How much accuracy do you need, and should it come from your gun or from you?
Some people obsess over the accuracy of their firearms. Others laugh and dismiss the concept as irrelevant, saying something like “the gun shoots so much better than I can, so it doesn’t really matter exactly how accurate the gun itself is”.
If they cite numbers, they might say “I can shoot to within about 6″ of the point I’m aiming at. But these two firearms will shoot to within 1″ or 2″ of the aiming point, so with my 6″ limitation, who cares if the gun is accurate to 1″ or 2”.
When expressed like that, it sounds almost sensible, doesn’t it. But don’t be fooled by things that seem almost sensible! The key fallacy in the reasoning is that the errors are cumulative. Your plus or minus 6″ of accuracy has to have the gun’s accuracy added to it. If the firearm is +/- 2″, now in total you have a system that is +/- 8″.
And, wait, there’s also the accuracy limitations of the ammunition you’re using, too. That might be another inch or two of (in)accuracy, bringing you now up to +/- 10″. And that’s before you start to think of all the other issues that can impact on accuracy when the distance you are shooting to/from starts to extend. Temperature. Barometric pressure. Of course, wind. Uphill/downhill. And so on.
If you are considering accuracy in the context of the increasingly popular sport of precision rifle shooting, these are all important factors that you’ll want to optimize, and it certainly makes sense to start off with a rifle that gives you sub-MOA accuracy.
If you’re thinking more in the context of defensive handgun use, this often boils down to unaimed instinctive pointing. Instead of measuring distances in hundreds of yards, you’re considering a fewer number of inches. Instead of tiny bulls-eye circles, you are simply trying for chest type shots. In these cases, accuracy is indeed less of an imperative consideration.
But, having conceded that accuracy means different things in different contexts, we’re certainly not suggesting that accuracy doesn’t matter in a self-defense situation. As easy as it might seem to hit man-sized targets at close range, the statistics on hits vs misses in real shooting encounters show that when under stress, not only ordinary people but trained police officers tend to shoot appallingly poorly. Other articles on our site give examples of such poor shooting.
Which brings up another possible reason for not considering the accuracy of your firearm. If you can’t hit a one foot square target at 10 ft, does it really matter whether your pistol’s accuracy is within 0.5″ or 1.0″ or even 2.0″ at that same range? Shouldn’t you spend money on better personal training rather than a more accurate pistol?
Yes and no. And, of course, we always advocate you should invest in ongoing personal training. But we also recommend you should start off with the best possible pistol choice, within general limits of realistic cost and functionality.
This is a heavily modified CZ-75 pistol suitable for IPSC competitive shooting, but not something we’d choose for defensive carry.
Here’s an interesting thing. The most exquisitely accurate pistols are also quite likely the least reliable. They are hand-crafted to such fine tolerances that they become more readily troubled by dirt, sand, and other contamination, and they can also be very fussy about which types of ammunition they will reliably feed and cycle.
So don’t go too far down the ‘better accuracy’ path for a defensive handgun, where its prime mission is to be 99.9% reliable rather than 99.9% accurate. But in general, better defensive handguns will be more accurate than inferior defensive handguns, so getting a ‘better than average’ handgun is good for every reason.
Furthermore, while it is true that if you can’t hit a one foot square at 10 ft, you have more important things to improve than your pistol, what happens when the scenario you’re responding to is more challenging than this ‘easy’ scenario. There are five classic scenarios where improved accuracy is much more essential
Other people around the scene and the possibility of stray rounds causing injury or death to innocent people (should you even be shooting in such a case?)
Hostage situations where the bad guy is using an innocent person – perhaps someone known to you – as a shield
Obscured bad guys who are partially protected by some type of cover – maybe a car or side of a building or something
Bullet-proof vests that might mean you need to shoot at unprotected parts of the bad guy’s body
A threat at more than ‘bad breath’ distance – a threat is just as deadly if the bad guy has a firearm and is 20′ or even 30′ from you (many police shootings are at extended ranges way further than the oft-cited 21′ Tueller distance)
Although we’ve listed five separate scenarios where accuracy is important, the reality is that you might find yourself facing a situation with elements of two or three or more of these five factors, making accuracy even more important still.
