center mass target
Courtesy Action Targets
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When you’re shooting at someone to stop an imminent, credible threat of death or grievous bodily harm, do what the police do: aim for center mass. Never mind what you may have seen in the movies or heard in the bleating of antis who suggest you should only “shoot to wound.” Don’t aim for the leg or try to shoot the gun out of their hand.

Aim at the threat’s body to stop the threat.

center mass vital organs
By BruceBlausOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Specifically, that big area in the middle. A body’s center of mass is really somewhere in the upper stomach area. Where you really want to aim is the center of the chest area as in the target at the top. Still, that’s commonly referred to as center mass, so we’ll go with that.

The reasoning is simple enough: the bigger the target the better your chance of hitting it, especially while under stress. At the same time, all of the perp’s vital organs are conveniently located in the upper middle of his or her torso.

You’re far more likely to stop a threat if you hit the bad guy’s oxygen and circulation engines (the lungs and the heart). Which is all well and good if the bad guy is facing you head on.

But what if he’s sideways to you?

action target center mass side view
Courtesy Action Target

Same thing. Aim for the middle. In fact, you’re well-advised to get yourself some of these “side-on” targets; gun ranges generally don’t stock them.

Some gun gurus recommend aiming for the pelvic girdle (that bit below center mass, just below the stomach). They usually add the caveat that you should do so when the bad guy is right on top of you. At which point shooting any part of their body is a very good idea.

Back in the day, before the widespread adoption of semi-automatic pistols, instructors used to talk about shooting a revolver to “zip up” the bad guy (that’s got nothing to do with hoodies). They advised armed self-defenders start shooting at the bad guy’s pelvis and keep firing. As the gun’s muzzle rises, follow-up shots will rise too, moving from pelvis to center mass.

But that’s a lot of thinking and aiming during a tense, adrenaline-filled life-or-death scenario. Don’t over-think it. Just aim for center mass and shoot until the threat is stopped.

Shooting a bad guy isn’t easy. You’re moving — you are moving, right? — the bad guy’s probably moving, too and your stress level is pegged at Chernobyl levels.

police training range shooting
By NIOSH – NIOSH, Public Domain

While cops tend to get a mulligan (or a dozen) when rounds go astray, you won’t. Every bullet you fire comes with a lawyer attached, as they say. You need every round to hit the bad guy if at all possible, and none not to. 

So move, shoot, aim at the bad guy’s center mass, and hope for the best. Remember: people don’t just fall over and die in real life when you shoot them like they do on TV. Keep shooting — at center mass — until the threat is stopped. And try hard not to miss.

That said, if your attacker is wearing body armor or you really, really want to stop them dead in their tracks, go for a head shot. Realizing that the only way to raise the odds of that working is to get close…and be accurate. Gruesome as it sounds, gruesome as it will be, a contact shot is best.

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