Role-playing for CCW! It's not just for geeks anymore!

Though I’m not currently actively teaching anymore, I used to teach a lot of CCW classes. For a couple of years there it wasn’t uncommon for me to teach five or more classes a month, with anywhere from 5 to 60 people in a class. My certs are still current, and I still teach once in awhile, mostly for fun, but the growing success of the writing career has kind of consumed all of my free time.

A good friend of mine down Texas way has recently gotten his certification to teach the Utah CCW class. We were having a conversation yesterday about how I used to do it, specifically, how I did my role-playing session.

Let me back up. I did my class a little different than most Utah CCW instructors. I liked to have a role-playing section for the last hour, where the student played themselves, armed with a rubber gun, and walked into a situation based on real life examples. We’d then discuss their actions as a class. I found that I could talk for hours about a topic and it just wouldn’t sink in for some folks, but seeing it live and unfolding in thirty seconds can really create a memorable lesson.

So I’m going to write down my role-playing methodology for my instructor friends. Hopefully something here might be of use to you.

GOALS – The purpose of the RP session was to get the students to start thinking outside of their self-imposed boxes. Many students have preconceived notions about how a violent encounter is going to go down. As instructors, we want our students to start thinking.

The goal is not to humiliate or ‘kill’ the student. You shouldn’t put them into a no-win scenario box. This isn’t the Kobiyashi Maru here. The goal is for adult learning to take place. It is very important that the instructor is humble, and not a jackass to his students at any point in time. Ever. If you are teaching to stroke your ego, do us all a favor and quit now.

WHAT YOU NEED – You need an open space. I liked something at least twenty-five feet wide, so a big classroom.

 No guns/weapons/ammo in the room. That stuff is all put away somewhere else. This is a huge duh moment. Put the friggin’ guns away. Seriously.  Rubber weapons only. In fact, for three years my “knife” was a smooshy leather sheath that was vaguely knife shaped. Most of the guns for the other actors were cheap, Wal-Mart cap pistols, spray painted orange. I had a couple of actual ASP rubber dummies and a quick on-off paddle holster for the student.

Shove all the students back against the far wall. The only people involved are the actors and the one student.  The rest of the students need to hush for the scene.  If you’ve got a big class, obviously you won’t have enough time to run through everyone, so I would use volunteers, and try to get through four or five. You’d be surprised. Though the scenarios only take a minute to run, you can easily get twenty minutes of discussion out of a single event.

You need a door to the exterior so that you can shove the student outside while you and the actors set up the scene. Once the scene is set , then you brief the student as to the situation.  They walk in, and act as if it is reality.

Props don’t need to be fancy. You don’t need a lot of flashy costumes or special effects. Besides the aforementioned rubber guns, my costume ensemble consisted of my ‘rapist’ coat, (a beat up, black M-65 field jacket with a hood) and a black skull cap.  

This part is the hard part. You need to be able to act. More on that later. It helps if you can be a convincing threat. Oddly enough, I’m really good at being a bad guy. I could win a friggin’ Oscar for Best Supporting Serial Murderer.

Keep in mind, this is a CCW class, not Tactical Ultimate Warrior School. You need to put on a good performance, but nobody needs to get hurt.  The student coming through the door isn’t a Navy SEAL (well, once in awhile), they’re an average person, and this is probably their first self-defense class. It is okay to be a little scary.  Remember, the goal is to get the student to start paying attention. If done correctly, you can actually get the student to experience the effects of adrenalin. That’s when you really get to see those preconceived notions go out the window!


 Very obviously, go over all the use of force laws for your state first. I like to have spent at least an hour discussing Ability/Opportunity/Immediate Threat (Jeopardy in most states).  If you’re an instructor, your really should know this already, but just in case you don’t.  You need to have a reasonable belief that your assailant has 1. The ability to hurt you. 2. The opportunity to hurt you. 3. And is acting as an immediate threat of serious bodily harm.  (remember, your state laws may be different)

Verbally deconstruct what is and is not a justifiable shooting.  After the legal end is covered, I like to move into tactics, then morals. I draw a triangle on the board and say that there are three sides to every violent encounter. Legal, Tactical, and Moral.  Legal are the decisions that you need to make in order to not go to jail. Tactical are the decisions that you make in order to maximize your chances of survival. Moral decisions are the ones that are entirely up to you.  Quick example. You’re in the bank. Three guys with 12 gauge shotguns walk in, threaten to kill everyone, and order you to get on the floor. Is it legal to shoot them? Ability, Opportunity, Immediate. Yep. Will you die? Probably. So you can be legal, but not tactical. Get it? 

