All pistol calibers are inadequate. It will take more hits than you expect to stop a determined attacker.
We teach two things that many people disagree with – the need to be ready to shoot at (and only occasionally hit) attackers very many times before they will cease to be a threat, and that no pistol calibers are very effective when it comes to stopping attackers.
Traditional firearms defense classes will sometimes advocate you shoot twice then stop and observe if the person is still a threat. We understand the unfortunate reason that this should be a consideration – avoiding subsequent accusations of using excessive force.
And many people – ‘old timers’ – will argue against some calibers and claim that their favorite caliber is wonderful while all other calibers are useless.
The real world contradicts both perspectives. A determined attacker can absorb way too many hits before he will stop his attack, and it doesn’t seem to matter what the caliber of rounds you are sending his way may be. Although, for sure, sometimes you’ll get lucky and a single shot – whether it hits him or not – will be enough to have him turn tail and run away as fast as he can go.
But some of the time, you’ll not be so lucky, and those are the situations you need to most focus your training on.
Please read this article. It tells of a police sergeant who is a master firearms trainer and SWAT team sniper who found himself unexpectedly in a gunfight with a bad guy. The exchange of fire lasted less than a minute, and was at very short-range – both being very typical situations.
During the short exchange, the police officer fired 33 of the 37 rounds he had with him. He’d have probably fired more, but he had to switch to conserving ammunition because he was running very low. The bad guy fired 21 rounds from two pistols.
So there’s the first training point. A highly trained police officer fired 33 rounds – and would have loved to have been able to fire more – against one single attacker, who in turn sent 21 rounds back at the police officer. That’s a lot of lead flying through the air – do you always carry extra magazines with you? How would you have managed?
Now, of those 33 rounds, an amazing 17 hit the bad guy. That’s extremely good shooting indeed, and easily twice as good as most police officers achieve. As we said, the officer was much more trained at firearms use than most officers. On the other hand, none of the 21 shots from the bad guy hit the police officer.
Second training point – even at point-blank range, and with a great deal of training, you’re going to be lucky to get one in every three or four shots on target. How would you have scored – would your results have been more like the bad guy’s 0/21, or the police officer’s 17/33?
Third training point – the bad guy soaked up 14 rounds and was still attacking – it was only the last three rounds that stopped him.
That’s an incredible situation, all the more so when you appreciate the bad guy wasn’t high on drugs or anything; he was just simply a determined really bad guy. There’s no way the police officer was stopping after each shot to see the effects of it – he was simply firing as fast as he could.
Keep reading, and you’ll see that six of the 14 hits were ‘fatal’ hits. But none of the six fatal hits, nor any of the eight other hits, were enough to stop the bad guy from continuing his attack. The bad guy finally died in hospital, some time later.
Fourth training point – even ‘guaranteed’ stopping shots such as head shots don’t guarantee you’ll stop the bad guy instantly.
Oh – and the caliber of pistol the police officer was using? It was chambered for the classic .45 ACP round, and almost certainly the police officer was firing high quality hollow point rounds.
Fifth training point – Fourteen hits with .45 cal hollow point rounds, including six ‘fatal’ hits, failed to stop this bad guy’s attack. It was only the final three (three!) headshots that took him out of the fight. Note also the police officer didn’t shoot just once into the bad guy’s head – he did so three times as quickly as he could. A headshot is not a magical solution, and don’t assume your job is done after a single headshot.
In case it isn’t obvious from this story, you need to be sure to have an adequate supply of ammunition with your pistol in a convenient location on your person, and be skilled at quick reloading in a high stress environment. You need to be able to reload your empty pistol in under 2 seconds.
Note also the police officer’s conclusion. He no longer carries a 13 round Glock 21 in .45 ACP caliber. Instead, he carries a 17 round Glock 17 in 9mm. He decided it was better to have more rounds in his gun, albeit of a lesser caliber. And he now carries 145 rounds with him.
A very insecure front entrance with places for intruders to hide out of sight on either side.
We tend to be at our most relaxed when we are at home, and while we might sometimes be annoyed at the inconvenience of people knocking on our front door, we seldom stop to consider them as aggressive would-be home invading attackers.
Here’s a recent news story about a man who went to answer his door bell, and saw a youth standing outside who he didn’t recognize. The man assumed the youth was a friend of his similar aged son, and so opened the door.
What happened next was unfortunate. The youth was suddenly joined by two others who had been lurking out of sight, and all three surged into the house, knocking the man down and then charging towards his wife.
Fortunately the man’s son was home. The son retrieved a firearm, and shot at the attackers, killing one and causing the other two to run off.
The first teaching point here is to be cognizant of the potential for additional strangers to be lurking just out of your field of view.
Have a look at the layout of your house – how easy is it for people to hide out of sight of where you’d be, prior to opening your front door, and then to surprise you and burst on in to your house? Many people have their front door set back a bit with corners and angles providing concealment for would-be attackers, and many front doors offer only a very limited degree of vision from inside your residence to see who and what might be outside.
The second teaching point is to be sure you know who it is that you’re opening your door to. Don’t assume a person is who/what they seem to be. If a person is not personally known to you then they are a stranger and could be anyone, good or bad.
