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Toxic Masculinity and a Hero from our Past by Greg Moats,

Being on the back half of my seventh decade, there are a lot of things about contemporary society that I find perplexing. For example, service dogs are now almost ubiquitous. Not the kind of “service dog” that alerts of an onset seizure, helps the physically or visually disabled, sniffs out explosives and runs down escaping perpetrators, they are true gifts of God. As are the “service dogs” that point quail and retrieve ducks. The ones that perplex me are the little “Fluffies” whose supposed “gift” is that they calm the frayed nerves triggered by the perceived anxiety of a “victim” of some trendy contemporary angst.

These dogs are allowed by bureaucratic fiat to chaperone their convalescing victim on planes, in church, even at the SHOT Show. Other delusions of oppression like global warming and PTSD caused by non-combat events are difficult for my limited mind to wrap itself around. Everyone is a victim of someone or thing.

No disorder however is more perplexing than the nouveau defect of “Toxic Masculinity.” Apparently the entire 50’s, 60’s and 70’s were a petri-dish of perversion for those of us who identify as male. Attempting to find an objective definition of toxic masculinity is difficult; they all read like an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez CNN interview, untethered and well…..sorta crazy.

Suffice it to say that if you like guns, shooting and are reading these words, you probably are a carrier. For sure the sport of “practical” shooting was initiated, administered and dominated by men that would be considered “exhibit A” of toxic masculinity by today’s emotive reformers. Most of the early pillars upon whom we’ve built are well known. One of the lesser known pioneers to whom we can proudly trace our lineage of toxic masculinity is Lt. Col. Bill McMillan.

Lt. Col. Bill McMillan guest speaker addresses the competitors at the 1st Bianchi Cup banquet in 1979.

Bill McMillan retired from the Marine Corps the same year that I joined, 1974. As a 6 time Olympian and Gold Medal winner in 1960 in the 25 meter rapid fire pistol event, he was and is a true icon of the Corps. In those days, McMillan stories ran rampant at Corps shooting events and Bill would occasionally attend and put on demos for aspiring competitive shooters. At one of the Western Division matches, he conducted a demo on trigger control using a Thompson submachine gun.

Taping a clay pigeon onto one of the green silhouette target backers, he backed off a number of paces (the distance is irrelevant to the story). Bill then emphasized that a shooter had to be able to feel and control the trigger of whatever firearm that they were shooting, even a fully automatic one. “For example, here’s a one shot burst, he said.” Bang. The clay pigeon shattered. “Here’s a two shot burst.” Bang, Bang. “Here’s three shots.” Bang, Bang, Bang. “Four shots.” Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang. You get the idea.

He kept going until the number of the shots could no longer be audibly distinguished. He then went down to the target with another clay pigeon and taped it on the backer; it covered every hole that he had shot during the demo!

An often told McMillan story relates an example of coaching that he performed in the mid-60’s for the 3rd Tank Battalion. After conducting a shooting demo he asked if any of the assembled Marines were unqualified with their standard-issued 1911A1. One reluctant Marine came forward. Bill loaded a magazine with 5 rounds and had the Marine shoot at a silhouette backer with a regulation bullseye target taped to it; the Marine missed the entire silhouette with all 5 rounds. Bill took him aside and spoke to him for just a few seconds, reloaded the pistol and had him repeat this exercise with the Marine hitting the target with all 5 rounds and putting 4 in the black!

In 1964 he was made an honorary Deputy Sheriff with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department during a ceremony and shooting exhibition conducted by Ray Chapman and Eldon Carl who worked for the Dept. After retiring from the Marine Corps in 1974, McMillan went to work for the Sheriff’s Department as the Weapons Training Coordinator.

In 1978 during the first class that Ray ever held at the new Chapman Academy, his curriculum included a segment on both strong and weak one-hand shooting. Ray taught a 5 o’clock hold with the right hand and a 7 o’clock hold with the left with the gun “tilted” in board. This was the first time that I was exposed to the 30 degree tilt which allowed for a more natural and strong hold on the handgun. The technique has become almost universally accepted in the “practical” shooting arena and has been taught by most of the famous practitioners of self-defense training.

Only recently have a few trainers like Dave Spaulding gotten away from the practice. Chapman credited McMillan with teaching him the technique which Bill said he originally saw being executed by a Russian bullseye shooter at one of the International games. The technique eventually became known as the “McMillan tilt” in bullseye circles.

Ray Chapman and Eldon Carl observing Bill McMillan in 1964.

At the inaugural Bianchi Cup in 1979, Chapman and John Bianchi asked McMillan to be the guest of honor and speaker at the banquet. It was in keeping with the dignity of the event to have McMillan speak.

Almost exactly one year later, disaster struck. On May 21, 1980, Bill was supervising a “shoot/don’t shoot” exercise using duel-a-tron pivoting targets which he operated from behind a control panel. As a deputy worked his way thru a mock store set-up, McMillan activated two targets, one a “shoot,” one a “no-shoot.” The deputy correctly engaged the “shoot” target but out of the corner of his eye saw another “shoot” target against the wall behind the door thru which he had just exited. Turning, the officer fired two rounds back up-range into the target. The two rounds passed thru the target, wall, a glass window surrounding the control panel and struck McMillan in the upper chest. EMT’s arrived on the range within 4 minutes and found McMillan to have neither measurable blood pressure nor a pulse.

Publicity shot of Deputy Sheriff Bill McMillan.

They somehow managed to resuscitate Bill and transport him to the Emergency room where he endured 5 hours on the operating table and lost 11 pints of blood. Bill remained unconscious for 2 weeks while he endured multiple surgeries complicated by a blood clotting disorder. One slug was removed 5 days after the shooting and the second slug was removed almost a year later. Bill’s injuries left him very much like a stroke victim. He initially lost the use of his right arm and leg and had no feeling in his mouth. He had to relearn to walk and talk. He also suffered double vision which was helped by prescription bi-focals.

It’s difficult to imagine the impact that such a loss of bodily control would have on an Olympic shooter, Korea and Viet Nam combat veteran and law enforcement officer. Intestinal fortitude, stubbornness, character, determination or some combination of traits saw McMillan driving a vehicle and helping the San Diego Sheriff’s Range Master test ammunition and working with the Sheriff’s SWAT team within a year!

Refusing to buy into a victim mentality, McMillan commented that if this accident had to happen, he was glad that it happened on the downside of his career.

Col. McMillan passed away from congestive heart failure on June 10, 2000.

Every time I shoot one handed and tilt my handgun inboard, I think of Col. McMillan and thank God that men like him have enriched my life in some way. If that’s a nod to “toxic masculinity,” so be it.

– – Greg Moats

Greg Moats was one of the original IPSC Section Coordinators appointed by Jeff Cooper shortly after its inception at the Columbia Conference. In the early 1980’s, he worked briefly for Bianchi Gunleather and wrote for American Handgunner and Guns. He served as a reserve police officer in a firearms training role and was a Marine Corps Infantry Officer in the mid-1970’s. He claims neither snake-eater nor Serpico status but is a self-proclaimed “training junkie.”

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