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Self-defense techniques are fascinating. The combination of physics, strategy and determination is poetry in motion. Well, not really. Real fights recall Thomas Hobbes’ view of life: nasty, brutish and short. While I’d like to believe that police officers and other civilian gun carriers could master the master’s moves for ground-based in-hand gun retention, I seriously doubt it. Most people are unwilling or unable to practice hand-to-hand combat sufficiently to perfect the perfect technique for getting an oaf off of them. And even if they did, the map is not the territory. There’s an excellent chance their “muscle memory” would forget to remember Richard Nance’s sage advice when push came to shove. So where does that leave us? With one simple principle . . .

Fight! Fight for your life! Kill, crush, destroy! No rules, no mercy, no holding back. Give it all you’ve got the moment you’ve got to give it.

As far as I can tell, after taking a number classes with a variety of instructors, that’s the Krav Maga way. The moment you know you’re under attack, or about to be under attack, you let slip the dogs of war. You punch, kick, strike, whatever with as much force as you can possibly muster. If you’re defending yourself from an assault, you do so with speed, surprise and violence of action. In other words, you attack as you defend.

This is not news; I’ve written on this topic before. I shared how I taught my girls to do anything not to be dragged into a stranger’s car, even if it means being shot or stabbed. All-in at the start. But a commentator recently brought up the subject of a gunslinger’s willingness to kill in the post Three Good Reason Not to Carry a Gun. Which raised the question: does “going all-in” mean shoot sooner rather than later?

More than a few members of TTAG’s Armed Intelligentsia have stated flat-out that if they clear leather (un-holster their firearm), they’re going to shoot. I don’t hold with that definition of “all-in.” A lot can happen between unholstering, aiming and pulling the trigger. Best case scenario: the attack – or threat of attack – has stopped. Second best case: the bad guy or guys sees the gun and stops his, her or their attack. Either way, that is my goal. Stopping the attack.

Remember: shooting someone is no guarantee that they’ll stop their attack. (Anyone who counts on an immediate and conclusive ballistic solution to a lethal or potentially lethal threat is ignoring the astounding effects of adrenalin, buying Hollywood BS and making a big mistake.) Equally, shooting someone could seriously annoy them, with all the retaliation that would entail. And don’t forget the paperwork.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying don’t shoot the bad guy when your or other innocent life is in imminent danger of death or grievous bodily harm. I’m simply pointing out that bringing your gun to bear on a bad guy or guys is different from mounting a physical defense/offense on your assailant or assailants. You might – might – have the chance to reconsider shooting your attacker(s). You might – might – have the time and/or distance to make that decision. If so, keep an open mind about taking it.

Now. Keep an open mind about it now. Chances are you’ll be acting on pure instinct during an attack. And if you do, so be it. Your survival, and the survival of other innocent life, is Job One. If all goes well, there’ll be plenty of time to analyze your performance after the fact. (Not that you should, but there will.) If you win, if you survive, that’s all that matters. Going all-in to win works. Unless it doesn’t.

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  1. I tend to agree with the “If I clear leather I’m shooting” mentality. I used to believe in a warning shot (no longer!) but by the time I draw you’ve already made your intentions clear and I am facing an imminent threat to my survival. Last thing I need is a jury hemming and hawing after hearing the prosecution say “but did he REALLY need to shoot? He had time to think about it after he drew, he could have taken that moment to run!”

      • I tend to lean towards drawing sooner than late as possible, which in my mind, increases the chance that firing your weapon is necessary. Let’s consider that police pull their weapons all the time without firing them.
        With that in mind, being fully cognizant that police are vastly more likely on a daily basis to be in a situations that would be considered threatening to officer safety, I envision situations that I would probably pull my weapon and be quite ready to get busy as opposed to standing around flat footed waiting for the last possible second before taking action, pulling my weapon and firing.
        There is an awful lot of folks in prison saying one thing (If I just hadn’t pulled the trigger)
        Every situation is fluid and dynamic. Even the slightest differences in available light, a slight turn of someones body, the absence of witnesses can influence lethal necessity. Many shootings are micro analyzed in making the determination of justifiability A persons location is a huge factor as are their ethnic background and available assets. You wouldn’t think it would make a difference, but I’m telling you it does. You take a poor black man involved in a defensive gun use and have the exact same thing except it was a rich white lawyer instead. Who’s getting prosecuted and who gets the benefit of the doubt?
        I’m not the slightest bit racist, but what I described, however distasteful and wrong, is nevertheless a reality, and that is a tragedy in itself.
        I have to think that clearing leather slightly sooner than later is better than clearing late and firing. I’d rather explain away why I jerked my pistol as opposed to explaining my justification in a shooting.

