This post makes some important assumptions. First, you’re pointing a gun at another human being to stop them from killing you or your loved ones, causing you or your loved ones grievous bodily harm, or kidnapping you or your loved ones. Second, the person on the business end of your firearm has the means and opportunity to kill, wound or kidnap you or your loved ones. Third, the person is in the process of doing so. And fourth, that you have the time to say anything. Yes, there is that . . .

In violent or potentially violent encounters, pacing is the most important variable. Time creates options. Negotiate? Run? Seek cover? Call for help? Defend with hand skills? Warn verbally? Brandish your weapon? Shoot? If you have time to think and act—as opposed to simply reacting—you have a reasonable chance of surviving.

Most violent people have never heard the terms “first mover advantage” or “get inside their OODA loop.” But experience has taught them that the less time their victim has to think, the greater the likelihood they’ll “win.” From your perspective, if you are overwhelmed by the pace of events, your survival will depend almost entirely on luck. Good luck with that.

By shouting at your would-be murderer with your gun drawn, you may interrupt their attack long enough to more thoroughly assess your environment for cover, concealment, additional threats, potential help, etc. To think of a plan and execute it. To save your life.

But you can’t scream just anything. If, for example, you yell FUCK OFF, you’ll increase your attacker’s level of aggression. The epithet could also be used against you in a court of law. If you yell DON’T DO IT! your assailant may not know what “it” is.

You need to say the right thing in the right way at the right time—which still may not work. But hey, it’s worth a shot (so to speak). All of which brings us to our first self-defense interjection.

1. STOP!

In a life-threatening situation, your body releases adrenalin. Your heart-rate accelerates, your blood flow changes (sending blood away from your extremities to protect them in battle), your breathing becomes more rapid, your major muscle groups get super-oxygenated and your eyes open wider.

These physiological responses are quantifiable, scientific fact. What happens mentally is nowhere near as certain.

A large adrenalin dump triggers a trance state. Like all trance states, it’s characterized by time distortion, altered sensory perception and changed cognition. But HOW these psychological effects manifest themselves is unpredictable.

For some people, time seems to move more quickly than normal. (“I don’t know what happened. It was over in a second.”) For others, time seems to slow down. (“I could see his knife hand moving like it was in slow motion.”) Some people experience increased mental abilities. Some people stop thinking.

Here’s the tricky bit: your mental abilities aren’t the most important consideration in this adrenalin-triggered trance state. After all, you can’t do anything about your crisis cognition. (The time to train for grace under pressure has passed.) Instead, you need to focus on your assailant’s mental state.

[Don’t get caught up in the differences between drugged and trance states. They’re not mutually exclusive. And the effects are roughly similar; as the Brits would say, it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other.]

One of the most interesting aspects of the trance state: subservience to authority. If you’ve ever seen a hypnosis show, you’ve seen people in trance obey an authority figure without “thinking.” So . . .

If you draw your gun and give your would-be attacker a single, focused command—STOP!—he might obey. The word is easily understood and obeyed on an instinctive (i.e. non-rational) basis.

If the STOP! command works, use the gift of time to plan and execute an exit strategy. Don’t forget to call 911 ASAP.

If the STOP! command doesn’t work, you know what you have to do. The fact that you gave your attacker a chance to cease hostilities, however brief, will help you in the subsequent legal morass.

2. DROP YOUR WEAPON!

This assumes your assailant has a weapon. (If he or she doesn’t, you better have a really good reason why you drew a gun on/shot an unarmed attacker.)

The human mind loses higher brain functions in stress-induced trance. People can’t reason or otherwise process complicated information. They don’t so much think as react. Excuse the pun, but commands need to be dead simple. DROP YOUR WEAPON! tells your attacker EXACTLY what to do.

If you’re lucky, DROP YOUR WEAPON! may trigger the stimulus – response pattern created by law enforcement during a previous encounter—which [must have] ended with a weapon’s removal. They may drop their weapon.

Compliance is verifiable. Either your attacker drops their weapon or they don’t. And there you are. Remember: even if they don’t drop their weapon, but stop moving towards you, you may no longer in imminent danger. In which case, lethal force would be illegal.

