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According to Hollywood, you shoot a bad guy, they die. Unless they suddenly and unexpectedly come back to life. In which case the good guy shoots them again. And then they die. Here in the real world, bad guys remain animated for quite some time after they’re shot, before they stop pestering people. A homicide detective told me most bad guys stagger around for at least a minute before they collapse. Maybe it just seems that way. Anyway, even without stats (cough 80% survival rate cough), we know guns are not death rays. That’s great news if you’re a good guy who gets shot. It’s not so great news if you’re a good guy attempting to stop a lethal threat through armed self-defense . . .

First, note the word “stop.” If you’re trying to kill someone—even if that someone is in the act of trying to kill you—you’re on shaky legal and practical ground.

Legally, generally, you’re only allowed to shoot to end a credible and imminent lethal threat. If the bad guy or guys die in the process of ballistic threat cessation, oh well. It’s a good thought to keep in mind before before and after a defensive gun use (DGU). Statements like “it was him or me” are not helpful to your cause. “My life was in danger” is all the mantra you need before you lawyer-up.

Practically, shooting to kill can be a huge waste of time—time that would be better spent leaving. If you can shoot and scoot, that’s the ideal plan B. (Plan A was scooting without shooting.) And when your priority is skid-addling, you view your firearm in its proper perspective. It becomes what Ralph calls a time machine: “It gives me time to get my ass out of Dodge.” True dat.

OK, so, there’s no such thing as a “one shot stop.” Well, there is, but it depends on a large range of factors: caliber, shot placement, the recipient’s level of intoxication, etc. It’s not a good idea, survival-wise, to believe such a thing exists. As Ben Frankin said, it’s better to be a pessimist and pleasantly surprised than an optimist and constantly disappointed.

This doesn’t mean you should empty your mag at the mo’ fo’. That would be stupid. There may be other mo’ fo’s ready to go. At the other end of that, DAs don’t like bullet-ridden corpses. As the rabbi says, you need to fire as many shots as you need to fire and no more. Which requires a bit of thinking, if you think about it.

Only most shooters don’t think. They shoot until their gun runs dry and . . . that’s it. As the Dixie Chicks sing, there’s your trouble. Legally and strategically, it’s really important to make each shot a conscious choice. The only way to do that” follow the path to Carnegie Hall. Practice.

When you’re at the range, do whatever it takes to NOT mindlessly fire at a target. Don’t load a full mag, shoot a full mag, reload a full mag, etc. Load half mags, insert random snap caps; shoot various strings, practice acquiring the target and not shooting, create multiple targets. Think!

By the same token, stop thinking about what’s on the target after you shoot and start thinking about the act of shooting. Run through scenarios in your head and then shoot. What am I doing and why am I doing it and what would I do next? After you shoot, check left and right. Really look at what’s going on around you.

The goal: to process information about lethal threats in real time as you’re shooting. That way you can keep shooting until the threat ceases—and no longer. Well, in theory. Truth be told, no matter how you train, everything may go to shit. You may well empty your gun. Never mind. It still pays to train yourself to think before, during and after you shoot, just in case you somehow manage to do so instinctively.

Instinctive thinking? It’s entirely possible. But one thing’s for sure: a bad guy doesn’t stop being bad because you shot him. In fact, he can go from bad to worse. You have been warned.

[h/t to for the video link]

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  1. “Only most shooters don’t think. They shoot until their gun runs dry and . . . that’s it”.

    Is that true that most SD/HD shooters empty their gun into a potentially lethal threat even if it is one thug and assuming that the intended victim (innocent person) hit their target with all or most bullets?

  2. We have as least one gangbanger or crackhead getting shot every week in Providence and most of them survive. These fools need to practice and trade up to higher cal. guns because they’re only wounding their intended target, and they tend to hit a lot of innocent bystanders. We had a couple of scumbags try to rob a drug dealer last week, and one of them was shot by his intended victim (the drug dealer) and they were all arrested. The police found illegal weapons and drugs in the dealers apartment, so everyone’s going to jail.

