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A Report From Lethal Force Institute

by Dr. Michael S. Brown

Most gun owners have read articles by Massad Ayoob and have probably heard of his Lethal Force Institute. Every year he trains thousands of cops and armed civilians in the effective, legal, and ethical use of deadly force.

Last weekend, my wife and I completed the second half of the 40 hour LFI-1 course that Ayoob taught at the Firearms Academy of Seattle. For folks outside the Pacific NW, FAS is owned by Marty and Gila Hayes. They are very high level firearms instructors in their own right.

I would like to describe some aspects of the LFI-1 class and to tell you about our special experience.

The first 20 hours were presented in a motel conference room. About fifty students completed this part of the course, which is offered as a separate unit from part two.

Part one is mostly classroom lecture and an hour or so of "shooting" at police simulation videos of the "shoot - no shoot" variety. That really gives you a greater appreciation of the terribly difficult decisions that officers must make on the streets. Much of the lecture is on videotape, shot before a class of students. Between tapes, the class asks questions and Ayoob updates anything that may have changed since the tapes were made.

Although there were several law enforcement officers in the class and much of the material has a law enforcement flavor, I felt it was mostly geared for the armed civilian. The great majority of the time was spent on legal issues, tactics and aftermath. There were many excellent suggestion on how to survive the post-shooting stage when armed police show up in response to your 911 call.

We were told of the many mistakes that can get people in trouble after a justified shooting and exactly what to do if the unthinkable event occurs. If it does happen, we know that we will suffer from a variety of physical and emotional problems that can be dealt with if understood.

Some of my favorite parts were the stories of how people defended themselves successfully and lived to see their families again. Only a little time was spent on what kind of gun or ammunition to use.

Ayoob is a very charismatic instructor. His delivery varies constantly. Sometimes he sounds like a trial lawyer in the courtroom quoting esoteric legal cases pertaining to the use of lethal force. Sometimes he shouts profanity like a drill instructor, burning key concepts into the minds of the students. At other times, he relieves stress with his self-deprecating humor. At no time did he ever refer to any notes. I've listened to a lot of teachers in my life and Ayoob ranks right at the top.

Thirty students showed up the next weekend for the second part of the course which was held at the Firearms Academy of Seattle in the foothills of the Cascades. We were told to bring 500 rounds of ammunition and plenty of food and drink, since breaks would be limited. Completing a 20 hour course in 2 days does not leave much time for lunch breaks.

Our main enemy on the range was the hot sun. Northwesterners are not accustomed to heat! This was not all bad, since it provided another source of stress to help engrave the lessons on our memories. If you practice under stress, you will perform better in a time of real stress.

We spent most of Saturday and all Sunday morning practicing various drills on the range and listening to brief talks by Ayoob. The drills included everything from weak hand at 4 yards to various shooting stances at 15 yards. The 30 students were divided into two relays. Ayoob likes to increase the stress factor in training, so he tells all the students to put two bucks into a pot for prize money. The money isn't really significant, but it increases the pride factor and adds a little more stress.

Additional stress, for all but the most experienced shooters, was induced by simply having to be on the line ready to shoot at the right time throughout the day. You really had to pay attention to the instructions to avoid breaking any safety rules or looking silly because you did not have your equipment ready. Everyone was impressed with the layer upon layer of safety that was enforced by the rangemaster and range officers.

The final qualification required shooting 60 rounds, loaded six rounds at a time into your magazines. The various distances and shooting positions were the same ones we had practiced earlier. We shot at IPSC cardboard silhouette targets and the object was to get as many rounds as possible into the A zone. Maximum score is 300.

Massad Ayoob and Marty Hayes demonstrated how to shoot the qualification by placing all 60 rounds into roughly 3 inch groups to inspire our best efforts.

My wife, Megan, was the big success story of the weekend. Due to her job, she is exposed to street crime for much of each work day. She wanted to shoot the entire course with her first gun, a 2 inch, 5 shot, Taurus .38 revolver. This sounds like a serious tactical error for someone who has only been shooting for about six months and has fired her chosen weapon only three times at the local range. However, it makes sense, since they say that you should practice with what you carry and she doesn't feel she can realistically carry anything bigger.

