Much is made of the “fight or flight” response afflicting people in life-threatening danger. Yet most people do neither. They freeze. It’s a normal, natural response. Predators look for movement. Not moving – especially in a large group of people – is a strategy wired deep into our subconscious or “lizard brain.” That’s why firearm self-defense trainers spend the vast majority of their time teaching students to react quickly, instinctively and aggressively to a lethal threat. While there’s a great deal to be said about drawing your gun and moving without conscious though, most of it having to do with speed, it’s just as important to . . .

think consciously during a defensive gun use.

The preferred mental process is sometimes referred to as the OODA loop: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. Wash, rinse, repeat. And keep washing, rinsing and repeating until the battle is over. Do it as quickly and efficiently as you can. Unfortunately, many people never make it past Observe. They stand in front of the danger like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights.

The trick is to make it to the second step: Orient. Simply put, you have assess your environment. Identify the danger and your options – which change rapidly.

The problem: eye fixation. The aforementioned lizard brain become fascinated with the instrument of danger. It’s a knife! Wow! A knife that’s going to stab me! Or a gun! A gun aimed at me! It’s no wonder why so many people somehow manage to shoot their assailant’s hand. You shoot what you see.

Breaking eye contact with the danger, even for a moment, [usually] releases a self-defender from paralysis. Once you see the totality of your circumstances, you can make decisions. Better decisions. As Lyndon Johnson famously opined, a decision is only as good as the information it’s based on. If you don’t see cover or concealment or other threats, your may make inappropriate decisions. As in fatal.

Some people observe, orient, decide and act in a fight naturally; that’s the way they’re wired. If that’s you, if you’re a natural born fighter, good for you! If you’re not – and you might not know until the you-know-what gets real – there are a couple of ways to avoid both “analysis paralysis” and/or bad decisions.

Self-Talk

If you’re caught unawares – and most bad guys are ambush predators – you must give yourself time to orient. A fraction of a second – which can seem like an eternity thanks to a flood of adrenalin – may be enough. How do you do that? A gun guru of my acquaintance uses self-talk. He starts his interior monologue with a question “What are my options?” Not “what am I going to do?” but “what can I do.”

“What are my options?” automatically triggers orientation. Where’s the nearest cover or concealment? How many bad guys are there? How much time do I have? It also triggers eye movement; you automatically look for answers. The answer might be “I have no options, I have to wait.” It might be “Shoot now!” But asking yourself to consider your options forces you to think strategically. To win, you keep repeating it. “What are my options now?”

Training

Traditional square range marksmanship is the worst way to train yourself to observe, orient, decide and act. What’s to orient? You’re stuck in a tiny cubicle. What’s to decide and do? Shoot or don’t shoot. Square range marksmanship programs you to focus on a single target – to the complete exclusion of everything else (including surrounding gunfire). Don’t get me wrong. Marksmanship is important. Familiarity with your firearm is crucial. Gun ranges are relaxing. But there is a better way.

Train for multiple threats. Whenever possible, set up multiple targets. Whenever possible, set up multiple targets – including no-shoot targets – with a choice of cover/concealment. Whenever possible, have someone call out your course of action. Better yet, have someone set up the targets while your back is turned. I know it sounds obvious, but not knowing what to expect is an ideal way to train yourself to deal with unexpected situations.

Force-on-force training is the best way to train yourself to observe, orient, decide and act. The more you do it, the more often you do it, the better. It’s creates “stress inoculation.” Your mind reassures you that “we’ve been here before” – and won. Force-on-force training gives you confidence, which gives you time to think under pressure. Bonus! Because force-on-force is so intense, it’s extremely powerful. The lessons you learn can last a lifetime.

That said, force-on-force training is expensive and often inconvenient. But even if you do force-on-force training once in your life, that beats years of square range marksmanship. I’m not saying you can’t win a gunfight without it, but the chance of winning one with it are significantly better. If you think about it.

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37 Responses to Guns for Beginners: How Not To Lose a Gunfight

  1. Anything we have that is property related can be replaced.

    Not necessarily. Heirlooms? Life savings? This statement is incorrect.

    • Very good point. The money used to purchase something = time, i.e., an irreplaceable piece of your life. It’s a question of scale, and whether it’s worth risking some or all of the time you have left vs. the portion of your life already spent that a thief threatens to take. But when someone says “it’s just stuff” they are not thinking it through.

  2. Self-Talk, Training and Balls. Don’t forget balls. Or for the ladies out there, ovaries. When bad things happen, act like you got a pair. Sometimes, balls is enough.

    • Never been in a gunfight and hope I never will. But I’ve heard it said many times that the winner is usually not the fastest, but the one that has the presence of mind to focus and aim. Like you said, balls. Though I suppose the odds of survival are always best if one uses a calm and focused mind to locate a solid object to place between themselves and incoming fire.

    • So. Are you implying that no one should train because you claim that they have no idea how they will act in a real, violent attack?

