Condition Three: Is It For You?

by Joe Nizzari

Condition Three is a mode of carry that I have found to be the carry method of choice for some armed citizens. The condition three mode consists of a full magazine in the gun, an empty chamber, and the hammer resting in the full forward, or, half-cock position. When I ask why this is the choice for defensive carry, I get mixed responses to say the least.

One commonality that runs through all the responses is, that it makes the individual "feel" safer. I can understand wanting an extra layer of security. But is that layer conducive to a quick defense against an armed attack where seconds matter?

There are certain aspects of training and physical/mental attributes that must be discussed before deciding to carry your defensive handgun in the Condition Three mode.

An individual will forfeit approximately 50% of his marksmanship capabilities during the first few seconds of stress inducement from adrenaline release. It is also estimated that for every day a person does not train he can lose up to 3% of his marksmanship capabilities. Couple those numbers and apply them to a person who has not fired a round in several years and you will have an individual who will empty a 15 round magazine and miss his target every time under stress!

When we train we are conditioning the subconscious side of the brain to default to whatever action we need to employ at the time. It's like putting a brand new VCR tape in the video machine and pressing play. The result? Snow and static. Insert a pre-recorded tape and do the same and the tape will default to whatever has been recorded on it. The human brain is no different in this regard.

The human brain has to go through several processes before it can carry out an action.

1. The conscious side of the brain must recognize the threat being perpetrated against it.
2. The conscious side of the brain must then default to the subconscious side and retrieve whatever the subconscious side has been programmed to react to.
3. The subconscious side of the brain must then transmit the pre-programmed default action to the body part set to receive the action.
4. The body part that receives the command for action must then attempt to effectively carry out that action.

The action time of an armed attacker is faster than the reaction time of the armed citizen. The attacker almost always has a plan of attack and he more often than not has implemented it previously against others. (In other words he has trained!). If a person fires a couple of hundred rounds a year from the bench and never trains drawing from the holster, drilling in different and sometimes peculiar positions/conditions, or, if he doesn't participate in any type of scenario or "reality" training, he is destined to lose. He must participate in drills to which he can default in the event of an aggressive attack. Remember this: if you Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail.

The attacker's brain can be "short circuited" by engaging in a type of movement or action that he does not expect. For example: If there is no cover to utilize (empty parking lot, a field, a patch of desert, a beach etc.), the armed citizen can buy valuable time by simply kneeling, drawing and triple-tapping. The attacker will not expect the citizen to kneel, and that action will become the action which the aggressor has to react. By the time he reacts, he has been hit several times. The rule of three always applies! Three rounds, three yards, in under three seconds.

It takes approximately 300 to 400 repetitions of the same action to achieve "muscle memory"... and approximately 3,000 to 4,000 repetitions of the same action to achieve "subconscious reaction." This process is called a "Reflexive" or "Conditioned" response. Subconscious reaction is necessary in order to work up to, or keep up with, the action time of the attacker. With all of this in mind, is the average citizen willing to ultimately draw the same gun from the same holster, from the same body location and rack a round into the chamber and fire three shots 3,000 to 4,000 times? I think not.

When adrenaline (the main chemical of stress) is introduced into the bloodstream the central nervous system is affected. When that first shot of adrenaline is released and a response is carried out it is called the "Adrenal Stress Response" (ASR). This response to a threat can take anywhere from one to five seconds (or more) to carry out, depending on the mental state and overall dexterity of the individual.

Under stress the armed citizen will experience two physical handicaps: "Tunnel Vision" and "Auditory Exclusion." These are normal physical responses to the adrenaline surge. Tunnel Vision is when peripheral sight is diminished and all the shooter can see is what is directly in front of him. One could say he has "blinders on" at this point. Auditory Exclusion is when the hearing shuts off. In this instance it is like wearing hearing protection.

To break "Tunnel Vision" the armed citizen must execute a "quick check" over each shoulder and then back to the target. Left, right, target. Note: when the "quick check" is executed the hand(s) of the shooter must be lowered as to clear his visual path to the target. Auditory Exclusion can be broken by verbally warning/commanding the aggressor to retreat and drop his weapon. This should be done if at all possible before, and leading up to, any shots being fired.

There has been some study done on these two physical responses as to whether the vision and the hearing remain "on" but the conscious side of the brain doesn't allow them to be recognized to their full potential. This could be the reason why different individuals who are involved in or witness traumatic events almost invariably do not perceive the same things even though they are actually seeing and hearing the same things occur.

Some police officers who are involved in shootings cannot always give an accurate, conscious narrative directly after, or even days after, the shooting. But when they are put under hypnosis they are able to recall as much as 95% of the details. This suggests that under stress the subconscious side of the brain is doing all of the reacting and most of the memory absorption.

