I had a co-worker who use to tell a story of how when the space program was getting started in the 1960’s, NASA spent millions of dollars developing a pen that could write in space, but the Russians, clever as they were, just used a pencil. Sounds good, but it’s a total bunch of crap. Firstly, both the American and Russian space programs used pencils during early space missions.

Primarily because the ball point pens in that era would not reliably flow ink in low gravity conditions. However, had there have been another viable option available, pencils would never have been allowed inside a spacecraft on either side – American or Russian.

The graphite based material used in pencils of the 1960s would release a fine dust when used to write. This dust was also conductive to electricity, and could potentially wreak havoc on all the sensitive electronic devices in an enclosed spacecraft. The ventilation systems blowing air throughout would make sure these fine particles got everywhere. Imagine a switch shorting out, or the elementary computer systems of the day reacting to having a piece of conductive material float into their core.

Paul Fisher had been designing pens and ink cartridges since the early 1950’s (he patented the universal ink refill cartridge in 1953), and in the mid 1960’s had developed an ink cartridge that combined a semi-solid ink, with nitrogen pressurization. This combination allowed the pen to write in extreme temperatures, and since the pressure kept the ink at the ball tip regardless of what position it was pointed, it could also be used while being held upside down. Fisher patented his “Anti-Gravity Pen” in 1965.

NASA had not invested or assisted in the development of this invention, but after a two year cycle of testing adopted it for use in the Apollo space missions beginning in 1968. Fisher had used his own time and money to develop a “better mousetrap” in the writing world – the “space pen,” which benefited both the space program and many others in our society.

Now I’ll assume my co-worker had the best intentions in sharing his twisted version of history to make whatever point he felt important at the time (at least in the beginning, after I had corrected him several times, he had to stop telling the story, or at least not repeat it in my presence). Innovation and problem solving doesn’t need a great expenditure of money or resources, sometimes it just requires us to look at the problem and use common sense solutions. That was the point he most often used the story to illustrate, and in his version of the story, the facts twisted as they were, helped to make his point.

So what the heck does this have to do with firearms and personal protection? Two things. First: don’t always believe what people tell you, although it might sound good, it might also be crap – so look into it yourself before deciding. Secondly: innovation in addressing problems, including capitalism and private companies improving their products to keep up with market needs, will ultimately bring you as a consumer a better product. Specifically: advances in guns and training.

When I first started working in law enforcement, six shot revolvers were the standard, and training with firearms was very similar to what the FBI taught back in the 1930’s. Semi-auto pistols were available, but not widely considered reliable, or viable as police side arms. My, how things have changed. Failures of products to meet the needs of those who use them, and training philosophies that haven’t worked in actual situations have been tossed to the side as they have been replaced with better products and better training.

While there may be law enforcement agencies who still use revolvers, today the primary law enforcement and personal self-defense handgun is a striker fired semi-auto. More rounds of ammunition, easier to shoot, ability to shoot more quickly, quicker to reload if necessary, all these advantages helped solidify the semi-auto as the tool to best defend yourself against bad guys.

At one time the “combat crouch” was a great advantage in defensive shooting, far better that standing full upright when bullets started flying. Today however, taking advantage of light body armor, shooting and moving, training to shoot multiple rounds and engage multiple targets, and moving toward cover, using techniques that work when the mind and body are not fully functioning because of stress caused chemicals released into the body, realistic force-on-force training to help prepare for what really happens in a shooting – all these advances and others are helping to save good guys who have to defend themselves.

As you train and prepare yourself for a potential life & death struggle, don’t be stuck using an outdated and untrue story of pencil as a metaphor – look at the problem and apply simple solutions that actually make sense. And, take advantage of the most advanced tools and most realistic training you can get.