This happened to me just a week or two back. My external security system alarmed, but strangely I didn’t hear the front door bell ring. The outside cameras showed two people – youngish men, reasonably well dressed. I went to the front door, and noticed one of them carrying a bible and both with name badges on, so identified them as Mormons (or some other group that goes door to door), and felt myself instinctively relaxing and reflexively unlocking the door to be polite in my dismissal of their ‘safe’ visit.
But then I realized. Anyone can make a name badge, and anyone can buy a bible. Why hadn’t they knocked on the door or rung the doorbell? So instead of allowing my guard to drop, I raised it and spoke to them through the closed/locked door with one hand on my concealed pistol, rather than opening the door and placing myself in danger.
You need to learn to do the same. There’s no law of the land that says you must open your door to strangers.
Note – the same applies to other ‘uniforms’ too. A man with a toolbelt and clipboard, for example. He might be from the utility company, but any one can buy a toolbelt, overalls and clipboard.
If necessary, install an intercom so you can conveniently chat from inside your house to the people at your door – this also has the tactical advantage of not revealing to the people outside exactly where in the house you are while talking to them. It is not unknown for determined attackers to ring the front door bell and then, while the homeowner is distracted at the front door, someone else breaks in through the rear door.
Lastly, don’t fall for the oldest trick in the book. Well, it’s probably not the very oldest, but it is a classic. You open your door to whoever, and they smile at you, say something warm and friendly, and hold out their hand to shake your hand.
If you reach out and shake their hand, what has just happened? The chances are your right hand is your gun hand, and you have allowed a stranger to seize your gun hand. You’re in the mental mindset of a friendly handshake, and they suddenly flip your arm and swivel you around and have you pinned to the side of your house, controlling your gun hand as part of the process.
Not all strangers are ‘friends you’ve yet to meet’. Be alert and wary any time someone comes to your front door.
Maybe the police can shoot at fleeing felons. But you shouldn’t. Here’s why.
Here’s a short and simple story with a very powerful lesson in it; about a homeowner in Utah arrested and jailed on two misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment.
He arrived home to surprise three burglars about to break into his house. It seems two of them raced away in their vehicle, and the third fled on foot.
Which is where the problem arose. The homeowner apparently fired one shot at the car as it drove away, and a second at the man running away. You might immediately think ‘Only one shot at each? Why not empty the magazine at them!’. By this standard, the homeowner was actually remarkably restrained. But not restrained enough.
It is easy to understand how this could happen to you, too. Your adrenalin is pumping, your sense of moral outrage is surging, and you’ve already pulled your pistol and used the sight of it (and possibly even had to discharge it) to cause the three burglars to abort their burglary and to run away. It is so easy to have images from the movies fill your brain and to find yourself all of a sudden shooting after the fleeing felons, perhaps with half-remembered thoughts about it being legal to shoot at fleeing felons (some states have laws that in some circumstances would seem to allow this).
There are two reasons you should never do so.
1. The Hazard of Shooting in an Urban/Suburban Area
Go stand outside your house or apartment, and look around you. Imagine that you are shooting at people fleeing the scene, either on foot or in a car. Now ask yourself this question : Where will your bullets go? Assume you either miss the bad guys, or you hit them but the bullets pass through and continue forwards (and possibly now deflected in an altered direction).
Oh yes – remember your bullets may penetrate several exterior and interior building walls too. And they will travel up to a mile before losing their lethality. So just because it seems that you can’t see any danger to where a bullet goes, the bullet doesn’t just harmlessly ‘disappear’ when it goes into the bushes that are obscuring your vision of things beyond. It keeps traveling, through the bushes, through the fence, and into whatever lies beyond.
Now allow for ‘Murphy’s Law’ and ask yourself – what are the chances that my rounds will grievously injure or kill an attorney’s child? Or anyone else’s child (or adult) for that matter, too?
Even if you don’t hit any people, how much property damage will you do? Hit a car and you’re quickly up for $1,000 or very much more. Some police departments average payouts well in excess of $10,000 per round fired by their officers. Oh – please also remember that none of this will be covered by insurance, and no matter if your shooting is justified or not, if you damage someone else’s property, you’re going to have to compensate them.
As you’ll see for yourself if you do this exercise (and you really should, because it is very sobering when you do so), in most residential neighborhoods there is close to nowhere that is safe to shoot.
2. Civil and Criminal Liability and No Insurance to Protect You
Shooting after fleeing attackers/felons/anyone is never a good idea and very difficult to justify, either legally or morally. There are special situations where it may be appropriate, but they are very rare and primarily revolve around where you know the fleeing person is going to cause great harm somewhere else immediately thereafter, and/or situations where the fleeing felon is shooting back at you as he runs away and you’ve nowhere to take cover.
You should only use deadly force where you or your loved ones are facing imminent danger of extreme harm. Using deadly force to protect property is a grey area – even if the law allows it in theory, you’ll probably find the laws talk about what ‘a reasonable man’ would do, and the concept of a reasonable man is a terribly vague concept that ends up building generous retirement funds for attorneys. The reasonable man and what he does is what the police, DA, jury and judge all decide it to be, modified as best possible in your favor by your own team of attorneys, expert witnesses, jury consultants, and so on.