Human beings possess three separate motor function capabilities.
1. Fine (small, finite movements such as threading a needle)
2. Complex (eye/hand tracking movements such as using a pointer on a map)
3. Gross (large muscle groups such as throwing punches/kicks)

Under adrenaline induced stress the "fine" motor skill is the first to be lost.
When large amounts of adrenaline are released into the system the other two motor skills rapidly diminish as well and respiration becomes irregular. Try putting a key into a lock under heavy adrenaline inducement - it is pretty difficult to say the least.

For examples of lost motor skills: When a police officer is involved in a shooting he is able to point and shoot his gun (gross motor skill), but he may not be able to effectively aim (complex motor skill), and he may experience severe difficulty with trigger finger placement (fine motor skill). This may be why only 20% of all rounds fired from a police officer's duty weapon contact the target.

Visualization is being taught more and more to law enforcement officers because it allows the brain to "visualize" the action to which it must ultimately default. Olympic athletes use visualization as an integral part of their training regimen because it augments the physical side of the default process. That is why figure skaters are often seen on the sidelines "talking" to themselves and going through different motions relating to their program.

While visualization can be practiced at any time, the optimum time is when laying in bed as you are falling asleep. This is when the conscious and subconscious sides of the brain are closest to each other. You can run through different scenarios in your mind, and "drill" the subconscious side of the brain to default to that action if and when you ever need it.

Pro: If the gun falls into the hands of the aggressor the disarmed citizen can buy valuable time.
Con: Does the citizen want to fight hand-to-hand with an armed aggressor and is he physically fit to do so?
Pro: Access by a child/children may save a life.
Con: Why does/do the child/children have access to begin with?
Pro: If the gun is dropped it will not discharge.
Con: If you carry a gun that discharges when it is dropped you need to get another gun.
Con: If the magazine falls free during a struggle and there is no round in the chamber now what? (There is no pro for this scenario)

When a handgun is drawn from a holster (in this case a two-handed hold) it looks like one fluid motion. But in reality there are five separate movements to complete the action. Drawing from the holster is a "physical" attribute in itself utilizing gross and complex motor skills. To initially get to the draw the brain must complete the previously discussed "thought processes" in order to default to the actual physical movements.

1. Grip (primary grip)
2. Clear
3. Cant
4. Meet (secondary grip)
5. Present

Murphy lives in every gun and every round of ammunition, and will almost every time cause a malfunction when you are least prepared under stress. Carrying a defensive handgun in "Condition Three" poses some other points of concern. If one is carrying a handgun with a manual, ambidextrous safety (i.e. Beretta 92FS, Smith and Wesson model 59, Ruger P-89) etc. there is an inherent chance that the safety "ears" located on the slide can become engaged when racking the slide.

If this occurs and the trigger is pressed nothing will happen. Although the shooter may diligently train to rack a round upon the draw and work at clearing common malfunctions such as a stove pipe, failure to feed, or double feed, he will be fiddling with the safety while burning valuable survival time. Remember, the first motor skill to go under stress is the fine motor skill, and it requires fine motor skills to engage/disengage a safety!

Another cause of concern with carrying a defensive handgun in "Condition Three" is injuries. Often in an aggressive attack there will be hand to hand contact. Should the armed citizen be shot or stabbed in either hand or both, he will not be able to rack the slide to chamber a round. Some will argue that a gun can be racked to chamber a round on a pant leg, heel of a shoe, a wall, etc.
This is all well and good if you train for that type of procedure and you can access those objects to carry out the procedure.

With all of the variables involved, and different attack scenarios that can be perpetrated against law-abiding citizens, we need every edge we can get. The average person who carries a handgun for self-defense needs to know what is involved when stress and firearms come together.

If you choose to carry "Condition One" (full mag, loaded chamber, cocked and locked), "Condition Two" (full mag, loaded chamber, hammer down), or "Condition Three" (full mag, empty chamber, hammer down), please, train, train, train! Get with a qualified instructor with a solid background in firearms and tactics and visit with him often. There is no article written by a gun guru, no how-to video tape, no book that you can buy at a gun show that can take the place of actual training with a qualified instructor.

You must master your marksmanship skills, then master your movements, and ultimately master your speed (remember NEVER sacrifice accuracy for speed!). Also, staying alert, being aware of your surroundings, and knowing how to avoid a violent confrontation in the first place will make you the winner of a gunfight every time.

Be Safe.

Joe Nizzari is a certified Law Enforcement and Civilian small arms instructor, and Lead Instructor of Line of Fire, LLC, Las Vegas, Nevada.


E-Mail This Article