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More Americans buy guns for self-defense than any other reason. And why not? A firearm is an excellent tool for defending life and limb. Estimates of successful defensive gun uses vary wildly, but even the lowest number is astounding (around 70k per year). If you’re new to guns and you bought a gun for self-defense, good for you! Good for your friends, family and other innocent life. I know the decision can be frightening. What if I shoot the wrong person? What if I lose? Practicing drawing and firing your firearm will ease if not eliminate the first concern. As for the second, keep one important fact in mind . . .

You can do everything right in a gunfight and still lose. There are too many variables to guarantee a successful outcome: number of attackers, time and place of the attack, your mental and physical state, the distance between yourself and your attacker(s), etc. Sad to say, attackers have the “first mover” advantage; action beats reaction.

To increase your odds of survival, adopt the correct mindset. I will do whatever it takes to survive. I will use speed, surprise and violence of action. I will go all-in as early as I can and continue fighting until I can’t fight anymore. Regardless of my gun.

That said, there are (at least) three basic ways to fail in a gunfight. Give these a miss and your chances of prevailing rise dramatically.

1. Pick the wrong fight

By “the wrong fight” I mean any fight. I’m hardly the first to say it, but say it I must: the only gunfight you’re guaranteed to win is the one you don’t have. Do everything you can to avoid a violent confrontation. Avoid stupid people in stupid places doing stupid things. If two of the three criteria are extant leave as soon as possible. If all three are present, leave even sooner.

You might find yourself in a potentially violent confrontation regardless of preventative measures. (My daughter recently announced “that stupid people list describes school perfectly.”) Whenever possible, de-escalate the situation. If it’s a beef of some sort – whether that’s simmering road rage or a full-on racist rant – climb down. Be the bigger person. The safer person. As Lord Humongous said, just walk away. If you can.

Lord Humongous’ entreaties unsuccessful. You might not be able to walk or even run away form a violent confrontation. You might be ambushed. Even then, look to escape or avoid your attacker(s). Stand your ground laws protect you from having to retreat/escape (check your state’s laws), but retreating/escaping is a lot better than fighting. By the same token, just like the cops, you are not legally obliged to defend anyone’s life.

Bottom line: think of your gun is your last resort. Don’t get me wrong. You can find yourself needing your “last resort” in a heartbeat. But if there’s an alternative to a gunfight, take it. The paperwork, hassle and cost alone are crushing. Just sayin’ . . .

2. Fail to draw your gun in time

I know what you’re thinking: first you tell me to avoid a gunfight and now you’re telling me to get my gun out as fast as I can? Yup. Once it’s on, it’s on. Generally speaking, the first person to land shots on target wins a gunfight. If you can bring your gun to bear on your armed attacker(s) before they bring their gun(s) to bear on you, you stand an excellent chance of walking away.

Well running, actually. As I’ve pointed out before, you need to move then shoot. A moving target is harder to shoot than a stationary one. A target behind cover (an object that stops bullets) or concealment (the bad guys can’t see you) is harder to shoot than a stationary target (that’s you). So, unlike the gunslingers above, you need to move, draw your gun and shoot.

[Note: this post assumes we’re talking about a handgun you carry. Long gun self-defense is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.]

To make that happen you need a carry system – clothing, gun and holster – that allows you to draw your gun quickly and efficiently. There is no One Carry System to Rule Them All. For some owners, the best system is an outside-the-waistband holster covered by a T-shirt. For some, it’s an inside-the-waistband holster. For others it’s pocket carry. Open carry’s a thing, too. The right system depends on your clothing, the size of gun you carry and your personal preference.

The only way to ascertain what carry system suits you: trial and error. Click here for Three Tips for Buying Your First Handgun. Suffice it to say, your ability to draw your gun in an emergency is more important than the type or caliber (bullet size) of handgun you carry. And you’re not limited to one carry system.

Another key point: practice your draw as often as possible. Unload your gun, safety check it (make sure it’s unloaded), place the ammo well away from your gun, safety check the gun again, then practice moving and drawing. The more you do this, the better. Also, don’t begin practice by trying to move and draw as fast as possible. Be smooth and efficient first. Then increase your speed.