  3. Shoot until the bad guy is no longer a threat. If it takes a few rounds, life is good. If it takes a whole mag, oh well.
    If, during a serious adrenaline dump and ass pucker, you are clam and cool enough to consider what the DA may think, you are pretty close to being Jesus. So why do you need a gun in the first place.
    If you are in a life threatening situation, your only problem is to survive. After that, every thing is not that big of a problem. If you are worried about it do a few of the following:
    1. Train with your weapon in different situations and seek out professional instructors. This should include shoot no shoot scenarios or targets.
    2. Have a plan as to who you will call and what you will say after the incident. Hint, even if you are happy to be alive, don’t express joy at the death of another. Don’t refer to the now dead guy as as scumbag.
    3. Practice being aware of where you are and who is around you. Getting the hell out of the way of trouble can help avoid a very bad situation.
    4. Get a permit to carry. If you don’t have a gun, you are screwed if you need one. If you have a gun and use it, but are not legally allowed to carry it, you will still get screwed. Just not as badly.

  4. Don’t say anything to anybody after the incident other than “I will be happy to discuss what just happened with you through my attorney…” “I will be happy to discuss what just happened with you through my attorney…”

    Practice that just like you practice at the range: “I will be happy to discuss what just happened with you through my attorney…”

    If they ask you anything, your name, the date, whether Tony Sprano should keep his job, repeat “I will be happy to discuss what just happened with you through my attorney…”

    Even if you don’t have one (and you probably don’t) just say “I will be happy to discuss what just happened with you through my attorney…”

  5. May I add.

    Its always better to have a picture of the rat ass dirtbag corpse at the Grand Jury than the actual person now in a suit and tie in a wheelchair at a subsequent trial…….and the civil case that will follow.

    By all means make sure the target leaves in a body bag if you are a law abiding citizen and he/she is a pos.

  6. At the risk of sounding all New-Agey and mystical, this seems to call for some training in Zen and the Art of Archery. It’s not mystical at all, but self-discipline, that could be just as practical in the use of guns (maybe even more so in this day and age).

  7. No, you are not better with the goblin in a body bag. Goblins have rights. DAs will try to get you convicted (See Nifong) to get reelected. Better to be accused of Attempted Manslaughter than Murder.

    And agree strongly with “I will be glad to discuss what happened through my attorney.”

    • That depends very much on where you live. TX has castle doctrine, no duty to retreat, allows deadly force in defense of self or others, and doesn’t allow goblins or their families to sue on good shoots.

  8. Best advise is to lawyer up after such an incident. Don’t try to be nice, or pretend anyone is on your side or will be understanding. They won’t. My state has no home defense “castle-law”; the emphasis is on de-escalating the situation.
    Target practice is also valuable. Hitting a target at 15 feet was rather difficult.

  9. Also try the Mozambique drill – two to the chest, one to the head, then re-assess the threat(s). Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Many ranges frown upon people moving backwards while firing, find one that doesn’t.

    Away from the range find a training partner to role play a threat and practice backpedaling while seeking cover, and whatever other sorts of evasion/defensive measures might be appropriate.

    Random snap caps are a great way to simulate malfunctions – have someone else load the mags.

    Like Rob J says, spend some time rehearsing for a post shooting interaction with law enforecement, and say it to a real, live person, not just in your head. Keep it short and simple, then shut up until you ‘speak to your attorney.’

  10. Robert is 100% correct on the fundamental rule: Shoot until the threat is eliminated. No more, no less. In other words, shoot to stop, not to kill. If the bad guy dies, he dies, but that is not the goal. A large caliber slug placed in the center of mass is most likely to end the threat. It may also be the most likely to be fatal, but causing death is not an appropriate goal.If you are going to carry a firearm for defense, you have an obligation to everyone, including yourself, to give some thought about using it and the consequences BEFORE the need arises. And remember, you may be facing more than one threat. Deal with them all, as necessary. When the threat(s) have been stopped, do whatever is necessary to protect yourself. That may well mean leaving the immediate vicinity quickly, before associates of the threat show up and become threats themselves. You may be injured yourself, so that may factor in to the problem. You may not be able to flee. If you can’t, do whatever you can to take cover, and quickly assess the situation and/or your injuries.Once you have secured your own safety, it is time to call 911. Immediately. Report the shooting and advise the 911 operator that medical assistance is required. Immediately calling for medical assistance for a threat you have stopped by shooting will go a long way to establish that you weren’t trying to kill, but to stop.Be aware that your adrenalin will be pumping, and so will your mouth if you don’t make a conscious effort to shut up. Give yourself some time to recover before attempting to describe what happened. If an officer is demanding an explanation before you can collect yourself, say, “I’m too upset and excited to think straight, give me a minute to calm down.” And then shut up, until you do calm down, no matter what the officer says. Better to be silent at first, than to say something in your excitement that is inaccurate.None of this will come naturally, which is why you need to THINK ABOUT IT BEFORE IT HAPPENS.

