Self-Defense Shooting Skills: How Good is Good Enough?

I believe most gun owners are woefully unprepared for a self-defense incident! Not because they don’t know how to shoot, but because they don’t understand the level of skill, automaticity and emotional control it takes to prevail if they suddenly find themselves with a gun in their face. Sure, the mere presence of a gun and knowing how to shoot it may be enough to deter an unmotivated criminal, but it may not be enough if faced with a truly violent attacker in a fight for your life!

According to statistics from Tom Given’s book Concealed Carry Class: The ABCs of Self-Defense Tools and Tactics most defensive gun uses happen at 7 yards or less.  So, if you go to the range and practice and consistently hit a man-sized target at that distance, you might consider yourself adequately prepared.  But the type of shooting most practice on the range, almost never looks like what happens in a gun fight.

Even police, who are usually recognized as more highly trained than the average civilian, have a hit rate of less than 20% during an officer involved shooting. That means if they fire 10 shots, only 2 will likely hit the threat.  You may think that there is NO WAY your shooting could be that bad, but in truth, police qualifications closely resemble civilian target practice. The only exception is police are usually put under a time constraint and shoot at distances out to 25 yards.  Click on the link below to see the Mississippi Board Approved On Duty Course of Fire.

MS Board Approved Course of Fire

Tom Given’s data also shows that the most likely self-defense incident requires 3-5 shots and is over in 3-5 seconds.  So, if you compare the above course of fire to what an actual gunfight looks like, some of the stages seem relevant.  However, these courses of fire do not account for movement on the part of the good guy, or the bad guy, nor do they take into the effects of stress on the body.  These two factors greatly contribute to the difference between range qualifications scores and actual bullets in bodies in a gun fight.  Some of the best ways to try and mimic a true gunfight is through Force-on-Force training, the use of a training simulator, or by competing in matches such as IDPA. These options not only add some level of stress, but also force you to solve problems while under stress. Unfortunately, it is both time consuming and expensive to try to incorporate these factors into training for police and civilians alike. 

Another way to try and prepare ourselves to prevail is by pushing our shooting skills to a MUCH higher level, then combine that skill with knowledge, and a pre-determined plan on how to win the specific situation.  Let’s say through your training and practice, you have reached a level of skill that allows you to draw your firearm and put 3-5 shots on small target in 2-3 seconds. 

That is a reasonably high level of skill.  Now, if you can combine that skill with a high level of automaticity and the knowledge of when to use it, you will have a much higher level of emotional control. According to John Hearn, your level of automaticity and emotional control are the two most important factors in winning a gunfight.

For example, you are pumping gas at your favorite stop and rob, when a criminal puts a gun in your face and demands your car keys.  If you are alone then the best option might be to just hand him your keys and let him take the car. It is very difficult to draw on a drawn gun, and I would much rather deal with an insurance claim than deal with chances of being shot or killed.  However, if your family is in the car that drastically changes the dynamics. You don’t know if he would allow them to get out of the car or plans to leave with them in the car.  But if you have played this scenario out in your mind, and you know that if he turns his back to look for witnesses, then you have at least 2 seconds to draw and fire before he would be able return his attention to you.  Now, combine that knowledge with the shooting skills developed through your training and practice and you are better equipped, mentally, emotionally, and physically to win. Because in that moment, you are no longer wondering what to do and when to do it, you are simply waiting for your turn to act. When he turns his attention off you, it is GO TIME!

Now all this training and practice does not guarantee that you will survive or escape injury. However, in a situation where you have little choice but to fight, you will not regret the effort you put into preparing for this moment.

Additional Training Resources:

For a good drill to improve your shooting check out our 357 Drill.

For more information on developing your shooting skills, check out Karl Rehn’s book Strategies and Standards for Defensive Handgun Training.

For a fantastic resource on the importance of Automaticity and Level of Emotional Control check out John Hearne’s Who Wins, Who Loses, & Why.

For information on what really happens in a gunfight, get Tom Given’s book noted above, and subscribe to John Corria’s Active Self Protection YouTube Channel.