        • I’m with you on this, Mark Lloyd. I remain very situationally aware so that I’m not forced into NEEDING to be a quick-draw artist. If you’re able to judge threats at all accurately, clearing leather won’t become a “brandishing” issue for you, because bad guys don’t call the cops. The use of force continuum I learned was shout, shove, show, shoot… and I’m not willing to commit myself mentally to absolutely pulling the trigger if I draw my weapon. There still needs to be a decision point before firing.

      • Along the same lines, it is a sad reality that shooting your attacker (even if justified) means you may “win the battle” and yet “lose the war” in the legal aftermath of your actions.

        Saying it another way, you have to consider that there are always two potential attackers: the criminal thug immediately in front of you and the district attorney who may come after you later for defending yourself. (Remember, you may prevail in court for defending yourself, but at what cost financially?) However, if you manage to stop your immediate attacker without firing your gun, you will greatly diminish any grounds for the district attorney in the future to attack you for defending yourself.

      • Unless the attacker is critically wounded and the choice is between killing them or waiting and making sure they are no longer a threat, I would tend to agree with Christian. If you are drawing your gun, your life is in clear and present danger. Don’t draw if you aren’t pretty sure. Getting convicted of brandishing because you told yourself you always have the option of not shooting and you drew before a threat materialized is not a smart choice.

      • because many of us live in a state where ‘brandishing’ is a crime; and brandishing includes showing a weapon to try to deter an attack?

        once the non-shoot event is over, it is all too possible to face a criminal charge of brandishing lodged by the attacker (‘i was only trying to get his/her attention and he/she pulled a gun and i felt threatened’). this not a joke, it has happened and the jury determined the good guy could have done a hundred ‘reasonable’ things to avoid showing a gun. with less than 1.5 secs to draw and shoot (and the brain takes the majority of that time to get beyond disbelief), it will be difficult to even notice that a bad guy disengaged (ayoob talks about this). and there is this, you must assume the bad guy has already made the decision to shoot before you were even approached. someone who decides before you even know there is a problem will have an advantage. checking to see if your drawn weapon ended the threat only makes the advantage fatal.

        the firearm laws are not designed to make self-defense use of a gun legal. they are designed to make things so burdensome and so risky that the citizenry will avoid using or even owning firearms. think of it this way, if you were a cop would you rather face the mess of sorting out a citizen dgu, or just call the coroner to take away a dead victim, and launch a maybe search for maybe perps who maybe would prevent you from going home safely?

        cheers, ya’ll

      • Since I’m a civilian who can be prosecuted for brandishing/causing alarm/what have you, drawing my firearm is a last resort. I avoid situations that can escalate to violence like the plague. I have good situational awareness, and I have more than once beat a hasty retreat from less savory parts of town to avoid incident (my job takes me all kinds of places). I can and WILL show you a clean pair of heels if there is any opportunity.

        So suffice it to say that for me personally, if I ever have to draw my firearm to defend myself it will be because I am unable to evade or escape the threat. I could see grasping my firearm in it’s holster (a way to indicate that I am armed) but if I draw it means there is a clear and present threat that I have to stop. My attitude would be inappropriate for a LEO or a soldier. In our society there is an expectation that civilians are to RETREAT whenever possible. I dislike this, however I have better things to do with my time and money than spend years in the legal system.

        If I have to use my gun I will have no choice, it will be out, fired, and holstered immediately upon cessation of the threat.