  11. Shoot the threat to the ground before you cease firing and always carry a spare magazine/reload with you.

    If they are worth shooting once, they are worth shooting twice or even more.

  12. I was informed to keep a record of my shooting practice dates/times/ammo used/gun shot. I can’t remember why, but I do. Does anyone out there know why?

  13. And if you live in a community where the mooks run the show and honest citizens are hassled for defending themselves move. If you can’t move at least quit spending money in the local businesses and let ’em know why.

  14. I took two courses of training in self defense shooting, as well as participating in IPSC shoots. My first instructor, a police sergeant, advised me “shoot until the gun is empty” in a defensive situation. I never really bought into that, and my second instructor agreed. “Shoot to stop at center of mass” was his mantra. Targets were 8 1/2 by 11 sheets of paper and nothing else, especially nothing that looked human. He drilled into me time and again, “shoot to stop”. That is now second nature to me and I’m glad of it.

  15. Two problems with not shooting to kill.

    One: there will be two stories. The cops may believe him and not you. If he’s dead there will be only one story.

    Two: when he gets out of the hospital he may decided to even things up. This will not happen if he’s in the morgue.

    Carry a large caliber pistol and learn to shoot. As for getting out of Dodge, what if it’s your property like, uh, your home?

  16. Correct me if I am wrong: I have a 9mm S&W five-shot revolver with hollow-point bullets and a laser pointer mounted on the barrel. I am hoping a single head shot, inside my home, will suffice to stop an intruder permanently. Not a marksman, perhaps I should aim for center-of-mass, but that would not be decisive, especially if I have an intruder with a bulletproof vest. The gun is for self- and family defense at home. I do not plan to try to practice. I do plan to lawyer-up. Am I fairly safe or fooling myself?

    • Lasers are nice, but unless you can squeeze the trigger smoothly as the world goes to crap, you will probably miss. I was a Law Enforcement fire arms instructor for several years, we taught to shoot center mass first. A headshot after may be needed. Your fine motor skills go out the window when you are in a life or death situation. It is very hard to quickly get a head shot and end the problem under extreme stress. It has been done, but I would not count on it. Two rounds center mass tends to slow the bad guy down, but you need to keep shooting if he is still a threat. You do need to practice with a professional instructor. Lay out some cash for a class. It will be eye opening. Seek out an instructor who can run you through some drills. You may change your out look on how you would respond.

    • “I do not plan to try to practice.”

      Stop right there: you are very definitely fooling yourself.

  17. Yes, you are counting on a rather improbable chain of events.

    The head is a small target. People move, especially during a fight. You have only five shots in your double-action revolver, with its heavy trigger pull. You admittedly are not a marksman. It will likely be dark inside your home, and the distance between you and the intruder will be too close to you to give you the time to carefully aim at anything.

  18. Sorry to learn that the head shot is unlikely to be successful. Hoped the laser beam would help my marksmanship. May have to aim for center-of-mass, up close. Unfortunately, I understand that for fifteen seconds or longer, the intruder would be able to strike, shoot, what-have-you. Our dog should give us some warning, but cannot be relied on to do more than that, a tough retriever but not a shepherd. My wife is quadriplegic. We do have a nurse. A call to 911 will not stop the assault, only deal with the aftermath. Suggestions?

    • First, there are no guarantees in a gun fight.

      Second, when you or your loved one’s life is endangered…shoot to stop the threat.

      He is coming at you? Put one center mass. Is he still coming? Put another center mass. Repeat until he either stops advancing… or you run out of bullets. Then use the gun as a club to beat him to death… and your teeth to tear his throat out until the fight is won, or you are dead.

      Stay in the fight.