      • No, im just saying it doesnt guarantee anything. With no skin in the game, you just can’t really know, until it’s real. I’ve done force on force training, and learned a lot. I just hope I never have to find out if it was worth it.

    • As a paintball player, I would say it’s decent, but you have to play a lot (like, years). Basically, you have to be at the point where you are no longer afraid to be shot. That’s going to take time.

      • Paintball and airsoft are good for learning tactics but they have a fatal flaw. You aren’t dead when you take a hit. Knowing this makes you a lot braver than you would be when you only have one life to lose.

        The Navy found this out in 1942 when a lot of aggressive in exercise submarine skippers proved to be duds when they could get killed. This doesn’t mean that training isn’t a good thing but you have to understand that your reactions will be different when it’s real.

    • Sort of. Simunition guns are basically a slide and ammo replacement. You can use the same holster and have the same capacity as your real gun. Paintballs are large, slow .68 caliber gel balls shot from 30- 200 round hoppers. Some paintball guns are close to the real deal, but not many.

    • Not speedball, no.

      Airsoft is marginally better as most of the controls and functions are similar if not the same, depending.

  3. Grannies, grand fathers and a young women with a newborn baby have managed to prevail over bad guys. Realty is, no one can know exactly what they are going to do but one thing I would suggest is to move to break that rabbit like freeze.

    • Important detail and wonder about force on force training. Most baddies just want and get away. Observing numerous videos of robbery, criminals like your average police, want compliance, the moment any arm resistance is displayed or used, the natural flight takes over a criminal as well. Personally I don’t think a lot is required with self defense other than instant controlled aggression. A gun is nothing more than a force multiplier.

  4. While I enjoy going to the range from time to time, and I do HAVE to re-qualify every year to keep my professional licensing, target shooting does not equate to gunfighting. I keep on point by taking force on force training, typically using airsoft weapons and very heavy ammunition, 25g-nothing like going home with pain and quarter size hematomas to remind you of errors you made which allowed your opponent to connect. This type of training compels me and those I train with to be aware and utilize OODA to our benefit. It also puts one into situations where one can and will think of cover and/or concealment and put it to use in a way which can never be accomplished on a standard linear range, with no opponents looking to harm you. I understand this type of training is more expensive than shooting at paper, and not every one can reach into the pocket and pull out what can often be a substantial amount in comparison to range shooting. That being stated, force on force training has been from my point of view a wise investment as it has helped me to better judge situations and make decisions and act upon them on the fly as opposed to allowing myself to become the deer in the headlights.

  5. Best way to win a gunfight? Don’t have one. The rule of three stupids applies.

    Determined to have one? Stop reading about winning one on the Internet and get some training. Yeager, Costa, Haley, etc.

    • Slight quibble.
      The best way to SURVIVE a gun fight is not to have one.

      You can’t WIN a match/contest/struggle if you don’t have it (Art of War discussion about seeking victory before battle to be aside). You just don’t lose them.
      Ex: I have never played rugby. It is accurate (although misleading), to say that I am an undefeated rugby player {0 losses}, but inaccurate to say that I have won every rugby game I played {0 wins}.

      Winning a gunfight, on the other hand, requires the right alchemic mixture of luck, skill, training, mindset, equipment, and probably a few other items I am probably leaving out.

  6. Another opportunity to say the wrong kind of training is often worse than no training at all because it will teach to react in an inappropriate way.

    If you are an armed citizen your primary defensive tool is situational awareness and avoidance. Force-on-force may be a whole lot more fun but it should not be the only thing you train for.

    “Don’t get noticed, run away if you are and only employ deadly force when you have exhausted every other alternative.”

  7. I really hate that CQB handgun shooting position. I shoot with my right hand near the hip and my left hand free for strikes, creating distance, opening doors, etc.

  8. So much is known, then forgotten. The FBI commissioned (and then published) a study asking what the critical variables were in officer-involved shootings in which the officer died. Google it if you wish. The answer was simple: The person (perp or LEO) who got their gun up first, even their hand… on their gun first, usually won. Makes sense. They also found that perps practiced shooting (often at a town dump or wooded lot) more than people had thought. The study seems, anecdotally, to have led to local and fed cops putting their hand on their pistol sooner. No surprise.

    I wouldn’t discourage force-on-force training if folks like it. I did plenty in the military long ago, and then in Japanese K association karate during and after university. But I don’t think that has much to do with armed defense, when a perp makes a life- or serious injury-threatening move. Alertness, avoidance, and successful access of the gun, speed to first accurate shot at close range.. is what matter, no? I basically agree with TDINVA, above.