She got off to a bad start when it turned out that some of my carefully assembled light-recoil hand loads would not fire. She also realized that her speedloader technique, which she had practiced only twice, was way too slow and shaky when performed on a range in front of about 50 people. One of the Ted Blocker belt clips that hold the speedloaders fell off in the gravel and it took about six instructors to find it during a break.

She managed to work around these problems Saturday morning until her new gun broke. A screw on the lower frame loosened up and fell out, allowing the entire cylinder to fall to the ground. The screw was lost, so a field repair was impossible.

She was already under a lot of stress at this point and I believe many people would have given up. About the only encouraging thing she had going for her was her amazing accuracy with the little gun, which was due to her prior training by Gila Hayes in her FAS-1 course for women.

Fortunately, the staff had recognized her lack of experience and unusual choice of weapon, so one of the woman instructors had attached herself to Megan at the beginning. Nothing like having your own individual mentor. When the gun broke, the instructor promptly offered Megan her Airweight S&W revolver which is much like the Taurus only lighter. Meg managed to finish up the rest of Saturday, perhaps encouraged by the fact that my marginal ammo was working pretty well in the S&W. Apparently the Taurus was not hitting the tough primers very hard.

The instructor, Jenny, had us stay there at the end of the day and gave Meg a good speedloader lesson. She gave us a handful of dummy rounds to practice with in the motel that night. She also sent her personal Airweight revolver, since the Taurus was toast. (It is on the way back to the factory as I write this.) I purchased a few hundred rounds of factory ammo from Gila Hayes to assure no ammo problems the next day.

Meg practiced her speed loads that night and made a lot of improvement. When we started shooting the next morning, it was easy to see that it boosted her confidence a lot to be able to reload so fast. She was beating many of the auto shooters on the reload. She even figured out a better way to attach the speedloader clips to her belt so they wouldn't come off. The Black Hills commercial ammo turned out to have fairly light recoil, almost as light as my hand loads, so she used it for the qualifier.

One of the things that allowed her to shoot about 450 rounds from those hard kicking little revolvers was a padded shooting glove that I bought in a rare moment of genius last week. Even with that, she had a very sore hand by the end of the day.

She did amazingly well on the qualifier, even the shots from 15 yards. Only 13 of her 50 rounds were outside the A zone and her score was 236 out of a possible 250 (for people shooting 5 shot revolvers). This was better than several of the auto shooters. (She was the only one shooting a revolver of any kind.)

After we all shot the qualification, we went to sit in the shade outside the classroom building for a final bit of lecture and to take the written test on the principles of using lethal force. Everyone passed the test, which I thought was quite well designed, then Ayoob announced the awards to be given to students.

Megan was given the "most improved student" award by a near unanimous vote of the instructors. Her trophy was Massad Ayoob's silhouette target with the 3 inch group that had been autographed by all the instructors. It was easy to tell that everyone was impressed with her effort, not to mention her ability to shoot those little revolvers.

Meg told the group that she was more proud of being an LFI grad than she was when she graduated from college. What she didn't tell them was that she was terrified of guns up until about a year ago and like many women, she was raised to be a victim who would never consider the option of armed self defense.

She was very impressed with the way that both instructors and students helped her throughout the weekend. She must have been offered the use of a dozen guns and she was really surprised when Jenny let her take the S&W Saturday night for speedloader practice. The attitude of everyone was really supportive and encouraging, which is just what a new shooter needs.

The whole LFI staff, including Ayoob himself, are excellent at figuring out just what each student needs to achieve the most improvement. Combined with a ratio of one instructor to every two or three students, this is what allows them to train people who come into the class with widely varying skill levels. Most of the instructors are previous LFI graduates who volunteer their time to help the new students. There is a real sense of community among the LFI grads.

Everyone leaves the class with a true understanding of the laws and principles governing the use of lethal force. I believe that everyone who completes the course is mentally prepared to use lethal force to defend themselves and their loved ones if necessary, and to do it in a precisely legal manner.

Something special happens to you when you take a course like this. You come home with greater confidence, awareness and appreciation for life.

It is really sad that the gun haters can't see this side of the gun community. Their image of gun owners as ignorant rednecks and criminals would be shattered. They would also learn a lesson about the empowerment of women that would change their views forever.

Dr. Michael S. Brown is a Vancouver, Washington optometrist who moderates an email list for discussion of gun issues in Washington state. He may be reached at


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