Situational awareness and adrenaline: competency, fear, doing the necessary


Apologies are in order to readers who don’t like guns, but guns are a part of this priest’s life for the past year and a bit in which I’ve chosen to assist in the defense of self and others in those situations which we hope to God never arise. If one carries, one must practice, a lot, which makes this a lifestyle decision. It’s part of who I am. Not a hobby. It is something for the day-off, a recreation, a distraction, but it is also stop-the-threat serious, and involves, among other things, target practice, situational awareness, prompt readiness, all intertwined.

Target practice:

In the Styrofoam plate (much better than paper or paper plates or cardboard) pictured above, there are sixteen rounds from the Glock 19 9mm from one of the stages of one of the courses that I try to run through at least once on the day-off here in one of the more remote areas of the Appalachian mountains: 4 timed rounds, 4 timed rounds, then 8 timed rounds in the sequence of 4 rounds, reload, 4 rounds. The lines on the plate, marked off on either side of a chunk of a 2×4 (=1.5″x3.5″) represent a smaller version of just a detail of the “inside bottle” of the FBI QIT 97-99 targets also used in the pre-2001 Federal Air Marshal tactical pistol course. Could be a lot better. Especially since this particular stage is only seven yards. With all this I’m much more the turtle than the jackrabbit. It’s important not to give up just because one isn’t immediately perfect.

What I’m noticing with myself as time goes on is less nervousness with the fact of firing a gun. Being a bit nervous is always the butt of jokes for the reason that it’s all too familiar to all involved from the time they took their very first shot and were newbies like me. For me, at this stage, being less nervous means:

  • less pulling down: people do this incorrectly thinking this will solve any muzzle flip
  • smoother trigger pulls: all pistols, not just Glocks, always have a grating, heavy pull, which is good, as it gives you that last nanosecond option not to pull the trigger. I would never get a replacement trigger for a lighter pull
  • feeling less pressure to get in under the time limit of the ever so quick timer, which I’ve finally learned how to regulate for 1/100th of a second: this actually makes for better target acquisition and getting the shot off more quickly and accurately, regardless of, say, drawing from covered holster from 180 degrees at multiple targets.


Being an adrenaline junky is something I did with extreme sports as a kid. A rush of adrenaline would come about because of being in a situation of certain death if it were not for two conditions being present:

  • Being able to use the tools of the trade without thinking, by instinct, with alacrity, regardless of the situation, being relaxed when under pressure
  • Being able to employ adrenaline only for the narrow, immediate circumstances at hand for whatever few seconds of absolute concentration are needed

Adrenaline pumped attention – tunnel vision, time slowed, no sound – is deadly if that attention has to be given to the tools of the trade instead of seconds of exigent emergencies.

I have not forgotten the statement of “The Guy” to his fellow operators when he blew them all out of a competition for only the best of the best operators of all agencies and bureaus and departments and companies and branches of the military some years ago here in North Carolina (other side of the state). It was quite the event with all the top brass and bureaucrats and political appointees watching from bleachers placed for the event. The operators said that he, “The Guy”, must be possessed to shoot that well so quickly, putting ten shots either through the same bullet hole at 10x (8) or at least touching the original bullet hole (2) at 200 yards as fast as he could pull the trigger when participants were instead given a full minute for each shot for that stage of the course. 200 yards, for those who don’t know, is insanity for a pistol. He prefers a version of a Sig .40. His response was that he never participates in mere target practice; for him, every shot (even if it is only a paper target) is a kill shot (what I interpret as a ‘stop the threat’ shot). In other words, for him, every shot is personal to the core of his being. He’s put out more than a million rounds in his life as an operator. To make an understatement: he’s not nervous with guns; he’s perfectly adept using his tools of the trade. The adrenaline only enters in with total involvement in human confrontation in exigent emergencies. Those ten shots at 200 yards were all in utter slow motion, seeing only the target at 10x, hearing nothing else. Adrenaline is then a help, not a hindrance.

Target practice, adrenaline, situational awareness:

Less nervousness means less wasted adrenaline. Wasting adrenaline on a tool is terribly counterproductive. It’s the worst thing for a “carrier” and can have deadly consequences: one is so nervous about one’s ability to use the tool and filled with adrenaline about that nervousness for the tool, that the actual situation, possible methods of deescalation and possible solutions go unnoticed. One is, then, simply befuddled and shut down, with a deadly tool for which one can no longer know what is needed or is not needed to be employed in a situation. I think of those who do carry but have never shot a gun outside of their original qualification if needed in their state, never firing again for decades. That is simply dangerous and is a situation that shouldn’t be allowed. If you want a gun control law that helps, make a law demanding more training for those who carry. I would totally welcome that for aspects of using the tool, knowing the law, situational awareness, deescalation…

Adrenaline must be reserved only for paying attention to what is absolutely necessary, an actionable solution to a deadly force encounter that must be reserved as a follow up of one’s situational awareness. To recap:

  • Situational awareness is not possible when adrenaline takes away awareness of one’s situation.
  • One can’t keep one’s situational awareness as a terribly untoward situation unfolds if one is sick to death that one is terribly unpracticed with a tool otherwise apt to the situation.

“But Father George! I thought you were a priest! Why do you know about guns?”

People all have their histories and unrepeatable circumstances. And I’m also a human being living in this untoward world. And self-defense is not an evil thing. And it’s recreation on the day off. And I’ve actually had to brandish during a car-jacking, though in that incident the police then arrived in force: nine cruisers that I counted.

I put up these posts which show my deficiencies in the process of getting to know what firearms are so that people, including fellow priests might say: “Well, if Father George can do it – dang – even I might be able to do it, because, you know, whatever he can do I can do better!” Fine! It worked! Here’s the deal. If we priests want to be chaplains for our law enforcement – who are being killed off with much greater frequency – then familiarity with the world of weaponry is a pre-requisite in many jurisdictions also in this diocese of Western North Carolina.

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