hand. Prone to some retention issues, and requires special handling when drawing on a firing line (a right handed shooter with a cross draw holster should be on the left side of the line to avoid flagging others during the presentation). Can be useful during long road trips of if you are the chauffeur of an executive protection detail.

Student on right is using a cross draw holster.


Crossfire–happens when we don’t pay attention to what is behind our assailant, or what our partners are doing, and either they or we or both end up on opposite sides of the assailant from each other. Our bullets might miss or over penetrate the assailant and go past to hit our partners. On 20 Jan 1989, San Jose, CA Officer Gordon A. Silva was killed by a round of buckshot fired by another officer at a killer between them. Some trainers might use the term Blue on Blue to describe a crossfire type of friendly fire incident where the other good guy (the one on the receiving end) is not noticed, as opposed to misidentified. In Heloderm classes, we practice getting assailant role players in an L, specifically to help you learn to avoid crossfire issues.


Cruiser ReadyCondition 3 (see) for shotguns. Recommended since the hammer of many shotguns, especially worn shotguns, CAN drop if the shotgun is bumped (this is not common, but it has happened). In classes, I sometimes use the trigger group from a Remington 870 to demonstrate this. It has resulted in holes being blown out of police cruisers from the inside, as they hit pot holes.


Deadly Diamond–can mean one of two things, tactically.

  1. In executive protection (see), the Deadly Diamond is the sad limitation of varying one’s route to and from work. No matter how imaginative and time consuming you make your alternate routes, THEY ALL HAVE TO START AND END AT THE SAME 2 PLACES: HOME AND WORK. Those two locations are the pointy ends of the varied route diamond.
  2. In close to medium range ambush response, the Deadly Diamond might be the route taken by you and a partner to avoid both being targeted at the same time. It starts with forward oblique movement by both partners; one goes forward to the left, and the other forward and right. When you get to the outside corners of the diamond, with your assailant roughly in the apex of an L (you and your partner being on the ends of the L), turn suddenly into the assailant. If a bad guy is tracking you with his muzzle, he starts to catch up about the time you and your partner have him in an L. If you turn suddenly toward him, his muzzle might swing past you. Better yet, he is shooting at your friend instead of you, which leaves you clear to blind side him with a flying monkey tackle. If you are armed, you may forego the second half of the diamond and simply shoot him from the ends of the L without any crossfire issues.

First half of type 2 Deadly Diamond. Explode off the X along tangents perpendicular to each other.

Second half of type 2 Deadly Diamond. Church security team member in white hat may be taking one (or several) for the team, but the guy in the blue shirt is about to rock the shooter’s world.


Decision Shooting–drills in which not every target should be shot, forcing the student to THINK before pulling the trigger. Decision Shooting drills often involve IFF (see below), and are sometimes called “Shoot / Don’t Shoot” drills, or Threat Discrimination training (see).


Defilade–when you or the bad guy are not in a direct line of sight from the person pulling the trigger, or the person looking. The person on the receiving end has bunkered down behind or around something solid that will protect them from enemy fire (we call that Cover, as opposed to Concealment). A person in Defilade is protected from Direct Fire weapons such as rifles but not from Indirect Fire weapons such as mortars, grenades, and tossed pipe bombs.


Direct Fire–shooting at something you can see, with a projectile launcher that shoots more or less flat for practical purposes. Contrast with Indirect Fire.


DGI (Direct Gas Impingement)–a gas operating system in which gases vented out of the barrel push (impinge) directly on the bolt carrier. DGI has fewer moving parts to break but depends on a relatively light bolt carrier and tight tolerances around the bolt carrier. Also, more carbon gets blown directly into your action, gumming up the works. All of the above make DGI systems more prone to stoppages, if not regularly and properly maintained, than, say, gas piston operated systems. The original AR15 / M16 series and standard M4s use DGI, although piston operated upper receivers are available. It should be noted that despite it’s higher maintenance, DGI systems have killed oodles of bad guys in their time.


Dominant Eye–See Eye Dominance and Cross Dominant.


Dominant Side–with a handgun, the hand or arm corresponding with your handedness. I am right handed; thus my right side is my dominant side. With a rifle, your dominant side is most often the side of your dominant eye (see Eye Dominance).


Double Action (DA)–a trigger system capable of both cocking and releasing the hammer. Most DA systems can be cocked (either manually, in the case of a revolver, or by the slide, in the case of a pistol). When the hammer is cocked, the trigger only performs a single action–releasing the hammer. Cockable systems are referred to as DA / SA, or Double Action / Single Action, to differentiate them from DAO, Double Action Only, systems which do not permit the hammer to stay back. The trigger pull of DA / SA pistols fluctuates significantly between long, heavy DA and short, light SA. DAOs are always long and relatively heavy, but they are consistent from shot to shot.


EAT–Part of the PESTS EAT FAST protocol developed by Randy Harris. Things you must do right now if you find yourself in a fight. EAT stands for

  1. Explode off the X
  2. Attain a position of advantage (or lesser disadvantage)
  3. Take the fight back to them

Not getting shot takes precedence over shooting back, but you must take the fight back to them eventually or they will wear you down and / or catch up. We demonstrate this in Heloderm classes with Tom and Jerry drills, and other demonstrations.


Emergency Reload–another word for Reactive Reload (see). Loading when you have to, not when it’s convenient. For example, when you are in deep kimchee in the middle of a gun battle, and you shoot the gun dry. See also Empty Gun Reload below.


Empty Gun Reload–a Reactive Reload (see). When you have shot the gun dry. Get the empty, useless old magazine out of your way, insert a fresh mag, and send your slide or bolt forward to chamber the top round. Then reassess the situation.


EDC (Every Day Carry)–What you have on you on a more or less daily basis. It might be handgun, and / or a folding knife, and / or a cell phone, and / or spare magazines, and / or house keys, etc.


Enfilade–When the line of your fire coincides with the long axis of your target. Picture a lawless future (or perhaps a present) when roving gangs of thugs are running the “LA marathon:” Shoot. Loot, and Scoot. Your family and a few of your neighbors decide to convoy out of there to your in-laws place in the country. The lead vehicle gets stopped by a felled tree, barricade of burning tires, or vehicles blocking the road. When they do, they are ambushed by men in a ditch beside the road. When you dismount, flank them, and shoot down the ditch, you have the ambushers in Enfilade. Bullets that miss the first bad guy will hit the one(s) behind him. The shootout with the Boston Marathon bombers was videotaped out a window by a Watertown resident. From his window on the 3rd or 4th floor, he had the terrorists in Enfilade, with zero Rule 4 (what’s behind your target) issues. If he’d been living in Arizona, instead of a state where the residents have been effectively disarmed, he could have videotaped it with a Go-Pro mounted to his AR-15, and ended that fight before the cops fired hundreds of rounds into residences and then locked down one of the nation’s largest cities for days looking for one wounded, snot-nosed punk.


European Carry–slinging a long gun, muzzle up, in FRONT of your support side shoulder, with the sling strap across that shoulder only.


Executive Protection–employment or assignment as a body guard, even if the protectee is not an executive per se. You may never be hired to protect Jessica Alba or a German banker, but many executive protection principles also apply when you are with your loved ones at a restaurant, or anywhere else.


