Editor's Note: The following interview with John Correia of Active Self Protection (ASP) was recently published in Issue 63 of our sister publication Recoil magazine. We have followed John's YouTube channel for many years, and have witnessed the importance of preparedness exemplified countless times through the CCTV videos he analyzes. Read on for some of his insights on self-defense, the gun community, and maintaining an online presence in this age of selective censorship.
If you’ve wandered into the “gun side” of YouTube in the last few years or any gun-centric social media, chances are high that you’ve encountered the self-defense community there. From drills to improve your gun handling to discussions about mindset and gear, there are innumerable videos available online to address issues relating to armed self-defense. Despite most tech platforms’ seemingly constant attempts to surreptitiously squelch discussion of firearms, gun rights, or really anything surrounding weapons at all, the community continues to thrive, whether YouTube decides it can be monetized or not.
Anyone who has been awake for more than 20 minutes so far this decade has an idea of what sorts of threats walk around outside their door, thanks to the endless media coverage of active shooting events, armed protests/riots spanning small towns to Portland or the U.S. Capitol and beyond. It should be no surprise, then, that content driven by the topics of self-defense and concealed carry is top of the heap in this segment of the market. There’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to concealed carry content, and the hardest part is deciding what’s worth watching.
Above: With millions of subscribers on YouTube and hundreds of thousands more on social media, John spends a lot of time interacting with his community.
Riding near the top of “Gun-Tube” channels is one that’s rapidly approaching double digits in age, called Active Self Protection (ASP). Using a format that was relatively unheard of when it began, channel owner John Correia narrates and discusses videos of real-life violent encounters from across the world. Badge cams, surveillance videos, or cellphone captures play out on screen, as John highlights key events, decisions, and turning points that dictate the eventual outcome.
Despite not technically being “training” content, it’s worth considering that thinking about the sorts of scenarios that play out in real life and analyzing what works and what doesn’t is just as valuable as building hands-on skills at the range or in a martial arts/grappling class. It doesn’t matter how good your draw-to-headshot time, or side-control, is if you’re caught flat-footed trying to figure out what to do in a situation you’ve never even contemplated. Exercising your mental fitness is a key, and often neglected, component of winning the gunfight you actually encounter, rather than the one that lives in your head.
We took some time to talk with John — about his life, his journey to self-defense instructor, and what it’s like being a gun guy with over 2.5-million subscribers on a platform not famous for being friendly to guns. We think you’ll find him as interesting as we did.
Above: John keeps his studio setup simple, with a GoPro on a tripod and two softbox lights.
RECOIL: What was your professional background prior to starting the ASP channel?
John Correia: I worked as a teenager in construction, mostly as a masonry assistant (which is a fancy way to say hod carrier) and apprentice bricklayer. My first “adult” job was in the U.S. Navy, but I wasn’t a door kicker or anything like that. I was a nuclear reactor operator (3383 for Navy nerds) and got out as an E-6, Electronics Technician First Class.
The Navy taught me a lot in many ways, mainly that I could be highly competent at an important job at a young age and to own my post. I started as a trainer while in the Navy, leading mandatory in-service training at my last command.
After I left military service, I worked in retail management while going to graduate school and then worked as a vocational pastor and adjunct professor. I spent 14 years in vocational pastoral ministry in total and nine years as a part-time professor doing full-time work — any adjunct can relate to that. I was interim department chair in my department for a time, and learned so much about teaching, leading, speaking in public, assessment, curriculum design, adult learning, etc.
Quite the breadth of career there, from nukes to nativity. What motivated you to start your channel?
JC: I got into self-defense in 2006 while working in retail management because of robberies to stores similar to mine in my area. I started carrying a firearm and empty-handed skills training, and it got expensive. I founded ASP in 2011 as just a very part-time handgun training company after getting certified as an NRA instructor. In 2013, I started ASP’s Facebook page to help people around the country, and, in 2014, someone sent me a video of a real knife attack.
I took that video to my martial arts teacher, Professor Lawrence Robinson of Attitude First Martial Arts Academy, and asked him how to protect myself against the kind of attack that was in the video. We workshopped that problem in class that evening, and that taught me that the concept of using real-life encounters to make our in-person training more evidence-based was useful.
I started posting videos to the FB page then, and someone sent me a video with a very long, boring lead and all the action at the very end. I watched a tutorial online of how to use a video editing software that I owned to edit the boring out, and in that video, they showed how to record audio in the software. That was my eureka moment, as I thought, “Heck, I could do that in these videos and be the John Madden of on-camera violence!” They were successful on FB, and, in 2016, YouTube said that I could monetize my channel because I had a few videos of range stuff on my channel and it had grown a little. I started posting the video analyses on YT in April 2016, and it really blew up from there, so in August 2016 I started focusing more on YT than FB.
