Along with John Moses Browning, Mikhail Kalashnikov, Eugene Stoner, Dan Shideler, and Elmer Keith, another man made huge waves in the firearms community with his life’s work. If you are new to the gun world, or if you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t bothered to learn read up on some history, let me clue you on whom I’m talking about. Most gun experts recognize Jeff Cooper as the father of the Modern Technique of handgun shooting, and one of the 20th century’s foremost international experts on the use and history of small arms.
A Stanford graduate with a degree in political science, Cooper joined the United States Marine Corps where he earned a commission in September 1941. He served during the Second World War on the USS Pennsylvania. He rose to the rank of Major and later served in the Korean War where he practiced irregular warfare and earned a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. After retiring from the Corps, Cooper received a master’s degree in history from the University of California, Riverside. In the late 1970s, he founded the American Pistol Institute in Paulden Arizona, which patrons now call the Gunsite Training Center. There, Cooper shared his hard-earned knowledge by teaching shotgun and rifle classes to law enforcement and military personnel as well as civilians. He also traveled the country to do on-site training for individuals and groups around the world. He sold the company in 1992 and retired to Paulden ranch until his death on September 25, 2006.
Cooper’s Modern Technique defined what many firearms defense instructors teach today. The five elements of Cooper’s technique are:
- A large caliber pistol, preferably a semi-auto
- The Weaver stance, which involves a two-handed grip
- The presentation
- The flash sight picture
- The compressed surprise trigger break
Cooper favored the large caliber 1911 and its variants for personal protection. The single action design of the legendary handgun allowed for his five conditions for defensive carry.
- Condition Four: Chamber empty, no magazine, hammer down.
- Condition Three: Chamber empty, full magazine in place, hammer down.
- Condition Two: A round chambered, full magazine in place, hammer down.
- Condition One: A round chambered, full magazine in place, hammer cocked, safety on.
- Condition Zero: A round chambered, full magazine in place, hammer cocked, safety off.
Aside from his carry conditions, he touted a color coded state of mental awareness that helped shooters stay in the proper frame of mind.
- White: This is a state of being unaware and unprepared. If attacked in Condition White, the only thing that may save you is the inadequacy or ineptitude of your attacker. When confronted by something nasty, your reaction will probably be, “Oh my God! This can’t be happening to me.”
- Yellow: A state of relaxed alert. No specific threat situation. Your mindset is that “today could be the day I may have to defend myself.” You are simply aware that the world is a potentially unfriendly place and that you are prepared to defend yourself, if necessary. You use your eyes and ears, and realize that “I may have to shoot today.” You do not have to be armed in this state, but if you are armed, you should be in Condition Yellow. You should always be in Yellow whenever you are in unfamiliar surroundings or among those, you don’t know. You can remain in Yellow for long periods, as long as you are able to watch your six. In Yellow, you are taking in surrounding information in a relaxed but alert manner, like a continuous 360-degree radar sweep. As Cooper put it, “I might have to shoot.”
- Orange: Specific alert. Something is not quite right and has your attention. Your radar has picked up a specific alert. You shift your primary focus to determine if there is a threat—but you do not drop your six. Your mindset shifts to “I may have to shoot that person today,” focusing on the specific target which has caused the escalation in alert status. In Condition Orange, you set a mental trigger. “If that person does “X,” I will need to stop them.” Your pistol usually remains holstered in this state. Staying in Orange can be a bit of a mental strain, but you can stay in it for as long as you need to. If the threat proves to be nothing, you shift back to Condition Yellow.
- Red: Condition Red is fight. Whatever threat you were facing tripped your mental trigger, and now you have to say, “If ‘X’ happens, I will shoot that person.” Cooper’s color code allows a person to think through a conflict. As the threat increases, you are mentally prepared to respond to those increases appropriately. If you have to go to Condition Red, you will not hesitate to use lethal force because you have already made the decision to protect yourself mentally.
Aside from his teachings, Cooper designed firearms, worked with developers to create new cartridges, and assisted in engineering the Scout Rifle. The Scout is an ingenious design for a general-purpose carbine that is portable, individually operated, and capable of striking a decisive blow at a variety of ranges. He also coined the phrase, Hoplophobia, which describes an irrational fear of weapons. Since his passing in 2006, those in the firearms community can feel a gap where once stood a legendary individual. No other man has, and perhaps ever will make the impact Jeff Cooper managed to in the gun world.