Executive Ambush–the targeted assassination (or attempted assassination) of a specific individual. We call it an “executive” ambush regardless of that individual’s employment status. Most executive ambushes happen in the front yard or driveway of the target’s home. The second highest number occur at or right outside the victim’s workplace. See Deadly Diamond.


Experience Fragment Training–Drills designed to replicate at least part of a bad situation you might find yourself in. Unlike most drills, which are practiced over and over to develop a reflex, you only need to do an experience fragment once or twice to get some benefit from it. We can never predict all the aspects of your once-in-a-lifetime death struggle, but the more experience fragments you have in your memories the less disoriented you will be when the real thing happens to you, because you will have experienced something similar before. For example, during a Krav Maga seminar, Eyal Yanilov told me “The first time you feel the cold steel of a gun muzzle pressed up against your temple should never be the FIRST time you’ve felt the cold steel of a gun muzzle pressed up against your temple.” Remember, however, that we never point FUNCTIONAL firearms at anyone who is not a deadly force threat, even if the gun is “unloaded,” because THERE ARE NO “UNLOADED” GUNS.

“It is of immense importance that the soldier, high or low, whatever rank he has, should not have to encounter in War those thing which, when seen for the first time, set him in astonishment and perplexity. If he has only met with them one single time before, even by that he is half acquainted with them.”

–Carl von Clausewitz, On War


External Ballistics–are what happens to the bullet in flight, i.e., between the muzzle of the firearm and the target. External ballistics are partially beyond your control. The wind changes, and with a long shot across a canyon or around buildings it may even be different during different parts of the bullet’s flight. But often, with proper training, you can predict and compensate for external ballistic factors with reasonable accuracy. For example, gravity is (for practical purposes) the same no matter where you are on this planet. At extreme range, we can count on spin drift happening.


Eye Dominance–All of us who have two eyes that see have one eye that our brain defaults to when processing visual inputs. Point at something small a ways away. Close one eye. Did the thing you were pointing at stay on top of your finger? If so, the open eye is your dominant eye. If it the object you were pointing at jumped off your finger when you closed one eye, the eye you closed is your dominant eye. You should be able to shoot and to aim your firearms using either eye (as well as with body indexed, target focused methods at closer range), but you should default to using the shoulder on the same side as your dominant eye most of the time when shooting rifles and carbines and shotgun slugs.


Farnam’s Three Stupids Rule–see 3 Stupids Rule


FAST–Part of Randy Harris’ PESTS EAT FAST protocol. FAST is an acronym for things you should do after you get into a confrontation.

  1. Fight
  2. Assess–Is the bad guy down? Is he staying down?
  3. Scan your environment 720 degrees (360 degrees horizontally and vertically) for additional threats
  4. The T‘s (see Wyatt Protocols below)


Flash Fight–a fight that starts before you realize you are in a fight. Your initial actions in a flash fight are reactive, rather than proactive.


Force on Force (also written Force-on-Force)–the very best type of personal protection training. Force on Force can involve role-playing scenarios, HTE (human target engagement), off-lines, disarms, or sparring. Most of your practice should be dry / katas, but the second largest percentage of your training time should be force on force.


Fully Automatic–means that the gun keeps shooting till you let go of the trigger or run out of ammo, whichever comes first.


Gas Operation–How some firearms operating systems work. As the bullet is being pushed through the barrel, it passes a small hole in the barrel. Hot, expanding gasses vent through that hole to drive the gas system, usually a piston (like in your car) that pushes back on the rest of the operating system, so your firearm can kick out the empty case and then stuff in a new cartridge. Gas systems usually come in one of three types:

  1. Gas delayed blowback, also called gas retarded blowback
  2. DGI (Direct Gas Impingement)
  3. Piston driven

With retarded blowback, the gasses pressurize a cylinder that slows the cycling of a pistol slide. For a more extensive look at the whys and wherefores of gas operation, and other operating systems, see Mind the Gas Port.


Getaway Driver–A person who waits outside in a running car while a robbery is taking place. Which you already knew. There are two things you do need to know about Getaway Drivers:

  1. Getaway Drivers are a threat to you and to responding police. On 16 May 1974, an allegedly “reluctant” member of the SLA emptied an entire magazine from a M1 or M2 carbine at a manager from Mel’s Sporting Goods in Inglewood, California, who tried to stop her SLA comrade as he was exiting the store.
  2. The weapon most commonly used by Getaway Drivers to kill and maim is the vehicle itself.
  3. Very few getaway drivers claim prior knowledge of the offense, and some very few might actually have been in the dark about their passenger’s intent. If your “friend” wants you to drive him to a shady apartment complex and wait outside for just a minute, that might be a clue that you are about to violate Farnham’s 3 Stupids Rule. “Friend need a ride?” Chris Rock asked, “Not so fast. Your friend may be crazy.”  Refer to Rock’s highly informative video, How Not to Get Your Ass Kicked by the Police.


Government Model–a classic American design, copied throughout the world, based upon the US military’s M1911 designed by John Moses Browning. The M1911 and 1911A1 were standard US service sidearms from 1911 through the late 1980s, and have been in use by several units since. In its original configuration, it is a long, skinny pistol with a single stack magazine, usually (but not always) chambered with fat .45 ACP cartridges. It’s notable in that the Government model is (except for a few design variants) Single Action only, and must be cocked to use. It has no external manual decocker. Most LEOs who carry the Gov’t model carry it in Condition 1, with the hammer back and the thumb safety on, “cocked and locked.”


Grip–How your hand(s) interface with the pistol. Alternately, when naming the parts of a pistol, the grip or grips are the part of the pistol frame that your hand holds, usually containing the magazine well.


Gun Hand–The hand attached to the finger that pulls the trigger. Usually, but not always, your “strong,” or dominant, hand.


Hold–How your arms and hands work together to control recoil. Most recoil is perceived after the bullet leaves the barrel, so recoil control has nothing to do with marksmanship. It is, however, important to speed up follow-on shots. Since almost all bad guys require multiple pistol hits before stopping their aggression, rapid follow-on shots can be very important.


Hold Over–Where you must aim to compensate for either bullet drop (at longer ranges) or for the mechanical offset between the sight line and the bore line at close range. The latter is not really important with most pistols, but it is critical with ARs and AKs. Contrast with Hold Under below.


Hold Under–Some pistols, especially older European designs, came with sights that hit high at conversational distances on purpose, so you would be point of aim = point of impact at longer ranges. Since almost all pistol fights happen at conversational distances, you should hold under (aim lower) if your pistol hits high. If you’re really good with a rifle, you might also hold under a little at the Maximum Ordinate (see).


Hollywood Adaptor–A BFA (blank firing adaptor) that partially plugs a barrel internally. Usually, Hollywood adaptors are cylindrical, and have a small cylindrical tunnel running through their center. This tunnel permits some gasses (and, for movie or training purposes, noise / muzzle flash) to escape through the front of the barrel, while at the same time providing enough back pressure for the gas system to cycle the action of the firearm. IT SHOULD BE NOTED THAT HOLLYWOOD ADAPTORS, TO AN EVEN GREATER EXTENT THAN OTHER BFAs, CAN CAUSE CATASTROPHIC FAILURES IF LIVE AMMUNITION WORKS ITS WAY INTO THE GUN. This is more likely with Hollywood adaptors because they are not readily visible from outside the gun, and we can forget they are there. Procedural safeguards must be in place so all participants know there is a Hollywood adaptor in there.