    • Bad guys don’t like dogs because they warn of an intruder. Any dog that warns of a bad guy is a mobile security system and a good thing to have. A laser will help you, but it just doesn’t allow for perfect shots unless you all ready are a good shot. I would count on center mass. If you can’t find any good instructors, just go shoot the gun at a range so that you are familiar with how the gun shoots. Revolvers tend to have heavy triggers, make a lot of noise, and put out a big flash. You may want to see all that at a range first.
      I would not worry about the bullet proof vest. If you hit him a couple of times, and he is wearing one he will probably have a couple of broken ribs or be in a hell of lot of pain. That may stop the threat, if not, continue.
      Look into having a reinforced plates installed on your doorjambs. This will prevent most kick ins and give you warning as to an attack. They cost about $42.00 each. I have them at my place. Mine come from There are plenty of others around. Just start looking around on the internet.
      Hopefully all of this is just an exercise in preparation.

    • Make your home a bad target for bad people. Bad guys like to pick easy targets, and they do look at a home before they decide to enter.
      Make sure you have good exterior lighting so you and your neighbors can see someone walking around your home at night. You can put them on timers or just install fixtures that automatically go on and off in response to day light. Trim over growth so that a bad guy can’t hide behind overgrown branches next to your home.
      If you don’t have window locks, install them. The simple ones require a small hole to be drilled in the window track, thats all. These hand tightened locks are cheap, but a bad guy will see them and know he will have to break the window (making loud noises) to get in.
      Lock up doors and widows. Many a bad guy has entered through the open window or patio door.
      Good luck.

  19. OK, let’s say someone tries to rob you at a 7-11 parking lot. You felt endangered, and shot to stop the threat. Then, scanning the environment for futher threats, you spotted a possible accomplice advancing in a threatening manner.

    You evaced the area successfully, without further incidents.

    Now, should you turn yourself in? If so, doesn’t this mess up your “remain silent and take the fifth” defense?

    Not trying to troll here. I am genuinely curious as to what you are supposed to do. Legally, morally, etc.

    • Call the police, get a lawyer. You shot your firearm in some kind of city limits (where there’s a 7-11). You either hit or didn’t. If you hit, the police need to know to pick up the baddie at the hospital. If you didn’t, you need to tell he police through a lawyer so that the baddie (and the 7-11 security cameras) do not tell a different story.

  20. Ed: I’m not a lawyer, nor have I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express, but here’s my opinion.
    At the point you described, it is time to phone 911, and report the incident. Failure to do so is a crime. BUT, you should be absolutely aware that every word you say to the police can and WILL be used against you in court. “I was just attacked in the 7/11 parking lot at ____, and used my legally carried concealed weapon to defend myself. A second assailant advanced on me in a threatening manner and I fled the scene. My name is ____ and my number is ____. Can I meet with an officer to fill out a report?” Immediately upon getting a meeting set up, telephone your lawyer to go to the meeting with you. Figure that you’re going to spend a bare minimum of $1000, multiplied by the number of times you fired, times the Handguns Inc Rating of the DA, times the number of witnesses, divided by the number of felony convictions of the perp. Kiss your gun goodby, it is going to spend many months in a police locker, and most probably will not be coming home with you afterwards. And for God’s sake, do not speak to the police without your lawyer there, and even then everything, and we mean everything goes through him.

  21. This may be a situational call as to whether to call the police or not. A growing number of law abiding folks do not consider law enforcement the ‘good guys’. Shoot and scoot may be a wiser move if the attacker is dead right there; especially if the encounter is one on one. You can state that you left the area to avoid any continuation of hostilities from unknown (to you) allies of the perp. Not a lot of people have $80 to $100 k sitting around to pay a lawyer to mount a defense in a shooting case. Calling the cops will put you in a position to spend that. I’ve had occasions where some mope mistook me for a victim. In my expierence notifing the police was a waste of time and only served to increase the crime stat numbers.

  22. Something to remember: secure the other guys’ weapon! This prevents you from having to ‘justify’ shooting an “unarmed ” person. Bullet holes from gunfire at you can (will) be excused by a rogue prosecutor as being pre- existant. If you have to scoot (retreat) take his gun with you if at all possible.( state that you didn’t want evidence to disappear).

  23. My thanks to all of you who replied. I will look for a place to get some real instruction on shooting my revolver. It is single-action, and I have practiced dry-firing it a number of times, watching the laser beam motion on the nearby wall. Not too bad, under ideal conditions, but I am changing my strategy and will aim for center-of-mass. The house is always lit inside, as we have twenty-four-hour nursing for my wife. We do have the windows locked, and the outside lights have motion detectors. We do not look particularly prosperous in this neighborhood. I think we are not an attractive target. If a convenient hand-gun class comes along, I will likely take it. Again, thanks.

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