The moral one is entirely up to the student. Remember instructors, everybody is different. You might have a situation unfold in front of you that you are 110% sure that getting involved is the right thing to do.(usually involving a 3rd person in danger of receiving serious bodily harm) However, that is only the right answer for you. That isn’t necessarily the right answer for the student. What if that student is your mom, or your grandma? You want her to jump in? Yeah. See. Different answer.

Okay, so now onto the scenarios.

ACTING – You don’t need to be brilliant, but you need to be able to read the student, and adjust fire from them. Remember, what is the point of the particular scenario that you are running? Is it to shake up their preconceived notion? Is it to make them think of something they hadn’t thought of before? Then you need to direct the scenario in that way.

Is this just a big joke to them?  You might get a student who thinks it is. I usually have that idea beaten out of their heads pretty quickly. Don’t get me wrong. I crack jokes for an entire five hour class. I love having a good time, but the purpose of the scenario is for the entire class to learn. If the student treats it like a big joke, then the class won’t get anything out of it, and you just wasted your time.  

If I get a haha this is silly vibe going, I’ll turn up the aggression in scenario #1 homeless guy mugging. This is when my 300 pounds of big-ugly intimidation comes in handy. I’ve had many people tell me that I’m terrifying after we’ve run a scenario. Good. It got them thinking.

The supporting actors can go a long way toward making a scenario a good learning experience. The problem there is that unless you’ve got somebody on hand that you’ve worked with before, or even a repeat student who gets it, you are stuck with other volunteer students. Some can be awesome, some can suck. I’ll talk about that when we get to domestic violence.

Remember, if you are doing this in a place that has people around it, make sure they know what is going on before people inside the room start screaming “OH GOD! HE’S GOT A GUN! AAAAAAHHHHHHHH!”  There’s nothing like finishing a scenario in the back room of a giant sporting goods store, and looking over to see a scowling sheriff’s deputy looking through the window at you.

On profanity, yes, sometimes I swear in during the roleplay. I don’t swear during the lecture, because that just strikes me as unprofessional, but in the roleplaying, *&*(! I swear. This has offended a few people. But I’m playing a crack dealer or a murderer… what where they expecting? Mary Poppins? You’re carrying a gun to shoot people who want to hurt you. People who want to hurt you may use bad language.

Hi, I'm here to try out for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

SCENARIOS – I had a stack of different ones that I’d developed. Depending on the discussions and questions the class had, I could use different ones.  Remember. Student out. Set up. Brief the supporting actors. Brief the student. Run the scenario. Debrief.

BRIEFING – While the student is waiting outside the class strapping on their rubber gun, I tell the class what the scenario is going to be like. That increases the learning fun for everyone. Then I stick my head out the door and brief the participating student. I’ll put the briefings below, but there are always a few things that are in each and every one. When/where/what/why/who.  Point out that anybody sitting off to the side is not participating and that they need to be ignored.  Don’t forget to give them an escape route, like “your car is parked at the far door. If you reach the far door you have exited the area and the scenario is over”.  Don’t forget to ask if they have any questions.

#1 AGGRESSIVE HOMELESS GUY MUGGING – I’m the only actor in this one. Props consists of my beater coat, hood down, skull cap on. I have a knife in my pocket.  I am playing a homeless ‘vet’ who panhandles his way into the student’s comfort zone. 

The Briefing: You are inside a restaurant downtown. It is late afternoon/early evening. You have finished eating, paid for your meal, and when you walk through this door, you will be entering the parking lot. Your car is at the far wall. If you reach the far wall, you have reached your vehicle and left the area.

I’m leaning against the wall ten feet from the door, acting like I’m smoking. When the student comes out, I throw down my cigarette and stamp it out (because muggers worry about forest fires too!). I then approach the student while saying “Hey, buddy. You got any change? Can you spare a buck? You got any smokes?” so on and so forth, all while I keep getting closer and closer. I’ll usually try to but my way into their comfort zone. i.e. bad breath distance. I try to get in front of them.   

If the student acts like a victim, the knife comes out and I rob the hell out of them. If the student isn’t a victim and attempts to just get away, or they’re aggressive back, I let them go. It is amazing how many people are programmed to be super polite, even in the face of a abnormal aggression. Criminals love that.  