In such a case, while it mightn’t seem like much, but having a firearm that cuts off a couple of inches of inaccuracy, and ammunition that takes away another inch or two of inaccuracy, gives you a 3″ or 4″ accuracy advantage that might mean the difference between succeeding at stopping the deadly threat or failing.
Lightweight, very short barrels, very short stocks, long heavy trigger pulls and low profile sights with a short sight radius make these two pistols ultra-concealable but poor choices for accurate fire.
What Makes for an Accurate Pistol?
There are many factors that add up to how accurate a pistol is, and most of them are not easily measured or evaluated by you when making a buying choice. These obscured factors have to do with the relationship between the barrel and the sights – typically you have a floating barrel, and sights that are mounted on the top of the pistol’s slide. If the barrel isn’t consistently aligned with the sights, then your accuracy is going to degrade.
Other not obvious factors include the barrel itself – the tolerances by which it was manufactured, and how worn it is, as well as possibly any damage to its crown (the end of the barrel that the bullet comes out from).
Good gun reviews might give you some feeling for pistol accuracy, and good pistol companies will sometimes even quote or guarantee certain levels of accuracy.
There are some factors that you can easily understand and evaluate, however. Most of all, you want good sights and as much length between the front and rear sight as possible.
Talking about length, and, yes guys, size does matter, in general longer barrels tend to be more accurate than shorter barrels, and also allow for more of the cartridge’s energy to transfer to the bullet, sending it downrange faster and with more hitting power.
Still on size, a decent stock on your pistol which you can grasp with all your fingers is also important, giving you a more stable firing platform.
Another consideration is the type of trigger in your pistol. If you’ve a revolver or some types of double-action only pistol, with a long and heavy trigger pull, it is going to be very much harder to control your pistol and experience accurate shots. A striker-fired pistol or a single-action pistol – both with shorter/lighter trigger pulls – will give you much better accuracy.
Still one more consideration is the pistol’s weight. The heavier the pistol, the less the felt recoil, and the better you can control it.
One more consideration is caliber, which is why the FBI returned back to the 9mm round, which they feel to be the best compromise between stopping power, accuracy, and the ability to rapidly get many rounds downrange.
Talking about caliber, don’t forget your ammo choice, too. Sure, stopping power is important, but what use is stopping power if the bullet whizzes harmlessly past your target. Get ammunition that is as accurate as possible.
You can never have too much accuracy.
Get the most accurate pistol you can justify and which remains suitable for its intended purpose (very different as between, for example, a ‘nightstand gun’ at home, and a concealed carry pistol in an environment where it is essential that the pistol remain unseen).
And then, train with it to improve your part of the total accuracy equation too.
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.
Lonnie Lorenza Hollingsworth jr got what he asked for….
An alert and armed 81 yr old gent, Mr James Stevens, was driving back to his home in central Florida when he noticed a Kia following him. Well done, Mr Stevens. Too many of us barely glance in our mirror and don’t take any notice of who or what is behind us.
In addition, a plain ordinary vehicle like a Kia is something you’re likely to look at then ignore and develop a mental blind spot over. Who ever heard of a bad guy driving a Kia?
The Kia continued to follow Mr Stevens for 20 minutes.
What would you do in such a situation? There is something you should do and something you must not do.
The thing you should do is to second, confirm that the vehicle is following you.
But, before that, the very first thing you need to do is to switch to a heightened state of awareness, and to adopt a defensive driving posture.
The key parts of a defensive driving posture are :
All doors locked and windows up (you should always have your doors locked anyway, right?).
Don’t get boxed in – keep out of the middle lane if on a three lane road, and if you have to stop in traffic, leave enough distance between you and the car in front so that you can see the bottom of their rear wheels. That way, if you need to turn out and speed away, you’ll have enough space to do the turn.
If you have a ‘fender bender’ type accident, don’t get out and don’t stop – it could be a deliberate ploy on the part of the would-be attackers to both disorient you, get you focused on the accident rather than on the unfolding attack, and to cause you to stop and get out of your car in a distracted frame of mind. Slowly keep moving and call 911, then follow their instructions.
Pistol still holstered – if you place it on the seat ‘ready for action’ it might slide off, but with any snaps released, round in the chamber, cocked, and safety on (modify as necessary for double action and Glock type shooters).
