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Hollywood doesn’t call them “set pieces” for nothing. Even in movies where the good guys’ gunfights go wrong the action has a certain inevitability to it. Stupid stuff is notable by its absence. No bumping into walls by accident. No tripping over things and falling down. No dropping the gun by mistake. No limp wristing. No bystanders causing complete confusion. No excruciating doubts. No insurmountable indecision. No twitching muscles. But those are exactly the kind of problems a self-defense shooter should anticipate. And train for . . .

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: there is no substitute for force-on-force training. All the gun stuff—handling, shooting, reloading, etc.—pales into insignificance compared to the strategic component.

Where am I, what’s going on, what can I do to protect myself and my loved ones and how can I GTFO (Get the F Out)? A firearm is a tool you might be able to use to achieve your ultimate goal (survival). But nothing is as dangerous as armed self-defense—when it’s the only plan you have.

As the rabbi and I discussed yesterday, a huge part of DGU (Defensive Gun Use) concerns the time – distance calculation. Do you have the distance to have the time to draw your weapon? In the time spent fumbling for your weapon you could be attacking, doing the GTFO thing or finding cover. Something.

Notice the word “fumbling.” If you believe that you’ll draw your weapon smoothly in an actual gunfight when adrenalin’s coursing through your veins, you’re kidding yourself. ALL your motor skills will degrade significantly in a genuine crisis. Tunnel vision? The Holland Tunnel ain’t go nothin’ on you babe.

In a DGU, chances are you’ll be moving (I hope) while shooting (maybe) at a moving target which will (Heaven forfend) be shooting at you. This is not a scenario for which a range session can prepare you. Not even FATS. At the risk of extreme double negativity, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t train like a demon. Quite the opposite.

If you train to your A-game and maintain it through regular practice you’ll descend to B in battle. Which is better than C or D. Which is where your skills levels will go if you train to B. Of course, if your skills start at D, you might as well be a New York City cop for all the marksmanship you’ll muster.

Train to the highest possible level and expect to not achieve it when push comes to ballistic shove.

Another key: keep all your systems simple. For example, I have a six gun locker near my bed. It contains one gun. Just the Benelli M2. Nothing else. The odds of me grabbing the wrong gun are precisely zero. All I have to do is grab it, switch off the safety, aim at the perp and press play (provided my life is in imminent danger).

I carry a Glock 30SF. No safety. The odds of me forgetting to switch off the safety are precisely zero. Reliability is high. I’ve shot thousands of rounds through the gun and I’ll shoot thousands more. I train with snap caps and carry a spare mag. I plan for failure.

Small stuff I know, but keeping it simple increases the odds of not screwing up. Or screwing up as badly. I have little faith that I will do exactly what I need to do in a DGU. Or that things will go exactly as planned.

In fact, I know they won’t. But I won’t freeze-up in frustration. I will do something to save my life. I hope. And that’s about as good as it gets.

23 Responses to Self-Defense Tip: Plan for Failure

  1. That’s a wonderful post. I enjoyed reading it very much. I think this is an example of what TTAG does best, attempting to educate gun owners on aspects of their gun ownership that they might not be aware of at all, or not sufficiently aware of.

    You know I don’t agree with the need to own and carry guns let along the necessity of training like this, nevertheless I think it’s a wonderful post for those who do.

  2. Many people fail to recognize the impact that adrenaline has on the body. You are absolutely correct when you point out that people should train their skills to the highest level possible. Under stress everything degrades. Muscles get shorter and everything gets more difficult.

    I’m glad to hear you point out the simplicity of firearms without mechanical safeties and having a single shotgun next to the bed. Anything you can do to stack the deck in your favor is a good idea.

    • This is why after being out of shape for so many year I’ve started to work on my fitness. Good conditioning will do a lot for you in terms of being able to handle the stress of a dangerous situation. I’ve got a long way to go, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

  3. Well said, Robert. (The M-2 is my show-stopper of choice, too; Fabulous firearm.)

    As for away from home, what about carrying a back-up gun (BUG)? And, should the caliber & ammunition be consistent between primary and back-up guns?

    • IMHO a BUG is a last ditch, close-in weapon. You’re not going to reload. My biggest debate is whether to carry a BUG revolver with .357s or .38s. Initial accuracy and follow-up shots with a .357 are far more difficult, but the round sure gets it done. Of course, close-in doesn’t require much in terms of accuracy . . .

      But then which BUG isn’t that big a deal ’cause I usually carry my primary and a spare mag and call it good. Eleven rounds in the gun, 10 in the pocket. (Thank you Massachusetts.) If I can’t solve my problem (i.e. GTFO) with 21 rounds of .45, I’ll need something bigger than a snubbie.

      • My concept of a BUG is something for when the attacker is within about arms length and aiming is pretty much irrelevant. You’re thrusting out, pulling the trigger as many times as you can and then getting the hell out.

