What do Civilian Gun Owners Really Need to Know? Part 1: Handgun Ready Positions…

Do civilians need to know ready positions? I was inspired to write this post (and start a new series of articles) by a somewhat disjointed comment made on one of Robert’s past articles. If I understand the commenter correctly, he was admonishing us for superfluously writing about ready positions when we should be focusing on gun safety for civilians. (Apparently, he never read the second article I ever wrote for the blog!) He mentions police having different priorities, and ends with a sentence on shooting statistics that leads me to believe that he may very well be an anti-gunner. I don’t know, and frankly I don’t care, but I was thus motivated to offer a rebuttal. This is going to be the first of a series of posts where I look at what civilian gun owners (that actually carry their guns) need to know to be competent and capable.

So, do civilians need to focus on ready positions in their training? I think so, to a degree. In fact, I would argue that if one wants to train to a level of true proficiency with a handgun, knowledge of some various ready positions is almost requisite. I suspect that there’s a good reason I have NEVER taken a class that didn’t in some fashion address ready positions. I would also note that I’ve NEVER taken a class that didn’t begin with a discussion of the safety rules.

  • Take the low ready for example… if you feel the need to draw your gun in response to a threat, but the situation has not yet escalated to deadly force or is rapidly changing, the low ready allows you to have the gun at the ready without actually muzzling a threat that doesn’t need to be shot yet. In effect, it allows you to avoid committing the legal definition of assault. (Having your hand on a holstered handgun can accomplish nearly the same effect…)
  • If you have to run with a gun in hand, then some form of high ready is generally acknowledged to work the best. And after all, moving to cover or concealment or egress from a dangerous area are all good ideas. Furthermore, moving quickly through a crowd with gun in hand may even require something like Bill Rapier’s “Strike Ready” position.
  • A compressed ready position, with the gun held close to the chest but parallel to the ground, is one that I learned decades ago from Tom Givens as a way to bring the muzzle to bear on a close range threat. As well, it is very useful to employ much like a tank turret at close range when dealing with multiple adversaries.
  • Finally, imagine that you have to maneuver through the lower level of your home with gun in hand, investigating the proverbial “bump in the night,” but that your children are sleeping upstairs. Do you necessarily want to have your gun held in a high ready? Conversely, if you’re upstairs and your family is downstairs, is a low ready or SUL appropriate? Or, if you have small children or innocent bystanders crouched near you, do you necessarily want the muzzle of your gun to be pointed down? What if you actually have to go either up stairs or down stairs? What’s appropriate then?

I hope by now that I’m making the point that the multitude of various ready positions are all very context driven and situationally dependent. You can’t get by with knowing just one, and likely, the more diversified your training and knowledge becomes, the more you will find a “need” for. One example of this is learning the Temple Index in Will Petty’s VCQB class. While it’s not really a ready position, it is definitely an administrative position that has merit within the contextual confines of working in and around vehicles with a gun in hand.

In fact, defining a safe administrative position is one of the more important aspects of the entire ready position discussion. I was impressed when Melody Lauer did exactly that early on in The Armed Parent/Guardian curriculum during a discussion of ready positions, making the very point that I have tried to elucidate above. In short, there is no such thing as the one perfect ready position. As mentioned above, probably the closest to that ideal is a hand on a holstered gun.

For a relatively simple approach to ready positions, I think it’s hard to beat Dave Spaulding’s “The Arc of Ready.” Very similar to Mike Pannone’s idea of relying on a natural range of motion for strength and dexterity, it allows for a contextually dependent method of keeping the handgun pointed in a safe direction while also being ideal for weapon retention. I highly suggest reading Spaulding’s book or getting to one of his classes before it’s too late (something I still need to do), but as I understand it, clap your hands together in front of your chest. This represents the position that anatomically allows you the best dexterity and strength. Now imagine holding your handgun. If you keep your elbows bent, you can use your shoulders to elevate or depress the muzzle along a virtual arc to keep the muzzle pointed in whatever constitutes the safest direction. To break that down into three separate positions, a compressed low ready that is resistant to fatigue, a compressed ready with the muzzle parallel to the ground, and a compressed high ready. All allow you to “punch” the gun out toward a threat to engage as needed.

So, do we as civilians need to know all of this to be safe with a gun? I would emphatically argue, YES! Knowing the appropriate ready or administrative position to hold a gun and correctly orient the muzzle is part and parcel of having good gun handling skills. And good gun handling skills are the very definition of “observing the cardinal rules” of gun safety. Furthermore, if you ever are involved in a shooting, then maybe, just maybe, displaying proper gun handling and an appropriate ready position might invoke a slight pause on the part of responding police or other gun carrying civilians that just might save your life. Quite frankly, if you’re going to own and carry a handgun, then you need to have skills that extend beyond the simple priority of gun safety. The various ready positions are but one example of such skills. For a real world case in point, look no further than the recent TX church shooting that was successfully stopped by an armed member of the church security team. While he was obviously cognizant of his foreground and approached the downed shooter in a compressed high ready, at least five other members of the congregation drew guns in response to the shooter and most of them displayed inappropriate muzzle management. I don’t begrudge them drawing their guns, but I do wish that they had demonstrated some better muzzle awareness instead of flagging the rest of the congregation as they assessed the situation.

Finally, I have to address the aspect of police having different priorities… a cursory examination of the facts will sadly reveal that most legal civilian gun owners are far more law abiding and “safe” with their guns than most cops. I don’t say this to disparage law enforcement, but the reality is that most cops are not gun enthusiasts. Rather, the gun is just another tool that they have to carry around as part of their job. Many do not even carry when off duty. If you start to review videos of officer involved shootings, you’re going to see a lot of muzzling of innocents and potential for “blue on blue” shootings. Indeed, I would argue that the priorities of cops and civilians are not really all that different when it actually comes to handling guns and shooting. We all owe it to ourselves and others to manage the muzzle (and trigger) of our guns appropriately all the time, no matter when or where we find ourselves with a gun in hand. Knowledge of some various ready positions offers a ready way to accomplish that goal.

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2 thoughts on “What do Civilian Gun Owners Really Need to Know? Part 1: Handgun Ready Positions…

  1. Timely, cogent, article and the example of the White Settlement TX event is perfectly placed in context to the argument being advanced. I’ve long believed the compressed muzzle low ready is the best solution that covers the widest range of potentials. It’s also less visually threatening to others around, and is far easier to defend if needed. It’s how I train and how I’ve trained others.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I used position SULa LOT at a CQB room-clearing class. I know most people don’t tend to move around freely with guns out with no intent for immediate use, so it doesn’t get a lot of attention, but when you need it, it is damned handy to be familiar with.


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