Some parts of some states are clearly supportive of the use of deadly force to protect property, other parts of the same states may be equally clearly opposed to it, even though the same law applies in the different (or even same) counties or cities or whatever.
Look at it this way. If the burglars steal your electronics and jewelry, you can claim insurance. But if you shoot them as part of preventing the loss of your personal effects, that same insurance policy almost certainly won’t cover your costs of either criminal or civil defense.
The insurance companies say that being burgled is an event outside your control, an ‘accident’, but shooting someone in any circumstance is always a deliberate act on your part. They’ll cover you for accidental loss but not for the consequences of deliberate actions.
Your Bottom Line
So, to close with our subject line : Don’t get carried away in self-defense, because shooting at anyone when they are running away/driving away from you is almost never self-defense.
The Utah man who used his pistol wisely and well to prevent his house being burgled, and possibly himself being attacked, didn’t know when to stop. If he watched the three burglars flee the scene, he’d have been a hero, and could have gone inside his unharmed home and poured himself a celebratory drink.
But now he has been arrested, incarcerated, will have a lengthy trial process to go through, huge legal bills, and will probably be found guilty and end up with a criminal record. His two shots didn’t alter what happened to the three burglars one bit. But have massively changed his life, forever.
Learn from his mistake. Don’t let this happen to you.
Update : The citizen ended up in a plea bargain arrangement. He agreed to plead guilty, accept a $700 fine, forfeit his handgun, and take a weapons safety class. Details here.
She ran and hid with her children in a closet, and when the bad guy opened the closet door, she shot at him, hitting him five times, in what is described as ‘the face and neck area’, with .38 SPL rounds from her six shot revolver (the sixth missed).
It seems reasonable to assume that this was at a distance of perhaps three feet. The muzzle blasts alone would have been very severe, disorienting and disabling. The .38 SPL round is a good round, at least in terms of pistol caliber rounds. And, of course, as per Hollywood movie myth, five rounds in the face/neck should be enough to instantly kill anyone. The ‘head shot’ – five times over.
But as you’ll see in the article, the bad guy, although no longer aggressive and initially compliant, managed to get free and was subsequently caught by police some houses away. He was taken to hospital and is expected to survive.
The Two Morals in this Story
Firstly, all head shots are not the same. If you are shooting into the lower half of the head, or the neck, your chances of instantly incapacitating your attacker are much lower than if you shoot into the cranio-ocular cavity – a sort of 3″ x 5″ card sized area bounded by the eyebrows at the tip and the bottom of the nose at the bottom.
For this reason, unaimed fire is best directed into the ‘center of mass’ (or, slightly better, the thoracic cavity) – the shots are more likely to hit the target and will have similar effect, whereas unaimed shots to the head may miss entirely or hit a non-vital area. If you need to switch to head shots (due to body shots having no effect, or body armor) then they should be carefully aimed into that 3″x5″ card area in the upper half of the head. Shots that land in that area have a high probability of causing rapid/instant incapacitation – your objective becomes one of ‘quality’ (of aiming) rather than ‘quantity’ (of shots).
Secondly, no matter if the guy is a block away or at very close ‘bad breath’ range, pistols are ‘ballistically inadequate’. While the fight went out of this would-be assailant, it was probably as much for mental as physiological reasons. If the guy had been high on PCP or similar, or just a highly motivated attacker, it seems he would still have been physically capable of attacking the woman and her children, even after taking five shots at point-blank range to the head and throat.
We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again. Six rounds in a revolver are not enough. And when you’re facing down an oncoming attacker, don’t pause between shots. Keep shooting as long as he keeps coming.
‘High Capacity’ Magazines are Not Overkill – They Are, Instead, Essential
The facts of this scenario point to one more conclusion/moral.
As you surely know, politicians are currently clamoring to ban ‘high capacity’ magazines, viewing it as ‘low fruit’ and an easy next step in further gun controls. But here’s a case of a woman who found that her six shot revolver was insufficient to guarantee a positive outcome to having only one person attacking her.
Her situation was unusual – it is more common for people to start shooting at an attacker across a room rather than from the back of a closet to the front of the closet, which means that normally you would not have five rounds land on target from six shots. Remember that trained police officers seldom get more than one round in four on target. In other words, in most common home defense situations, firing six shots from a revolver would probably mean only one hit, and at best, maybe two.
In these types of common self-defense situations, it is very unlikely you’ll have a chance to reload. Maybe you can do a 1.5 second or faster magazine change on the range, but it would take you longer ‘in real life’ because you almost certainly don’t go around with a spare magazine in a pouch on your belt such as you might do on a range. However, even a 1.5 second change is too long – wherever the bad guy was when your gun went empty, he can probably close the distance and be literally on top of you in less than 1.5 seconds, and with you splitting your focus between reloading and avoiding the bad guy’s rush at you, you’re again adding time to the reload process.
Needless to say, unless you’re unusually skilled, you can completely forget about any attempt at reloading a revolver in such situations.
