A Nurse with a Gun

Monday, March 06, 2006

Surviving a Gunfight

1. Bring a gun. Preferably, bring at least two guns. Bring all of your friends who have guns.
2. Anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice. Ammo is cheap-life is expensive.
3. Only hits count. The only thing worse than a miss is a slow miss.
4. Someday someone may kill you with your own gun, but they should have to beat you to death with it because it is empty.
5. Always cheat, always win. The only unfair fight is the one you lose.

Blah blah blah.

Over the years firearms instructors have relied on cute little quips like these when a student asks how best to survive a gunfight. Without the experience needed to truly teach this subject (and very few have extensive first hand experience) the quips are accepted as truth in an atmosphere of mutual ignorance. These witticisms do hold seeds of truth, but they are intended to be entertaining, not informative, and they ignore several important truths.

Defensive firearms training has long been based on police training. The law enforcement base gives firearms training the credibility it needs for the marketplace. In truth, civilian self defense and law enforcement training could not be more different. Civilians do not have a need to apprehend criminals and stop crime. Civilians need only to avoid crime and survive another day with minimum injury and legal entanglements. This simple fact is often foreign to law enforcement oriented instructors. I'm going to revise some of these gunfighting witticisms, basing them on my own limited, but actual experience.

Rule #1 Don't Get Shot! When people get shot, they get hurt. When people get hurt, their survivability dwindles. With each bullet that enters their body, their ability to survive another minute evaporates. Not getting shot is the crux of the matter. The witticisms seem to accept the idea that a gunfight is unavoidable. In fact, the opposite is true. Many conflicts that end in death are avoidable. Therefore:

Corollary #1 Don't get into gunfights! If you can avoid a gunfight, avoid it. People get killed in gunfights. They are not healthy environments to be in. The risk factors with lead flying past you are greater than the risk factors of most other endeavors. Compromise. Let the other guy win verbal challenges. Walk away with hoodlums heckling you. If you do not have to engage others in a lethal conflict, do not do so. It may be your last day on Earth, and you just don't know it yet. Luck plays a huge part in gunfights. A lifetime of building shooting skills of every type can be blown away with just a smidgen of luck, good or bad. Because you are right does not mean you will survive a gunfight. The goal in a gunfight is to survive, not to win, and not to prove you are right. People get the idea that being right is more important than being alive. It isn't. You can prove the veracity of your argument some other time, but not if you are dead. Avoid gunfights if at all possible.

Corollary #2 If you are getting shot at, make it to where you are NOT getting shot at. This may involve running away. There is no shame in running away from things that might kill you. Ferocious animals do this all the time. It is the instinct that allows grizzly bear cubs to become big bad ass grizzly bears, who may still chose to run away rather than become injured in an unnecessary fight. Distance is a target's best friend. A shooter's skill is negated by distance. The more an opponent has to chase and hunt, the quicker he will lose interest.

Movement is another great friend of a target. Perhaps one in ten shooters can consistently hit a laterally moving target. Being able to return accurate fire while on the move is important. Even a little lateral movement can negate most shooter's abilities. If you are able to return effective fire under these conditions, you will persevere.

If you are unable to return fire while moving, seek effective cover quickly. Cover is something that will stop bullets. Once you have cover, seek better cover farther away while remaining concealed. Concealment is often confused with cover. Concealment will not stop bullets. Concealment merely hides you for a few moments until you can find cover.

There are, of course, times when retreat is not an option. Under those circumstances, a choice must be made between an attack and an ambush. If escape is not an option, and a person is hidden with limited resources, the ambush is the better solution. A counter-attack should only be used when the ambush is not an option. The counter-attack is the one strategy that drastically lowers the defender's chances of survival. There are times that a counter-attack is necessary, but it is not the solution to all defensive problems.