It’s been a good change. We started the Active Self Protection Extra YouTube channel in September 2017 to be a channel to build skills like the big channel is building mindset.
The motivation in all of this is to help people. Our mission is to help people in all walks of life to protect themselves and their families from criminal violence.
We want to help people be good, sane, sober, moral, prudent self-defenders, and the channels are the primary vehicle through which we do that. Our first responsibility and daily focus is the people who use our videos to be better self-defenders, and that includes private citizens and law enforcement officers around the country and around the world.
Above: To save time on setup, multiple episodes are often filmed back-to-back.
What do you do besides ASP, for fun?
JC: I love flying (for fun, not money), and I’m also a self-defense training junkie. I love to go to gun school, especially with my friends, and always have good time. I should add that I’m a brown liquor aficionado, with bourbon top of the list. I love finding new fine bourbons to enjoy and share with my friends. Scuba diving is another one, and I’m open-water dive certified.
Sea, air, and land? There’s a joke here somewhere. What other platforms are your videos or any podcasts available on besides YouTube?
JC: We recently started a podcast that’s available on all the major podcasting platforms, which focuses on people telling their real-life stories of having to defend themselves and their loved ones from criminal violence. It’s a long-form, first-person version of what we’ve become known for, and I am proud of the work Mike, the podcast host, is doing.
Since each social media outlet is unique, we stick to posting the daily analysis videos to YouTube. Our Facebook page shares high-quality defensive content from all kinds of sources and all kinds of qualified voices every day, and our Instagram is mostly behind the scenes and me living the life of self-defense.
What, if any, censorship have you experienced from YouTube or other platforms?
JC: It’ll likely hurt some feelings, but I don’t think that YouTube really hates gun content or is on a jihad against us. They exist to please their customers, who are advertisers. So, they are always tweaking what is considered “advertiser friendly,” and while I wish they’d be more transparent and more consistent in that, I get what they’re doing. About half the main ASP channel videos are “yellow bubble,” meaning limited monetization, for violence. I think that’s not great, but again I get it. We’re PG-13 to R rated in reality, so some companies don’t want to advertise in that demographic.
Facebook will not let us advertise even though we are not selling firearms or any restricted product and won’t allow us to monetize on their platform at all, which I find objectionable in that they allow an awful lot of violence from the big players.
But them’s the breaks, and any business owner who makes it in this world will tell you that you either figure out how to market your business and run it in the environment you find yourself, or you go out of business. I choose the former.
Since you’re constantly watching recordings of violent encounters, what patterns are you seeing lately in terms of violent crime types and motives?
JC: Obviously, the pandemic has shifted the world, and that includes violent crime. 2020 was such a weird year, and 2021 somewhat regressed toward the mean.
With the pandemic becoming an endemic, things are returning to what we are used to in reality. I also think that the biggest change I have seen in the last couple of years is that people are so drained emotionally; mental health has declined all over the world, and that means more anger, more edginess, more road rage, and personal beefs. It means more people having mental breaks that involve law enforcement, and more officer-involved shootings in that vein. Road rage is up with people driving more miles again, and I think we all need to take a deep breath and get back to living as good, sane, sober, moral, prudent people.
Has there been an escalation in crime? If so, what would you attribute that to?
JC: Violent crime is at historic lows in the U.S., and if we look at violent crime rate as compared to any era in American history that checks out.
Our murder rate is half what it was in 1980, for instance. Our violent crime victimization rate is way down, too. Now, 2021 was higher than 2020 for sure, but that’s two things in my opinion:
(1) we spent half of 2020 locked in our homes, so crime went down; (2) statistics regress to the mean, and we’ll have to wait five or 10 years to see if it’s a trend or an anomaly. I would guess the latter.
Thanks for the nuanced insight. Since you spend a lot of time practicing for self-defense situations, what’s your favorite part about training/gun culture?
JC: Mostly that, if you scratch the surface, how diverse and unique each individual is. Gun owners are seen monolithically, especially by those outside of it, but if you can get past that and actually interact with them, it’s full of people from different places with a variety of stories and perspectives.
It’s a much more diverse crowd than many people would think. My favorite part of training is the community. Gun and empty-hand skills are important, but it’s the friendships and community you build, trust, and grow with that keep me coming back.
Above: Relaxing on the back patio with his wife. After being married more than 26 years, the couple has a strong bond.
That’s so true. Your average anti-gun person would be stunned by what the gun community actually looks like. So that was the good stuff, what’s your least favorite aspect?
JC: The 2 percent of people who are raging assholes. Internet opinions are taken as equally valid when that’s not always the case. There are opinions deserving of weight, and those that aren’t, and determining which is which is important. I also get frustrated when gun culture gets very tribal, insular, and balkanized. We need to do a better job of fighting that and being more “big tent” than focused on ideological purity.
It’s difficult to argue with that. Speaking of big tent, what, if any, involvement have you had in affecting legislation?
