- - Introduction - -
Defensive Shooting

Latest update: 01/08/18


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 deter crime. Civilians need only to avoid crime, and survive another day with minimum injury and/or legal entanglements.

The purpose in this document is to try and present information, using different words, so that each of us can think about how we need to prepare ourselves, for something we seriously hope never happens; being involved in a self defense shooting.

Your personal protection is up to you. What your planning can do for you, when coupled with proper equipment and ongoing training can easily be the difference between surviving and not. Your money, your time, your life, your choice.


Your priorities are, in this order:

  1. Yourself. If you do not look out for number one, no one else will. Many will whine about their children being most important to them. Good for you. Let me ask one question. WHO will take care of your children in the first five minutes after you are killed? Think about it.

  2. Your loved ones. As presented in number one, once you are safe, you are in a far better position to safeguard your loved ones.

  3. Anyone else you feel disposed to help.

Ethical Responsibility

While using a firearm for personal protection is a right that we have, it is a right that must be exercised responsibly. That is to say we can NOT just shoot someone and call it self defense. To use our rights responsibly we must remember:

  1. Tool of last resort!

  2. Are you capable of using deadly force?

    This is a decision you - MUST - make before you take up a firearm! Anyone who has moral, religious or personal objections to possibly taking a life should not use a firearm for personal protection. The consequences are far to significant.

    You must ask yourself the following:

    Even when justified and and with no other choice, shooting a criminal is a lousy experience. You WILL spend hours/days/weeks explaining why you had no other choice. This reliving of the incident over and over and over, must be accepted and at least prepared for, as part of your mental preparation.

  3. Mental Preparation
  4. Mental preparation and training is at least as important as marksmanship. Visualization is a training technique that many, if not most, use. You should visualize possible scenarios and then envision how you would/could best solve your problem. The visualization will be more effective if you include the entire encounter. Start with when you first become aware of the threat, how you could AVOID the confrontation, what options are available to you besides deadly force, and how you could deal with the threat. If you MUST shoot or draw your weapon, how will you initiate the contact with police once the incident is handled. REMEMBER you will have no choice in if you deal with the police should you use any type of weapon to defend yourself or others.


Mindset: what you think/believe.
Mindset is how you will, from this point on, conduct yourself, in relation to your personal safety.

  1. Never give up!

    If there is no way to avoid a confrontation, you must present the most determined defense possible. Think about how a wild animal, that is cornered and unable to run, defends itself. They intuitively understand that their life depends on how effectively they defend themselves. You must defend yourself even more effectively.

    While "survival" may be an adequate mindset for some, if you have made the decision to use a firearm you must prevail. An indecisive response to an attack invites continued attack. You must NOT give up. Injured or not, DO NOT GIVE UP!

  2. Training

    Take your training seriously! If you are unwilling to do that, leave your gun in the safe, for recreational purposes. Training goes far beyond simply learning how to operate the gun and put holes in paper. You must learn to shot effectively from awkward positions, while moving, and under significant stress. For anything less, leave your gun in the safe. Remember, planning and practice help you be decisive.

Mental Awareness

The BEST way to stay safe, whether at home or on the street, is to be alert to your environment. This is often referred to as situational awareness. In simplest terms, it is how much attention you pay to what is going on around you. This can be taken to a point of total paranoia, or to none at all. Neither extreme is good, but for your safety and the safety of those you love, it is important that you maintain appropriate awareness of your surroundings to maintain your safety.


  1. Look well beyond the end of your nose.
  2. Keep your eyes moving.
  3. Get the big picture. -- anticipate potential hazards.
  4. Leave yourself a way out!
  5. Make sure they see you. But you may frequently benefit by getting through potential trouble spots unobserved. What's that you say? Win a fight by avoiding it when ever possible? YES!

Know what is behind you. Most victims of violence are taken by surprise. If you maintain awareness of what is behind you, problems can not come from there. An easy way is to use reflections in windows as a mirror. Another is if you are walking and stop, is your back to a solid object?

Think about this, do you leave golf balls laying all over your living room floor? No, for multiple reasons. One is that they are uncomfortable to walk on and second, you could easily slip and fall from one of them rolling out from under your foot. This is a simplistic look at situational awareness. You do what keeps you safe.

  1. Levels of awareness

    The NRA uses four levels of awareness and we will use their definitions:

    1. Unaware
    2. Aware
    3. Alert
    4. Alarm

    These levels indicate what actions are appropriate, based on the perceived degree of urgency.

  2. Maintaining awareness

    It is difficult to maintain a heightened level of awareness for great lengths of time, particularly in your own home, which is considered a sanctuary from the outside world. Make a conscious effort to remain alert to your environment, where ever it is.

End of NRA include.


The very best gunfight, is not only the one you were not involved in,
but the one you were not even near!

Thus Rule Number 1 of surviving a gunfight is Don't Get Shot!
When people get hurt, their survivability diminishes. When they get shot their survivability diminishes RAPIDLY! Each bullet that enters the body reduces your ability to survive by a significant amount.

