Self-Defense Tip: Beware of the Freeze Response

Gun gurus talk about the “fight or flight” response. They warn students that they will experience one or both of these adrenalin-fired reactions to extreme stress/danger. No matter which way an individual reacts—and they usually don’t get to choose—they’re looking at severely degraded motor coordination skills, reduced cognition and a general inability to think strategically. Hence the gurus’ insistence on endless (and endlessly profitable) training to develop “muscle memory” and other “instinctive” shooting self-defense skills. Yes, but—there is a far more common and dangerous reaction to life-threatening danger: freezing. You see it above in the clerk’s reaction and . . .

…you see it in most ANY video involving the general public and a shooter or potential shooter. People just stand there like lemons (to use the British expression). Or mill about. Or walk through the scene obliviously, as if nothing particularly remarkable’s happening.

None of these options are advisable. Or are they?

Fighting someone with a drawn gun is a pretty dangerous, not to say desperate and perhaps even futile reaction. The clerk above would not have found much safety in attacking the bare-chested (save for their vests) cops. Even if they weren’t cops, lunging across a countertop is not a recipe for winning a fight. Element of surprise, but no.

Running also has its disadvantages. Humans are predators. Human predators even more so. When hunters hunt they look for movement. At the same time, we’ve had a million years of being prey. We’re programmed to know that if we run from say, a vicious dog, the dog will be attracted to the movement and attack.

In other words, freezing is a viable self-defense strategy—especially amongst a large group of people. Standing still makes it less likely that the bad guy will single you out and do something bad. Not impossible. But less likely.

Even so, the smartest reaction to life-threatening danger (a.k.a., the one with the highest probability of success) is to move out of the way. The clerk here should have dropped to the floor and crawled away. As should you in a similar circumstance, seeking cover or concealment.

It’s not flight per se, as you don’t necessarily need to move so quickly as to attract unwanted aggression. Call it avoidance. And how often to gun gurus train their students to move out of the way when danger arrives (rather than attacking)? Not often enough.

 

comments

  1. avatar Mike Crognale says:

    at Frontsight the drill is: two in the chest cavity and then move, move move. Drilled in from the first moment you set foot on the range. It becomes second nature to move and look for threat in another direction.

    1. avatar Chuck Pelto says:

      TO: Mike Crognale
      RE: Two In the Chest….

      ….won’t work against someone with body armor on.

      Unless you’ve got armor piercing ammo.

      Regards,

      Chuck(le)
      P.S. If I suspect they’re wearing body armor, I’ll go for the head. If they’re wearing kevlar helmets, I’ll go for the groin and then the head.

      P.P.S. It helps to have a well-tuned Crimson Trace laser targeting system.

      1. avatar Jeff the Griz says:

        Not many men will keep standing with 2 in the chest. Even with Kevlar they are probably going to get knocked down.

        1. avatar Chuck Pelto says:

          Only if the ammo is .45 cal….

          And many—all TOO MANY—pack .38 or 9mm.

        2. avatar John in AK says:

          Nope. There are videos galore showing early experimentation with Second Chance vests, done by the inventor Rich Davis, showing him being shot with a .357 at contact distance and barely staggering. Even without a vest, the energy imparted by a .45ACP will not knock someone down just by sheer impact–the force imparted to the shooter in recoil is the same force imparted to the target if the projectile does not penetrate. Newton’s 3rd Law, and all that. If your gun doesn’t knock you down when you fire it, the bullet won’t knock down your adversary–UNLESS the bullet penetrates and causes enough damage internally to screw up the bodily functions sufficiently to make someone fall down from shock, blood loss, or loss of consciousness. Or if you are in Hollywood and not the hero of the film.

        3. avatar SnJohnson says:

          Ugh, if they can afford body armor they probably aren’t robbing a convenience store. And the .45 acp isn’t a magic pill that stops everything. The differences between knock down power in 9 and 45 aren’t drastic, there’s no significant evidence of it.

        4. avatar UnapologeticallyAmerican says:

          Chuck, What if that smaller framed person or that person with disabilities can’t shoot that .45 accurately? What if all they have is that punny 9mm? An accurate shot to the head with a .22 will more likely stop the guy with the vest than 2 .45 shots to the chest.

