With home and personal defense being the number one reason that people purchase firearms, you’d think that more time would be spent training for potential close proximity threats.
Turns out, not so much.
This is a wide-ranging subject that covers a lot of ground, so we’re going to split this one up into two segments. Here, we’ll dive into some of the realities of self defense shooting and then get into specific techniques in another post. To help define it further, we’ll stick to handguns and what we would consider to be the ‘average’ novice gun owner.
A Little Context
Although having a gun and (hopefully) being proficient in handling it is a good thing, most owners have no idea how they’ll really respond in a dangerous situation. Luckily, the vast majority of people will never actually have to use their weapon for real-life defense – and that’s a good thing. The danger can come in though, in having too cavalier an attitude about your own situational awareness, physical abilities and mental fortitude in the face of a life-&-death scenario. This is probably due, in large part, to watching too many cop shows and gunplay in movies. The idea of doing a shoulder roll out of a moving vehicle and cleanly shooting the gun out of the bad guys hand SEEMS cool, but it’s really just entertainment. Any seasoned professional will tell you that it’s just not realistic.
Whether you opt for open or concealed-carry or have a secured gun in your home, just the idea of possessing the weapon can be empowering (nothing wrong with that). The key though is to really know what you’re doing with it in order to effectively protect yourself. There’s a reason why those in law enforcement and the military constantly drill to improve their awareness, skill and overall readiness. It just doesn’t happen on its own and there is a direct correlation between practice and proficiency. Make no mistake, a gunfight is a ‘fight’ and the average citizen likely does not have the wherewithal or physical skills to successfully combat a motivated, enraged or intoxicated assailant (sorry to break it to you). There are SO many variables and wildcards involved that you’d be hard-pressed to account for them all and to train effectively to offset them. It’s one thing to confidently feel that you’d take care of business if someone broke into YOUR home, and quite another when you hear someone in your kitchen at 3:00AM and you’re standing alone in your boxer shorts upstairs in the dark wondering what to do next.
Ultimately there are a number of physical limitations (distance & time) and physiological/psychological (how humans react under stress) aspects that need to be accounted for in any conversation about confrontation in this manner. That’s why serious shooters and professionals train the way that they do. The intention is to try and normalize these effects to the point where their impact is mostly minimized. This is especially true in situations of surprise attacks or close-proximity fights where there is very little room for error. Let’s take a brief look at some of the factors:
Underestimating the Chaos
As mentioned above, the average person typically has no real idea what an actual gun ‘fight’ is all about and can’t really conceive of the violence involved. Even with training, which is probably fairly controlled in full daylight, with a static target that isn’t moving threateningly toward you and you know what’s coming. Adjust these elements accordingly and throw in some from the list below and you’ll get the idea.
Stress & the Fight-or-Flight Response
Humans in stressful situations will often experience physiological effects that they have no control over. These are well documented and include shortness of breath, tunnel vision, nausea, increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweaty palms, a tendency to freeze-up and the production of added adrenaline. This combination of responses can directly affect your decision-making and your ability to react.
Decision-Making & Reaction-Time
Studies show that most defensive firearm confrontations all happen in a matter of a few seconds. In that time you have to quickly assess the threat(s), physically react, draw your gun and aim, potentially defend yourself from an assailant’s weapon and think about your next moves. This all happens in such a compressed timeline that it’s hard to recreate it exactly for training (but you can try). Also understanding that your reaction will always be slightly slower than an aggressor’s initial action.
Most consider close combat fighting as being within 5 or 6 feet from your opponent. Drill testing shows that an average person can cover almost 22 feet of distance towards you from ‘go’ by the time you can draw your weapon and aim. That’s less than 3 seconds. Think about that.
Physical & Mental Readiness
As referenced above, the average person likely hasn’t had to defend themselves physically in their lifetime. They certainly haven’t been shot at. A lot haven’t even played contact sports. It’s this lack of familiarity (or ability to deal) with physical confrontation that adds another ‘X’ factor into the equation when attacked. Having fought and taught hand-to-hand for many years, I know that 9 times out of 10, a novice will hold their breath, close their eyes and turn their head away from what’s coming at them. Not ideal when your life may be on the line. A defender must also be mentally prepared to pull the trigger when face-to-face with a real, live person.
Shot Accuracy (or lack thereof)
Pistols have been known to be wildly inaccurate in self-defense situations, especially if you don’t practice regularly and are feeling the effects of the stress created by an attack. Missing from short distances is not uncommon, even for trained police and military personnel. Hitting an aggressively moving target in low light and with the potential of not getting your weapon high enough to properly aim it, can all prove to be problematic.
This might all sound negative, but there’s a reality to defending yourself that needs to be addressed if you think that the possibility of an attack on you or your property is a real possibility. You won’t want to leave your preparedness up to chance.
Think of this as a cautionary tale for the non-shooting elements that you need to consider in these types of defensive scenarios. Your level of situational awareness and your ability to quickly and efficiently draw and shoot while protecting yourself can be greatly improved by regular, intensive practice. This doesn’t mean occasionally ‘dabbling’ with a few boxes of ammo at the range, but by making a real, concerted effort to drill until the movements become second nature. Control the things you can – knowing that there are many that you can’t.
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