Confronting Intruders or Assailants

Many conflicts that end in death are avoidable.
Many more of the conflicts that involve the use of a gun end in death, than those that do not.
Therefore . . . . don't get into gunfights!
If you can avoid a gunfight, avoid it. People can get killed in gunfights. They are not healthy environments to be in. The risk factors with lead flying past you are far 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. If you are NOT involved in a gunfight the likelihood of it being your last day is diminished.

Tactics consist of making and taking every possible advantage in a fight or potential fight.

  1. Defensive confrontations

    The best way to win a fight is to avoid it. Barring that, the next best thing is to know that it is coming and to make the other guy fight on your terms. If you have no choice but to defend yourself, act decisively, and with a strong will to win. If you are forced to defend yourself, you will not be able to say "time out while I prepare". It will most likely happen very quickly, be extremely violent, happen at close to arm's length, and be done in seconds. The best personal defense once the incident has begun is a significant counter attack, that succeeds before the aggressor knows he picked the wrong "victim". Your counter attack needs to be sufficient to stop any further aggression from your attacker. If you are going to use a gun to defend yourself BE PREPARED via training, visualization, and mentally playing out scenarios.
    You are more likely to be in control of the situation if you are acting (you had a plan)
    and your actions are decisive! If there is more than one assailant, you need to shoot the one who presents the most immediate danger, first.

  2. Controlling the encounter

    If you find yourself face-to-face with intruders, stay as far away from them as possible. If you have surprised intruders and are able to hold them at gunpoint for the police, do not approach them or attempt to frisk them. That's part of what the police do. Let the PD do their job.

    Make the BG (bad guy) lie face-down, head away from you, face/chin on the floor, legs spread apart, hands held palms up and stretched straight out from their shoulders.

    Shout your commands at them. Do not talk with them or let them try to reason with you. They are only attempting to challenge your authority.

    The intruders then have three choices:

    Intruders often attempt to appeal to their victims' good nature to let them go, or they talk softly and reasonably while approaching their victims. DO NOT let them get close to you. Remember a person that acts, rather than reacts, has over a full second advantage in their actions. WHY would you let them have the advantage? On the other hand if the intruders attempt to run, LET . THEM . GO! Many a good person has ended up on the wrong side of the law by not letting a BG run away.

    If you have apprehended intruders and are holding them for the police, put your back to a wall/inside-corner. If that is not possible, have someone else you trust, cover your back. The BG may not be alone.

  3. Psychological reactions

    A life threatening situation causes the body/mind to respond in non standard ways. One is the portions of the brain that control higher cognitive processes seem to shut down. Your brain reverts to a more "primitive" mode so it can protect the body from harm.

    Most of us will initially "deny" that an attack is happening. Our parents always told us that people are good, thus we are reluctant to inflict harm on another. Well, some people are good, and some are not. Since every encounter is different, we are forced to make, potentially life altering decisions, in a - very - short amount of time. There is no way to determine how you will react to a given situation, even when you have been in a similar one. This is where training makes it easier to survive.

    The following are a few of the possible psychological reactions to a shoot/no-shoot situation. They include, but are not limited to: fight, flight, freeze, posture, or submit.

    1. Fight: The fight response means using whatever force necessary to prevail. Since deadly force may only be used when there is an immediate threat of severe harm or death, you MUST assure you use it only if any lesser force would be insufficient. KNOW THE LAWS OF YOUR STATE relating to deadly force. They may dictate some of your response.

    2. Flight:- a.k.a. retreat. If the brain is overwhelmed by a threat, the immediate response is usually to flee. That is to try and remove the body from the potential source of harm. If it is a viable option, use it! The "best" fight, is one you were not involved in, nor any where near. Unfortunately flight to avoid injury is not always possible.

    3. Freeze: Many people are so overwhelmed at being threatened that they freeze and are incapable of any action. This "freeze" may be only a fraction of a second, or it may last throughout the incident. While a momentary freeze may be normal, remain be aware of the freeze, so you can take the best action.

    4. Posture: Posturing is a form of combat, without physical contact. I'll bet all of us have seen examples in the animal world when animals challenge each other by growling, baring teeth, and puffing themselves up, but not actually engaging in physical combat. Usually one backs down or retreats. Humans frequently use similar behavior to enforce their will on another, if they are unsure they can prevail, or if they understand the consequences of physical combat. Even boxers use this technique before a match.

    5. Submit: Just give in. NOT a good option. There is evidence in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports that show submitting to an assailant can easily be more dangerous than fighting back. If you consider submission a viable option, leave your gun in the safe.

  4. Physiological reactions

    In a life-threatening situation you will most likely experience at least some of the following reactions. Accept that, and plan accordingly.

  5. Training for stress

    It is very important that you incorporate stress in your training. Learning to perform while stressed is important in your ability to win during a lethal force situation. The better your training, the more times you include at least some type of stress in your training, the more likely you are to minimize your after incident problems. In fact, the BG may actually anticipate you "folding" under the pressure he puts you under. Make your stress training a "minus one more", for the BG's score.

  6. Visualization while training

    There is an important difference between target practice and defensive marksmanship training. Make sure you do not just think of defensive marksmanship as punching holes in paper. Visualize the target as an assailant. Get the BG, and not the other way around.
    Remember, paper targets do not shoot back.