A ten round magazine is not ‘overkill’, not even when facing only one bad guy, and definitely not in the more probable case where you have two or more attackers.
No-one has ever lost a gunfight because they had too many rounds of ammo in their gun. But plenty of people have lost out because they didn’t have enough. Don’t let that happen to you.
Getting your rounds closely on target is essential, but so too is being able to do so in a speedy manner.
Any time you visit a range for some practice, you probably notice two types of shooters.
One type has tiny bulls-eye targets way down range at the 25 yard line or somewhere similarly distant, and are taking very slow deliberate aimed shots at the target – and often hitting dead center with truly impressive accuracy.
These types of people are generally considered to be ‘competition shooters’.
Then there are other people who are shooting at big silhouette targets up really close – no more than 10 to 20 ft. And if you watch carefully, you might notice that some of them are either shooting as fast as the range rules will allow them to shoot, or they are shooting from ‘strange’ positions. Off-handed, strange stances and positions, and so on. Their rounds may land all around the target, but they seem pleased about that, even though the target shooters look at them with derision.
These types of people are generally considered to be ‘combat shooters’.
Which is the better approach for you when training to be able to respond to a self-defense situation that calls for the use of deadly force?
Somehow, many people seem to think that being a combat shooter is a more ‘macho’ (or simply a more fun) thing to be, and it also has the benefit of allowing a person to shoot relatively poorly and not be embarrassed.
Now, we’re all in favor of having fun and enjoying our practice and our training, but for it to be of value, it also needs to give us real-world skills we can benefit from.
Some people have a mental picture of a concealed carry gun only being used when a bad guy is standing straight on to you, and at ‘bad breath’ distance. In such a case you’ll draw your pistol from wherever it was concealed, and probably start shooting as soon as the pistol has cleared its concealment/holster, and rapidly fire multiple unsighted shots into the center of mass of the bad guy. Your shots may be plus or minus a foot in accuracy, but it won’t matter so much at that range. This is the main type of scenario the combat shooter trains for.
Other people have a mental picture of a hostage situation where they’ll need to draw their concealed weapon and take out a bad guy sheltering behind a hostage, with only a thin sliver of the bad guy visible, and the risk that a missed shot will hit/kill the hostage instead. In such a case, accuracy becomes essential. This is closer to the type of scenario a target shooter trains for.
While both these scenarios are possible, there are also many other scenarios in the middle between these two extremes. Indeed, don’t just take our word for it – have a look at the video of this self-defense shootout, where an armed citizen fired between four and six shots, and registered perhaps two hits, neither of which stopped the two attackers (although for sure, it did cause them to run away!).
Don’t you think that a bit more accuracy on the part of the citizen in this case might have saved him the need to spray so many bullets around a densely populated area, and if the two attackers had taken cover and returned fire rather than turning tail and running away, don’t you think that accuracy in the ensuring exchange of shots would have been a major issue?
So, don’t sell the need for accuracy short. There’s never a downside to being ‘too accurate’, but there’s often a downside to being not accurate enough. For example, read this account of how two NY policemen fired sixteen rounds at a person outside the Empire State Building, and managed to hit nine innocent bystanders while doing so. Not prominently mentioned in the linked report, but subsequently revealed, was that perhaps the police didn’t need to open fire in the first place, something that the nine innocent but injured bystanders would doubtless have appreciated greatly.
What Distance to Train At
Same as us, the police sometimes need to shoot at bad guys in self-defense, ie to save themselves personally. But sometimes they also need to aggressively shoot at bad guys just because the guy is bad and they need to take him down before he does harm to others. In that latter case, they will shoot from any distance at all where they feel they have a reasonable chance of making the shot.
But you are (probably) not a police officer, and you will almost never be justified in taking down a bad guy to save others. Okay, there are exceptions to this, but in general, we urge you not to become a ‘vigilante’ but to limit your involvement in deadly situations to only those cases where you have no choice in the matter.
So you should only ever be shooting at a bad guy when he poses a credible immediate threat of doing grave harm to you or your loved ones. What sort of distance is that likely to be? That depends on many things, and in particular, on the weapon he has. If he is fielding a scoped sniper rifle, then he could pose a credible threat, even half a mile or more away (on the other hand, at that range, there’s no way you can do anything in response with a handgun!). But if all he has is ‘only’ a knife or baseball bat, at what point does he become a deadly threat?
The answer to that question depends on several factors, but let’s just say that anyone who is within seven yards/21 ft of you is a deadly threat and you better have your handgun in your hand and pointed at them, ready to fire. If you don’t, then no matter where or how your pistol is holstered, they can be on top of you before you can draw, present and fire it at them. This has been enshrined in the phrase and concept known as ‘the Tueller Drill‘.
As a very rough rule of thumb, if someone is within 21 ft of you, they may be a deadly threat, armed or not, so if the circumstances force you to do so, it is time to start shooting. On the other hand, if they are further away than that, then unless they have a gun pointed at you, they are not yet a threat, and you should attempt to avoid rather than resolve a confrontation.