Getting ahead of things for a minute, but while we think of it : If you subsequently need to leave your vehicle, no matter what the situation, leave your pistol in its holster until you are clear of the car. You need both hands free for exiting the car; if you have your pistol in one hand, something might happen that causes you to drop it (especially with you clumsy from an adrenalin surge, trembling with fear/anticipation, and perhaps under fire/attack. Wait till you’re clear of the car and can switch your focus from ‘getting clear of the car’ to ‘taking care of business’. If you drop your pistol while exiting the car, it could go anywhere, and you then have no gun. Maybe it rolls under the car. You doubly are without your gun then.
Now, on to the second thing. It is easy. Assuming it is safe to do so, and won’t take you into bad parts of town, or onto a country lane with no more intersections for miles, turn right at the next light. Then turn right again as soon as you can. Then turn right again as soon as you can. And, once more, a fourth time (which should get you back the way you were going to start with). If it is safe to do so, by all means drive through red lights as part of this process.
No-one in their right mind does all of that, and your own antics of doing this might discourage the people in the car behind you from pressing on with their villainy against you, whatever it might be they were considering, because you’ve shown yourself as an alert citizen conducting a formal response to being followed. Chances are they’d prefer to go find easier pickings with someone else instead.
Remember – unlike in the movies, the bad guys aren’t hired hit men with a contract to take you out. They are opportunists looking for anyone at all, just so long as the person is an easy mark. When you start acting like this, you clearly show yourself as alert, aware, and using tactics to manage the situation.
If the car is still behind you at that point, there’s a dismayingly good chance that you have a situation on your hands. Maybe they are indeed Mafia hitmen, and maybe they’ve mistaken you for some mob accountant who they’ve been hired to hit. Well, just joking. 🙂 More likely, they’re like Lonnie in this situation we’re discussing here.
As soon as you’ve made it probable that there are bad guys planning bad things behind you, the next thing you must do is call the police for instructions. And the next thing after that is to resist the ‘homing instinct’ – don’t flee to your residence, because you don’t want to bring the bad guys to where you live, do you.
Mr Stevens – the gent in the Florida incident we started talking about above, got things half right. He detoured away from his home. But he got things half wrong. He didn’t call the police – maybe he didn’t have a cell phone with him, perhaps?
He stopped his vehicle, got out of it, and at the same time the Kia also stopped, with 28 yr old career criminal Lonnie Hollingsworth jr getting out of the Kia. He approached Mr Stevens and told his intended victim to give him ‘everything you got’.
An unfortunate choice of words, perhaps? Mr Stevens obliged, but not in the way Hollingsworth expected. Mr Stevens pulled a revolver and shot at Hollingsworth four times, hitting him once in the abdomen, causing Hollingsworth to collapse.
The Two Lessons
In addition to the important points we made above, there are two other matters we’d like to comment on.
First, at what was probably very close range, Mr Stevens only managed to get one of his four shots into Hollingsworth. He was lucky that it was a disabling shot, because if it wasn’t (and statistically it probably would not be disabling), at a rate of one hit per four shots, he’d have been out of bullets (in his six shot revolver) before he got a second round on target.
Mr Stevens is also lucky that Hollingsworth was alone. Again, do the math. You’ve got six shots, it took four to stop the first threat, and now you need to take care of a second threat – with only two remaining bullets?
When did you last see a policeman with a revolver? Folks – while a revolver is better than no gun at all, a nice reliable semi-auto with a dozen or more rounds in its magazine, and a spare magazine or two with you also, is what you need to have with you.
Second, read in the article what it discloses about Hollingsworth’s priors. They include a charge that was subsequently dropped of wearing a bulletproof vest in the commission of an attempted crime. Our guess is the charge was dropped not because he didn’t have a vest on, but because of a plea bargain, or perhaps because it was too difficult to prove he was attempting a crime at the time.
How about that, huh? A criminal who went out and bought himself a bullet proof vest. What a good job for Mr Stevens that Hollingsworth wasn’t wearing it during their encounter! He’d have been out of ammo long before realizing that his shots weren’t stopping the attacker and shifting his aim to the unprotected head – a much more difficult shot to take/make.
