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Some consider firearms training to only involve heading to the range for shooting drills or maybe even dry-practicing at home. Other people focus on situational awareness and Jeff Cooper’s “Color Code.” Given a situation, they can usually recite what condition they would be in. Now, don’t get me wrong: All of this is super-important when a self-defense situation arises and a firearm is needed. And I definitely believe that people who carry a firearm need to know how to run their gun competently and confidently—as if it’s an extension of their body. However, I see something missing. As a concealed-carry holder, you have to know if you have the proper mindset to do what is necessary to take someone else’s life. I’ve sat in on many seminars about mindset while attending the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) over the past several years and have had many books recommended to me.

The following is a list of books I found helpful with changing my thinking from “if this happens” to “when this happens.”


The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes—and Why, by Amanda Ripley.

Through investigative journalism, Amanda Ripley traces human response to some of history’s most noteworthy disasters. Then, to understand the science behind each event, she interviews leading brain scientists, trauma psychologists and disaster experts. Finally, she has her own brain examined by military researchers while experiencing realistic simulations.

The Gift of Fear: And Other Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence, by Gavin de Becker.

In this thought-provoking book, Gavin de Becker explains how to spot subtle signs of danger before it’s too late. Through real examples—from an outsider’s perspective and, when possible, that of a surviving victim—he inspires us to recognize our gut feelings and act on our intuitions.

Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life, by Patrick Van Horne and Jason A. Riley.

Getting yourself “left of bang” refers to making better observations and decisions before shots are fired. Through their book, Horne and Riley explain how to systematically assess your environment and head off situations before they become problems.

“Remember, extreme violence can happen anytime … anywhere. It is up to you to develop the mindset to do what is necessary to protect yourself and your loved ones.”


For some people, the struggle could be a religious one. Perhaps their faith or belief system might not allow them to harm someone or take a life. For those people, I suggest the following book.

A Time To Kill: The Myth of Christian Pacifism, by Greg Hopkins.

Through detailed Scriptural analysis, Hopkins explores the basis for Christian self-defense. He uses Bible verses to prove that Christians are expected to defend themselves, their family and other innocents.

A Time to Kill is a good read for those who struggle with their belief system that says they are not allowed to harm others or take a life, even in self-defense.


I find it important to understand and study some of the well-known active killers throughout history. Through the following books, I’ve realized criminals don’t have a certain “look” or background and that no neighborhood or city is immune from violence.

A Sniper in the Tower: The Charles Whitman Murders, by Gary M. Lavergne.

On August 1, 1966, Eagle Scout and exemplary Marine Charles Whitman murdered his mother and wife. He then went to the University of Texas/Austin and began shooting people from the 28th floor of the university tower.

Inside the Mind of a Teen Killer, by Phil Chalmers. 

For over a decade, Chalmers visited high-security prisons, interviewing young offenders. He finds out why teens kill, as well as possible warning signs. Terror at Beslan: A Russian Tragedy With Lessons for America’s Schools, by John Giduck. On September 1, 2004, Chechen rebels took more than 1,100 people hostage, eventually murdering 334 people over the course of three days.

It’s important to know your enemy. These two books help get you into killers’ minds to better understand how the homicidal mind works and to use it to keep yourself and loved ones safe.


Finally, remember this: During force-on-force training, the “good guy” never dies. Consider the following events.

Lance Thomas, watchmaker. In the 1980s, Lance Thomas owned a high-end watch store in Los Angeles. He survived four armed robberies by shooting back, even though he had been shot himself at times. Thomas refused to be a victim.

Sergeant Marcus Young, Ukiah Police Department, California. On March 7, 2003, Sergeant Young had an altercation with a violent felon outside a local Wal-Mart while arresting the felon’s girlfriend. When the felon pulled out a knife, Young twisted the man’s arm—only to have the man pull out a .38 S&W and shoot Young five times. The assailant then went to Young’s patrol car and tried to remove his rifle and shotgun. On his knees, with his right arm paralyzed and a left hand that had a 2-inch tear between the index and middle fingers, Young could not draw his gun. Remaining calm, he asked the 17-year-old cadet riding with him to unholster his pistol and  place it in his left hand. With four shots, Young stopped the assailant before he could grab a firearm from the patrol car and start shooting again. Sergeant Marcus Young never gave up. He did what was necessary to end the fight.

“The body won’t go where the mind has never been.”



If you carry a gun or plan on carrying one, it’s important to know your mindset before you strap your gun on. And, be honest with yourself: It is best to learn now and address it than to find out you don’t have the proper mindset at the moment of “bang.” Remember, extreme violence can happen anytime … anywhere. It is up to you to develop the mindset to do what is necessary to protect yourself and your loved ones. Keep in mind that the body won’t go where the mind has never been. Do your research and study past scenarios so that when the time comes, you might recall a situation you read about and know how to react. Don’t be the person who says, “I never expected that to happen!”


  • Do I trust my gut instincts?
  • Do my religious beliefs allow me to take another person’s life?
  • Do I have the willpower to continue fighting when injured?


Michelle Cerino is both a firearms trainer and the president of Cerino Consulting and Training Group, LLC—a firearms training company she built with her husband, Chris, in 2011. She writes, hunts and competes in major 3-gun matches nationwide.



Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the May 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.