With this in mind, it would seem that the best distance to train at would be to have life-sized targets in the 12 – 21 ft sort of range. Any closer than 12 ft and the need for aimed fire diminishes, and any further than 21 ft and the justification for shooting diminishes (plus, the greater the distance, the more opportunities you have to escape/evade rather than to stand and fight, and escaping/evading is almost always preferable to standing and fighting).
In theory, you could also practice with smaller sized targets closer to you (the smaller target size compensates for the shorter distance), but we would recommend against that. Practice as realistically as you can, and by having ‘real’ distances, that helps you get an instinctive feel on the street for when people are getting too close and when you have to start to think about urgent solutions to pressing problems.
Now, how about practicing at longer ranges, too? Surely there’s no such thing as being ‘too accurate’?
Well, that is indeed true, but we’d suggest that instead of shooting at bulls-eye targets at long ranges, a more practical type of practice would still involve life-size targets at the ‘real’ ranges you’d be shooting at. But practice for aimed head shots rather than not-so-aimed center of mass shots. Or use different silhouettes with people side on to you (much smaller target area) or with arms in front of their chest (once termed ‘the poor man’s armor’), or poking out from behind a wall, or in some other way presenting smaller targets.
Certainly, as you get better at speed and ‘combat accuracy’ (ie being able to reliably and quickly get shots into the target center of mass) you then want to move the targets out closer to the 21 ft point, and you want to then start shooting not just for center of mass, but for specific locations within the target blob.
There is also one exception to when a person is a risk only within 21 ft. That is if they are inside your home, and are headed towards where your children or other family members are located, or have already challenged you and exchanged fire with you. In such a situation (happily unlikely but not impossible) then you’ll be trading shots with them any time you have a clear sight picture. What are the typical maximum distances that apply within your house or apartment? Probably these distances will be less than 21 ft, but why not go around and measure.
Furthermore, in such cases, they might be sheltering behind some cover, so you’ll not have full body shot opportunities (indeed, in the real world, you seldom or never do). You want to get reasonably accurate at hitting smaller targets at those sorts of distances, and at ‘snap shots’ because they won’t stick their head out and hold it still for you to slowly shoot at.
Speed vs Accuracy
Which brings up the tradeoff between speed and accuracy.
For most of us, we have to choose between speed and accuracy when shooting. Sure, we can try to make like a wild west fast draw gunslinger, yank our gun from its holster, and get that trigger pulled very quickly, but if the shot goes wild, have you actually achieved anything (except probably causing some damage to someone’s property, and possibly even wounding or killing an innocent bystander, unseen/unnoticed by you, a block or two away, and/or inside a nearby house.
Surprisingly, the answer to this question is actually as much ‘yes’ as it is ‘no’. If you get the first shot off, then you have the initiative and you are – sort of – controlling the situation. The bad guy is now forced to respond to your actions rather than able to pick and choose his own gambit.
As we saw in the video example above, the ability of the armed citizen to surprise the bad guy and open fire first caused the bad guy to give up the fight and run away. In this case, surprise and initiative won the day.
In the military, troops are taught about the benefit of suppressive fire. Very little battlefield shooting is actually carefully aimed shooting – much of it is semi-random, fired in the general direction of the bad guys, in the desperate hope that maybe some rounds might land on their targets, and in a desire to keep the bad guy from shooting back. While the bad guy is keeping his head down, he isn’t able to shoot back, and he probably also can’t respond to your side maneuvering into a more advantageous tactical position (either to better press the attack, or simply to, ahem, run away yourselves).
But in the military, the troops seldom have to worry about the consequences of where their rounds end up, and usually a conflict has multiple good guys working together in a trained manner, all with plenty of ammunition and fully auto weapons.
Things couldn’t be more different in real life. As the saying goes, ‘every bullet has an attorney’s name on it’. You need to be careful and sparing of your ammunition and where you are shooting (unless, alas, you are members of the NYPD it seems).
There’s one more important difference between a military conflict and a self-defense situation. The bad guys aren’t being paid or tasked with killing you. Whereas enemy soldiers are being paid to do that, and in a firefight, both sides are supposed to hold their ground and advance on the enemy if at all possible, and to accept some casualties in return for winning the battle, that is not the case with you against the local bad guys.
We don’t know the exact statistics, but we’ll guess that more often than not, if the bad guy simply sees you draw your weapon in a determined and authoritative manner, he’s going to flee the scene as fast as he can (especially if he is alone). A very very few may choose to ‘call your bluff’ – more likely if there are two or more of them and only one of you (and also more likely if you look panicked and irresolute); not only because they have the benefit of numbers, but also because their social/peer pressure makes them each unwilling to be the first person to be ‘a coward’ and run away. In those cases, you’ll need to shoot the most threatening person, and the chances are that as soon as they hear the gun shot, the whole group of them will run off.
Why would they not? Surely it is better for them to run away, safely, and to exercise more care in picking a defenseless ‘soft’ target for their next act of violent crime! They understand that perfectly clearly. They are lazy and don’t want to risk their lives; they want safe easy soft targets and will do all they can to avoid people who don’t have ‘victim’ stamped invisibly on their foreheads.
So from this point of view, speed is important and beneficial.