Criminals are indeed criminals, and maybe yes they are stupid in many ways too. But learn from this. Here’s a case of a criminal who doesn’t look like his other job in Florida was as a rocket scientist at Cape Canaveral; but he outfitted himself with a bullet proof vest. You need to assume, in your tactical analysis of any situation you find yourself in, that the bad guy is experienced and may well have better gear than you, to say nothing of more experience at doing what he’s about to do. Chances are it is your first ever violent assault; but the chances are it is his tenth or maybe even his one hundredth.
You need to train, train, train, and to do so regularly, to allow you to get close to even odds in such scenarios.
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.
In the early 1970s, Israel responded to the problem of terrorist attacks on their schools, not by disarming everyone inside, but instead by arming the staff. Since then, no terrorist attacks have occurred on schools.
I am a parent of an elementary school child. Most of you reading this will have children of some age or another, too; and even if you don’t have children, you might plan to have them in the future, or simply be a concerned citizen who understands the tragedy of failing to protect our society’s future – our children.
I – and you too, I’m sure – can all too easily relate to the horror of what happened in Newtown CT last week, and there is absolutely no way in the world anyone wants to see their child at any risk of suffering a similar fate in their local school.
I also agree that ‘something needs to be done’ to prevent yet another school massacre. Yes, there have been too many of them already, and yes, we can’t allow more to happen. Everyone can agree on that.
But – and here’s the thing. What have we learned from the Sandy Hook tragedy, and from all the other ones too?
First, without exception, the gunman/gunmen have not been legally in possession of the firearms they had. They have broken various state and federal laws with severe penalties just by possessing firearms and taking them onto the school grounds in the first place. The laws against these people possessing firearms and taking them onto school property were of no use whatsoever.
Secondly, there are already extreme prohibitions against shooting and murdering people, be they school children or anyone else. Penalties all the way up to capital punishment apply for such actions. And these penalties had zero effect on these crazy people.
There is no recorded case in US history of a would be mass-murderer saying ‘Oh, shucks! I can’t go out and kill all those people, because it is against the law for me to own a gun, it is against the law to take a gun into a school, and it is against the law for me to shoot the children and teachers.’
Furthermore, there are no new laws we could pass and no new penalties we could add which would create any measurable deterrence. Mass murderers already risk death or life imprisonment for their actions. We can’t sentence them to death twice, and our society wouldn’t be comfortable sentencing them to a decade of excruciating torture or anything like that (besides which, even that would probably not deter such people).
Now, let’s continue our logical analysis of the present problem.
These crazed gunmen aren’t as completely crazy as they may seem. What do they know about any school, anywhere in the country? They know that once they get inside the school, there is no danger at all – absolutely positively none – that anyone will resist their actions, or shoot back at them. They know they are in a place full of trapped defenseless helpless people, and as the statistics all too tragically show, the results are obvious.
Now it is true that your average school teacher is probably far from your first choice of person you’d want to equip with a gun and ask to defend you in a critical situation. But – think about this : We require our teachers to train for years before they are certified as qualified to teach in our schools. We require them to have ongoing training and refresher courses to remain certified. Many school districts require teachers to have first aid training, too. We even require teachers to be re-fingerprinted every year (why – do fingerprints change from year to year?) and pass annual criminal background checks.
Would it be so completely impossible to bolt on a one week defensive firearms course to the rest of a teacher’s training? With annual range refreshers, too? And rather than prohibit firearms in schools, why not require teachers to have firearms; either concealed or openly carried on their person, or secured in a desk drawer or locker – anywhere that is closely at hand in their classrooms.
What would that do to potential gunmen? Do you think it might discourage them from attacking schools in the first place? And, if someone truly crazy still persisted in his attack, how many casualties do you think he could inflict before becoming a casualty himself?
Even if the armed teachers did nothing more than simply shoot blindly at the classroom door from behind the concealment of their upturned desk when the gunman tried to enter, wouldn’t that be helpful? Wouldn’t that buy time for the police to react and respond?
The thing is this. Gun control, teenage sex, and drug use have one thing very much in common. You can pass as many laws as you like making teenage sex illegal, you can do whatever you like to make illegal drug use severely sanctioned by draconian prison terms, and you can pass as many laws as you can dream up restricting the right of free citizens to own firearms. But randy teenage boys are always going to find a way to sate their lust, no matter how many laws they may break. ‘Stoners’ and other dregs of society will find a way to illegal drugs, the same as they have been for decades, and the same way much of society found its way to alcohol during prohibition. And bad people will always find a gun, and will always use it.