Typical AKM slant brake muzzle device on left. Compare internal diameter with smaller aperture of Hollywood adaptor in replica slant brake on right.


Hoplophobe–A person who is the victim of their own hoplophobia, although it may be safely stated that responsible gun owners and even law enforcement agencies can fall victim to hoplophobia on the part of the voting public.


Hoplophobia–A term coined by Jeff Cooper to describe irrational rear of firearms. Not to be confused with a healthy respect for the destructive potential of firearms (or chainsaws, or any other machines) in untrained or irresponsible hands. Hoplophobia, a condition often caused or at least exacerbated by the media, presupposes that firearms are not inanimate objects subject to the will of their operators but rather magical talismans (perhaps possessed by demons) with a will of their own to do evil.


Hot Range–the way Heloderm runs most of our training (except NRA classes, or when the hosting venue has mandatory Cold Range procedures). On a hot range, students are expected and required to manage their ammunition and keep their gun loaded at all times–just like in your office, if you carry concealed at work, and just like in a fight, which is ultimately what we are training you for. People who are programmed to unload their gun all the time have far more negligent discharges on and off the range. With a hot range, pistols are generally kept in the holster when not on the firing line, and can be reloaded without being pulled from the holster (see Administrative Reload above). Rifles on hot ranges are generally hanging on a sling when not being used. Ideally, working on hot ranges long enough leads to a condition where it doesn’t matter if the pistol or rifle is in hand, or where, as it will always be pointed in a safe direction, with the finger up along side the frame, unless it is pointed at a target. My friend and mentor “Slim” Pickens, a former director of safety for a Numbered Air Force, calls that “Safety through competence.”


HTE (Human Target Engagement)–A form of Force on Force training. When you are shooting, with paint pellets, marking cartridges, Airsoft pellets, or lasers, at living breathing, moving opponents. Far more effective than training to shoot flat, motionless pieces of cardboard, HTE requires certain very specific, and hard fast, safety procedures.


ICSAVE (Integrated Community Solutions to Active Violence Events)–A non-profit organization who’s mission is to educate our communities about how to keep the body count low when active killers attack.


IED (Improvised Explosive Device)–a homemade bomb. See IEDs: A Different Approach to learn more.


IFF (Identify, Friend or Foe)–The process of differentiating between allies and enemies. Any monkey can pull a trigger, and any moderately trained monkey can hit a non-moving target that has no will to live and is not trying to kill you. But bullets are like ICBMs: once they are launched, there’s little you can do to stop them. IT’S ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE THAT YOU ONLY SHOOT AT PERSONS WHO CONSTITUTE A DEADLY FORCE THREAT. Your training should include threat discrimination training as often as possible.


Impact Weapon–One of the three major types of contact weapon. An impact weapon is a blunt object used to strike a person. Examples include baseball bats, pool cues, batons, table lamps, folding chairs . . . Like the other contact weapons (edged and flexible), your assailant must be close enough to touch you with an impact weapon for it to work.


In Battery–When the components of your firearm are in the firing position; a round is in the chamber and the breech is closed.


Incoming–When bad guys are shooting at you with something. Most commonly used to describe Indirect Fire, but can also mean Direct Fire.


Indirect Fire–When you are behind cover, out of sight, or over the horizon from your antagonist, but they are lobbing rounds at you over your cover. The incoming could be mortars, artillery, rockets, IRBMs like the SCUD, grenades, or tossed IEDs. 


Instrumental use of a weapon–threatening someone, to get them to do something they would not otherwise want to do (get in the trunk, take off their clothes, let the bad guy tie them up, etc). The weapon may be used to harm someone eventually, and that may be the long-term plan, but right now, while the weapon is being used instrumentally, killing you is only an option. Contrast with Intentional Use of a Weapon below.


Intentional use of a weapon–the perp came here to murder you, and is in the process of trying to do that. If someone is actually trying to kill you, you have absolutely NOTHING to lose by resisting their efforts.


Intermediate Cartridge–A rifle bullet with less size and power than the big game cartridges developed in the first half of the 20th century. 5.56x45mm and 7.62x39mm are common examples of intermediate cartridges.

Soviet & US intermediate cartridge development; contrast with full power cartridge on left side of each set of four. (L to R) USSR: 7.62x54R (Mosin), 7.62×45 Czech (Vz. 52), 7.62×39 (AK47), 4.45×39.8 (AK74). USA: 7.62×63 aka .30-06 (M1 Garand), 7.62×33 (.30 M1 Carbine), 7.62×51 (M14), 5.56×45 (M16 / M4). The first number is the bullet diameter; the number after the x is the length of the case; both in millimeters. R means rimmed.


Internal Ballistics–Are what happens to your bullet before it leaves the firearm. They have to do with your cartridge and barrel combination; they determine the potential accuracy of your rifle. I say “potential” because a Boy Scout with a pocket knife can be a deadlier opponent than your stereotypical Berkeley professor with a belt-fed machine gun; it’s what you do with your equipment that counts. The quality of the ammo, the quality of the barrel, how clean the barrel is, whether or not the barrel is free floated, how much freebore (distance between where the bullet is seated in the case and the beginning of the rifling) there is; all these things and more affect interior ballistics.


Iron Sights–may be made of metal or plastic. We use this term to describe the traditional aiming bumps on top of a pistol, as opposed to the fancy electronic optics that have become popular of late. It should be noted that bad guys have been killed with iron sights (and with target focused, “point” shooting methods), quite effectively, for centuries.


Jamming the Draw–see Stuffing the Draw


Jennifer Fulford drills–Practicing using your support (weak) hand only to fire, reload, and fix stoppages. The way Heloderm teaches this, the pistol starts on the ground, and your training partner smacks you hard on the strong arm deltoid, as if you’d been hit and dropped the gun. Named after a deputy with big, solid brass ovaries who did just that after being wounded multiple times in a gun battle, shooting two home invaders and leading to the surrender of the third.


L–an ideal (or least bad) positioning relationship between you, a potential assailant, and your partner. When you have the bad guy in an L, you and your partner are 90 degrees off each other (the ends of the L), with your assailant in the 90 degree apex of a right triangle (the middle of the L). That way, you avoid crossfire issues (at least with each other; you still must be mindful of what’s behind your target). You will never start in an L, but you should practice maneuvering to get there, either before a Brewing Fight or as a response to a Flash Fight.

A father and daughter moving to get him in an L during a VAS class.


Layoff Man–a covert bad guy who pretends to be a bystander during an armed robbery or other criminal activity. The Layoff Man’s primary job is to back up the overt (obvious) assailant if the overt assailant steps into more than he can handle. The Layoff might also stick around afterward to give misleading descriptions to responding investigators (if most of the witnesses remember a white man in a red shirt, the layoff will swear it was a black guy in a blue and gold shirt). Lookouts and Getaway Drivers might also have a secondary role as a Layoff man. Women are less likely than men to engage in violent street crime, but Layoff Man is one of the criminal glass ceilings a female is less unlikely to break. Layoff men and women are one reason you, as an armed citizen, should be very circumspect about intervening in armed robberies of crowded stores, as armed citizen Joseph Wilcox learned too late in a Law Vegas Walmart on 08 Jun 2014. See also Sleeper, and an upcoming post on Defeating the Layoff Threat.