3. Assume the bad guy will stop when they’re shot

Forget TV and movie gunfights. Even if you shoot your attacker(s) straight through the heart, they will not die immediately. They may not even slow down. They may keep attacking, kill you and then die (it’s happened). Simply put: keep shooting and moving until you stop the threat. Or threats . . .

Incapacitating one attacker may be a powerful disincentive for his or her criminal colleagues. Or it could enrage and inspire them to begin or redouble their efforts to incapacitate you. Perhaps permanently. These other attackers may also continue to fight after they’re shot.

If there are multiple attackers, it’s boarding house rules: everyone gets firsts before anyone gets seconds. But don’t get hung-up on tactics. Just don’t expect the confrontation to end. Make it end. Either stop the threat with ballistic intervention or leave the scene of the crime for safety. Or both.

As Lenny Kravitz reminded us, it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

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  1. Good post. While a plan never survives first contact with an enemy, it is still good to have a plan….or at least a mental outline.

    • That’s why have blowout kits in all my vehicles…

      Sometimes you gotta makes holes, other times you gotta plug ’em.

      • What do you have in your kits if I may ask? I’ve been looking to make a good first aid kit but I don’t know what I need.

        • Med tape, gloves, lots of bandages and gauze, med wrapping, scissors, Saran Wrap (sucking wounds), some quikclot, and few other nice to have things…

          I made my own, but there are some ready made ones out there. Though, I find most have too few bandages and gauze. Anyone who has dealt with serious blood loss knows that gauze get used up very quickly, you cannot have too many on hand.

        • I’m a tactical EMT so this might be a little overboard but my pre-positioned kits have the following:

          chest valve
          Israeili Bandage
          quikclot gauze
          Decompression needle
          Mouth barrier (call me old fashioned)
          Triage tags

          This type of kit is small (takes up no more space than a 500 rd SAW drum) and can be kept positioned anywhere (truck, tricky bag, assault packet, ruck, etc).

          However, on my gun belt it needed to be MUCH smaller. In that case I stuck with the essentials which for me personally means tourniquet, quickclot gauze and pressure dressing. I was able to fit that in the SOE gear compact tear-off pouch (which I highly recommend).

          I’m also neurotic so I put extra tourniquets all over. I keep an HSGI leg rig V1 in my bag as an active shooter add-on. It has taco pouches for three pistol mags which I find a little excessive so I keep an extra tourniquet in there, as well as one strapped to my rifle stock using a mayflower research holder.

          Hope I didn’t go off on too much of a tangent.

        • Adventure Medical Trauma Pack (with Quick Clot dressing) 2 Israeli dressings, 2 rolls of gauze, tourniquet, 12″x12″ square of 6 mil plastic (chest wounds), Gorilla tape, a regular old boo boo kit, and medium and large 8 mil nitrile gloves.

          And, the thing that has saved me countless trips to the ER: a Foreign Object Removal Kit.

          I’m a woodworker and a welder, so I frequently get wood/metal bits in my eyes (yes I wear safety glasses), so YMMV, but when you need it, you really need it.

        • I always keep one box of small rags and one box of large rags in my vehicle. Stuff them in the corresponding holes. (my spelling/grammar keeps getting worser).

        • I started with an M-17 medic bag, then added Quick Clot, a couple of CATs, a universal airway and some other extras.

          The M-17 is carried by no one in the military (medics would break it down into smaller packages) but for a “trunk of the car” trauma kit it does ok.

          In terms of what you want in a kit, think about it in terms of how you would treat for:

          1) Obstructed Airway
          2) Bleeding (internal/external)
          3) Shock
          4) Fractures
          5) Burns
          6) Neck/Back Injury

          Don’t neglect the “ouch” kit. Bandaids. Ibuprofin. Naproxin. Gauze and tape. You’ll use that more than anything. 99.99% of the time you’ll be fixing booboos not plugging gunshot wounds.

        • all good suggestions. One thing I have carried for years are non scented sanitary napkins. They are inexpensive and extremely good at stopping bleeding.

          The other thing which one needs to carry is knowledge. Take a good first respond-er course. Such a course will train you how to sustain life until more qualified help arrives. It will also give you the skills to transport if qualified help is not available.

  2. This is another reason why I insist on caring at least 2 backup mags as well as the one in my HK45. You never know how many bad guys you are going to have to deal with but the last thing I want to be is stuck with more bad guys than I have the ammo to deal with. Good post.

