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It’s often said that most gunfights occur with the combatants standing within a few feet of each other. Like most numbers involving the intersection of humans and ballistics, the stat is thoroughly unreliable. First, the “spitting distance” meme comes from the FBI’s Officer Killed Summary; whose data suggest that most gunfights occur within seven feet. Extrapolating a study of 45 police officers murdered by gunfire to establish the general nature of armed civilian confrontations is patently ridiculous. To wit . . .

Circumstances: Of the 48 officers feloniously killed, 15 were ambushed; 8 of the slain officers were involved in arrest situations; 8 were performing traffic stops; 6 were answering disturbance calls; 5 were involved in tactical situations (e.g., high-risk entry); 4 were investigating suspicious persons/circumstances; and 2 were handling, transporting, or maintaining custody of prisoners.

None of these cases involve an armed attacker attempting to rob a police officer. Also worth noting: these are all cases where the officer was killed. In other words, they were unsuccessful gunfights. Try this from instead:

In 1992, veteran police officer Dick Fairburn, now a trainer for the Illinois State Police, was commissioned by the Police Marksmen Association to answer this very question. Mr. Fairburn’s original quest was to try and answer the stopping power debate of the time, in which he failed because the database of 241 shooting incidents was too small. However, what he did develop were some interesting trends that showed what officers did when they won the confrontation. One of the most interesting was the distances involved. While the FBI statistics show distances as being around ten feet, the PMA study showed the average distance being more like twenty.

The further the officer from the gun-wielding perp, the better his or her chances of survival. Duh. And still inapplicable. We’re still talking about cops.

While there is no database detailing civilian gunfights, common sense suggests that non-LEOs are not going to be shot by someone standing (or moving) twenty feet away. Unless it’s a gang banger drive-by. Which raises another point: even if we DID have a database on civilian gunfights, most of those incidents are criminal on criminal confrontations. So . . . what?

So hand skills self-defense teachers present the stereotypical situation known as a stick-up. Notice in this example that the instructor starts his lesson standing well away from the gunman (spouting some dangerous nonsense about using your arm bones to protect your vital organs from gunfire). And then moves closer.

When it comes to disarming an attacker, the closer, the better. Hello? Don’t you think the bad guys know that? And don’t you think that the instant you move towards them, the perp will shoot? Isn’t that the SAFE assumption?

In fact, if you’re in this situation, where you are not within arm’s reach of the perp, handing over your money (perhaps throwing it at the bad guy and running) is going to be your safest option. How many people are capable of wresting a gun from an attacker, even if they get the jump on them, no matter what technique the defender uses?

Exception: if you are with a child or loved one or ones—preferably people whom you’ve pre-instructed to run in a gunfight—lunging at the assailant will buy time for them to escape. Your odds of surviving are no greater, but your dependents will have a better chance.

And I’d like to make this little suggestion. If you know someone has the motive, means and opportunity to kill you, if you reasonably believe they’re in the process of doing so, if you have a fair distance between yourself and them, run! If you’re armed and you can’t run, draw your weapon and challenge and/or shoot them.

Admittedly, that’s a rare confluence of circumstances that depends on early threat detection. And a concealed weapon. And knowing how to use it. Still, there it is: one alternative to grabbing a gun pointed at you and yours.

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  1. One of the reasons I am a fan of the classic j-frame in a pocket holster is that I could act like I am reaching for my wallet.

  2. Hi Bob, It was a pleasure to meet you at AFS today, (I had the snubnose S&W 500). I reviewed your site and I’m very impressed. I shoot at AFS every weekend and on most Friday evenings, and I hope to meet you again. I will have my other 500’s at the range next week, one has the 10.5 in barrel and the other a 8 3/8 inch. I’ll let you try them both. Thanks for letting me shoot your Ruger and keep this great site going , Joe Matafome

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