LEO–Law Enforcement Officer


Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)–A Sri Lankan guerrilla organization, widely credited for perfecting the suicide bombing concept. Also known as the Tamil Tigers.


Lookout–a type of Layoff Man (see) who hangs out outside a store being robbed, or a stash house, to give warning of approaching police or rival gang members. Kids often play in front of a house with their friends, and sometimes by themselves. A youngster playing alone is not necessarily, or even typically, a lookout. But if the same kid is always hanging out outside the same house, never leaves no matter what the weather, and does not appear to be having a good time (the ones I’ve seen, or at least the ones I was later able to positively associate with the stash house, did not seem to be having much fun), he or she may be a lookout. What’s important for you, as an armed citizen, is that if you pay attention and notice a lookout outside, you are less likely to stumble unawares into an armed robbery in progress.


LTTE–See Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam


Lull in the Action Reload–A Proactive Reload (see). When the situation has calmed down enough for you to think about things like “How much ammo do I have left?,” so you top off the ammo in your weapons system.


M4–standard US military carbine, a shorter version of the M16 series.


M9–the US military’s standard sidearm from the mid 1980s through the late 20teens. Essentially a Beretta 92FS, chambered in 9x19mm (9mm NATO, AKA 9mm Luger / 9mm Parabellum).


M1911 / M1911A1–Military versions of Colt’s Government model pistol (see Government model).

M1911A1 (with a few aftermarket parts), Cocked ‘n’ Locked


Managing the X–A term I first heard from my friend Jay O. of Crosswalk Readiness. Ideally, we want to avoid being on the X–in the kill zone of the ambush–when the fight starts. Since we probably will be (all fights start as ambushes), our next best bet is to vacate the X as soon as possible after it starts. If a guy swings a baseball bat at your head, your head will feel better if it’s not there when the bat arrives at its intended destination. If you are in an elevator when a guy pulls a knife, creating distance will not be one of your options. You will have to manage that X, to wit: dealing with the knife, probably by controlling his knife hand and wrist. When we think about it holistically, ALL of the above methods–avoidance, escape, and controlling the enemy’s weapon(s) while we counterattack–are ways to manage the X.


Mass Casualty Incident (MCI)–Technically, any time there are more casualties than people with medical training to treat them, necessitating triage. Often used when referring to Active Killer Events.


Maximum Ordinate–The highest point in a bullet’s trajectory. Bullets usually peak out at about 2/3 of the distance to the target. If your threat is at 200 meters, the bullet will be a few inches above your line of sight at about 140 meters. If your rifle is zeroed (i.e., the bullet drops back down through the bore line) at 200 meters, but your threat is at 140 meters, you might want to hold a few inches low (hold under) if precision is important (and if precision is achievable, given your aiming system and the situation).


MCI–see Mass Casualty Incident


Mirror Image–Holding a firearm the opposite of how you usually do. For example, a rifleman who typically shoots from the right shoulder might switch to a mirror image, left shoulder hold to make better use of cover. A left handed operator might switch to a right handed hold when slicing the pie around a corner to the right.

Position of her holster tells you this pistolera carries right handed, but she has selected a left handed, mirror-image hold for this pie slicing drill.


MOUT (Military Operations in Urbanized Terrain)–Fighting in cities and towns (with or without a military), often room to room, but also in sewers, streets, and from rooftops, windows, or loopholes in adjacent buildings. You do not need to be in a military to learn, practice, and benefit from several MOUT principles.

A TCCC exercise we did in the MOUT village at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.


NAEMT–The National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians


No Shoot–A target, in or behind an array of targets, that represents an innocent bystander. Not all bystanders are innocent, but non-participants still should not be shot. It’s difficult to even notice anyone else when your attention is “tunneled in” on the person who is trying to kill you, but since your bullets (even the ones that hit) are not guaranteed to stay in your assailant, and since there is, more often than not, more than one assailant, you must maintain SA (situational awareness) of what’s going on around you, and especially behind your assailant (see Rule 4). Further, the vast majority of people are good; most violence is perpetrated by a core group of repeat offenders. Accordingly, your target arrays should include at least one no shoot, whenever possible. More No Shoots is better, but may not be practicable, depending upon your logistics and range layout. Your No Shoots can be quite obvious, especially at first. No need to be sneaky or pernicious about it, before students are in the habit of paying attention. You could just write “Don’t shoot me” in large letters on one of your targets, and then have your friend who does accidentally shoot it buy lunch afterward (there are much steeper consequences in the real world). But if your instructor has never given you any No Shoots, perhaps you need a different instructor.


OODA–A concept developed by Colonel John Richard Boyd, a USAF fighter pilot and military theorist. It describes a continuous process or cycle by which we receive inputs from our environment and respond to them. OODA stands for 

  • ObserveWhat’s that in his hand? Why does he look so pissed off?
  • Orient to the situation–That’s a knife! He’s coming right at me!
  • DecideShould I run? Grapple? Draw and challenge?
  • Act–Placing the response option you chose into action.

Which, in turn, leads you to observe his reactions, and adjust accordingly, in a continuous cycle. OODA is not a checklist; it is a subconscious process we all do in confrontations, indeed, throughout our lives, whether we want to or not. It leads to certain predictable delays and behaviors on the part of both defenders and assailants. For more, read Robert Coram’s Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, especially Chapter 24.


Open Bolt LOADING–An administrative loading procedure for rifles and carbines. You start with a rifle that has had the bold locked open, or lock it back yourself. Then, if your intention is to carry with a round in the chamber, insert a charged (loaded) magazine, and send the bolt forward, chambering the top round. You may choose to remove the magazine and replace it with one that has one more round (replacing the one that was chambered). You can also open bolt load a shotgun, but unless the shotgun will be in your hands from the time you load it, you will more likely carry a shotgun in Cruiser Ready (Condition 3), since many shotgun hammers CAN drop when bumped, even with the safety on.


Open Bolt REload–A type of Reactive Reload (see). When you shoot a rifle dry, the bolt should lock to the rear (unless it’s a Kalashnikov, H&K, or a few others). When it does, drop the empty magazine, replace it with a charged (or at least less empty) magazine, and send the bolt forward. With an AR-15 / M-4 type rifle, smack your whole palm against the left side of the receiver, striking the raised “ping pong paddle” portion of the bolt catch, to send the top round into the chamber. With a shotgun, the Open Bolt Reload is sometimes called a “combat” load. Leaving the bolt open (with a pump shotgun, the pump will be to the rear), slap the first shell in through the open ejection port. You may have to push it in if, for some reason, the elevator or shell carrier is in the up position. There is no need to actually shove the shell into your shotgun’s chamber; the bolt going forward will do that. Push your pump forward vigorously, or hit whatever button sends your semi-auto shotgun’s bolt forward. Time and circumstances permitting, you can then load additional rounds into the magazine through the bottom. Shotguns are hungry, and run out of ammo fast if not topped off frequently. Open Bolt REloads are more common with shotguns than Open Bolt Loads.