Just like real criminals, if they look like food, I eat them. If they’re timid, and they let me get close, it is too late. The knife comes out, I press it against their face and start screaming “Gimme the money! Gimme your wallet!” and I try to be friggin’ scary. At that point, most actually give me the money. Some go for the gun and I stab them. Either way, I’ll stop it there and we’ll discuss. (the wide-eyed stare of HOLY CRAP when that happens is so fun).

I’ve found that most people that have grown up in the city will just zip on past me with a “No I don’t have nothing buddy” and they are gone.  The single most interesting one I ever had was somebody that screwed up and let me corner him. The knife came out, he said sure, take it, pulled out his wallet and dropped it on the floor. Unconsciously, I bent over to pick up his wallet, and he drew his gun and shot me in the top of the head. That made for some excellent (and lively!) class discussion.

Debrief: This is a good one for situational awareness and stressing just how quickly a situation can unfold.

#2 BIG EDDIE WANTS HIS MONEY-  There are three actors in this one. Big Eddie (me), my assistant criminal, and our victim. We’re all wearing normal clothing. Me and my assistant both have guns concealed on our person.  Mine is stuck in my waistband, in front, visible when I lift my shirt.

The Briefing: You have stopped at the convenience store to grab some snacks. You are travelling, and this is kind of a crappy neighborhood. This is the door. You are about to enter the parking lot. Your car is parked around the side, so if you reach the far wall, you have left the area.

When the student walks out, me and my assistant are about fifteen feet away, kicking the living crap out of the victim. (victim’s job is to lay on the ground, whimper, and cover his head). While we are beating him, I’m yelling, “Big Eddie wants his money! Pay me you son of a bitch!” We are partially blocking the way out, but there is room for the student to walk around and get away.

I look up, see the student, and snarl. “What the **** you looking at?! This ain’t your business. Beat it!” I lift my shirt and obviously flash the butt of my gun (amazing how many people don’t even see it!)  Then I got back to collecting my crack money.

There are two ways this unfolds. About half the students walk the heck away (some go back in the store). About half the students choose to get involved, and of those, I’d say 95% get hurt. This one requires you to have done a little planning with your assistant.

If the student gets involved, usually the gun comes out and they issue some sort of verbal challenge (usually garbled, because they’ve not practiced). I immediately raise my hands in the surrender position and say “Hey man! I don’t want no trouble!” and I start walking to the side, away from the student and away from my partner. I just keep babbling.  The student usually doesn’t know how to react, because this is not what they were expecting.  Almost always, the gun stays on me, (because I’m big, loud, and the teacher) and my assistant draws his gun and shoots the student.  Or they remember there is another guy, and when they take their eyes off me, I draw my gun and shoot the student.

The 5% that does get involved and doesn’t get hurt is usually hyper aggressive and absolutely dominates the situation. Usually this person has had other training.

Debrief – This one is a lot of fun to talk about. If they walked away, make sure to walk them through what would have happened and vice versa.  Loads of good discussion on this one, especially about the legalities of intervening with a 3rd person and the fact that though I hadn’t drawn my gun, I was displaying my Ability and Opportunity.

#3 DOMESTIC VIOLENCE – I sit this one out. Otherwise I’ve just programmed the student to walk through the door and just shoot anybody that looks like James Gandolfini at this point. You need two actors, male and female, preferably husband and wife. (because otherwise it is a little awkward). Depending on the actors, this is either awesome or bad. If you don’t think your actors can pull this off, don’t do it.  The female has a knife in her pocket.

The Briefing: You are walking down the street. This is your neighborhood.  It is a normal, middle-class neighborhood.  You are walking in front of a normal house and the carpeted area is the front lawn. If you reach the far lawn you’ve walked down the sidewalk and have left the area.

This one is based on a true story that happened to a friend of mine, and left him a nifty scar down his cheek.

Husband and wife are fighting. It is rough. Husband is screaming, ranting, and slapping his wife upside the head (pull ‘em guys… duh).  If student walks and calls 911 (like they should) scenario over. If the student tries to intervene, husbands raises his hands and gets all indignant (but in no way threatens or approaches the student).  If the gun comes out, the husband will still be indignant (as the director, I tell them to think drunk and imagine that they’re wearing  a wife-beater tank-top).  Wifey walks around behind the student and screams “LEAVE MY HUSBAND ALONE!” right before stabbing the student.

Heh heh heh, the part where the student shoots the lady he was trying to help is priceless. Debrief is obvious. There’s a reason cops hate domestic violence and CCW holders should avoid it like the plague.