    • I don’t have the “if I clear leather I’m definitely going to shoot” mentality on duty or off. It just doesn’t work for me – I’d have to shoot during every felony stop or arrest. Off duty, that means I couldn’t clear my own home or check that bump in the night with an unholstered gun.

      So as someone who has actually cleared homes on duty and off, that mentality doesn’t hold water. In fact it sounds like a mindset from folks who haven’t experienced violent confrontation. Put simply, the standard for drawing is lower than the standard for shooting. One is a healthy suspicion of criminal activity, the other requires the presence of fear, ability, and intent for justification. Choose wisely.

      • I am glad you do not have that mentality. The officers who do get crucified for bad shoots. The SC officer who lit up that black gentleman at a gas station comes to mind.

        Keep in mind though; I am not a LEO. I can and will be called a vigilante by the press if it fits their narrative, I can and will be prosecuted by a DA looking to pad their win/loss ratio, I can and WILL be hung out to dry by politicians in order to appease the angry mob.

        For you however, the rules are different. YOUR standard for drawing is lower than the standard for shooting.

        The nature of your job is such that the threat of violence is implied by your very presence. It is your JOB to apprehend those who flout the rule of law. You can draw down on a suspect with relative legal impunity if you have “reasonable suspicion of criminal activity” – and only an utter fool would dare you to shoot or disregard the orders of an officer with a drawn weapon. You have a varying degrees of violence at your disposal and a legal system that gives you considerably leeway and protection.

        If I drew on someone with “a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity” There are two scenarios I think of immediately.

        (1) I get charged with disturbing the peace/brandishing and it could wind up my word vs theirs in court. I could face charges, spend money I don’t have defending myself and lose my gun rights. Not to mention the severe repercussions to my personal life.

        (2) I could wind up having to shoot anyway. In which case the criminal knows that I’m armed and I lose the only advantage of concealed carry – surprise.

        As to “clearing homes” the only home I’ll clear is mine, and I don’t clear leather to do so. I nudge doors open with my foot and keep my 870 held at the ready.

      • I’m glad I don’t have the mentality either. I know first hand that in real world scenarios, just the presentation of a weapon is enough sometimes.

  2. I beat a guy into the hospital once with just my bare hands and work boots. It;s an exhausting thing to do. It’s fast, ugly and primeval.

    I warded 2 guys off with my knife once.

    Given my choices I would prefer to stay at a distance. Especially since I’m not so young anymore. Guns are so much more civilized.

  3. I think the “go all in” approach with H2H has its merit. But just like the metaphor with poker, you either better have a strong hand or be able to pull off a bluff. People who are outclassed in size and strength may find they have bitten off more than they can chew. I think it’s a myth that a street thug will be surprised or dissuaded by a determined counter-attack delivered by a weaker, smaller opponent. So, if you are bigger and stronger than the BG, the confrontation probably won’t ever start. If you’re not, you better have some skills, in case “going all in” doesn’t work.

  4. Disagree completely on the training part. The whole point of carrying a weapon is you don’t have to work out, get tactical training, prostrate yourself to a sensei, or hang out with the bearded buffed tacti-cool operators. Mind your business and when thug monkeys muck up your day, clear leather and make your play. One interesting observation reviewing criminals reaction to a shooting response on youtube, is none stand their ground. Criminals clearly understand the power of a firearm and when lead flows, cost/benefit says time to go.

    This is the greatest advantage of being a criminal mark. He assumes your unarmed and hopes his gun insures compliance. The moment you react you may not live, but the attack will end. I submit, while clearing holsters plays a part, clearing your mind and fully committing to counter attack gives you the best chance for survival.

    • So you think you just put a gun on your belt and you’re Superman? It ain’t true. You need serious training to be effective with a gun. “…clear leather and make your play…” sounds like too many cowboy movies. As for criminals folding as soon as they see a gun, there is a cop in Skokie, IL, also a firearm instructor. He was rushed by a suspect who fired 21 rounds at him from two handguns. He had to fire 33 rounds of .45 in return, hitting the suspect 14 times, six in supposedly fatal locations. The suspect finally went down, but was still alive when they got him to the hospital. Handguns are not as effective as people think they are, either physically or psychologically.