We’re not going to be drawn into debates about drug laws and teenage sex. But we are going to say that the solution to prevent future school tragedies is not to add to the current surfeit of laws that make such things illegal, and doubly the solution to future school tragedies is not to penalize law-abiding citizens and to make it harder for them to own, carry, and – if necessary – lawfully use their firearms in necessary self-defense.
The solution is to encourage teachers and other law-abiding citizens to be armed in schools as well as everywhere else in their lives. Rather than having schools as the ultimate ‘soft target’, let’s make schools into hard targets. When was the last time you saw a gunman attack a police station? Right – never. Let’s make schools as unattractive a target as police stations already are.
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.
These two men robbed a couple returning home. The couple could have prevented the robbery.
Here’s a short report of a Redmond, WA couple who returned home late at night (1.30am) and were robbed at gunpoint when they got out of their car.
Redmond is a suburb of Seattle and is best known for being the home of Microsoft. It is an up-market and prosperous small city of 52,000, and is generally blessed with very little crime.
We are going to risk being politically incorrect by citing another Redmond statistic. Only 1.22% of people in Redmond are African-American (source), as were the two robbers in this incident.
We’re not saying that all African-Americans in Redmond are armed robbers, but we are saying that the couple probably would have noticed the two men and recognized them as not being neighbors, and – sorry to say this – as not looking like the sort of people normally found in their nice neighborhood, either.
So here’s the thing. It is 1.30am, and you’ve just driven home, and are about to park your car outside your residence when you notice two strangers on the street with no apparent reason for being there, and who clearly look as though they are neither local residents nor likely visitors to local residents. Should you park your car as you normally would, get out, and walk along the sidewalk in close proximity to these two people, go to your residence, unlock the door and let yourself inside?
You are actually creating two vulnerabilities here, and it could be said that this couple suffered the lesser of the two outcomes.
The first vulnerability is clearly the one that occurred – getting robbed on the street.
The second vulnerability is the more serious one. You unlock and open your front door, and the two men suddenly rush you and get inside your home, where they can then, in private, do whatever they wish to you and your home. It could be argued that the couple in this case got off lightly – only a mild amount of personal injury and the loss of cash, jewelry and personal items.
So what should you do?
The easiest thing is that if you see people who look out-of-place, and who are present for no obvious purpose; simply keep on driving and come back in five minutes. If they are still there – ie, loitering, call the police and wait for their arrival before stopping and exiting your car.
And that is where a self-imposed political correctness constraint often comes into play. Many people feel awkward at calling the police and saying ‘there are two black men hanging around my residence, so I’m scared’. They don’t want to sound like paranoid racists.
We don’t want to get into the whole causal debate about why it is so, but we will simply cite the statistic that blacks are eight times more likely to commit robberies than people of other races (source). This statistic varies somewhat depending on how/where/when it is calculated, but whether it is eight times or perhaps a number that may be more or less, and whether it is due to the black robber-to-be coming from an unhappy home life or whatever else, the impossible to ignore fact is there is an elevated risk of being the victim of a violent crime when the potential perpetrator is black rather than white.
The police already know this, although they have to be careful not to ‘profile’, even though many people might think that it makes sense to concentrate the policing on the high risk sectors of society. So there’s no need to pretend that the issue doesn’t exist.
We’re not saying you should go to a heightened state of alertness just because you see an African-American on the street. But we are saying that you shouldn’t fight off a feeling of unease just because your sense of political correctness is trying to over-power your street-smarts sense of what feels out-of-place and uncomfortable.
And, more than anything else, we are definitely saying that the best outcome of any confrontation is to avoid the confrontation in the first place. If anything ever looks out-of-place and makes you feel vaguely uncomfortable, then if at all possible, take evasive action to avoid the possibility of any problem occurring. Sometimes all it takes is to cross the road. Sometimes – as in this case – it is better to delay your return home and drive around the block for a while, rather than leave the safety of your vehicle, and potentially expose both yourself and your residence to violent criminals.
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.