I often hear good legal advice about armed, non-lethal responses when faced by a lethal threat to yourself or others. Some of these options include displaying your firearm prior to firing, or yelling “Stop or I will shoot!” or something similar prior to shooting. You could fire a warning shot or even a wounding shot rather than aiming center mass. I’ve read this advice in literature by quality instructors, and I’ve been in reputable classes, primarily aimed at civilians, that taught many of these tactics. When I think about those tactics, they seem like good, sound legal advice that may help keep you out of jail, and may even keep you from firing upon a threat that was perceived, but not real. But I reject those tactics . . .
I have tried them, and after having tried them repeatedly, with coaching, I have completely removed them from my training.
Instead, I focus all of my time on:
1. Accurately identifying a threat, and
2. Immediately aggressing on that threat, then
3. Reassessing the threat
Yes, I realize there is a whole lot that goes into those three things. I’m not mentioning how to positively ID a threat, moving to cover, or appropriate marksmanship, but it’s all in there.
What’s not in there is all of the other non-lethal tactics mentioned above. Most people assume that’s because much of my weapons training and weapons use has been in a combat environment in the military. But that’s not why.
I’m just not good enough to perform those tactics under stress. Attempting to perform those kinds of non-lethal responses when faced with a lethal threat has made me less effective in stopping those threats, and much more likely to injure other non-threatening individuals. Or allow them to be injured.
While in the US Army, I received some assignments that allowed me to spend a good amount of time in quality, scenario-based firearms training with an untrained civilian population. This included simulated force-on-force training with lots of great instructors watching and recording my movements.
What I learned is that shooting while I move and verbally communicating at the same time is incredibly difficult. Think it’s easy? You’ve been watching too many movies. Go out and do it. Repeatedly attempt rapid strikes on a six inch target while you’re moving and yelling at that target. Master that and then get a little more realistic and have that target move.
Now get real and have that target move while shooting at closer targets, while you are moving, shooting, and yelling appropriate, comprehensible commands at the target. Now make it so they get to shoot first. Success? Not very likely. The very best shooters in the world have difficulty with this task, and they train constantly. Not that they can’t do it, but it’s incredibly difficult. Think Olympic athlete difficult.
Why is it so hard? It’s not just the fine and gross motor functions necessary for those tasks are difficult, though they are. It’s that in reality, I have to actually think while I am doing all of that. I have to really think fast to identify a target. That takes smarts and time. I have to identify appropriate cover and choose an appropriate route to that cover, or choose to ignore that cover. And that takes more smarts and more time. The actual weapons manipulation takes just a little smarts, and eats up a little more time. Verbal communication — appropriate and comprehensible verbal communication — takes a lot of smarts and a whole lot of time.
With every option I am presented, my decision time compounds. So do my opportunities for mistakes. With every bit of time that ticks away, my opponent has time to aggress on me or other targets. And in my experience, especially in the civilian world where the target has probably already presented a threat and attacked prior to me drawing my weapon, I just don’t have that kind of smarts or that kind of time.
So the smartest, safest thing for myself and for all of those non-threatening actors around me is to remove as many tasks and options I can, allowing me to perform the truly mission-essential task of stopping the threat and minimizing any risk to others and myself.
The first thing out of the window is talking. Effective verbal communication takes up a whole lot of brain time. But most people teaching these methods train people to give a simple statement as part of their draw procedure. Something like “Stop, or I will shoot” or “Stop, I don’t want to shoot you.” But simply saying that, no matter what, as something I drill, is not effective communication. It’s just something I would say to provide me with an affirmative defense in court. And that only works if it’s 1) understood at all, 2) understood in context, and 3) understood in context by the person I want to understand it.
For instance, if I were to yell, “Stop, I don’t want to shoot you” and a victim stops running and is shot by the attacker because they didn’t identify my role accurately and feared I would shoot them, that’s not likely going to be an effective affirmative defense. In fact, just the opposite. By not effectively communicating, I can make a bad situation worse. Doing it right takes real brain power, and real time, right when I don’t have it.
The next big set of non-lethal techniques to take out of my training regimen is any shot that’s not intended to stop the target. In other words, I focus on one thing — the threat — and do my best to only shoot that threat. I have to be mindful and aware of my target, as well as what’s in front of and behind my target. Bullets travel in one direction — a straight line — and (eventually) arcing downward. No shot is a warning shot to whatever my bullet strikes, and I will strike something. So that becomes my new target. Warning shots effectively force me to engage multiple targets, even if I only have one threat. And again, that eats up smarts and time, right when I don’t have it.
Other than the fact that I am just not good enough to actually do it, there are also significant tactical disadvantages to verbally responding in a threatening manner, or displaying my weapon, or attempting warning or wounding shots. The simplest is that it gives the attacker(s) time to adjust to a new target. That one is obvious. But the biggest reason that these non-lethal techniques are tactical mistakes is that they scare people. And scaring people, even scaring the actual threat, is bad.
I am not there to scare the threat. I am there to stop the threat. Logical, rational people are fairly predictable. Frightened people are not. If I am to engage a lethal threat, I would prefer that lethal threat not know I am there at all. I have a lot more control of the situation that way, since the threat is probably not reacting to me. But if my threat knows I am there, it’s far safer for everyone that I am not recognized as a threat to him.
Maybe displaying my firearm frightens the threat and they run away. But maybe it frightens the threat and they become even more aggressive. Maybe it frightens someone else and they attempt something that gets them injured or killed by the aggressor. Maybe it frightens someone else and they attack me. That’s way too many variables for me to introduce and then have to account for. And it’s not what I am there for. I am not there to frighten anyone. I am there to stop the threat.
Finally, many people think I’m being bloodthirsty because my first motion after presenting the weapon and getting off the line of attack is to immediately aggress. That is, to move forward and to keep moving toward the threat until the gun stops firing, even if I am making contact shots. But that tactic isn’t based on anger or the desire to really kill the hell out of them, or something equally childish. It’s actually a lot simpler than that.
I find it much easier to hit a target that’s closer than farther away. In fact, at contact distance, I almost never miss my target. The fact that I am more likely to hit my target means that I’m far less likely to strike something that’s not my target. And that makes me and anyone else around me much safer.
Where I am willing to spend my time and my smarts is on that initial threat identification and assessment. I have been, and will continue to be, willing to take whatever time it takes, even if that puts me at greater risk, to accurately identify the threat. But after a threat is identified, once I begin to bring my weapon to bear against the threat, the weapon will fire. Once a deadly threat is identified, the engagement of that threat with my weapon is inevitable. Then I will spend whatever time and smarts it takes to reassess the situation.
This is how I train, without all of the other non-lethal, but probably very legally helpful, techniques and tactics. I train that way, and have performed that way under stress in real combat, because it’s what I have found I can do to actually stop a threat and reduce the likelihood of injuries to others.
Since I have told you what I am unable to do and the few things I can do, understand that I engage in regular firearms training, probably a lot more than most people. I take at least one (and often more) professional course per year. I have access to several law enforcement and military ranges in Texas. But I have my own range and my own targets at home out to about 800 yards. I reload my own rounds and I have more than a couple decent guns. I shoot, on average about 400 rounds per week, all guns combined. I dry-fire train every day. I have access to good coaches and I use them. I have years of military experience, including some shooting schools, and multiple combat deployments. And those few things I can do, I can do acceptably well. But only those few things.