      • “You need serious training to be effective with a gun.”

        Actually, it’s just the opposite. One of the nice thing about firearms is that people can use them effectively without serious training.

        Training is obviously a good idea, but there have been MANY cases where individuals with little or no training effectively defended themselves with firearms. In fact, it is probably the norm.

        Like it or not, most gun owners don’t have much training. There are tens of thousands to maybe millions of defensive firearms uses per year. Only a small minority of those cases likely involve individuals with extensive formal training.

        The poorest people generally live in the most dangerous areas. These people aren’t can afford to spend a week at gunsite. Would you dissuade them from purchasing firearms to defend their families?

        • I can partially agree with that. The gun is the great equalizer, even for the untrained. But it doesn’t make you Superman. It is foolish to strap one on or put one in your nightstand and say, “I’m safe!” I would make a stronger training recommendation than you. It does not require a week at Gunsite. You spend a few hundred on a gun, and I think spending another few hundred with an instructor or in a class at a local range is a reasonable minimum. If you can afford the gun, you can afford some training.

          Yes, untrained people do defend themselves with guns all the time. But there are also a lot of cases every year where people shoot their own loved ones thinking they are intruders, cases where guns are taken away from defenders and used against them, cases where people go to jail for taking their gun into the wrong jurisdiction and cases where the defensive shooting is successful, but the defender goes to jail. If a person is poor, they should think that legal defense for a shooting can easily run up to $10,000 and what price can you place on not going to prison?

          A basic course like NRA Defensive Pistol ($125 plus ammo when I took it, prereq was NRA First Steps pistol, $100) would go a long way. They talked about all those scenarios in that class. I think at the very least, a course like that puts you in a shooting situation with some stress and helps you sort out your weaknesses. With rights comes responsibility.

    • So what do you do when an attacker comes up behind you and puts you in a choke hold, or there are 2 guys, one behind you? Draw, twist the gun around and shoot behind you? Better hope you don’t touch the trigger in your adrenaline induced haze as you muzzle sweep your midsection. Or that his buddy doesn’t stick a blade in you. Elbows and a stomp on the arch of his foot are far more effective, and likely your only choices until you get loose.

      2 or more bad guys is a fairly likely scenario, and you’d damned well better be practiced and have a good idea of what you are going to do.

  5. The last knock down, drag out fight I was in lasted well over a minute. It is about as exhausting as anything can be.
    That said, I think if a worse case scenario hits you, your thoughts now can help you later. Have you trained, can you document it? How have you trained? Shoot/no shoot scenarios? Did you pass or get graded in any way?
    Can you articulate why you did what you did so that your actions follow the spirit or letter of the law?
    Your actions and the thoughts that guided your actions are what will be taken into account by a prosecutor and or a grand jury.

    Stay safe.

  6. True story: My friend and I were accompanying a stunningly attractive woman to lunch one day when we were targeted by a very large, well experienced, street thug. What he saw was a couple of old guys and a pretty woman—easy pickings for a guy who knew how to take other people’s stuff. As he moved up behind us I could sense Something Bad was going to happen . . . but then it didn’t. The guy abruptly slowed, turned around and went the other way. My friend, a genuinely hard man with some jail-time and all manner of scrapes most of us never encounter in his past, explained that he had simply opened his knife and, holding it at his side, made sure Mr. Bad Ass saw it. Moral of this story: always carry a knife, at least.

    I’m a firm believer in deterrence whenever possible. In this case, as in most, there was a boundary that didn’t get crossed. And, in defending oneself or others, it’s important to know where the critical boundaries are and to be ready with your own version of serious violence if they get crossed. But not before, never before. Basically, this is just Red-Neck Rules The problem with kind of dictum, however, is that it’s hard for us to see the boundaries before they get crossed. Most of us, myself included (it’s been awhile, anyway), are not very good at reading threatening situations and so we lose the critical moment of initiative when we can fade the heat and make the Bad go away.