    • Especially in a capacity-limiting (albeit excellent) platform such as yours. Extra mags are always good.

    • It is always good to carry an extra mag. Many malfunctions in autos can be attributed to mag failures. No matter what the cause, malfunctions require that the mag be dropped to clear the jam. The extra mags allow the fastest way to clear. If you have an extra mag you can drop the mag, clear the jam and insert a fresh mag. This eliminates the need to hold onto the first mag which interferes with a smooth clearing.

  3. If you are in a gunfight, you did it wrong. I don’t plan on fighting with my gun. I am not in the military. The military fights with guns. I plan to end or prevent a fight with mine. Don’t shoot to wound and don’t shoot to warn. If there is a legitimate threat, I am going to put no less than 5 rounds center mass in less than a second from the first shot to the fifth. I am not going to let the bad guy shoot back, like the West Virginia pharmacist did.

  4. TV gives people a lot of bad advice. At least once per cop show I’m yelling at the TV “Don’t talk. SHOOT!”
    One can only hope that criminals, based on excessive TV watching, think no citizen carries chambered and this everyone has to rack first.

    Don’t say pretty please will you put the gun down. Don’t try to psychoanalyze the bag guy. Drop him without hesitation if you have that chance.
    If I’m in line at Sheetz and a guy comes at the cashier with a gun in his hand, I would hope I have the presence of mind to calm pull my CC and drop him at the first opening.
    But I hope the day never comes when I have to find out how I would react. But then that is the difference between legal gun owning citizens and criminals.

  5. The best way to lose a gunfight is figure out too late that you are about to be in one. Movement isn’t going to do much good if you discover you are in fight at 1′ cause you can’t outrun a bullet.

  6. Suggested correction to article text …

    “3. Assume the bad guy will stop when they’re shot”

    I believe you omitted the word “NOT” and you meant to say,

    “3. Assume the bad guy will NOT stop when they’re shot”

      • Ah, I understand now. You are correct and the article text is correct as written. Thank you. (Apparently I did not get enough sleep last night.)

  7. Training tip:

    You can purchase an AirSoft (plastic BB) pistol at many stores for about $40 that are quite realistic in terms of size, weight, shape, trigger, design, etc. And because they shoot plastic BBs, you can practice drawing and shooting inside your home or back yard. Just make sure you wear safety glasses because those BBs are moving upwards of 300 feet per second and bounce a long ways after hitting a hard surface.

    The only downside to inexpensive AirSoft pistols is that you only get one shot and then you have to rack the slide to reload/recharge it. Training where you always shoot just once or where you always rack your slide after every shot could instill really bad — and possibly even deadly (for you) — habits.

    • Then you spend a little more and get an Airsoft pistol with a blowback design, that’s actually semiautomatic. Spend a little more and get quality training equipment.

  8. Pfffff. Best way to lose a gunfight? Carry, use or own anything other than a 1911 and M1A. I mean, every time I sees an AR or glock I laugh and say “put that plastic toy away bitch, you might hurt a field mouse or something!” If Jesus a wanted us to use plastic then he wouldn’t have invented walnut and cold blue steel.

    Most bad guys simply laugh off 5.56 and 9mm and beat that shit with Neosporin. I’m pretty sure the only reason we’ve been able to knock off a couple hundred thousand terrorists over the last decade is because our puny, wimpy, anemic bullets are endowed with the power of liberty. It’s not the bullets killin’em… which anyone who has ever ejaculated while firing an M14 knows is impossible with a 5.56. It’s the invisible screaming eagle talons of freedom wielded by the ghost of old Ben Mutha-fvckin-franklin himself whilst humming the battle hymn of the republic! And crew served weapons, good commo and combined arms of course…


    • I’m relieved to find out that Stephen Colbert is a reader of the blog and has maintained his clarity during the off season.

    • “It’s the invisible screaming eagle talons of freedom wielded by the ghost of old Ben Mutha-fvckin-franklin himself whilst humming the battle hymn of the republic!”

      Simply outstanding, the whole thing but especially this… You just made my day, my birthday no less… Carry on Sir… God Bless the Republic!!!