That said, good actors can make or break this one. If the girl is a good crier and the man is scary enough, I’ve had ones where I would’ve probably gotten involved even though I knew better. I’ve had others where the husband and wife were so damn mild that I wouldn’t even classify it as a fight. I had one once where I asked the student afterwards why he didn’t get involved and he said “Hell, that wasn’t a fight. I thought they were going to invite me in for milk and cookies.”

#4 SERIAL RAPIST FUN!- This is my favorite, and depending on how long the class is running, this is usually the grand finale. If done correctly, this is the one that actually gets the heart rate up and running. I’ve seen this one make people cry. Two actors, me (the rapist) and my female victim. If possible, get a girl that can scream good. If you’ve got a screamer, this is like something out of a horror movie. Props consist of me in the rapist coat (hood up, because psychologically I’ve found it makes it worse) and I’ve got a knife in my hand. 

To do this one justice you have to be able to kill the lights. You want very little illumination.  Just enough for shadows and shapes.  I don’t specifically tell the student that I’m going to shut the lights off, though I tell them repeatedly in the briefing, they usually don’t pick it up.

The Briefing: You are working very late. You are the last one to leave the office. You are locking up and the door will lock behind you when you exit into the dark parking lot. Your female coworker left two minutes before you did. If you see a female out there in the dark parking lot, it is your coworker. Any questions? 

When the student walks in, I start exactly twenty-one feet from the door. I have the girl by the arm. She is pulling and thrashing to get away. I’m pulling back. I have the knife lifted and I’m yelling “SHUT UP OR I”LL CUT YOU!” while she is screaming her head off “Help me! Somebody help me!”  When I see the light of the door, I turn and yell “STAY OUT OF THIS!”  Then I let go of the girl, like she’s broken away. There is about a one second delay while the rapist things screw it, I’m stabbing somebody!  And I charge. And for a big man, I’m really fast.

The 21 foot is obvious. This is a Tueller drill. That whole thing about Opportunity. You just drove it the heck home.  This one is filled with wonderful talking points. Did you see that I had a weapon? Did it matter? (many people get really hung up on this one)  Anybody in your class still want to carry chamber empty? Not anymore they don’t. 

Be careful on this one. I’ve gotten hurt. I had one martial artist just freak out and snap kick me in the leg on the way in. I had an SF guy punch the rubber gun out and hit me in the sternum. That one about floored me. Usually I’ll just run over and kind of engulf them so they don’t freak out and crash into the wall.  I’ll point out one awesome one, because he’s currently running for the Utah State Legislature, Sam Fiddler. (great guy btw) By the time I started charging, he’d drawn and started shooting while moving laterally (quickly) to get out of the way. When the lights were on, I asked him how many times he thinks he would’ve fired before I’d reached him. He asked how many rounds did the gun hold? That’s the spirit!

Some students keep their wits. Most don’t. Very few think to move. Most don’t get the gun out of the holster. Always ask those why they didn’t draw sooner. (crazy guy dragging a screaming woman twenty feet away, nobody is going to charge you with brandishing).  Most students will unconsciously approach because they’re trying to see better.   

Make sure you really compliment anything they do correctly on this one, because it can be unnerving for some.

This is one big honking blog post, but I think you get the idea. I’ve got several others that I work in if there is time. I do one where I’m an off-duty cop that just apprehended a suspect right in front of the student’s house. (it’s Larry with a gun pointed at that guy! And he’s wearing the rapist coat! BAM BAM BAM BAM).  I do another where you find me in your living room and I try to explain how I’m from the power company and there’s been a gas leak (I’m so totally not).You can use your imagination.  Just remember, try to focus on picking something that has several learning points to talk about.

ALWAYS DEBRIEF!  On the debrief, I always ask the student 1. What did you see? 2. Why did you do what you did?  Let the student explain. (oftentimes, if you do everything right and you hit that emotional note necessary to get some adrenalin in there, you’ll be surprised how screwed up the student’s perceptions can be.  COMPLIMENT the student for anything they did right. Do not berate them for mistakes. Walk them through the mistakes they made and what they maybe would’ve done different.

Once the student has been debriefed, let them sit down before you ask the class if what they did was 1. Legal. 2. Tactical. And could they have done anything better/different? Don’t make the student stay up there as the focus of attention. That makes some people uncomfortable, and if they did something really stupid, they don’t need to keep feeling bad about it. They just need to have learned something.