    In the example I just related, we were in the company of someone who it turned out was completely prepared to get into—and win—a bloody fight with a street thug . . . but only if a critical boundary was crossed. Mr. Bad Ass understood that, too, and wisely decided to find easier pickings. It’s not always that easy, of course, but when it is and the boundaries don’t get crossed life goes on. And that’s a good thing.

  7. There’s a lot of options that suddenly emerge/disappear once “the drop” has been achieved either by or on you. There is really no consistent flowchart of actions to adhere to in these kind situations, the only constant that you can be sure of is von Clausewitz’s “fog of war” idea, or that you can be sure that you won’t ever be sure of what is going to be the best action to take when the time for action is upon you and to never be inflexible in what to do or not do.

    • I talked to a knife instructor once, who was the son of the guy who started the USMC real world martial arts training. He was a seventh dan in one martial art, and a sifu in another knife based art. I took that to mean he knew something about the topic, and looked him up once, and he seemed real, per what other instructors said, online.

      He said the way to tell the winner from the loser in a knife fight between two skilled knife fighters was the loser dies in the street, from loss of blood. The winner dies in the ambulance on the way to the emergency room.

      Jimmy Hoffa said; Rush a gun, run from a knife.

  8. As “better” is the natural enemy of “good”, same way “over thinking” is the natural enemy of “thinking”. People use weapons of all kinds to defend themselves since the dawn of the specie. Nonetheless, lately I have seen so much over-rationalization on the matter that it looks like we just started to do that, yesterday.
    I reckon that all the other problems are solved, and all that is left to be done is to debate, full of philosophical joy, the things that the specie is doing since forever.
    If someone needs over-rationalization on the aspects of self-defense, then that someone is already a prey. If one is unable to appeal to the animal within to fight for own life, then that one is doomed. As simple as that.

  9. As useful as these conversations are, once in the heat of the situation, we have to realize that the thought process will be nearly non-existant. 90% of the time I practice my draw the trigger is covered but not pulled, I don’t want shooting to be automatic. Do everything you can to avoid it! Even running away. Great advice but I didn’t follow it. Lost my temper and got up in the face of a local wanna be, didn’t draw but did everything I could to get him to make a move. A strange combination of fear anger and frustration made rational thought almost disappear. Very stupid. Train well it will be all you have.

  10. No offense to anyone, but I can’t stand the phrase “clear leather.” We’re talking about drawing a weapon with a high probability of using lethal force. Being flippant seems inappropriate, and I wonder if such casual references to firearm use could not be used against us by an over zealous prosecutor following a DGU.

    I can’t imagine a competent defense attorney allowing a client to use that phrase in a police interview, deposition or testimony. Which, of course, TTAG isn’t, but don’t think your posts can’t be discovered.

    Maybe I’m being overly cautious, but it just seems prudent.

  11. You really need to know the laws in your own state; partly so you know for knowing’s sake what is legal, and partly for knowing what the potential consequences would be for violating the law. It also helps to be familiar with local customs and attitudes regarding DGUs, as those constitute something of a body of unwritten law that could influence your case.

    In Texas, the legal justification for threatening deadly force is identical to that of using deadly force. One might interpret that as “Well, if I’m going to draw (threaten), I might as well fire.” Another might interpret it as “If I’m not ready and in the right to shoot, then I shouldn’t draw in the first place.” I won’t argue against either, but one should definitely consider both.

  12. it’s unwise to even type “if I clear leather, I’m shooting someone” on the internet, let alone think it in real life. Profoundly unwise, legally, and tactically.

    • Exactly. Imagine if George Zimmerman had written that on the internet and they brought it up at his trial. Thinking that way seems to mean you are itching to shoot someone, hoping that someone will try something so you can kill them and be justified. That’s a sick mindset.

  13. “If I draw, I’m shooting” = “My sword must taste blood once withdrawn from its sheath”. I get the logic about not flippantly drawing in either case, but there are no absolutes about HAVING to shoot unless you HAVE to shoot. I do however agree with shooting as soon as you have anything resembling a sight picture and clear shot on an imminent credible threat and being willing to shoot if you’re willing to draw. If not on the latter, you may escalate the situation to FUBAR and then not be able to get through it using the only recourse you have left yourself.


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