  2. avatar Ruun says:

    I have absolutely no idea what’s happening. Apparently these 2 are cops. Why do the have they’re guns out? Why are they pointing them at the clerk? Were they robbing the store? And they say cops are the only ones level-headed enough to carry firearms in public…

    1. avatar Pascal says:

      The above video does not match the lesson that RF is trying to teach with this post. In the above video, it was two off duty cops. The one in the black vest was very drunk. He did not rob the store, if watch to the end or find the longer video, he actually at one point pays for his purchase. The guy in the green vest talks the other one down as well as the clerk. While yes, if someone points a gun a gun at you, one should react, without the audio, we do not have the full story.

      The lesson is sound, the video does not match.

      If the clerk had drawn, he probably would have been in his rights, or things could have gone sour. The guy in the black was a rookie cop who was on probation. The store owner filed a complaint, I am going to assume the guy was fired for being drunk, on probation and pointing a gun but the stories I find online have no updates.

      Otherwise, RF has good points to make

    2. avatar BLAMMO says:

      Just because they have guns and ballistic vests they’re cops? I don’t think so. At least, I sure as hell hope not. No matter who they are they need to go to jail for wreckless endangerment.

      1. avatar ducky says:

        They’re cops. This happened here in Tucson.

        1. avatar NYC2AZ says:

          They can’t be cops! All cops are highly trained and can shoot a dime in mid air at 1000 yards with a .44 mag revolver…. blindfolded while spinning in an executive chair… and they are the only ones we can ever trust to be 100% safe with guns.

          (Do I need to put the sarc/ tag or is it fairly obvious?)

  3. avatar Defens says:

    What’s the context of this video? Were those actually cops waving pistolas around like that? Were they undercover, in for their morning donut run and shooting the breeze with a clerk that knew them? This entire clip makes no sense to me.

    Regarding the training – all of the instructors I’ve taken “tactics” type classes from – Marty Hayes (Seattle Firearms Academy), Greg Hamilton (Insights Training) and Jeff Gonzalez (Trident Concepts)- have been quite emphatic on leaving the scene pronto when things turn south, and trying to avoid any engagement at all if possible. Marty ran a complicated scenario Quicky-Mart scenario with multiple conclusions if you stayed and engaged, with the best solution being to exit the back door. I spent a weekend in force on force with Jeff, and again, getting out of Dodge with the least amount of ballistic engagement was the preferred solution to most of the scenarios. And it isn’t always easy to do that, either.

    Astute instructors DO teach this stuff. It’s typically in the higher level/more advanced classes. At the lower levels, students want to engage in “shooting” classes, which implies more shooting (classes like those at FrontSight, for example). The best approach is to semi-separate the tactics instruction from the shooting instruction; but this generally requires that the instructor have confidence that the students are safe, and can shoot. Which means that quite naturally the tactics classes are more advanced.

  4. avatar Amo says:

    What the hell? At the end the guy (one that was waving the gun) hands the pistol over to his buddy takes out his wallet and appears to be paying for the items. Seems like maybe cops that had one too many?

  5. avatar bigskydoc says:

    From the live leak site caption

    Tucson Police Officer Kyle McCartin is being held in the Pima County jail after an off-duty incident where he pointed his firearm at a convenience store clerk several times.

    He was with a friend in the store, both were wearing ballistic vests with no shirts underneath, were paying for their purchase when McCartin pointed his firearm at the clerk several times.

    They left the store on foot, but were located at a nearby apartment complex.

    – bsd

  6. avatar bigskydoc says:

    “A police officer from Tucson, Ariz., pulled a gun on a gas station attendant while he was intoxicated and off-duty. Kyle James McCartin, 23, was arrested on two counts of aggravated assault and has been fired”

    – bsd

  7. avatar Klaus says:

    Now that’s some good advice, and some instructors do teach it. They are just few and far between. I learned in my JKD and self defense courses that avoidance may be the first thing you have to do…then come back when you have a clear advantage if you must. Otherwise just get the hell out of there.