That, in a nutshell, is what the gunfight witticisms ignore, and instructors seldom teach. Self preservation in a lethal encounter involves much more than simple marksmanship. People will pay money to attend shooting classes. Rarely will the same person pay money to attend classes on conflict resolution. It's a shame that these realities are glossed over with wisecracks masquerading as truth. A person's survival may someday depend on what they learned in a self defense class. If they possess the skills to blow holes in targets but do not know how to disengage and leave an escalating conflict, they may very quickly find their skills lacking in the realities off the firing range.

Recognizing threats

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent! I'm tired of honest questions being answered with cliches. Do you teach?

8:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post.

Interesting can of worms you opened here... try to find a good answer to the question "what sort of person is best qualified to teach a civilain self-defense class?"

As you pointed out, police and military instructors are not necessesarally qualifed, because civilian self defense is a very different topic. People who have personally survived gunfights certainly have some excellent insight to share, but they also may have learned all the wrong lessons from their own experience. I wouldn't want to learn how to drive from somebody who's major qualification was that he surived a serious accident...

I suppose an even better question to ask is "how do I know if a given self-defense class is a good one"? This is not an easy question. As you said, the goal of self-defense is survival, not shooting skills. Maybe we ought to attend classes tought by urban grandmothers who live in tough neighborhoods. They must know something about staying alive in a dangerous environment!

9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


My wife and I took our (required by the state) concealed carry training from an excellent instructor. He led us through the four "easily popped balloons" that make up the necessary criteria for a successful "self-defense" plea here in Minnesota.

Number one on the list was that a person HAD to be, at ALL times during a confrontation, a "reluctant participant". Somebody's hassling you? Walk away. Deliquents giving you or your loved ones verbal assaults? Disengage, and walk away. Somebody wants to get into a shoving match? Yield your ground, and run away if you have to.

Because carrying a firearm almost automatically makes you the aggressor in the eyes of a prosecuting attorney. It's a tool to be used only in the last-ditch desperation when your life, or the life of someone near you, is at stake.

He emphasized that the decision to carry implies that you are going to be the meekest, mildest human being on the planet, and that avoiding confrontation is a crucial element to this, just as important as situational awareness (since that awareness will help you stay OUT of confrontational incidents).

It's good to see more and more people pointing this out.

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the best posts I've read - you do know your stuff. This is, in a sense, like "defensive driving". Always have a way out, sometimes using the gas pedal is safer than hitting the brakes (as in, run don't stop!). Who was it that said you should always walk around assuming a Condition Orange - or, in some situations, Condition Red? It's little things, such as realizing that the engine block of a car makes for better protection than the door - and that you can drop onto the ground and - if you've been practicing -shoot the s.o.b. in the ankle!From OldeForce - who bought his wife a new pistol for her birthday (if she wants to do me in, the are already too many things around the house she can use!).

1:58 AM  
Blogger Pawpaw said...

Great post.

Makes me wonder why this stuff isn't covered in all defensive tactics classes.

4:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here in Texas, you do go through conflict resolution as part of your CHL training, and it is very appropriate, IMHO.
The only reason I would advocate open carry is because it decriminalizes accidental or incidental display of a sidearm. Concealed carry is far more important tactically, since you will be able to retain the element of suprise, should you need it. Having both is best, IMHO, because the openly armed can deter crime, while the concealed can engage it more effectively, should it happen. Still, a very good post, I could not have said it better myself.

-doc Russia

12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should be teaching!

9:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish everyone could read this!

8:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

like in martial arts, you learn martial arts so that you will never have to use martial arts

8:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is some of the best writing on gunfighting I've read.

3:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very informative.thank you for sharing.God Bless!

3:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

very informative!thanks for sharing.god bless!-Bakal Boy

4:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very well said. I teach a CCW class and do my very best to emphasize this exact mindset. Concealed carry is about having the tools to save ones life, not to avenge an insult.


2:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent points. If you are looking for a certified instructor that teaches civilians along these lines then possibly an armoured car use of force instructor? The Use of Force continuum has disengage as the first option, tactical communication for conflict resolution and for force options empty hands to firearm. It includes what circumstances must exist in order to utilize deadly force in order to protect yourself on the street and later in court.

11:43 PM  

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