On the other hand, don’t sell accuracy short. A recent FBI study into the ‘best’ handgun calibers and cartridges concluded that all caliber/cartridge combinations were remarkably similar in effect (in terms of stopping power and lethality), and the most important factor in the outcome of any gun fight was not the caliber/cartridges being used, but rather the accuracy of the shots.
Quickly getting ten rounds out of your pistol, and hitting the bad guy once or twice in non-vital areas will do nothing more than empty your gun and cause damage/destruction all around you. On the other hand, a single aimed shot into a vital zone will end the fight instantly, and just as surely if you’re firing a .22LR round out of a target pistol or if you’re firing .44 Magnum rounds from Dirty Harry’s famous Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolver.
So, the real issue here isn’t whether you should focus on speed or on accuracy. Sorry – you need to get good at both. You want to get the first round off fast, and have it land where you want it to go.
Accuracy and Ammo
An upside to being accurate is that you are less likely to run out of ammunition.
The police average about one hit on target every four or five shots, so to get two shots onto a bad guy requires 8 – 10 rounds of ammo, (and the time it takes to shoot that many rounds). If your pistol only has six rounds in it, which is better? Needing to pause half-way through to reload, or shooting accurately and only requiring (perhaps) four shots for two hits?
At the risk of making an unfair comment, it could be observed that the police response to this solution was to trade in their older six round revolvers and seven/eight round 1911s, and replace them with higher capacity 13 – 17 round semi-autos. That’s for sure one ‘solution’, but it is not the best solution for a private citizen. Not only is a full size semi-auto larger and heavier to carry, and more difficult to do so concealed, but you don’t have the city/county/state/federal government standing behind you and sparing you the civil and criminal liability risks that each ill-aimed round you shoot may create.
As a private citizen and with a smaller sized concealed carry pistol, for all reasons you need to optimize your effectiveness and accuracy with your chosen pistol.
The chances are that you’ll be carrying (concealed) a pistol with only a limited supply of ammunition in its magazine – probably no more than ten, and possibly as few as six or seven. And the chances sadly are that if you get into a situation where deadly force is warranted, then as likely as not, it will involve two or more aggressors, and will be in low/bad/no light.
It will also be at close range, so if you haven’t managed to do something to solve the problem in the first couple of seconds, the bad guys will probably be physically on top of you and you’ll lose control of your pistol. So you need speed to get shooting quickly, and you need accuracy so that the shots are effective.
Although you should always carry at least one spare loaded magazine, the chances are that when the brown stuff hits the fan, you’re not going to have time to reload in the middle of what goes down. You need to solve your problem with only the bullets in your gun at the start of the situation, and so you can’t afford the high rate of misses that even well-trained police officers experience.
One more thing. On a typical ‘square range’ (ie a line of shooters at one end, a line of stationary targets at the other end) neither you nor your target(s) is/are moving. But out there on the street, there’s a good chance that your attacker is moving, and you should be too.
Indeed, studies show that one of the key survival skills when in a gun fight is the ability to be moving yourself – to be moving between shots, and, if the situation and your competence allows it – to be moving while shooting, too.
This adds a massive extra level of complexity and skill development required in order to become truly competent at defending yourself with your handgun, and with few ranges allowing for shooters to be moving, and with few ranges offering moving targets, it is difficult to acquire the extra skills needed. Joining a shooting club and participating in IDPA or IPSC type matches is probably a very good way to acquire familiarity with movement – both yours and your targets.
Accuracy is very important in any situation. Even if your attacker is terrifyingly close to you – at ‘can’t miss’ range – you might still find in the stress of the moment you do miss if you are untrained and unfamiliar with your pistol.
In addition, due to the woeful inadequacy of any and all caliber/cartridge combinations in terms of being able to give you instant single shot stops, even at very close range, you want to be able to land your shots not just blindly and anywhere in the attacker’s torso, but as effectively aimed to vital areas as possible.
Your accuracy needs to be balanced with your speed. Typically there is a trade-off – you can be accurate or you can be fast; training will help you to become both faster and more accurate.
Friend or foe? You need to identify the shadowy figure before shooting.
Something that happens all too often is a justifiable/lawful shooting/killing, but of an innocent person. Now you might be wondering, how can anyone ever lawfully shoot and kill an innocent person? Let’s hope you never get to find out in person.
The most common scenario relates to a person at home hearing an intruder, going to investigate, and then shooting the intruder. But, as subsequently found out, after the shooting, the intruder was someone with a bona fide and/or innocent reason for being in the house.
Typical examples include family members who came home unexpectedly, or sometimes neighbors in the wrong home, or friends of family members (particularly a teenage daughter’s boyfriend, it seems!) who were not expected to be in the house.
What can you do to prevent such a tragedy occurring in your home?
Firstly, you should not go looking if you hear an intruder in your house. If you are sure there is an intruder, call the police. If you are not sure, listen very carefully and intently, maybe turn security lights on and off, maybe even call out. But don’t leave your (hopefully safe and optimized for security) bedroom. If you have no contact with the intruder, there’s no way you’ll accidentally shoot them, right?