Open Carry–Packing heat where all can see, usually in a holster. As opposed to Concealed Carry. Open carry is required (when you carry) in some jurisdictions. Open carry is prohibited in others, even in some jurisdictions where concealed carry is permissible. If you have the option to carry concealed, open carry is generally not advisable in most social situations, as hoplophobes tend to become very anxious and fall into fits of apoplexy when they see a “G-g-gu-gun!” Open carry is also more susceptible to disarm attempts (bad guys usually don’t try to take what they don’t know is there), and totally forfeits any edge you might get from surprise. In some situations–say you are hunting with a rifle and carrying a pistol in a holster–open carry may be appropriate. Many people practice drawing (if they practice the draw at all) from open carry on the range, but then actually carry concealed on the street, which is a recipe for disaster.


OpFor–A trainer who plays the role of assailant / bad guy in scenarios. From the military abbreviation for Opposing Forces.

4th Infantry Division (Mechanized) OpFor soldiers in the late 1980s. To understand why they thought a finger on the trigger was OK, see Rule 3: You’ve come a long way, baby.


Outgoing–is not as commonly used as its antonym, Incoming. Outgoing fire is directed back at the bad guys. When you are new in country, as Major James Walsh was his first day in South Viet Nam, and you hear loud booms as he did when he was in the shower, it can be important do distinguish if what you are hearing is outgoing or incoming. It may even be advisable to seek cover until you are sure. If it turns out to be outgoing (it was NOT for Maj Walsh), it may be socially acceptable to encourage the troops with phrases like “Git Some!”


PADE (Perceive, Analyze, Decide, Act)–Another way of saying OODA, used by Navy SEALs, among others. See OODA above. For more info, refer to Combative Fundamentals:  An Unconventional Approach by Jeff Gonzales (Prescott, AZ:  Trident Concepts Research Group, 2002), pp. 33 – 35.


Pan–to Slice the Pie (see).


Personal Defense Weapon (PDW)–Although any weapon, from a grenade launcher to a potato peeler, carried to ensure you make it home alive is for “personal defense,” PDW usually refers to a unique type of firearm initially considered for downed aircrew survival. It was intended to have more teeth than the folding .22s that were sometimes in aircrew survival kits so they could shoot rabbits for food. Like the M1 Carbine (sometimes carried by Forward Air Controllers in Korea and Vietnam), the PDW was designed to extend the downed pilot’s reach, lethality, and ammo capacity over that of a handgun, without taking up a lot more space in an already cramped cockpit. Original PDW concepts often incorporated bullpup designs and forearm braces similar in concept to the wrist braces on the modern “AR pistols” and “AK pistols.” The PDW idea held some interest during the Vietnam era. It waned for several decades, under the assumption that a downed aircrew member’s best bet would be to lay low (gunbattles tend to draw unwanted attention), and surrender if caught. Issuing PDWs got renewed support after the last stand of Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart defending the crew of Super Six-Four in Mogadishu, when pilot Michael Durant wrote that his pistol-caliber MP5, though better than a pistol alone, lacked intimidation factor and punch. When they were overwhelmed, CWO4 Durant didn’t even bother pulling his M9 pistol (see Durant’s In the Company of Heroes). Jordanian pilot (and Sunni Muslim) Moaz al-Kasasbeh was burned alive by the godless savages of daesh near Raqqa, Syria, which told all aircrews flying over Islamic extremists they might be better off fighting it out than expecting a captivity like Hogan’s Heroes. Ever slow to catch up in the small arms arena, the USAF only started including chopped M4s in aircrew survival packs in recent years.

Anwar Tarawneh, Captain al-Kasasbeh’s widow, with his picture. Photo by Khalil Mazraawi, AFP / Getty Images, on


PESTSS (originally PESTS)–Part of the PESTS EAT FAST protocol. An acronym created by Randy Harris to help you remember what to do during encounters with unknown persons, to avoid getting into a fight. It stands for

  • Pay attention
  • Evade / Escape
  • Stop their encroachment
  • Turn on your Tape loop
  • Step off the X and orbit them at least 90 degrees

Heloderm teaches you to add a third S, Set a mental trigger.


Pie Slicing–see Slicing the Pie


Press Check–Pulling back slightly on the slide or charging handle to ensure that there is a live round in the chamber. Something you should do, along with checking to ensure you have a loaded magazine, every single time you arm up. Murphy’s only exception to Rule 1 is the gun you need right this second to save your life. So be sure. Like the guy in front of the bank in Dirty Harry, you got to know.


Point shooting–Aligning the pistol with the target using arm or body indexed methods, rather than the sights. The pistol is almost always brought up into the line of sight between the shooter and the target, but the eyes are focused on the target.


Point Target–A person, or an otherwise small target like a window opening. As opposed to an Area Target (see), which might be a whole enemy camp.


PROactive Reload–Topping off the ammo in your gun when you want to, or at least when you can, rather than when you have to. With a pistol, it is also called a “magazine exchange.” With a shotgun, it might be topping off the magazine after you’ve shot a few rounds. Also called a “lull in the action” reload, since you might do it as one of your Wyatt protocols after the (first) bad guy goes down or scampers off.


Purge–This word has many other definitions, but in the personal protection arena, a purge is similar to, but not exactly the same thing as, clearing a building. USAF Security Forces purge nuclear weapons bays in Weapons Storage Areas (WSAs) before locking up and setting alarms. In that context, a purge is making sure nobody is staying behind. In the armed citizen context, a purge is what you should do when you come home, if your house has been deserted. Before you take off your carry gun, simply go through each room to make sure that you have not interrupted a burglary in progress. Briefly check to make sure the back door is still shut and locked, the window glass is unbroken, and the window screens have not been cut or pried off. Once you’re sure nothing is amiss, and nobody but you and yours are there, you’re free to unstrap your heater and store it in a safe, lowering your guard into Condition White. Purges are not paranoia–unlike a search and clear, you are not EXPECTING enemy contact–rather, purges are piece of mind. In the exceedingly rare event that you do find a stranger has been in your home, even if you’re pretty sure they are gone, back out and wait for the police (with their oodles of armed and armored friends) to clear the place. For more on purges, see Industry Day, 28 Nov 2020.


The Railroad Tracks–The line of attack between the person attacking you (your assailant) and you (“the X;” see below).


Range Safety Officer (RSO)–a person, who may or may not also be an instructor, whose main focus is on watching students’ muzzle directions, trigger fingers, and other behaviors to keep us all safe on the firing range. Sometimes called a Block Officer on military firing ranges. Heloderm is blessed to have a cadre of truly excellent, dedicated volunteer RSOs.

RSOs during a husband & wife teamwork exercise.


REactive Reload–Also called a slide locked, open bolt, empty gun or emergency reload. When you have shot the gun dry and need to reload immediately.