    If you are getting shot at, get 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. It is that 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 rendered less effective by distance. The more an opponent has to chase and hunt, the quicker he will lose interest.


While most of us do not like to admit it, 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 bad luck. Because you are right does not mean you will survive a gunfight. The goal in a gunfight is to survive, and win if you can. It is not to prove you are right. You can prove your argument some other time, but not if you are dead. Avoid gunfights if at all possible.

Here are a few other things to think about in your training.

Is it legal?
This is NOT legal advise or counsel, but rather some things to consider.
I firmly recommend you talk with your lawyer about most of the content.

Should you intervene?       One word answer . . . NO!

Shoot to Stop the Threat

If you have no choice but to shoot a BG, when do you stop shooting? The answer is very simple, yet VERY important. Shoot until the threat ceases.

A BG on the ground may still be capable of attack. As such you MUST be prepared for him to re-initiate his attack. STAY ALERT! But do not just continue to shoot, unless necessary AND you can articulate WHY you needed to shoot again. The P.C. phrase is "What would a reasonable person have done?"

If You Must Shoot

  1. Number of shots

    Unlike TV where one shot to the BG takes him out, you may need multiple shots to end the attack. Continue to shoot until the threat ends, AND NO MORE! It is your responsibility, both legal and moral, to cease fire once the lethal threat ends. To continue beyond when the lethal threat ended will put you under severe scrutiny that could easily end up with you in jail, or worse.

    With that said, there is a truism from many with far more experience than I have, that is included in the "Ten Rules of a Gunfight". Anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice! Many will say "BUT WHAT IF ONE STOPPED HIM?" The answer is fairly simple; statistically, the first shot hits the BG no more than 25% of the time (statistic from NYC PD). As such, if your life is in danger, do you want to wait and see if the first shot did its job, AND have the BG win? Not me.

    The current recommendation is to plan for AND train with a 2+1 drill. That is two shots Center Of Mass (COM) and the third to the head. Many will whine that if you shoot two COM and they work, you have just executed him with the third shot. An easy explanation is if you practice with the 2+1, are forced to shoot someone and you automatically line up the head shot, IF the first two did their job, there will NOT be a face looking at you over your sights for the third shot. THAT is your queue to shoot, or not shoot. Is that face looking at you? If yes, you NEED the third shot. If it is not there, the first two did their job and you do not want to take another shot.

  2. No immediate effect or apparent injury

    It is possible for assailants to be dead and just not know it yet. How can that be? The amount of adrenaline in the BG's system, if he is on drugs, his physical conditioning and his determination all effect how soon he will "go down". The FBI shootout in FL in 1986 proved that. Two FBI agents were shot and killed after their primary assailant had received what was a lethal wound. Thus instant incapacitation should not be expected (see 2+1 drill, above).

  3. Spotting hits

    All of us regularly see TV and movies where the "hit" is obvious and easy to see. That is Hollywood and is not, in any way, an indication of what you are likely to see. Besides which, if you are spending time looking for hits, how much time are you spending on getting the situation under control?

Incoming fire

It is important that you remember paper targets do not shoot back. The natural conclusion then is that in a gunfight, you may be injured. Prepare yourself mentally for this possibility and concentrate on winning the shoot out. NEVER GIVE UP!

It is also handy to remember that while concealment is your friend, cover is your ally. Yet another great friend of a target is lateral movement. 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 cause most shooters to miss.

Retreat if you can, fire if you must. 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 reduces your chances of survival. There are times that a counter-attack is necessary, but it is not the solution to very many defensive problems.

Over Penetration

I saved this for last because, while many are paranoid about having one of their bullets go through a BG and hit an innocent person, that is not a real issue. Least you now be shaking your head in disbelief, let me quote from the FBI report on the 10mm evaluation, questions and answers section.

Author: SSA Urey W. Patrick,
Firearms Training Unit
FBI Academy, Quantico, VA
Q: Aren't you afraid of over-penetration?

A: The fear of over-penetration is a misconception, which was created back when law enforcement was trying to overcome misinformed public resistance to the use of hollow point ammunition. In the process, we began to believe it ourselves. First, our lawyers are unaware of any successful legal action resulting from the injury of a bystander due to a round over-penetrating the subject. We are aware of numerous instances of Agents/officers being killed because their round did not penetrate enough (Grogan and Dove, for example). Further, if you examine shooting statistics you will see that officers hit the subject somewhere around 20-30% of the time. Thus 70-80% of the shots fired never hit their intended target, and nobody ever worries about them - only the ones that might "over penetrate" the bad guy. Third, as our testing shows, even the most frangible bullets designed specifically for shallow penetration will plug up when striking wood or wallboard and then penetrate like full metal jacketed ammunition. We are aware of successful legal actions where an innocent party has been struck by a shot passing through a wall, but as we have proven, ALL of them will do that.

As such, I recommend that you not be worried about over-penetration and instead be concerned with assuring your shots hit the BG. If you do . . not . . miss the BG, you are VERY unlikely to hit an innocent.