As you run these scenarios multiple times, you will soon see just about every possible way to solve the problem. Some of these will surprise you. Now is a good time to ask the class, well, what if he had just done this? Or what if he had done that? You can get into some great discussions that way. (remember, you are the one in charge of the discussion, not the students, or otherwise you’ll blunder off into crazy town in short order).

Well, I hope that helps. This might not work for everyone, but I found these exercises to be extremely helpful, and the class really enjoyed them. We actually had a lot of fun with these, and most importantly it got the students thinking.

Update: Signed copies of MHV for Uncle Hugos
Hey Utah County, I'm doing a presentation and signing at UVU

17 thoughts on “Role-playing for CCW! It's not just for geeks anymore!”

  1. Brilliant!
    I would add that, just because you were brilliant in the school production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown and have been playing Dungeons and Dragons since the original supplement to Chainmail does not mean you can necessarily role play these sorts of things effectively–a certain amount of being able to ad lib, to think on your feet and adjust is necessary.
    The first couple of times I tried to DM I sucked horribly. OTOH, having been bullied in school in Detroit, I could probably ad lib this sort of thing just fine…

    1. …….”and have been playing Dungeons and Dragons since the original supplement to Chainmail”……..

      Oh. My. God.
      I plead the 5th.

  2. Excellent post.

    Also, an excellent, very simple way to help convince people not to carry chamber empty is to approach them, for example, reach out to shake their hand and be like “Hey buddy, how you doing today?” and then grab their hand when they reciprocate and yank them in real close and tell them to give you their money or else. Obviously, do it in a very controlled situation/environment. Preferably after talking about carrying with one in the pipe and then changing the subject and talking for about 10 minutes so it’s not on their immediate mind.

  3. Thanks for the info Larry. As a retired LEO and firearms instructor myself I can reiterate that this type of training has a very positive and lasting impact on students. If I ever get back into it I’m so gonna steal your ideas!

  4. Great post Larry, I wish there had been some of this when I went through my CCW class. I think this kind of training should be a part of CCW cert.

  5. Thanks for writing the scenarios. I’m going to try and incorporate them in my trainings. The only problem I have is class size. Typical class size is about 4-5 people and they’re usually all male. It’ll make it hard to do the Rapist scenario. But still, it’s good info.

    How long does it take you to run all 4 scenarios, prep and debrief? 1 hour? With all the other info the state requires, it can push the class times to be very long. Did you cover the basics like how a gun works and ammunition and all of the other administrative BCI stuff? That stuff seems to take 2 hours by itself.

    1. Yeah he covered all the administrative stuff, he had a break in the middle.

      But the scenarios were like an hour or so. The total class time was like six hours.

  6. Thanks for sharing; the tactical/moral/legal triangle bit in particular is something that was approached but never really hit in my CCW training.

    Nor did we do any scenarios. 🙁

  7. I got so lucky to attend one of Larry’s ccw classes. I was glad that he only did like five of those scenarios, because I was dreading having to go through one. Luckily I didn’t have to. It really gets you thinking, wow I’ve got a lot to learn.

    My heart was pounding after a few of the scenarios, especially the aggressive homeless guy, and I was just watching it. It’s frightening to see how quickly things unfold, and how helpless the victim is when pinned up against the wall.

    It made me watch the homeless guys in Salt Lake a lot closer, I’ve only had one of them ‘sneak up’ on me once since that class. Don’t worry he just wanted some change, nothing violent, but he did get nearly within arm’s reach of me without me knowing it. I always try to see everything in a parking lot when I load up kids and groceries now.

    It was a good class.

  8. I would absolutely love to take a class which consisted of nothing but these scenarios. What a learning experience that would be! I think this kind of thing is of infinite value to the average CCW holder, by which I mean those of us with neither military nor law enforcement experience.

  9. I’ve been through several classes over the years, and I have never had an instructor do any RP, let alone as well run as yours sound. I just heard that you were an instructor, not long ago, so I missed out on your classes. I’ve been loving your books since you sent My adopted brother an autographed copy if the first 3 MHI. We lost him to cancer due to radiation poisoning. He was on the USS Ronald Regan when they rendered aid to Japan after the Fukushima debacle. I was amazed that an author would do something like that when your books were sold out. My CCW lapsed last year because I also lost my dad, but if you have any classes coming up in the next year, I would be happy to wait and travel for it. It sounds about as much fun as your books.

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