    1. avatar Cliff H says:

      While I can understand this advice from a pure survival strategy standpoint, I can’t help wondering how I would feel if I got away clean and later learned that one or more people had been shot in the incident after I left without offering ANY assistance. Somehow getting out the door and dialing 911 while running for the hills doesn’t feel to me like my best moral option.

      No one can predict and train for every possible scenario and people who set up these scenarios can always make them work out (or not) to meet their ideas of what should be taught/learned. As with most other things in life keep in mind the MOST important thing to learn from any of these – YMMV.

      1. avatar Defens says:

        The rule for any rescue situation is to secure yourself first, then see what you can do for those needing rescuing. Sure – if your inclination is to play the ever-popular Sheepdog role, then you may not want to run for the hills. But it completely depends on the situation. Getting your family/friends to a safe(r) location, finding cover, etc. THEN engaging if possible. But jumping in with the HRG (heroic futile gesture) is really good for getting yourself shot or injured.

        1. avatar Cliff H says:

          Agreed. Absolutely. Didn’t mean to imply going all John Wayne or Die Hard, just that running away when you might have had an opportunity to intercede seems very unneighborly.

  8. avatar Ralph says:

    Freezing is a viable and possibly a winning self-defense strategy if it’s actually a self-defense strategy. If freezing is not a decision but only a mindless, dumb reaction, then it’s not a viable anything except a great way to get your ticket punched.

    1. avatar Cliff H says:

      There is a reason that cats have a reputation for having nine lives. Startle a cat and you will almost always see a single reaction – they will be somewhere else almost instantly! I surprised one of my cats one time and he went at least 36 inches straight up, did a full back-flip, and landed in full combat-prepared mode. As mentioned, unless freezing is a conscious decision, it’s probably NOT the best defense strategy.

      1. avatar Ralph says:

        @Cliff H, I have two cats. The little one can disappear like Houdini if he’s frightened — poof, he’s gone, and you never even see him leave. Scare the big one and you’ll be wearing his claws for eyeglasses. 🙂

        1. avatar Greg in Allston says:

          Yes, cats can and do teach us a lot. If only we’d learn.

      2. avatar neiowa says:

        Rabbit freeze tactic seems to only work if there is a 2nd rabbit (sacrificial) on the field.

        1. avatar Cliff H says:

          Old joke – “I don’t have to run faster than the lion, only faster than you.”

  9. avatar Chris Mallory says:

    Typical cops.

    Disarm cops for a safer America.

  10. avatar SD3 says:

    “Stand there like lemons”?

    You do Archie Bunker proud, man.

  11. avatar user3369 says:

    This is not a self defense scenario. You are an employee of a store being robbed (or something). You simply comply. You have 2 armed assailants and you all by your lonesome. This is not a scenario to draw, even if you have something. All of their attention is on you, and their guns are already out. It is not a matter of freezing and not freezing. You give your adversary the illusion of control, because that is what they are seeking. From what I can see, the cops have no interest in harming the cashier. Now if they present their back to you , and you have, say, a shotgun, yeah. Pull that bitch and shoot. They’ll run. But this is a clear situation of a clerk doing exactly what he should do in a robbery-type scenario.

    Also, i hate cops

  12. avatar MojoRonin says:

    I had a revelation last month about “fight, flight, or freeze”. I work in the gas pump refurbishing business. We had a gas fire erupt , trapping one guy in the corner of the work station, the guy that started the fire by accident (electric drill was the ignition) ran. Another guy (that, up to that point, I didn’t like too much) and I were the only two in the shop of 15 guys that were able to respond with fire extinguishers and then I administered first aid. A couple more ran away. The rest froze. I am chalking it up to other responder’s youth and desire to ‘get in the shit’, while I was a prior EMT as well as a Boy Scout, so I had some exposure and training.
    One trapped, 2 responders, 5 flee, the rest freeze. What’s that tell ya?

  13. avatar Fug says:

    I once had a random Maryland county cop drag race me in his squad car, I drive an Infiniti G coupe and his Crown Vic was somewhat faster. He just eyeballed me at the stop light, revved his engine and gunned it.

