One of the Four Rules of Gun Safety: be sure of your target and what’s behind it. That’s relatively simple if you’re target shooting, especially if there are berms behind and to either side of your target. But in a real world defensive gun use (DGU), you don’t have the luxury of berms and that kind of scanning is practically impossible.
Given that DGUs are reactive (i.e. defensive), who has time to consider where a “stray” bullet will ultimately end up? You’re being attacked, adrenaline’s flowing and you’ve got tunnel vision on the perp(s). Your shooting skills have degraded and you’re trying to do anything to survive.
Just ask the New York City Police Department how hard it is to shoot a bad guy. NYPD officers have an 18 percent hit-to-miss ratio. And here’s the kicker: cops don’t get arrested, fired, fined, banned from firearms ownership for life and/or jailed for shooting an innocent bystander when fighting crime. John Q. Public faces all of the above, and then some.
It would be nice to think that you’d scan your environment before an attack. It would also be great if you could pause for a femtosecond or two to consider what surrounds your target in a defensive gun use, whether its people or dwellings. The better bet: concentrate on not missing.
There are a lot of ways not to reduce the chances of missing when shooting at someone who poses an imminent, credible threat of death or grievous bodily harm. Practicing with your self-defense firearm is good, practicing with your gun in force-on-force training is even better. Much better.
I reckon the key recommendations here are A) don’t panic, emptying your gun and spraying bullets in the bad guy’s general direction, and B) know your limitations.
We can debate the value of “muscle memory” during a DGU — instinctively aiming and firing rather than [more] consciously doing so. Unquestionably, instinctive firing is faster than carefully considered fire. The problem we’re addressing here is accuracy. Is your instinctive firing accurate?
Again, realistic training will give you a good indication of your accuracy with your defensive handgun, even as it improves it. Just make sure you train to the point of failure (i.e. missing the target). That way you’ll know when/where your shooting degrades to the point of inadvisability.
Try to register your inability in your “lizard brain.”
Know your limitations. It will be some combination of distance, time, and number of rounds fired. If you’re not happy with those limitations, practice some more. Consider changing your weapon. But accept the fact that you can only do what you can do. No more. And maybe less.
And then, when push comes to shove, aim. Unless the bad guy is within bad breath distance, take the time to aim. Use your sights. Only shoot aimed rounds.
I understand that this advice seems facile. And way easier said than done. But you are responsible for every single bullet you fire. A miss can ruin your life as surely as being wounded by your attacker. Don’t be that guy.