Speaking of which, as with the STOP! command, DROP YOUR WEAPON! is excellent ammo for any subsequent legal wrangle. Your attacker had a clear, unequivocal opportunity to de-escalate the situation.

So what do you do if they DO drop their weapon? Tell them to BACK UP! and kick the weapon away. Or forget it and move towards safety (e.g. high-tailing it or putting a car between you and the attacker). Keep in mind that your attacker could have a second weapon, or friends.

[Note: if an attacker who’s dropped their weapon comes at you again without a weapon, they may no longer be a lethal threat. You may have to re-holster your gun and engage in a fight without your firearm.]

3. DON’T MAKE ME SHOOT YOU!

DON’T MAKE ME SHOOT YOU! is a general warning, not a specific command. Use it to reinforce the above statements. At best, it focuses your assailant’s mind on your instructions while confronting them with the consequences of their actions. It tells them that you’re ready, willing and able to shoot them.

DON’T MAKE ME SHOOT YOU! makes your actions their responsibility. You will only shoot them if they force you to shoot them. Later, you can say with hand on heart—to the police, the courts, your friends, your family and yourself—-that you had no choice.

Which would be true, right? Don’t underestimate the power of DON’T MAKE ME SHOOT YOU! to help you live with whatever happens, or doesn’t happen, next.

The key to the effectiveness for any of these interjections is luck (you’re not in control to your attacker’s susceptibility). And force. You must say these words forcefully—as as if your life depends on it. It does.

I find it amazing that people spend thousands of hours practicing their shooting skills without spending ten minutes developing their “command” voice. Big mistake.

Practice your shooting skills, command voice and trigger control all at the same time and you’ll dramatically increase your chances of surviving a life-or-death encounter with a potentially deadly foe.

20 Responses to Three Things To Say to Someone Staring Down the Barrel of Your Gun

  1. I always liked what Danny Glover's character Mal Johnson said in Silverado (1985) after he drew his Henry rifle on one of the bad guys:

    "Now, I don't wanna kill you, and you don't wanna be dead."

  2. For one drill I call the "parking lot scenario" I coach students to yell "Go Away! I've called the police!" before the situation actually gets bad enough to warrant defensive firearms usage.

    Lots of folks don't use a command voice very well, and find out they actually do need to practice that.

  3. I'd like to make a suggestion that you change "Don't make me KILL you." to "Don't make me SHOOT you.". In court that simple change in wording can give you a much better edge in convincing a jury or a judge that you weren't intent on killing with your firearm, just defending from an attack. I doubt the perp will see much of a difference. Getting shot still sucks. The key as far as the perp is concerned is that they see the willingness in your demeanor that you aren't bluffing. Command voice and presence has more importance in making people do what you want them to do than the wording.

  4. You don't talk to them you SCREAM commands AT THEM and if they don't follow the commands, you shoot them, and STOP them permanently! When in doubt, shoot and protect yourself. CALL 911, CALL your lawyer, DO NOT talk to police until your lawyer is there and ADVISING YOU. CALL a second lawyer who is a CIVIL attorney because YOU ARE GOING TO BE SUED. Ask your civil attorney to hire a good PR firm to represent you publicly and if they don't know what you mean by that, hire one that does.

    Start looking for somewhere else to live unless you're community is unusually supportive. Sorry but reality is another thing and litigation and political careers out weigh your rights and protections under the law. This isn't the America you might have thought it was.

  5. The article makes a good point about shouting commands to prevent possible legal wrangles. In LEO training, you are taught to yell the commands not only for the perp to hear and possibly obey, but for others to hear as well. Therefore, if shooting is required, witnesses can say, "I heard him yell, 'Stop, drop your weapon' and then I heard shots", or something to that affect. As always, CYA.

  6. If it got to the point depicted in the picture, it would be too late and the report of the gun would drown out any words I might say.

  7. Good points all. We introduce students to Command Voice in Defensive Pistol Skills 1. Partially as a CYA thing but more so to get them into the frame of mind that they need to be thinking and not just shooting. If the situation warrants, then shoot and shoot well. If there is time/distance/opportunity then giving your attacker a less than lethal way out will go a long way to minimizing your exposure legally and financially.

