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.