        I’ve been considering a small revolver of some kind: can’t really jam or fail, just point, shoot, and run.

  4. ” If you believe that you’ll draw your weapon smoothly in an actual gunfight when adrenalin’s coursing through your veins, you’re kidding yourself.”

    Speak for yourself. Plenty of people train very hard or have actually performed in combat and are quite good and will draw very smoothly in the most dire of situations. Just because you can’t control yourself doesn’t mean others can’t.

        • Most people aren’t marines, and marines train in precisely the way he mentions to aid in overcoming this problem. Professional soldiers ought to be more competent than you’re average ccw’er

        • Why? Marines are not supermen. They don’t even train half as much as many people here (usually once a year if we’re lucky, and it doesn’t include drawing from a holster). I think you underestimate how people can react. It has to do with the state of training, but let’s face it, it’s not that hard to pull a pistol out of a holster. It’s not neurosurgery. If you have a personality to think clearly, and many, many people do, then you can effectively draw a pistol without fumbling.

      • Stephen –
        FWIW – I am not now (and hence never have been) a Marine. The closest I ever came to military service was JROTC back in the late 1960’s.

        That said, I did work in private security in downtown Houston, TX for a decade +, where all the company allowed me to carry was a nightstick (after a 1-day never repeated training class). I carried my nightstick on the strong-side and practiced drawing it and getting it into strike position in this non-standard method. The difference being that I had to draw the stick with my strong hand, then rotate (“twirl” isn’t quite accurate) it to hold the handle with the stick raised ready to strike – and not drop the thing. The penalty for dropping a stick when it’s the only thing you have besides bare hands to defend yourself against an attacker can be rather steep.

        I did not practice every day, but I did practice frequently. And there was always the question – in a real-life scenario where I need this thing now, will this really work?

        The answer came one day when I confronted a suspicious person on our property, and he made what is known in Texas as “the back-pocket movement” – legally recognized as a play for a concealed (and at that time illegal) pistol. (That movement was an accepted defense in drawing your own (and still illegal) weapon and shooting him.)

        The result of this was: I was immediately in my defensive posture with the stick ready to strike (he came out with a book, not a gun) – and no thought into the movement from “holstered” to “drawn”. In fact a co-worker of mine who witnessed the entire thing said that he never saw me draw the stick – it was just “there”.

        I submit that under the circumstances I was in fear for my life and confronted with what was potentially an assault by firearm, the adrenaline hit full force – and I did not fumble the stick – even given I was using what could be justifiably critiqued as an unsafe/insecure mode of drawing it.

        There are way to many factors that go into one’s response to a DGU (or DSU in my case) in addition to the adrenaline for one to make a one-size-fits all statement.

        That said – until one has been in a situation like this, one cannot know how one will respond. And even then, as the stock brokers like to say “past performance is no indicator of future activity”.

        One must still consider the “what-ifs” of a DGU situation. In my case, I’m a quarter-century older than when that happened, and my body has changed. I can still fumble. But not everyone will.

  5. The guy who made this video, Freddie Lew, has lots of them on YouTube where gunfights of all kinds (even including Extraterrestrials) are depicted. This one is over the top even for him. Not sure if he just likes making shoot ’em ups for fun, or is trying to make other points, but this one sure shows how unrealistically many people think a gunfight would be.
    Recently, I had a long introspective talk with myself about this, since I have never been in a gunfight. and I am really not sure how I would react – I’m guessing “F-“. Mostly, in Kalifornia, you can only slow fire at targets in a Range, if you’re an ordinary gun owner/shooter, like me.
    It’s a harsh reality to face – both from the perspective you might actually shoot another person, or get shot yourself. I have surely met a lot of people with a lot of bravado about self-defense over the years and Ranges I have frequented. I am pretty sure the majority of them are no better prepared than I am, but a LOT of them sure run off at the mouth about it. I never have because I don’t believe in “talking the talk” if you’re not 100% sure you can “walk the walk”.

  6. Adrenalin isn’t the enemy; it’s our friend. Being all pumped up with adrenalin makes most people faster, stronger and more effective, not slower, weaker and less effective.

    Fear is a real enemy of self-defense. Scared people freeze. They slow down to zero. They shake, they tremble, they beg the BG for their lives, they cry for their mommies, they soil their undies, they waste their energy screaming instead of running, hiding or shooting.

    Good training reduces the effects of fear by building confidence. That’s the number one benefit of training for civilians. We can’t train enough to become “gunfighters,” but we can train enough to control ourselves if and when something bad happens.

    • This is true in many cases, but you can’t forget that most firearm manipulations are very fine motor skills when compared to the rest of the combatives spectrum. With enough training we can shrink this gap and make the adrenaline more of a pro then a con. With minimal training it can be a liability.

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