  8. “[Note: if an attacker who’s dropped their weapon comes at you again without a weapon, they may no longer be a lethal threat. You may have to re-holster your gun and engage in a fight without your firearm.]”

    Are you out of your freaking mind to suggest that a person holster their weapon and engage in hand-to-hand combat? You are willing to let a hostile individual close with you and risk bodily harm, as well as possibly having to keep them from taking your weapon? Only a fool would do that.

    If the perp advances on you after he has disarmed, he is obviously nuts and intends great bodily harm: put him DOWN.

  9. Dennis H:

    The law is clear: you are only allowed to use lethal force if you are facing lethal force or, at the least, grievous bodily harm. The assailant must have the ability to kill/maim you/your loved ones. They must be in the process of doing so.

    Of course, you could argue that even after they dropped the weapon—and moved towards you—they still had the ability to kill/maim you/your loved ones. “He was going for my gun!” But was he really? Or did the threat level to you go down?

    The totality of the circumstances will be considered. Did you have the time/space to withdraw? Was the attacker larger than you? What was their motivation? Were there multiple attackers? Were you alone? Are you male or female? Etc.

    But you have to at least consider the possibility that the person who dropped their weapon no longer has the MEANS to kill you. You need to think “What do I do NOW?”

    Shooting someone should always be your last—make that ONLY possible option. For your sake too.

    • Robert Farago:

      Maybe the law in your state is clear, but the law in my state, states I can shoot someone who is in my house unlawfully.

      And if a 6'8" 260lbs person runs unarmed to attack a 5'2 100lbs person the are still a lethal threat.

      Jay

  10. The law is clear: you are only allowed to use lethal force if you are facing lethal force or, at the least, grievous bodily harm. The assailant must have the ability to kill/maim you/your loved ones. They must be in the process of doing so.

    Perhaps where you live, but in Michigan…Fear for your life, great bodily harm or unwanted sexual penetration are grounds to shoot.

  11. I cannot see any situation where allowing an aggressor to advance & attack is sane.

    WHY should I holster a firearm in order to be beaten to a pulp before having my own gun taken from me & used to kill me?

    Would you give the same advice to a 100lb woman when faced with a 200lb rapist?

    That boat doesn't float.

  12. We can “what-if” all day. I stand by my comment: only a fool would let a hostile person with unknown abilities (and unknown if they are truly disarmed) advance on them and engage in unarmed combat. I find it irresponsible of you to even suggest it.

  13. While this is an excellent article, it is almost inconceivable that the following portion would ever be good advice:

    “[Note: if an attacker who’s dropped their weapon comes at you again without a weapon, they may no longer be a lethal threat. You may have to re-holster your gun and engage in a fight without your firearm.]”

    Anyone engaged in a criminal attack, an armed criminal attack, who is still aggressing even without the arms has already proven himself a threat to my life, and there is no reasonable way I will not be engaging in hand to hand combat by holstering my firearm — simply for the fact that if we were to overpower me he now knows I have a weapon he can take and he has already proven himself a danger.

    Perhaps there is some weird, contrived situation where this might HAPPEN, but this is terrible general advice.

    Of course this odd scenario does point up the reason that multiple defensive tools, such a knives, flashlights, pepper spray, can be useful in addition to a firearm — more options are a good thing and it is quite conceivable that I would use pepper spray on such a criminal rather than just shoot him, but this would be done with my firearm in hand and read.

  14. As to if they drop their weapon or stop advancing, They still could pose a threat to me/others, in which case I believe in the old adage "I would rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6"

  15. Excellent article and good advice.

    I know the photographer was trying for symmetry in the photo, but dominate eye and front sight should be in line with your target.

    My first reaction to the photo was: the front sight is a little high. 🙂 And she has been properly trained on Rule 3.

  16. Reholstering my gun is not an option for me since I only carry and use long guns. In my state I'm legally allowed to kill any intruder or villain who breaks into my home or tries to steal my property(my car included). So if I catch someone in my house I'm going to shoot to kill and will take up any consequences with the local DA, judge and jury.

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