  9. 1 and 2 are kind of related. Once your gun comes out the other guy is in fear for his life, just like you. He is fighting, if he fights, to survive just like you. The gun comes out when you are committed to using it to survive (..a win is your opponent quitting so you don’t have to pull the trigger…) Act as if he will be just as determined to survive the encounter as you are.

  10. But but but…on TV they showed the good guy winging the bad guy or shooting him in the leg. There’s more?

  11. Follow Tactical Shotgun Joe Biden’s advice. Fire a couple blasts off the balconey. Fire a couple blasts through the screen door.

  12. Some thoughts.

    When it becomes necessary to draw a weapon it is necessary to shoot that weapon. If you do not train to shoot as part of the sequence you will hesitate and loose the encounter.

    Practice the draw and SHOOT. DO NOT try for speed. Master each step in succession. Clear your clothing, free the pistol, grip draw. acquire the site picture on target and fire. If you master the sequence in a calm manner the speed will come along with accuracy. 6 shots in .5 seconds if you do not hit the target only disarms you.

    Most situations can be handled with a calm and resolute demeanor.

    When that is not possible then it is time to, without hesitation, talk or other distraction, become violent to the extreme and end the encounter.

    • “When it becomes necessary to draw a weapon it is necessary to shoot that weapon.”

      Nope. Drawing merely means you’re committed to shooting if you have to. It doesn’t mean you’re going to shoot, it means that you realize that unless you have your weapon already out, if the bad guy makes a move you won’t have time to get to it.

      You have to be ready to shoot, but also ready to NOT shoot. If the bad guy realizes he has somewhere more important (or healthy) to be, you don’t go ahead and shoot. If he realizes that dropping everything and taking a face-down “time out” on the ground or floor is suddenly the most attractive thing at that moment, you don’t go ahead and shoot. If he backs up and falls over the railing, you don’t go ahead and shoot.

      This is called “awareness”. We don’t want cops to shoot the moment they draw, and we don’t want to do it either. We want to exercise judgment, not knee-jerk reaction.

      • On this point we will have to disagree.

        I must respectfully disagree with your critique.

        For a trained professional your response is correct.

        For the average homeowner who has minimal training in stressful situations the decision not to shoot is not an option. The victim will hesitate and think. That hesitation will lead to a mental debate and give the BG the advantage.

        A weapon should not be drawn unless there is an imminent (immediate) danger which requires a deadly response.

        • So your position would be that I should have let the pervert who came into the camping area where I was responsible for a youth group keep on lifting sleeping bag edges and peering in, and maybe tried to reason with him? When he was twice my size and wearing a knife with an eight inch blade?
          And that all the people who draw on an intruder should just go ahead and shoot the moment they draw?

          No. Knee-jerk reactions trained by thinking with blinders on will result in people being harmed because they didn’t think they needed to kill someone, or in a lot of innocent people being killed because a defender followed your advice and didn’t take the time to actually determine who it was they were shooting.
          And if your advice is that in the middle of the night — or early in the morning in a campground — people should take the time to strap on their defense weapon, make sure it’s secure, then go and see who the intruder is and not draw until they’re absolutely certain they should be shooting, then you’re just in la-la land where every tactical situation is perfect and there are no questions. Unfortunately for that kind of thinking, criminals don’t operate in ways to accommodate their victims. So the intelligent thing to do is what the Boy Scouts say: be prepared. That means gun out, at the ready, before the possible bad guy sees you, not waiting until you let him know you’re there.

          Drawing means you’ve decided you MIGHT have to shoot. It means you’re being wise enough to recognize that the possible danger you’re investigating could be enough that your only recourse is deadly force — not that you’ve decided you’re going to shoot.

        • You wish to fight, you do not wish to reason.

          The premise of the article was new inexperienced gun owner practicing for home defense. No matter what reasoned argument is presented you will expand the scenarios, change the parameters so that you can win.

          In your latest scenario the proper response would be to maintain a safe distance (greater than 7 yards preferably 15 yards) challenge the presumed pedophile. The fact that a camper has a sheathed hunting knife on his belt does not give you cause to draw. Once challenged if the PP advances in an aggressive manner and reaches for the knife then you have every right to draw and fire upon the intruder. Remember the 21 foot rule.