Unfortunately, there are occasions when you’ll need to leave the safety of your bedroom. Maybe you have other people in other bedrooms (which raises a warning flag – the noise you hear could be them) who you need to protect. Or maybe, as happened in the linked case above, your power goes off and you need to go to the fusebox.
We can certainly understand you being on a ‘hair trigger’ and, upon confronting an unknown person, in your house in a situation where they have not been invited by you and you’re not expecting them, you’re probably going to be quick – and understandably so – to assume they are not there as a precursor to throwing you a happy making surprise party.
However, you know what they say about assuming, don’t you. You must avoid, if at all possible, shooting at dark shadowy figures prior to either identifying and or challenging them. Even if you know there is an intruder in your home who intends you grave harm, maybe someone else is also in the house, present to help you against the intruder. Always identify your target.
You mightn’t want to give up the element of surprise by calling out to people that you’re coming to get them, but you could at least say ‘Who’s there?’ in a loud voice that carries through the house, even from the safety of your bedroom. If you can hear their stealthy movements, they can surely hear you calling out to them. A challenge from your bedroom doesn’t compromise you so much if you then have to leave the bedroom, although clearly the people in the house now know you are awake and alert.
If you are out there, moving around, then if/when you encounter a stranger, you should shine a flashlight on their face to identify them.
It is common these days for people to want to buy the most powerful flashlight out there, and these days with the latest in LED technology, there are some amazingly powerful flashlights out there, with hundreds if not thousands of lumens of light output, tightly focused in a small circle. This power is great if you are using your light as a weapon, or if you’re trying to see who is lurking behind the trash cans on the far side of your house, but is not so great if you are wanting to use it to identify people in a dark house at short-range. Your own eyesight will be dazzled by a sudden bright light and you may not recognize the person you’re lighting up.
You should use a moderate power flashlight for around-the-house work; bright enough to illuminate anything in the shadows at typical at-home distances, but not so bright as to dazzle you from the light reflected off the intruder’s face.
We like the Harries technique for holding a flashlight together with a pistol. It gives you a convenient way to control the flashlight and keeps it pointing in the same direction as your pistol. Note that this must to be done with great care. Your pistol will now be sweeping the room and pointing at unidentified targets, violating one of the four firearm safety rules in the process. It is even more important you follow all four of these rules in a time of stress and pending action than when you’re calm and relaxed on the range. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking they are optional procedures that don’t apply in real-world emergencies. They apply even more strongly when you’re off the range and in a ‘for real’ situation.
In particular, be sure to keep your finger off the trigger and completely outside the trigger housing, until you’ve identified your target and made a conscious decision to shoot. That way, if you are startled, and have an involuntary tightening of your trigger finger, it won’t result in you firing a shot, whether you intend to or not.
To summarize – avoid confrontations with unknown people in your home (and anywhere/everywhere else). If you are forced to confront someone, then you must follow the four firearm safety rules to ensure you only shoot at identified/confirmed threats, not unknown shadowy figures.
‘When seconds count, the police are only minutes away’. In an emergency, is a phone or firearm most likely to save your life?
It is late at night, and you’ve just heard the unmistakable sound of intruders kicking down your front door and invading your home. Within minutes – perhaps even within seconds – they’ll be in your bedroom.
Imagine that you have a choice of two items on your nightstand. One is a cellphone with 911 programmed into its speed-dial. The other is a loaded pistol. Which would you reach for as the sound of the intruders’ footsteps approaches your door?
This is actually a somewhat unfair scenario, because the correct answer is ‘both’ and there should never be a real world scenario where we are restricted to a choice of only one of these two essential items.
So let’s reword the question – Would you wish to keep a loaded firearm close at hand in your bedroom, as well as a phone? Or is a phone all you’ll ever need to guarantee your safety?
We have a follow-up question, too – especially if you feel that all you will ever need is a phone. How long is the average – and worst case – response time for your local police to arrive at your residence; from the time you first pick up your phone, to the time multiple units have reached your property and the officers in question have worked out a strategy for responding to your home invasion? Oh – did we not mention? If you call the police and say ‘There are multiple intruders in my house’ there’s close to no chance that the first car to arrive, with probably only one officer in it, will do anything other than observe. He’ll wait for more officers, and ideally for a K-9 unit, before even getting out of his cruiser.
Don’t forget also the time it takes to get through to 911, to verify your address and other information, and to persuade the operator that your call is genuine and deserving of a highest priority despatch. That will eat up a minute or more of time before the police ever start rolling towards your home.
The best case scenario is that you’ll be waiting 5 – 10 minutes before any police response starts to make its presence felt. Worst case? You could be still waiting, half an hour later, due to the police being too busy on other priority calls, and you needing to wait your turn, or due to a tragic series of command miss-steps and excessive caution and concern for ‘officer safety’ such as sometimes happens when the police respond to such calls.
In the scenario where intruders are already in your house, you don’t have 10 minutes; you don’t even have 5 minutes. Your life, and that of your loved ones, could change profoundly in the next 30 seconds if you don’t do something to directly impact on what is about to otherwise happen.
