Everyone has an opinion. Most people will give you their impression of armed defense if you ask them. Is it trivially easy or is it impossibly hard? I’ve looked at armed defense for a decade and think we often ask the wrong question about defending ourselves and our families with firearms. One view is that armed defenders have to make split-second decisions after evaluating a number of complex legal and tactical factors. In contrast, many new gun owners want to concentrate on firearms handling skills so they can manipulate their gun with “fast hands”. I don’t think that is what most defenders really do.
I think almost anyone can learn armed defense if they are willing to take instruction and then practice what they were taught. This is what I’ve learned from firearms students and instructors.
The Combatant Model
Most of us don’t face a lethal threat every day. That is great news. For most of us, facing a violent threat could come as a new experience where we will have to think on our feet. In that fateful moment, we have to determine if we face a lethal threat. We have to decide if this is an immediate and unavoidable problem or if we can safely walk away. Then, we have to choose the best course of action to defend ourselves.
We might not face a gun problem so a firearm could be the wrong solution. We’re supposed to make those decisions in seconds.
There are only a few police officers and combat veterans who are so habituated to violence that they can think clearly under stressful situations. I’m not one of them. You probably aren’t either. That makes armed defense sound like a hopeless proposition where all we could do is freeze in place or run away in panic.
Consider for a moment that there are thousands of armed defenders every day. They save themselves and their families, and they are just like us. Most of these successful defenders have never taken a concealed carry class. Few armed defenders actually practice with their firearms on a regular basis. That is reality and we don’t want to confuse real-world defense with Hollywood action heroes who always look so confident and calm under fire.
That leaves us wondering how real defenders know what to do.
The Gunfighter Model
New students like to touch their guns and shoot. When that becomes familiar, many students want to shoot fast. The simplistic view of armed defense is to shoot your attacker before they shoot you. A more refined consideration is that we want to avoid getting shot even if we can shoot first. Good decisions will often give us better outcomes than having fast hands alone.
Practice is valuable. It tells us what we can do in terms of how accurately and how quickly we can deliver shots on our intended target. Practice also tells us what we can’t do. We want to recognize when a shot is too hard, or a defensive opportunity is too demanding for us to exploit it successfully.
Successful armed defense is much more than having practiced reflexes. Even if you are extraordinarily fast, how will your speed beat several attackers without you getting shot?
Hint- an experienced defender will admit that he wins every conflict he avoids.
That leaves open the question of how armed defenders defeat their attacker so often.
The Student Driver Model
Most of us lack the experience to make rapid, accurate decisions under stress. We don’t have lightning-fast reflexes either. We can learn to defend ourselves the same way we learned to drive. We develop new habits.
We expose new drivers to many of the dangers they will experience when they drive independently. Sure, we want to learn on a sunny day, but we also want to drive at night. We want to drive in the rain and wind while an experienced driver sits next to us. We want to learn what a dangerous situation feels like to recognize it later. We want to learn enough as a student driver that we have a menu of solutions to draw upon. We want enough time behind the wheel so that driving is mostly subconscious and our head is looking down the road for problems.
What are real combat veterans doing under stress? What are thousands of our neighbors doing when they hear glass break in the middle of the night? We want armed defenders to have good habits. That includes situational awareness and recognizing dangerous situations before we are in the middle of them.
We want to get to the point where we’ve already thought about defending ourselves at home. We recognize what we should do if we hear a bump in the night. Like a fire drill, we’ve walked through our plan for a self-defense emergency. As a practical example, we win more attacks in our home if we lock our doors.
It helps a lot if we’re familiar with recent crime in our area. We’ve thought about and practiced what to do if we see a dangerous situation unfold in front of us in public. We know what best practice looks like as we defend our family in familiar places. We can recognize a situation in seconds that would take us minutes of study to evaluate the first time we see it.
Here is another practical example. Because we have a plan, we step back into the restaurant when we don’t like the crowd waiting in the parking lot. That is what average people do and it doesn’t look anything like a Hollywood super-hero.
One of the great benefits of knowing best practice is that it keeps us from trying something really dangerous that felt like a good idea at the time.
How much practice at gun handling is enough to be ready to defend yourself or your family? We want to be as familiar with our firearm as we are with our car’s steering wheel or phone. You are a practiced defender when you can ignore your gun and concentrate on keeping you and your family safe. That probably doesn’t involve your firearm all that much.
We win a violent encounter by ducking down behind the store shelves and taking our family out the back door of the convenience store. We stop an armed robber in a convenience store by waiting to shoot until the robber looks away and his gun isn’t pointed at us. Millions of us defend ourselves with a firearm every year and it seldom looks like an action movie.
As effective defenders, we study now so we quickly recognize a dangerous situation later. We avoid every confrontation we can. We fight smart rather than hard. If our neighbors have done it day after day, then so can we.
About Rob Morse
This article was written for the members of Second Call Defense and shared with permission. Rob Morse writes about gun rights at Ammoland, at Clash Daily, and on his SlowFacts blog. He hosts the Self Defense Gun Stories Podcast and co-hosts the Polite Society Podcast. Rob was an NRA pistol instructor and combat handgun competitor.
> Hint- an experienced defender will admit that he wins every conflict he avoids.
Avoid a fight is not the same as winning a fight. Don’t conflate the two.
Everyone whose been chased into a corner and killed, will admit they avoided all of the fights that led them there [if you could go to hell to ask them].
The big picture of your situation is many years in the making. You can not avoid life itself and still live it.
Well, I’m too old to run and too tired to fight – unless I’m cornered. THAT’s why I carry a “corner gun.”
The aftermath could/can be the hardest to deal with.
Getting shot has never meant the end of the world. Anything other than direct brain or heart impact they usually patch you right up.