As I write this column, the rest of the video team is finishing up the latest edition of the Proving Ground. If you have not seen our scenario-based training videos, make sure you sign up for USCCA email notifications so you can watch the next training sequence. You will come away with a ton of great information about what do to when things go south.

Notice I didn’t say those training scenarios will tell you which piece of gear to buy. That’s because buying a piece of gear will not make you a better fighter. Thinking about fighting will make you a better fighter.

At the risk of getting really deep here, I feel the need to point out that as Americans, we’re often trained from childhood to be consumers. We buy things. The things we buy make us feel better. So we buy more things. Deep down, we link our possessions to our success. But when it comes to incidents that require the use of deadly force, one must be keenly aware that a poorly equipped person with greater training or experience will often have the advantage over a well-equipped person who is ill-prepared for action.

Before each scenario of the Proving Ground, I tell the trainees they should not expect to walk into a gunfight. But of course they come to “gun training” expecting to use their firearms. As a result, we throw in some curveballs to get them off balance, put them in no-shoot scenarios to take the edge off, and provide “guidance” as to when and why they should pull out their guns and get to work. Then, more often than not, our trainees wait too long to engage. They let bad guys get too close. They come away with a new respect for the speed at which a violent assault can happen.

The single most important element of training is not the gear you use. It is not even your marksmanship skills. The most important thing you must learn is how to make the right decision at the right time to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. From my perspective, the right decision is avoidance. If you can get out of a situation without firing a shot, do so.

I want my trainees to react sooner. This is not to say that I want people to pull out a gun sooner. Instead, I want people to be developing a plan sooner and implementing that plan quickly. The first element of the plan should be to plot an escape route and an escape strategy. I know even the best plans do not survive first contact, but having a plan is better than not having a plan. At the very least, you will know that your initial plan is not working and you need to move to Plan B.

You do have a Plan B, right?

Plan B is typically the fighting plan. For instance, you have identified your exit route — and you know if you can’t escape, you must fight. The instant you realize your exit route is blocked, for any reason, you need to move to Plan B and fight.

Notice I have not said anything about the make and model of the tools with which you will fight. Notice I am not, at this point, even discussing whether or not you should use a gun or a knife or pepper spray or any other force option. I’m talking about the decision you must make first: the decision to fight.

If you read this column regularly, I’m guessing you have already made the decision to defend yourself. The next step is to determine how you will do so. If you choose to use a gun, that’s great. Now think about getting training with whatever gun you have chosen. The truth is, most of them will work and the choice is personal and subjective. Only after you have made several other decisions should you even begin to think about the brand name of the gear you will carry.

Those other elements are much more important.