During a pre-interview for a televised gun rights show-down, a researcher asked me “What do you do if someone’s already got a gun pointed at you?” It’s the same gun control idea as it ever was: if you can’t use a firearm for self-defense successfully why should you have one? I know: that’s seven kinds of stupid. In the interests of time, let’s cut to the quick. If you’re behind the curve in a self-defense situation—if you’re out-drawn, out-gunned, out-maneuvered and out of options—panic! Hear me out . . .

According to the wikipedia hive mind, “panic is a sudden sensation of fear which is so strong as to dominate or prevent reason and logical thinking, replacing it with overwhelming feelings of anxiety and frantic agitation consistent with an animalistic fight-or-flight reaction.”

In other words, panic means doing something really dumb really quickly. Think cornered baboon attacking a leopard. Like every other animal behavior, panic exists because of natural selection. If it didn’t confer an evolutionary advantage animals wouldn’t panic.

In the example above, the Pittsburgh store clerk facing an armed aggressor didn’t exhibit the normal behavior for people in his situation. He didn’t cower or capitulate. He grabbed the bad guy’s gun and then grabbed the perp’s head and slammed it into the counter. And won the day.

I’ll bet you dollars to donuts the store clerk has no recollection whatsoever of the moment of truth. He doesn’t know what “made” him attack. Suffused with adrenalin, faced with a life or death situation, he didn’t act. He reacted. He attacked.

An armed defender facing a lethal threat shouldn’t rule out the possibility of attacking his or her attacker. Yes, that’s another way of recommending speed, surprise and violence of action as a viable self-defense strategy—with a difference. I’m saying that it might be best to “allow” yourself to panic.

I know: an armed self-defender should get off the X, conserve ammo, look for cover and concealment, slow down, aim, etc. But there are times when the situation is desperately dire. At that point, you might not have the time or ability to think your way out of trouble. It might be best to simply surrender yourself to balls-out fear and aggression and let loose the dogs of war.

How will you know? Who knows? But whatever you do, don’t get stuck in a psychological loop of “I shouldn’t be afraid. Why am I afraid? I shouldn’t be afraid.” As Susan Jeffers said, feel the fear and do it anyway. Even if that means letting the fear tell you what to do.

As always, good luck with that.

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40 Responses to Self-Defense Tip: Panic!

  1. I feel bad for the firefighter. He was probably just a CCW trying to buy a pack of smokes or pick up a moon pie and a pint of milk. Liberal weirdo store clerk by chance glimpsed his concealed carry and went into panicked baboon mode. Then told everyone he was trying to rob the store.

    • In other words, a man or woman can do no wrong? If he was attacked, it was by a “liberal” gun-hater?

      Granted, any story that bolsters the idea that “real men” don’t need guns is problematic, but still.

      I hope you were trying for humor. Really, I do.

  2. This video is proof you don’t need a gun for protection. If the store owner had a gun he would probably be dead right now. Also, the police couldn’t have traced the firearm back to the criminal if it wasn’t registered. That’s why we also need universal registration.

    /sarc

  3. He dropped his gun at the scene and “police were able to trace the gun right back to him.” How’s that again?

  4. This guy was a rank amateur. But then if someone is waving a gun in your face he probably is a rank amateur too. Best not to put the gun in reach of the clerk when committing armed robbery.

    • I know! I was so excited when I clicked the link. I was certain I was going to see a funny video. So disappointed.

  5. I have a book on Fighter Combat written by a former Top Gun instructor. The text has interspersed quotes by fighter pilots or about fighter pilots, and two seem relevant and have always stuck with me.

    A P-47 pilot couldn’t shake a German fighter and in desperation or by accident, fired his guns. The German broke off and disappeared, presumably thinking the shots could only have come from somebody shooting at him, for why would the guy he was chasing shoot into thin air?

    An F-4 pilot over North Vietnam couldn’t get a MiG off his tail, and in desperation fired a missile at nothing, figuring the taxpayers had already paid for it whether it he fired it or took it down with him, and the MiG broke off and skedaddled.

  6. I must not fear.
    Fear is the mind-killer.
    Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
    I will face my fear.
    I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
    And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
    Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
    Only I will remain.

  7. I never heard anyone say, “things looked grim, but then I panicked and things got better.” But I can state from person experience that rage is a most excellent fuel.

  8. It’s a totally legit point. We used to have a training exercise that was intended to demonstrate the superiority of action over reaction (and reaction is, in a sense, just turning the table and becoming the actor instead of the reactor). The exercise went like this. We were given disarmed handguns which we holstered. The instructor would charge us from 20 ft. with a rubber knife and we were supposed to draw and get off an aimed shot (just a trigger pull on the disarmed gun)–either that or take evasive action. You wouldn’t believe how hard it was to get off an aimed shot. Same goes for stick up guys.

    • Tried that scenario in a simulator, and I found it almost impossible to draw and get an accurate shot off before getting stabbed. Especially if you don’t see it coming.

  9. Many cases of DGU where the perp had his gun out first, only for the good guy to draw and fire first.

  10. Nobody can summarize this as well as Josey Wales:

    “Now remember, when things look bad and it looks like you’re not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. ‘Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That’s just the way it is.” — Clint Eastwood as Josey Wales

  11. Can you stand a war story? Only time I was the intended victim of an armed robber. Running early for an appointment, I was sitting in my compact PU in a “bad” part of town. (A block off SOBT for anyone familiar with Orlando.) Before FL had CC. Doing some paperwork. Engine running – air on high, window down. Somewhat situationally aware, but it was daylight, about 4:00pm, within sight of a major, busy street. Young thug approached from my left shoulder, staying in my blind spot, leveled a revolver at my head from about arms length and told me to “Give it all up. Right now.” I immediately shoved it in first, cranked the wheel hard right and floored it. Did a quick doughnut in the gravel parking lot and the truck bed caught him from mid-thigh to mid-chest and tossed him tumbling about 40 feet. I will NEVER forget the look on his face. His eyes were the size of saucers. And I knew he was thinking something like, “This ain’t right! This ain’t ‘sposed to be happening!” See, he wasn’t ready for that immediate and violent reaction. He probably had time to put a couple in my ear, but his thinking had not gone beyond the idea that when you point a gun at someone they will automatically do what you want. Any reaction from your victim is limited to pleading and begging not to be hurt. But I plan never to let a gunman call the shots. Too many times a mugging turns into a massacre. I’ve decided long ago that I choose to go down swinging. And I’ve never felt unarmed behind the wheel of a couple ton weapon of motorized steel. Maybe not the safe, or even the sane, choice. But it’s my choice. I choose to never leave the bad guy to make all the decisions. Not exactly the panic recommended in the post. But a related reaction – a conscious decision, previously arrived at, to cut loose the dogs when I have no better options.

  12. He should have just fired two blasts from his double barreled shotgun to scare the criminal away.

  13. I had an experience with this in Iraq in 2003. We were walking down a street in Baghdad when we passed a walled compound. When we got to the driveway gate, an Iraqi was there with an AK-47 pointed at my buddy. My buddy spun, raised his M-4 and was well on the way to the second click of the trigger when the guy dropped his AK and ran. Turned out he was part of a security detail that didn’t recognize American Soldiers (duh). I think the surprise of having a rifle in his face caused him to turn tail.

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