Reassess–Something you should do frequently when making Use of Force decisions. For example, we used to say “Tap, Rack, Bang” when describing immediate action for a stoppage. Now we say Tap, Roll Right & Rack, Reassess. The guy you were shooting at when your gun quit might have surrendered or scampered off by the time you get your stoppage fixed. For example, on 02 Sep 2018, Los Banos PD Officer Jairos Acosta got stabbed in a scuffle. He fired one shot before his pistol jammed, which is not unusual in scuffles due to impeded slide movement. Acosta tapped, racked, and shot again, stopping the assailant. The assailant’s father (who called the police to keep his son from stabbing him) sued the police. In Lam v City of Los Banos, a California jury determined that the second shot was unjustified (even though the whole thing took place in seconds) and awarded the father $2,750,000.00. For more details, see Ken Wallentine’s “Second Shot After Clearing Weapon Leads to Liability.”


RSO–see Range Safety Officer


Rule 1Treat every firearm as if it is loaded. One of the Four Universal Caveats of Firearms Safety.


Rule 2Never point a functional firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy. The second of the Four Universal Caveats.


Rule 3–The golden rule of firearms safety: Keep your finger off the trigger, up alongside the frame, till you have made a conscious decision to fire.


Rule 4Be sure of your target.  Know:

  • What (or whom) it is,
  • What is behind your target, and 
  • What is between you and your target.

It’s not enough to read about the Rules; you must practice them for them to become habitual. In moving courses of fire, Heloderm places steel targets at random behind the target line. The steels are No Shoots representing innocent bystanders. If we hear a “Ding!” as you walk through the course, you weren’t paying enough attention to what’s behind your target, something you absolutely MUST do in the real world, and something that is much easier to write about than it is to do when that guy’s cavernous gun barrel has your almost undivided attention.


Rule 5Secure your firearm(s). Not one of the Four Universal Caveats of Firearms Safety, but still a pretty good idea. The safest place for your firearm to be is ON YOUR PERSON. Whenever it is not on your person, and out of your sight, it should be locked up to prevent access to it by unauthorized, criminal or simply innocent or ignorant persons. The hoplophobes would prefer that it be disassembled, with cable locks through every possible component of the operating system, in a safe, in a locked and alarmed armory, in a secure facility, with all ammunition in a different time zone. All of that would, of course, render it completely useless for defensive purposes, which is what the hoplophobes would prefer (till they can pass legislation requiring that it be confiscated and destroyed). We give them ammo to disarm us, though, if we allow our firearm to be misused by those less responsible that ourselves. When it’s out of your sight, secure it. If you cannot lock it up, you should at the very least conceal it in a locked automobile or room, and (if the situation allows you to unload it without causing alarm or letting people know it’s there, which would defeat the purpose of concealing it), hide the ammo somewhere else.


Single Action (SA)–the trigger only performs one function, releasing the hammer or striker.


Semi-automatic–means self-loading. After you fire, the gun sticks another live round in the chamber, but waits for you to move the trigger to fire again.


Shooting Sling–a long gun carry strap, usually a 2-point (see Sling below), that has a loop you can wrap around the back side of your biceps to help you stabilize your hold. We all know (or should have learned in elementary school) that the triangle is a very stable shape–which is why you see a lot of triangles in bridge construction, for example. Your support arm forms two sides of a triangle supporting the front of the rifle. When you are “slung up” or “wrapped into” the sling, the sling forms the third side of that triangle, which helps to steady your hold.


Sighted fire–Aligning the pistol with the target using the sights.  Happens most of the time on the range, but only rarely in an actual fight, for multiple reasons.  Sighted fire is essential at longer ranges, when the target is small (for example, ankles under a car), or in some hostage situations.


Sight line–A straight line, running right down the center of your scope or other sighting system. Two things to remember about the sight line of a scoped rifle:

  1. It starts about 1.5 inches above your bore line, and
  2. if the image you are seeing through the scope is not centered in the scope, your eye is not on that line, which can cause errors in aiming.

The bore line intersects the sight line in only one place, very near the initial intersection. Absent wind, spin drift, and other lateral changes, the trajectory intersects the sight line in two places (the initial intersection and the zero).


SLA–See Symbionese Liberation Army


Sleeper–similar, but not necessarily identical to, a Layoff Man. A sleeper is a person who seems like a bystander or John Q. Public but is covertly ready to act or respond as necessary. In the movies, a Sleeper is a covert operative from another country who has lived her or his overt role so well for so long, they become torn, perhaps even reluctant to act, when called upon by the ones who sent them to perform their mission. In reality, a Sleeper can be a good guy. For example, nearly every single time I flew on commercial airliners from 1996 to 2017, I was armed. Why? Because as a federal agent, I could be (after 9/11, it was highly encouraged). When I was armed in flight, I was a de facto air marshal. Everybody who was armed on board was introduced to the cockpit crew and anybody else onboard who was flying armed, for obvious reasons. After the rebirth of the Federal Air Marshal Service in the wake of 9/11, I would occasionally fly with FAMs. When we met with the FAMs before a flight, they would brief us to act as sleepers. The FAMs would handle any in-flight disturbances. We were not to get involved, but rather pretend to be a regular passenger and watch their back in case the disturbance was a ruse to identify the FAMs, creating opportunities for other terrorists (Layoff Men) to sneak up behind, attack, and disarm the FAMs.


Slicing the Pie–Another term for Panning. Scanning a room from the outside, as you move in a semicircular direction around the outside of the door. Taking it in one slice at a time, you can see most of a room (except what’s on the other side of furniture) before ever stepping foot inside the door.


Slide Locked Loading–One of two ways to load a pistol (the other being Slide Forward Loading). An administrative procedure in which a you lock the slide of a cleared pistol tot he rear before inserting  a charged (loaded) magazine and send the slide forward to chamber a round.


Slide Locked Reload–A Reactive Reload (see). When the slide has locked open because you shot the gun dry, and probably need to reload ASAP. Not to be confused with slide locked loading (without the “re-“), an administrative procedure detailed above.


Sling–A carry strap that you can use to hang a long gun off your body, while freeing your hands to do other things. Some slings can also be used to stabilize your shooting position as an aid to marksmanship (see Shooting Sling). There are several different types of sling, the primary ones being

  • Single point–Only attaches to the long gun in one place. It may hang off a hook on your load bearing gear, or it may wrap over one shoulder and under the opposite armpit in a loop. The single point required imagination and / or additional equipment to “holster” (get out of your way). Rifles on single points tended to whack the operator in the genitalia when hanging hands free (the real reason Interceptor vests had an optional groin protector). Single points still have some adherents; they might be useful for, say, a medic who may need to take of a first aid pack and put it back on frequently, single points have largely been supplanted by adjustable two points.
  • Two point–Attaches to the long gun in two places, traditionally near the front and near the back of the long gun.
  • Three point–Standard issue on H&K’s 2-hand guns in the 1980s, a 3 point sling attaches to the long gun (or SMG) in two places, but then again back to itself, usually in some sort of sliding arrangement, that lets the operator choose an “angle for the dangle”–basically, which way the muzzle points when hands free. It was a revolutionary idea in its time; I used an MP-5 3-point, quite in contravention of policy, on my M16 when I deployed to Ops Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990 – 91. However, the three point was overly complicated. Running a three point to maximum advantage often took hours of training time, and perhaps an advanced degree in mechanical engineering. In a fight, simpler is usually better. By the early 2000s, most serious operators had abandoned the three point in favor of a much simpler, and equally capable, adjustable two point. Ironically, about that time (in about 2005 or so), ever behind the power curve in the small arms arena, the USAF began REQUIRING that deployers be issued a three point.