JC: I am a member of my state Second Amendment rights organizations and encourage everyone to be active on the state and local level.
I speak annually at our 2A support rallies and have spoken with my representatives at the state and national level about issues involving firearms, self-defense, mental healthcare, and protection of due process. I am involved with organizations like the Firearms Policy Coalition, Second Amendment Foundation, and Gun Owners of America to lobby and write amicus briefs and get involved in litigation.
Switching from legislative to judicial, have you ever given expert witness testimony, and if so, are there any notable cases you can discuss?
JC: I have done some expert witness work, but those kinds of cases almost never go to trial in reality. We recently had two high-profile cases publicly tried, namely the Rittenhouse and the McMichaels and Bryan trials. Those are exceedingly rare, as something like 98 percent of criminal cases are settled by plea rather than in court.
I’ve been involved in a couple of cases involving use of force and some involving technical issues of firearms use, though the non-disclosure agreements in each case prevent me from giving details for any of them.
As an expert witness, my job is to give the attorneys good education on topics that they are not experts in so that they can build their case, and to educate the finder of fact on those same technical issues. I don’t make arguments for the finder of fact — I educate. That said, it can be very time consuming, and court involves a lot of time flexibility (especially during the pandemic), so I only take on a couple of cases a year.
Above: John's H&K MR556A1 is emblazoned with the ASP logo on its handguard. It's equipped with a Cloud Defensive OWL and Schmidt & Bender scope in a 1.9-inch Spuhr mount.
What would you say the public is the most misinformed about when it comes to violent attacks?
JC: I think most people get their knowledge about violence from entertainment, mainly movies and television/streaming. Those scenes are made for emotional effect, not for realism, and so most people are woefully misinformed about actual criminal violence. We’ve also fought overseas for 20 years, and I see a lot of people mistakenly think that military engagements and police encounters are what they’re likely to face as a private citizen. In reality, each kind of encounter is unique and has its own set of typical parameters.
With those knowledge gaps in mind, what do you seek to accomplish with ASP, and what are your plans for the future?
JC: We seek to educate good people in all walks of life to give them knowledge and evidence-based ways to better protect themselves and their families from criminal violence. We plan on that continuing. We also teach instructors to better serve their students in our instructor certification, which we hope to continue to grow, as well as teach classes all over the country and internationally to build skills.
We launched a podcast in 2021 and are making strides to make it grow as well and have several ideas for new avenues to continue to help more people protect their families. We’ve come close to doing something on a streaming service before the pandemic, and I hope to pursue that avenue again soon.
Education is definitely the key. What sorts of classes do you offer?
JC: Our signature in-person class we call Evidence-Based Pistol Skills is a two-day class focusing on the most critical skills needed to prevail in a private citizen defensive gunfight. We also offer Evidence-Based Shotgun For Homestead Defense and Evidence-Based Rifle For Homestead Defense in similar formats. I teach classroom classes on Lessons Learned From Analyzing 35,000 Gunfights, Surviving An Armed Robbery, Women’s Self-Defense Principles, and more.
We are very proud of our ASP Instructor Certification, which is a cohort-style program that teaches instructors how to teach from my background in education; it’s a unique program in the industry, and I am incredibly proud of how we help instructors who graduate.
That program will likely expand into new arenas in 2022. I’m an Arizona POST Specialist Instructor and teach a variety of classes to LE, focusing on realistic de-escalation strategies, off-duty carry and employment, and Evidence-Based Pistol Skills for Law Enforcement Officers. We offer monthly online seminars on a variety of topics related to self-defense as well, from building a home defense plan, to de-escalation strategies, to legal and moral principles of self-defense.
So with all that instruction, knowledge, and analysis in your hat, do you plan to write a gun-related book?
JC: I’ve actually written two books, neither of which are gun-related. I suppose I’d never say never, but my current schedule and focus really don’t allow the kind of time and attention writing a quality book requires.
Lastly, are you familiar with David Yamane’s Gun Culture 1.0/2.0 concept, and what do you see as the next evolution, and how can people find out more about ASP?
JC: I am, and I definitely hope that seeing firearms as a universal civil right rather than us/them tactical mentality is the next stage. I don’t believe it will be as heavily focused on LEO/military experiences because we are now finally out of a war, but the next generation of gun culture is hopefully going to come from private citizens, rather than imported military/LEO ideas.
I sincerely believe that should include understanding of the 2A as a civil right for all, treated as though it were as important as the First Amendment.
Hometown: Newark, California, but 20-year resident of Phoenix, Arizona
Family status: Married for over 26 years to the most amazing woman on Earth. Four kids ages 16 to 24.
Recommended Reading List:
“Be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves.” — Jesus (Matthew 10:16 … it’s the basis for the ASP logo and brand)
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” — Theodore Roosevelt
“People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.” Variously attributed, but common wisdom.