          As to the rest of your discussion, When I camp and I get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, I strap on my piece before I leave my shelter. And yes I will draw and not shoot but hold a suspect if the situation warrants. But I am a professional and not an amateur first time homeowner with little experience. In fact I am a former Deputy with 15 years experience and left my department as the training officer and the rank of LT.

          My advice is for a person who encounters a threat in their own domicile who is an active threat to the homeowner and or the occupants of the home. That is the threat which most new owners will encounter and plan for.

          Your camp situation is not one for the inexperienced gun owner .

        • I think you’re making assumptions based on a professional background. Most people don’t walk around constantly with a firearm strapped on. If your defense piece is in a bedside drawer, and you hear an intruder in the middle of the night, are you seriously recommending taking the time to strap it on? Unless you want very high professional standards for people, that’s going to mean turning on a light — thus risking revealing your awareness of the intruder.

          So for beginners, even just in the home your rule doesn’t work. Indeed, applying it is likely to lead to the results we’ve seen where a father shoots his own son.

        • You obviously do not live in AZ.

          When a police officer begins their firearms training they start with basic safety. They learn proper techniques to aim and fire the weapon. Next they learn to draw aim and fire. As they master this skill they learn to draw and hold a subject. Eventually they progress to the Hogan’s alley type training if they are lucky.

          The purchase of a firearm for home defense is but a part of an individual’s responsibility for protecting their domicile. A review of the discussions on the excellent site Firearms is a good place to start.

          such things as Harding entry points. A defense plan for the occupants. Select safe locations. Being able to move through the residence with out the use of lights. Select defensive positions based on choke points within the residence. Motion sensitive lights which will back light the bad guys and not expose the residence.

          That is not the subject of this discussion. The subject of this discussion is what basic skills should be developed by the first time gun-owner.

          In the military their is an axiom “You fight the way you train”. If you do not practice firing after a draw then you will hesitate. That hesitation will result in your injury or death. As Jordan said in the title of his book No second place winners.”

        • Roughly nine out of ten times an intruder faced with an armed resident will run or surrender. Given that, you’re doing the same hype the media does — “People will die!” No, nine times out of ten the resident isn’t going to have to shoot, so your claim fails.

          And you’re requiring a pretty high standard of training here. I don’t know many people who can roll out of bed in the dark, retrieve a defense firearm, and strap it on without any light. I’ve done it, but I wouldn’t count on being able to in a high-stress situation such as a home invasion.

          Yes, you do “fight the way you train”. So you train smart — train to think, not just to grab and shoot. Until you verify that the disturbance is an intruder, and then determine if the intruder is supposed to be there, you want your gun out and in hand and ready, but you don’t go charging in and just shoot.

          There’s another maxim for shooting, that you’ve thrown out the window: verify your target. You’re saying don’t even have gun in hand until you’ve verified your target — but that’s just an invitation to the target to strike first.

        • My recommendations do work. If you would go to the website I recommended, Fireline you would find a number of discussions by persons who have implemented the techniques and survived serious incidents.

          As to a father shooting a son, I learned early on not to try to sneak in to the house after curfew. Most fratricide incidents involve a family member trying to sneak.

          As the old country philosopher said, “There aint no cure for a terminal case of the dumb ass.”

  13. Kinda follows my three rules:

    1) The best way to win a gunfight is to avoid the gunfight.
    2) Do unto others before they would have done unto you.
    3) Just because they’re shot doesn’t mean they’re dead.

  14. Tho maybe not a direct response to any of these 3 points, it’s still good to keep in mind that “If you find yourself in a fair fight, EXPLETIVE DELETED.” Avoid it when possible, but once it’s on, be overwhelmingly unfair.

  15. The last reminds me of SO MANY movies! An otherwise smart good guy who’s done everything else right will just walk up to a “dead” bad guy who turns out not to be dead, or turn their backs on him, or whatever. I learned that “shoot to stop the threat” means assuming it’s not stopped until you are 100% sure it is — no “I think he’s out”, “He looks dead”, or anything, BE SURE!

    The one time I actually had to aim at someone, I took comfort in the fact that no matter now much bigger he was, I had sixteen bullets with “End the threat!” the motto for every one. Happily, I didn’t even have to put finger to trigger, but if I had, I wouldn’t have turned my back or stopped aiming at him until I was bloody well certain he was no longer a threat.


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