Sling Arms–One of several ways to hang a long gun off your body with a strap called a sling. In US military marching drill, Sling Arms meant to put the strap (sling) of the rifle over one shoulder, traditionally the right shoulder (regardless of handedness or eye dominance), muzzle up. Although most tacticool operators sling cross-chest, muzzle down these days, there is still a time and a place for one shoulder slinging. Say, you are manning a checkpoint with hours between contacts, and your sling is too short for (or your back is not happy with) cross chest carry. If you choose to sling across one shoulder, muzzle down on the non-dominant side (African Carry) is probably your best option.


Speed Load–A competition technique with very limited actual tactical application. IPSC / USPSA Action Shooting competitors, who carry, like, 8+ magazines on their non-concealed competition rig, might dump a partial on the ground and stuff in a full mag while moving between the boxes they must shoot from. It saves a second or two but loses ammo you might need later, if you only have one or two spare magazines in the mall food court. Even if you are behind effective cover, and figure you can always pick it up off the ground if you need it, you might get flanked and have to abandon that cover–leaving that partially full magazine where you dropped it. The only people I can see legitimately using speed loads outside of competition might be SWAT operators serving a warrant. They roll heavy on the ammo, have lots of friends with lots of ammo, and if they step in anything bad, it will likely be high intensity over very short duration. They might not want to miss any of it while conserving ammo for later.


Spin Drift–At extreme ranges, bullets from a right hand twist barrel will drift slightly right, and vice-versa. Spin drift is a given, but most people don’t shoot far enough away for spin drift to be a factor.


Spitzer–A pointy bullet, specifically a pointy rifle bullet, often having a boat-shaped cross section.


Stance–What your feet, legs, and torso are doing when you shoot.  When most people say the word “stance,” though, they often use it to include aspects of hold and grip as well.


The Street–is not any particular street or avenue, or even, necessarily, a thoroughfare. When an instructor says “That probably won’t work on the street,” they are referring to real-world confrontations, as opposed to where we usually practice, on the range. In law enforcement, the street refers to operational activity in the field, as opposed to the office or station. 


Stuffing the Draw–Also called jamming the draw. Something we practice in Heloderm personal protection classes. If a bad guy reaches for a gun, you can (if you are “switched on,” paying attention to the cues, and prepossessing the training and skills) successfully keep him from getting his gun all the way out of the holster or waistband. Then you can maneuver around him, pin him to the wall or ground, and get your own pistol out. Or simply kick, bite, and head butt him senseless. NOTE THAT WE ONLY DO THIS DRILL WITH INERT / DEMILITARIZED PISTOLS OR REPLICAS.


Suicide Bomber–the third-world equivalent of a guided missile. Also known as a homicide bomber, since massive homicide is their intent; suicide is merely part of their method. The LTTE (see) did not invent the concept (the Japanese kamikazes were, in effect, suicide bombers) but the LTTE is widely regarded as perfecting and popularizing it among guerrilla / terrorist organizations. Suicide bombing is one type of mass killing in which women have made some strides. Females sometimes become suicide bombers after being widowed, although the Tamil Tigers carried out one of their most successful assassination attempts with a couple. The woman was in front, wearing the bomb; the man held her from behind and essentially directed most of the blast toward the intended victim with his own body. Not much of the above is really important to you. Suicide bombers are becoming a thing on our shores, occasional predatory sharks riding the massive wave of predominantly peaceful refugees from failed nation states. Bombings will also become more prevalent as government elites succeed in their (systemically racist) efforts to make firearms ownership a bureaucratic privilege limited to the wealthy. The main things you need to remember about suicide bombers are:

  • They will be wearing bulky clothing, even when not appropriate for the weather.
  • They may look scared, distant (thousand yard stare), resigned, or even happy. The man who drove the truck into the USMC barracks in Beirut was reported by witnesses to be grinning from ear to ear, especially as he got closer to his target.
  • They WILL have a handler who will execute them with a cell phone if they appear to be losing their nerve. The handler will be on a direct line of sight with them, even if using binoculars.
  • “Dead man” switches, which spark off the device when pressure is released, are a real thing, but not as common as they are in the movies and TV.
  • Do NOT shoot a suicide bomber in the center of mass. If the reasons for that are not patently obvious to you, perhaps you should not be toting a gun around in public. If you have positively identified a suicide bomber, shoot them carefully in the head.

The greatest unsung heroes of the GWOT (Global War on Terror) are the security professionals who tackle suicide bombers to keep them away from innocents, often losing their lives or limbs in the process.


Supine–Lying on your back. It’s harder to move scooting around on your back than it is to crawl around Prone, but if you are down and bushwhacked at close range, it’s far easier to track the bad guys with your muzzle from on your back.


Support hand–The hand that does not need to be on the pistol.  Usually, but not always, your “weak” or non-dominant hand.


Support Side–Your NON-dominant side. We used to call it your “weak” side, but you should not have a weak hand or arm. Changing our words will not make that so, but extensive support side practice will.


Renowned educator Marcus Foster. I got this photo from Wikipedia, although whoever really took it may have died long before Wikipedia existed.

Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA)–A radical left wing terrorist organization active in California during the 1970s. Most famous for kidnapping a newspaper heiress who later joined their ranks, the SLA also robbed banks, stole cars, and assassinated Marcus Foster. As a kid in the 1970s, I cut out articles about law enforcement efforts to stop the SLA, and actually kept a little dossier on several of the known or suspected SLA members. My sister found it decades later when cleaning out my dad’s house. I had no idea, back then, that I would end up as a Special Agent on an FBI taskforce hunting domestic terrorists.


Tamil Tigers–see Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam


Tang–The curved upper rear portion of a pistol’s frame or lower receiver, just below the slide.  Not to be confused with the tang of a knife, which is an extension of the blade that fits into the grip allowing the grip to be attached to the blade.


Target Focused Shooting–keeping both eyes open, focused on the specific part of the threat you want to hit, rather than any parts of your own pistol. Likened to throwing a ball at a basketball hoop–you look where you want the ball to go, rather than at the ball, as you do it. Essential in point shooting, but also best when using reflex sights such as the Trijicon RMR. Most fights start as close range, surprise ambushes. In such a close range, dynamically moving Flash Fight, you are likely to be target focused whether you want to be or not, so it’s a good idea to learn target focused shooting principles and practice them. For excellent reading on the subject, try Lou Chiodo’s Winning a High-Speed, Close-Range Gunfight.


TECC (Tactical Emergency Casualty Care)–Stateside, civilian counterpart to the TCCC protocols.


TCCC (Tactical Combat Casualty Care)–A set of medical protocols for patient care when taking, potentially taking, or having recently taken hostile fire. Designed for the military, various aspects of TCCC have been adopted (as TECC) for use in certain similar civilian combat equivalents, such as mass casualty events (MCIs).


