Here at SOFREP, we do a lot of talking about gear, training, and general preparedness. Pulling from our military, professional, and hobbyist backgrounds with firearms, we do our best to relate our experiences to you in an approachable way, and often, those experiences suggest that training, not equipment, is what will save your life in a bad situation. If you’re not a capable shooter, the best optics in the world won’t save you. If you’re not safe and responsible in how you use your firearms, it doesn’t matter how much you spent on them.

Good gear, in most cases, is only there to make your life a bit easier, not to compensate for a lack of range time or a technical deficiency but it’s important to note that while good quality gear may not make you a better shooter, bad gear can potentially make you a dead one.

A U.S. Navy veteran was killed in Portland, Oregon on Monday by Portland State University campus police officers. Jason Erik Washington had a permit to carry his weapon, but as he attempted to break up a fight outside a bar, the pistol slipped from its holster and fell to the ground. As Washington attempted to recover it, police closed in, firing their service weapons and killing Washington in the ordeal. Details regarding the incident remain sparse, and I’d like to avoid offering my own conjecture as to exactly what went wrong, but at first glance it isn’t difficult to see how police could make such a mistake.

As they approach the scene of a fight that seemingly involves multiple parties outside of a bar, they hear someone nearby shout, “Gun!” (as witnesses reported occurring as the pistol fell). They closed in to find a man in the thick of the scuffle, pistol in hand — so they shot him. In those circumstances, with fractions of a second to make a life or death decision, those officers decided that, in their minds, may have saved lives. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

“He was a veteran who fought for our country,” Mohammed Tuffa, one of the men involved in the fight said after the fact. “Pepper spray could have broken everybody out. Everybody would have been on the ground crying.”

Now, as a worthy debate rages within the Portland community about if campus law enforcement should be armed, and further, whether or not their use of deadly force was appropriate for the circumstances, the rest of the firearm carrying community will certainly have strong opinions to match — but that won’t bring Washington back, nor will it reduce the chances that you could find yourself in the same terrible circumstances. We, out here in the rest of the world, need to look to these incidents for actionable lessons we can incorporate into our own lives or use to inform our positions on local policies and laws. From my desk in Georgia, I have little influence on how the law is written in Oregon, but my awareness can inform the way I vote and discuss local debates about similar policies and personally, it makes me stop and think about how I carry my firearm, and how I carry myself at the same time.

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Whether you’re a break dancing idiot of an FBI agent, a legal carrier trying to do the right thing, or the moron that lost a pistol from the holster in a couch at Ikea, only to be found and fired by a six-year-old hours later in Indiana — it seems that the number of incidents relating directly firearm retention are on the rise around the country. As I’ve written about in the past, owning firearms may be a right per our Constitution, but carrying them is a responsibility. If you carry a firearm around people, irresponsible behavior puts lives at risk — and the margin for error is non-existent.

One mistake and someone could be dead. In the case of Jason Erik Washington, that one mistake appears to have cost him his own life.

Cheap holsters can be awfully tempting (and hell, some inexpensive holsters are great) but there’s more to choosing a holster than comfort and cost. During what we tend to call the accession pipeline for the Marine Corps (the first year of initial training in which you attend boot camp, combat training, and MOS schools) there is as much emphasis placed on firearm retention as there is on shooting them in the first place. I had already gone through several courses aimed at keeping a pistol in its holster with opponents attempting to take it before I was ever even issued a sidearm. There’s a reason for that: a weapon is only of use when you have it under control.

There are lots of holster styles to choose from, some rely on friction retention, others have buttons or Velcro straps, and so forth. It’s important that you train to suit your everyday holster (a Blackhawk Serpa uses a button release that could lead to a negligent discharge if you use poor finger discipline, whereas a friction retention holster will slide out more easily), but it’s also important that you choose a holster based on your circumstances, environment, and skill level. Finding a balance between quick access and ensuring your weapon is secure may take a bit of time and effort – but then, carrying a firearm was always supposed to be coupled with training to become competent with it.

I don’t know what kind of holster Washington was wearing, but it seems likely that, had that pistol not fallen from it, he might still be alive today. Keep that in mind as you take a second glance at your own rig, and think about what you could be doing to help ensure you’re not in the next headline about dropped pistols and the tragic ramifications of a mistake.

The life you save may be your own.

Image courtesy of the author