We do agree – it is always best practice to call the police as soon as you are aware of intruders in your house, and to then try to get out of the house and to escape, or failing that, to barricade yourself as best you can in your bedroom or bathroom, and hope the police turn up before the intruders get to you. You should call out to the intruders telling them to leave, and advising them you’ve called the police and they’re on their way.
But do you want to trust your life to the desperate hope that this will be all you need to do? Intruders are not necessarily rational people and in a sober state of mind. They may be high on mind-altering (mind-destroying) drugs, and may not be worried at the thought of the police having been called, and/or they might know how long it will take for the police to arrive and not feel any time pressure at all.
For all these reasons, it is prudent to have a firearm conveniently at hand to use as a last-ditch defense option.
Not everyone agrees with this recommendation. Read, and weep upon seeing, the assertion boldly made by (thankfully now retired) Supreme Court Justice Stevens, who in recently addressing a group of DC gun haters, suggested (quoted near the bottom of this article)
Stevens also had a recommendation for people who keep a weapon in their homes for self-defense purposes. “Maybe you have some kind of constitutional right to have a cell phone with a pre-dialed 911 in the number at your bedside and that might provide you with a little better protection than a gun which you’re not used to using,” he said to laughter.
Sadly, we suspect the laughter was not at Justice Stevens for uttering such a preposterous nonsense, but with him, at the imagined foolishness of people who seek to have a firearm as well as a phone for their personal protection.
Oh – as for the rest of his opinions that are referred to in the article? Being as how he was on the losing minority side of both the two Supreme Court cases that dealt with the Second Amendment in 2005 and 2010, there’s little reason to respect his opinions and legal interpretations now as being any more accurate than they were in those two cases. He is clearly a gun-hater and views the law through that distorted perspective only.
But it for sure is a scary thought that a person who was formerly (and for 35 long years) one of the nine people who hold ultimate say over our ability to own and use firearms, would offer up such imbecilic nonsense as suggesting that we don’t need firearms and that cell phones are all the protection we need. Has he never heard the oh-so-obviously true adage ‘When seconds count, the police are only minutes away’?
When you call 911 from a phone you have registered with Smart 911, and if the call is answered by a 911 Dispatch Service that participates in the Smart 911 service, they will get all sorts of helpful information appear on their display, in addition to simply your name and phone number and the phone’s registered address.
You can add a lot of information that might make all the difference when fire, paramedics or police are sent to respond to your call for help. You can include photos of the people who live in your home to aid in identification, and a photo of your house too.
A little considered situation is that if the police respond to a burglary call; when they get there, they don’t know who the burglars are and who the lawful residents are. It would be helpful if you have your photos in the Smart 911 database, so that when the police find you, they relax a bit and don’t have their finger quite so tightly on the trigger while pointing their guns at you. It is also helpful, as a ‘best practice’, to keep some photos of yourself somewhere on display so when the police try to work out who is who, you can point them to your pictures. A picture of you and your other family members smiling in front of your house/apartment is the best confirmation of all.
In my case, I took a picture of my house as it appears from the driveway, and then added an arrow to point to the main doorway too (which was obscured in the photo). I also provided information on an alternate way to access the property from another street, in case multiple police units respond, making it easier for them to secure the perimeter and to catch any fleeing felons.
You can also add information about medical conditions to help paramedics know what they might need to prepare for or respond to, information about pets, cars, and all sorts of other information.
I’ve had problems with first responders having difficulty finding my place in the past. This new service is sure to help. Best of all it is free. So go and join now.
It might save a minute or two of confusion, and that might literally mean the difference between life and death.
Troy Putman was charged with six felonies, after attacking a 93 yr old man and raping his 84 yr old wife.
An 84 yr old lady returned to her home in the early afternoon, and once she got inside the house, she heard moaning coming from her 93 yr old husband who, from the sound of it, was upstairs and in pain.
Imagine this was you (as the 84 yr old woman). What would you do at this point?
It is a fair bet that most of you will say ‘I’d rush upstairs as fast as I could to see what the problem was and to help him’.
Most of the time, this would be the right answer. But most of the time isn’t the same as always, as the lady in this real life situation in Kansas City found out, to her profound cost.
Unbeknownst to her, an intruder had broken into the house, started to ransack the house, came across the elderly gent, and attacked him viciously. When the wife went upstairs to see what the problem was with her husband, the intruder tied her up, robbed her, and raped her too. More details here.
As we explain in that article, what the woman should have done was called out a codeword/greeting to her husband, allowing him to respond with a codeword ‘all clear’ response, or alternatively, to use a codeword ‘danger’ response that would have allowed her to then flee the house and call the police.
It is a very simple thing to arrange with the other people in your house, and only takes a second and no effort to transact each time a person returns to the house. You’ll spend much more time and energy locking/unlocking the door than you will calling out a simple code phrase such as ‘Honey, I’m home’ and listening for an equally simple All-clear code phrase in return ‘Welcome back’ or whatever other phrases you agree upon.
We urge you to consider adopting this. You might be protecting your own life or physical wellbeing, and/or you that of someone else entering the house, and best of all, you might help get help summoned faster and increase the odds of the bad guys getting caught.