Tactical: It’s All In Your Head

By Ralph Mroz

I hate the word tactical. I’ve no idea who first coined the term, but we seem stuck with it. In common usage, “tactical” doesn’t mean anything like the dictionary says it does. But by now we all know what we mean when we use the word — or do we? With the wide-spread (ab)use of the ever-so-cool new word, it’s become easy to think unless you have the latest new gee-gaw (in Coyote Brown) you aren’t — tactical. It’s not hard to think unless you can run a gun through a complex course set-up like that guy who just retired after 10 years in military Special Ops, you can’t possibly be tactical. It seems you can’t wear regular clothes anymore — no one can be tactical wearing just jeans and a t-shirt. Is that true?

In fact, tactical means none of these things. Instead, as applied to most of us, it most likely means having realized you are responsible for the safety of yourself — and your family. Think of it in the same way you’re likely responsible for their financial and nutritional wellbeing. Just the same, you’re also responsible for their physical safety. Nothing’s more basic.

So what’s tactical? It means being tactical; having completed a reasonable threat assessment of your situation — emphasis on reasonable. This means not having a Pollyanna-ish view of the world, nor a paranoid fantasy one. Being tactical means having taken reasonable steps to prepare for the likely events threatening your wellbeing. It may also make sense to prepare for the ones so severe that their severity counter-balances their relative infrequency. Think: bombings, mass-murderers or terrorist attacks.


Even in the hands of a trained adolescent teen, this S&W .22 auto may serve
as good “tactical” tool in defense of his family. Photo: Steve Sieberts

In Practice?

In this light I have no respect for the strange-rangers who are loaded up and prepped for the apocalypse, but who never exercise and who eat crap. After all, poor heart health is a far greater threat than a Mad Max type post-apocalyptic societal breakdown.

What’s this “tactical” thing look like in practice, for a normal person? It certainly means knowing first aid and CPR and having fire extinguishers around your home. Clint Smith has warned about these basic ideas for years — and he’s right. It means having a gun (or a few) and knowing how to use them. For almost everyone there are some reasonable threat possibilities, which can only be dealt with by a weapon. To paraphrase Jeff Cooper: “We should be thankful we have guns, because some people need to be shot.”

And no, you don’t need the newest cool gun or cartridge. A 40-year-old .38 revolver and a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun will probably be “enough gun” for the average person. However, your job will probably be easier — and you’ll have a higher chance of success — if you use a standard-capacity pistol and an AR platform rifle. Even then, the basics here will do — you don’t need multi-thousand dollar guns — although most people will benefit from a few intelligently selected after-market modifications like lights and a good trigger.

Far more important than the equipment you have, in terms of being actually “tactical” (as opposed to looking tactical), is what’s in your head. You have to have made the decision you will employ all-out, but controlled, counter-veiling violence — if necessary. If there’s nothing in your background that has verified this for you, then think long and hard about it, because nothing’s more basic. If a fight comes — and it just might — you need to be ready for it and confident in your ability to respond.


There’s no doubt this Franklin Arms compact AR is highly effective —
in the right hands. Simply possessing it doesn’t make someone
“tactical” in the least.

Learn The Basics

You should also have acquired some baseline level of skill in street-realistic empty-hands and firearms use. With all the excellent instructors available in person and digitally these days, this is not difficult to do. I’m constantly amazed most gun owners who claim they have (or carry) a gun for self-defense have actually no realistic training in its use. Nor do they have any empty-hands skills, which are more likely to be needed. Moreover, and even scarier, they have zero training in the lawful use of force, including deadly force. They think because they may be a NRA instructor or club match competitor they are good-to-go for the street. That’s not tactical — that’s ignorance, heading for disaster.

If tactical means anything in our lives, it means “Concerned with the legal and appropriate use of force, and being prepared for the encounter.” Being tactical is, therefore, ultimately a fundamentally practical concern. Like all challenging endeavors, it depends far more on what’s in your head than what’s in your kit, or gun safe or even your Zombie Apocalypse fallout shelter.

It’s a state, and state of mind, within the reach of all of us. Don’t get distracted by the hardware — it’s the software that counts most.

Do you have comments on this article? Let us know what you think at editor@nullamericanhandgunner.com. RH

Editor’s Note:
We’re happy to launch a new column in Handgunner: Tactics & Training. We’ll be dealing with a wide cross-section of the things you ask most about. From guns and gear, training issues, tips, personal-defense ideas, mind-set, practical ideas and myth-busting, to introducing you to things you might not know — it’ll all be right here. We’re hoping you’ll be scratching your head and saying, “Hey, I never thought of that before” — often. A broad cross-section of good writers will be involved, and I welcome this first one by Ralph Mroz, a seasoned veteran of, well … tactics and training. RH


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6 thoughts on “Tactical: It’s All In Your Head

  1. AH

    RH: Here’s what I think. Skip the broad cross-section of good writers you intend to be involved in writing this column and stick with Mr. Mroz. His column was one of the best “tactical” articles I have ever read in any gun magazine. Strike that; in any magazine. DP.

  2. Bob

    Some guy gave me a tactical pen at work. I’ll never use it at work. Though, I do need a tactical keyboard and mouse.

  3. Misneac

         “Tactical” has come to describe gear which you might expect to see used appropriately by SWAT or Special Forces in a given situation. What people forget (and why most gear sold to the masses is “tacticool” instead of tactical) is that “tactical” basically means “appropriate to the need”, not “SWAT/SpecOps/Gecko45* approved”. Tactics are hypotheses about how to achieve short term goals. To be tactical a (gun, plan, rabbit, mango, whatever) must aid in the achievement of those goals. The main reason so much BS “tactical” gear is sold is not because of any inherent problem with gear; the fault lies in the planning and decision making of the people buying the gear. If you buy 5.11 police assault boots to go duck hunting in, it ain’t the boots’ fault. You made a poor decision and boots that would be excellent in many other situations are a liability in your current situation. Doesn’t matter if “TACTICAL” is hand embroidered on the boot in IR defeating, breathable Kevlar tiger camo by retired Green Berets living at a Beard-ist monastery deep in the primeval jungle of Quetzalacatenango (home of the merciless Guatemalan insanity pepper); if it doesn’t achieve the goals you deem necessary to the mission (keep feet dry in water up to and including 18″ depths) it’s a tactical fail. $10 walmart farm boots would be more “tactical”, since they are more appropriate to the need. If you want the the ‘tacticool’ definition of Tactical I suppose it would be “Mission Correct”. 

    *if you don’t know who Gecko45 is and you haven’t had milk come out your nose in a while, go get some milk then go here: 

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