Terminal Ballistics–are what happens to the bullet after it hits a target (the intended target, or otherwise). If you have ever hunted large ungulates (big game) you may have some idea how unpredictable Terminal Ballistics can be, despite all the fancy ballistic gelatin tests and the fantastic claims of ammunition manufacturers.


3 Stupids Rule–a method of violence avoidance espoused by defensive tactics pioneer John S. Farnam of Defensive Training International. Farnam analyzed the data and determined that you can avoid almost all homicide attempts by avoiding the three stupids:

  1. Don’t go to stupid places. If your so-called friend wants you to drive him to a shady apartment complex and asks you to wait in the car while he gets something, that might be a stupid place to be.
  2. Don’t hang out with stupid people. This includes most drunks and floozies of either gender.
  3. Don’t do stupid things, like picking a fight over a matter of pride.

There is, as Randy Harris pointed out in his seminal article Dealing with PESTS, a great deal of overlap between the three.


Threat Discrimination–training in which the student must decide, based on the information available (primarily through sensory inputs) whether or not a particular target needs to be shot, before taking the shot if necessary. In contrast, most traditional multiple target drills, such as the El Presidente evaluation, program you to mow down everyone in front of you, something almost never necessary in the real word, which is full of bystanders.

When her hood came off, this student was to identify and put hits on two targets: the bad guy with the gun (a styrofoam Glock replica) and the steel. The target in the black polo shirt also had a styrofoam Glock tucked in its “belt,” but the polo had a law enforcement badge. This drill also required her to move to get a clear line of fire. In the real world EVERYBODY moves, so you might need to communicate (“Get outta here!”) or close with the subjects, even if you’re a good shot, to make sure you don’t hit innocents in a crowd. This might be an exception to the general rule that, if we are armed with a firearm, we prefer to maintain or increase distance from threats (“Distance favors the trained marksman”). For safety reasons on the range, of course, we must maintain some distance from steel targets. 


Tom and Jerry drill–A very simple Heloderm demonstration you can do in your kitchen or dining room. Set parameters preventing escape (for example, “the kitchen door is out of bounds”). Defender or student starts on one side of the table or kitchen island. Assailant role player is armed with a “contact weapon” (it can be a wooden spoon; we use short pieces of foam pool noodle or pipe insulation). Goals are simple: Assailant tries to touch the defender with the “contact weapon;” defender tries not to get touched. Fitness plays a part, but almost inevitably, the assailant eventually wins. The lesson here: as Steinbeck said, “there is no victory in defense” alone. If you don’t take the fight back to the bad guy (in real life, by drawing a gun, grabbing a knife out of the butcher block, or whacking his forearm with a rolling pin), he will eventually catch up. See FAST above.


Training Incest–When you always train with the same teachers, or the same group of friends, eventually your learning curve levels off becasue you stop learning new things or ideas. It’s true that “advanced techniques are the basics mastered,” and there’s a lot of “tacticool” crap out there on Youtube that simply does not pass a common sense test (and would not pass the test of combat), but you should always seek new experiences and train with different schools. Otherwise, you could fall victim to what we call training incest. Some people have 20 years of experience; others have 2 years of experience 10 times over.


Trajectory–the path of the bullet. This is a curved line. It starts on the bore line at the muzzle and drops off from there. Because the bore line is pointed slightly up, the trajectory “lobs” in an arc. Your trajectory crosses your sight line on the way up at the Initial Intersection. Getting the trajectory to intersect with the sight line at 25 or 50 meters is what most people call “zeroing” the rifle, but your actual zero is where the bullet’s trajectory drops down through the sight line again.


Triage–Sorting. Especially, sorting in order of priority. In tactical medicine, triage is dividing patients into the following groups:

  1. Those who can be patched up enough to return to the fight ASAP
  2. Those who need evacuation to a higher level of care
  3. Those whose poor likelihood of survival does not warrant the time you will be spending away from the 1)s and 2)s trying to save the 3)s.

When evacuation from the area becomes possible, the 2)s are broken down further into two groups:

  1. Those in need of immediate care (such as surgery), and
  2. Those (with, say, broken arm bones) for whom a hospital visit will eventually be necessary, but are less likely to die if they are not evacuated right this second.


The Workspace–When the pistol is in the workspace, it’s muzzle up in front of your face, angled slightly away from you. This allows gravity to help you with extraction & ejection, and enables you to keep your head up on a swivel while glancing at your pistol if necessary. NOTE: Some firing ranges get upset if you practice manipulations in the workspace. If you must train within such “square flat” range limitations, try to bring the pistol as high as possible while keeping the barrel level and pointed downrange.


Urban Prone–A niche technique made popular by instructor Travis Haley. Urban Prone is essentially a standing position, toppled onto its side, so you can shoot under cars or engage around a corner. If your top leg is forward, knee on the ground, your firearm can be closer to the ground. If you get flanked, you can bring your top leg back, rolling onto your back into a Supine position.

A Heloderm RSO demonstrates Urban Prone during a Vehicle Fighting class.


Use of Force–A very complex, and VERY misunderstood, subject. Use of Force is any time you are trying to stop an assailant’s aggression, whether you are threatening to shoot him if he gets any closer, or pushing him away, or kicking him in the knee, or head butting him, or shooting him. Various, often nebulous, laws apply to when and how much force is justified in different situations. We address these concepts and laws, and put them into practice with role playing exercises, in our May / Can / Should: Lawful Use of Force classes. We touch on Use of Force in our other courses as well. 


VBIED–Vehicle Borne, Improvised Explosive Device. The third world equivalent of a guided missile. The difference between a VBIED and a walking homicide bomber wearing a suicide IED vest is the amount of explosives that can be delivered to the target.


Volley Fire–was the 18th Century equivalent of the modern assault rifle, which is intended to produce a large volume of fire to keep enemy heads down as soldiers advance upon (“assault”) an enemy position. Soldiers fired in volleys because smoothbore muskets were very inaccurate. Modern rifled bores stabilize the bullet so it flies straight. Smoothbores did not, so the round balls they flung flew erratically like knuckleballs in baseball. If everybody in line stood close together (see close order battle drill above) and fired at the same time, you were bound to hit something. Then you reloaded while the next rank advanced ahead of you (or sometimes over you as you knelt) and fired their volley. And so on.


Wyatt Protocols–A laundry list of things you might want to do after any sort of ballistic exchange. The order of precedence is determined by the situation. They are sometimes called “the Ts” because they start with T; for example,

  • Take cover
  • Top off your ammunition
  • Talk to 911, bystanders, suspect, or whomever
  • Treat injuries
  • Take off if the scene becomes unsafe
  • Trade up to a better weapon (or across to a backup)
  • Tighten your abs if you’re starting to feel woozy
  • Transition to police control of the scene without getting shot by the good guys


The X–Where you were when the attack started. Most fights start as ambushes. The X is the kill zone of the ambush.

Your first priority should be to GET OFF THE X. If you cannot get OFF the X, your next least bad bet would be to MANAGE THE X.


If some of the above definitions and photos look familiar, it’s because many of them are laid out in equal or greater detail in relevant articles on this website. As with everything else in the Intel section, this information is here to help you improve, but it is no substitute for actual practice under the tutelage of a qualified instructor.