    I’ve also had a Maryland state trooper follow me down 95 with his floodlight on me. I slowed down and looked at him to see if he wanted me to pull over because I was going like 90mph but he just kept shining the light on me until I exited some miles later. Public humiliation I guess? I just thought it was funny.

    Cops are just as weird as the rest of us.

  14. avatar Bruce says:

    I was a Water Safety Instructor in college teaching lifesaving. I would spend the first 2 hours teaching non-swimming rescues. The rest of the class swimming rescues were taught, but kept referring back to non-swimming rescues. The last test was bringing the class out to the pool one at a time. A lifeguard was “drowning” with the only instruction they could not use their legs, meaning they were still dangerous in the water. The student was told they were the only person who could swim, save the drowning person. It never seemed to fail, the 6’2″ line backers would walk over, grab a pole, or rope or even a towel and pull the person out of the pool then look as us like we are idiots if we called that a test. The little 5’1″ girls would give us kind of a panic look and dive in to make a swimming rescue. About half the time the life guard pulled the student out after the student was about half drowned. Part of my hope was that we taught those who didn’t have the skill or strength to not try and die in the process. I think Robert is saying the same thing, keep yourself safe, they try to make the rescue.

    And I think Roberts advice is very good.

  15. avatar MojoRonin says:

    People, when faced with a new danger, do one of the 3 responses. Everybody freezes, at least once, like when someone comes around the corner and scares you (‘BOO!’). It can help if you can get some sort of training. In the event you encounter a similar situation at a later point in time; you have an exposure to it, a sort of stress innocculation – like in this article’s case: being confronted by an armed assailant. You may be able to do something – it may be the wrong thing, but at least it is something.

    Another example I’d give is when you’re driving. People up here in the northern areas are familiar with driving in snow. The first time someone skids a car on ice, it is almost guaranteed that the newbie will freeze. My old man had all of us kids go to a parking lot and do e-brake turns and donuts. His theory was that if you have the car in a unusual situation in a controlled environment, you’ll have a better understanding what to do when on the road – like pump the brakes, 2nd gear starts, counter-steering into the desired exit direction, don’t downshift and disengage clutch on ice, ect. Granted, that was back when we were driving in older rear wheel drive vehicles…but we learn the basics, and built on from that. It’s payed off too numerous of times to count.

  16. avatar Bastiat says:

    The only surprising thing about this ordeal is the eventual arrest of the cop. Lucky for the clerk, he had the whole thing on video. Remember everyone, this is the same department that machine-gunned former Marine Jose Guerena in his own home, then got caught lying about it.

    1. avatar Blkojo says:

      Not the same. The guy in the video was T.P.D. Those who rushed Guerena’s house were P.C.S.D.

      1. avatar Bastiat says:

        Thanks for the clarification. Out of curiosity, would it still be the same DA?

  17. avatar Ardent says:

    I’d like to address the armor argument at the top of the page (seems one cannot respond to it anymore, and if that was stopped, good thinking).

