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Most of the training events we cover in this column are courses on how to shoot — whether it’s long-range shots with rifles, fast strings with pistols, or how to manage the oft-intimidating self-defense shotgun. This one is a little different. Last summer, we had the opportunity to attend two lectures put on by career LEO and firearms trainer John Hearne. Hearne has dedicated a significant amount of time to high-level academic research in some topics that may, at first glance, sound dry to the average shooter. These were full-day lectures, with zero range time and a lot of very in-depth technical and historical discussion. We don’t say any of this to dissuade you from his courses. On the contrary, we highly recommend you attend any of his lectures if you ever have the chance. The first was Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why — an in-depth look at a range of factors pertaining to how human beings are biologically programmed to react under life-threatening stress, and how to build effective training programs around those factors. The second was Defeating Violent Criminals, which focused on some historical case studies of the worst-of-the-worst bad guys, and how much a motivated criminal can accomplish when they apply their nefarious worldview and skillset.
In Who Wins, Who Loses … Hearne starts by peeling back the surface layers of some commonly overused training tropes. For example, many self-defense courses touch on the concept of the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. Almost none of those courses discuss how or why this decision-matrix is hardwired into the most primitive part of our brains. He goes on to explain that, in caveman days, man’s greatest threats-to-life were large natural predators: think lions, tigers, or woolly mammoths. Most of these creatures have vision-processing patterns based on movement, since they’re wired to chase fleeing prey animals like deer or antelope. So, in ancient times, freezing in the face of a perceived threat made a lot of sense. This evolutionary understanding can also explain phenomenon like auditory exclusion. If you have to fight off a massive four-legged animal with a spear, do you need acute auditory input to win that fight? No. This deep-set biological wiring is why, even today, soldiers or LEOs report having no recollection of hearing anything during a gunfight — because that neural processing power is re-routed to things like increasing blood flow to major muscle groups for fighting or fleeing. Likewise, tunnel vision is a side-effect of evolution being optimized for one-on-one encounters with a large predator on the plains, as opposed to squad-based movement in a 360-degree urban environment. This layered understanding of why the human body responds the way it does led to perhaps our single biggest revelation of the course, succinctly worded by Hearne as follows:
“The shift of an opponent from a rational response to an emotional one is arguably the most important point in human conflict. The fighter who can push his opponent to an emotional response while remaining in a rational response has the greatest probability of winning.”
This quote puts a much sharper biological point on why the famed OODA loop is so important to prevailing in interpersonal violence.
Defeating Violent Criminals is a crash course in the darkest parts of the human psyche. Hearne uses two main historical case studies to convey these lessons: the Newhall Incident of 1970, and the Miami FBI shootout of 1986. These are both high-profile incidents with wide pop-culture recognition and mountains of available background information, which makes them great teaching tools.
The rest of the course covers both Newhall and Miami in painstaking and immersive detail, focusing deeply on the human aspects of the perpetrators and officers involved. At various points, Hearne includes information from their childhoods, criminal or LE careers, accounts from family members and (un)professional resumes over the span of their respective lifetimes. He points out a disturbing but documentable pattern of these personality types operating in pairs or small groups to commit the most heinous of crimes. Newhall, Miami, North Hollywood, the Toybox Killers, the Murder Mac van killers, the Manson family … some of the most infamous crimes in history, all of which include teams of like-minded murderers who managed to find each other and team up to increase the magnitude of their crimes. Coming face-to-face with such a team may be one of the lowest-probability survival scenarios, but it carries one of the highest levels of danger for the intended victim — which, in our opinion, makes it an incredibly important scenario to prepare for.
We were immensely impressed with both the thorough research put into these courses, as well as Hearne’s low-key, approachable, and conversational presentation style. The availability of these courses is tragically sparse, but we hope to see his teaching tempo increase in the future, and look forward to bringing you some more content by and about him in coming issues.