    My experience (over twenty-five years I’ve only stopped ((with a gun)) three attackers or fleeing felons, gun up, no shots fired) is that a person needs to simply and truly believe that a threatened lethal/grievous attack deserves a lethal response. I think perps know if you’re bluffing, sense it. They can intuit whether you’re looking for an excuse not to oppose them violently. You have to mean it, which means you need to know the local law well so that you only ‘mean it’ when you are justified. It means you need to avoid confrontations and bad environments because you know you’re going to respond effectively…which will, in the wrong jurisdiction, lead to the waste of your time and money, if not your freedom. Or so it seems to me…

    • “The FBI commissioned (and then published) a study asking what the critical variables were in officer-involved shootings in which the officer died. Google it if you wish. The answer was simple: The person (perp or LEO) who got their gun up first, even their hand… on their gun first, usually won. Makes sense.”

      That would certainly explain the cops that are far too eager to let the first lead fly.

      • I think police tactics need to change. Keep your distance, get back-up. Maybe Brown would be alive and Wilson would still be a cop. A big part of the problem would be solved. Would that cop have shot that guy in the back with a few witnesses around? Don’t think so.

    • “Alertness, avoidance, and successful access of the gun, speed to first accurate shot at close range.. is what matter, no?”

      Human physiology and inherited traits play an important role. In crisis, some people’s excitement and anxiety levels immediately go through the roof, rendering them far less competent to make decisions. Simply put, they are prone to panic. This is a natural response. It can be reduced with training but never completely compensated for. People who’s first instinct is to flee can never quite lose that initial impulse. Other people, on the other hand, actually become more calm is crisis situations. When other people may be freaking out, their heart-rates actually slow and many report that their cognitive processes become sharper, their awareness of where they are and what is happening around them is enhanced.

      Some people are able to do these things naturally while other can’t. Life experience, training, culture, self-identity, and situation can enhance our responses in crisis but they don’t supplant these inherited traits. For obvious reasons, the military has always been very interested finding people with these latter characteristics.

      John Keegan, the military historian, once opined that the major advantage the ancient Greeks had over their opponents was they they’d figured out how to get their hoplite soldiers to stand in a line, allowing themselves to be attacked by an enemy, rather than following a more logical course and running away. It looks like they’d figured this out a long time ago.

  9. A quote from an old german military instruction manual:

    Den Feuerkampf gewinnt, wer schneller schießt und besser trifft.

  10. I believe that people do not know how they will react until faced with a situation. That is the reason that the military trains you to do certain tasks over and over – so you will react as trained. Call it muscle memory, or habit, if you like. Something becomes automatic when done repeatedly. Only through this process will most people overcome not knowing how to react. My guess is that the vast majority of people carrying weapons in the civilian sector have had no type of reaction or response training when it comes to a real threat. Even during my years in the military the annual weapons quals I went through were strictly about weapons safety, how to load and fire the weapon, and then how to break down and clean the weapon. We did do some positional training; standing, kneeling, laying down, shooting from behind an object, etc…But no real “force on force” stuff. Some of the ranges here where I live offer a series of courses than take you through a succession of progressively more intensive shooting/self defense training. And yes, they do get expensive. I cannot speak to their value as I have never been through any of them. Now theoretically, some training should be better than none. But again, unless these learned tactics can be repeatedly practiced then any automatic reaction is lost. Of course, you could get involved in the many competitive programs available, as these do require a person to be very practiced. But, let’s face it, these are not for the average person. It is very expensive and time consuming to become truly “efficient” with your weapon. And I mean beyond the once-in-a-while trip to the local range. I consider myself a fair shot. But reality is until you find yourself in a gun fight, you really do not know what will happen. Ask and police officer who has been there. As a matter of fact, it is very common for multiple shots to fired with maybe only one finding it’s intended target.

    • I practice (train) quite a bit. Multiple targets, running for cover and so. I also imagine different scenarios where I wait for BG to make a mistake, really put myself there, then draw and fire.
      Total waste of time and money, except that I enjoy it! The chances of me using any of this nonsense are one in a zillion but to me it is fun.

  11. You can practice just plain movement left, right and roll. Think of a situation then make that move you want. A moving target is much more harder to hit than a standing one. Always watch for others that are threatening and avoid tunnel vision. That being said, always watch your flank then your six. (in most cases if you are walking.). Note; this is my theory, no guarantees.

  12. One thing missing: the mindset to “win”

    Note that I said “win” and not “survive”. Of the myriad of books, research, and first-person accounts, the will/drive/commitment to “win” and beat the other person (once there are no other options) seems to play an important part in surviving an encounter when deadly force is needed.

    The will to win gives focus, drive, and purpose to one’s action as well as commits you to the action without hesitation.

  13. Just FYI, Airsoft is close enough to simunition that the 19th Special forces group uses it when they don’t want to go though the difficulty and expense of UTM and simunitions . I know because the unit’s tried to borrow it.

    Personnel, I think even the most basic “kids playing in the backyard” with a quality glock blowback airsoft pistol is far better training than 1000 rounds shooting paper a Bill’s Indoor Range. Paper doesn’t shoot back, move, or force you to use cover.

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