    The second chance tests included a man shooting himself, he knew it was coming, obviously implicitly trusted the armor, and was not dealing with all the emotions and SNS issues incumbent on having someone else injure you in the course of trying to kill you. There is no doubt, armor saves lives. However the ability to take hits in it and IMMEDIATELY respond seems somewhat lacking. Case after case indicates that the initial response is to turtle and run rather than stand and deliver. In a significant number of cases in which someone is shot in their armor they actually do fall, usually away from the direction from which they were hit. They were not ‘knocked down’ in the physical sense but rather their reaction to the threat and perceived injuries was such that they prostrated (or, more often, supined) themselves instinctively. While this reaction might be a useful survival skill (getting out of the line of fire, playing dead, etc) it does mitigate against effectively returning fire. Properly trained it is a simple thing to effectively fire on a target from ones back, however the very instinct that causes the drop also decides against an aggressive response. This can be seen not only in many reports but also in various videos of people who have taken hits to their armor. Fall or run seem to be the common responses to being shot in general, and they don’t change with armor in the equation.
    The third option is to actively aggress whatever has shot you. This is seen about as often in those with armor as those without it. The evidence suggests that attitude more than injury dictates response to being shot.
    Armor may well save your life, but it will not make a terminator unit out of someone who doesn’t have the attitude and intent to fight back no matter what. On the other hand, such an attitude keeps some people up and fighting after suffering mortal wounds. By all means, use armor if you have it and or when appropriate, but more importantly cultivate the attitude that you will fight until there is no longer a threat, regardless of injury . . . don’t give up!
    As for the reaction of any given armored opponent; if they do not expect to be shot they will likely not react well to being shot. Some will fall, some will run, some will go full terminator and charge while firing. Its unpredictable and it’s dangerous to generalize as any bad actor can obtain armor just for its cost. It’s truly shocking to me that more BGs don’t use armor.
    The North Hollywood shootout gives us an idea of what a BG who has combined armor and drugs looks like. Never minding the deplorable and numerous tactical errors on the part of LAPD, a BG with armor and motivation is difficult to deal with.
    Often the first realization that the BG is wearing armor will be when he fails to react appropriately to shots to the body. Frankly at this point he has such a huge advantage that if he is competent the average armed citizen has already lost the fight. (Consider if you keep pumping rounds into BGs armor while he does likewise into your unprotected chest. . . )
    Failure Drills:
    This has nothing to do with malfunctions and everything to do with drug addled and or armored BGs. The ‘failure’ in this case is to bring about incapacitation through multiple near center of mass hits. The ‘drill’ is to train multiple body shots followed by a transition to head shots. Frankly if you’re using a ‘hard caliber’ (9mm, 40, 45acp, ect) and you’ve put 2-3 rounds near the center of mass but the target continues head shots may be necessary to end the conflict.
    While the above seems like common sense, few people train it as such. This means that on the one hand they aren’t used to seeking head shots, and on the other, when faced with an emergency they fixate on the CoM. Normally this is fine, locking in and blasting away at the biggest and second most lucrative target will prevail in the vast majority of circumstances. If you want to move beyond this, however, work 2-3 shot groups to CoM followed by repetitive head shots, as many as are needed to score good hits, into your range work. Look at it as such; if you have placed multiple hits in the BGs CoM and he’s not responding (ie, he is still upright so that you can see his head), then transitioning to attempting head shots not only increases the likelihood of incapacitation, it’s also defensible legally (‘After 3 shots to the body the only way I could even see his head was that he was still upright and coming at me. . . ‘)
    There are a great variety of training plans out there, each has its merits. There is the double tap, time proven but lately in disrepute. Lately there is the shoot until the target is down model, which is arguably more useful in the likely defensive shoot. I suggest this hybrid; 2 to the body 1 to the head.
    Anyone who is standing and still facing after two to the body likely needs one to the head. The rhythm is fast, fast, slow. Think of it as a double tap followed by a slow fire shot. It requires more training, more ammo and more range time. It’s not for everyone and it’s likely more than most will ever need. However, if an armored opponent is what you would prepare for, consider the failure drill. Works on armored BGs, works on drug addled BGs, works on everyone without a face plate of sufficient rating to stop the weapon you’ve chosen. Practiced its fast and smooth. Either way there is nothing to lose by adding it to your repertoire, besides, it’s fun on the range.

  18. avatar defensor fortisimo says:

    I was always taught that there is a 4th response, posturing. To use the example earlier of the cat, it can claw your friggin eyes out, run and hide under the nearest bed, freeze in the tall grass it was hunting in before the neighborhood dog passes by, or try and bluff it’s way out by arching it’s back, raising it’s hackles and trying to look as psycotic as possible, (a short step I know.)

    How this can relate to self defense is that gray area where it doesn’t actually come to blows, but you let your opponent know you’re prepared for that inevatibility. If you have a gun, let them see it, if you carry a baton, expand it. Be ready to defend yourself and make sure they know it also.

  19. avatar Plumbump says:

    would be two dead cops, if i were the teller. and who the hell wears body armor without an undershirt?!? that is going to STINK quick.

  20. avatar Russ Bixby says:

    What in Hell was that?

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