You must be able to identify your background


One of the absolute rules of gun safety is to always know your target and what is behind it.

I believe our expectations about the use of firearms in self-defense are heavily influenced by movies and television programs. For the most part, only bad guys shoot the wrong person. We watch Clint Eastwood, whether he is a detective or a cowboy, make incredibly accurate and deadly shots on bad guys. I don’t think I ever saw a movie, either as a cowboy or a soldier, where John Wayne shot the wrong person. Did Tom Selleck or Bruce Willis, in any of their many roles, ever shoot the wrong people? I don’t think so.

When I talk with men who have been shooting guns for years and who have concealed carry permits about using guns for self-defense, it is clear their expectation is that they will shoot only the bad guy(s). It never seems to cross their minds that they could possibly miss. When I teach the Tennessee Concealed Carry Permit class and raise the issue, no one seems to be particularly worried about it.


Criminal Liability: It is against the law to fire a gun so recklessly that one or more people unintentionally get hurt or killed. This is true if you are shooting at a gun range, in your backyard, or in self-defense. You are liable for every bullet that leaves the barrel of your gun.

There are any number of videos on YouTube where store owners shoot at guys attempting to rob them where the store owner fires more rounds at the bad guy(s) than actually strike the robber(s). If any of them strike and kill an innocent bystander, the store owner can be prosecuted for some level of homicide whether it is called reckless or negligent homicide or whatever term that jurisdiction uses. If the store owner’s bullet flies out the front door and strikes the windshield of a car passing the store during the robbery, the store owner is responsible for the damage.

In movies and on television, even when the star misses his target the bullet seems to fly through the air without hitting anything. Also, warning shots are depicted as fired into the air but there is no accounting for where they hit. (As a law enforcement officer I was always taught never to use warning shots because that bullet will come down somewhere.) Here is the problem. A fired bullet can travel a mile into the air. When it returns to earth it will strike something. It could strike a child playing in the backyard. It could strike someone walking out of Walmart. If the wayward bullet strikes a person, it could kill him or her leading to prosecution. If it strikes an object, it will damage it which can lead to a charge regarding damage or destruction of property. If it strikes the ground, the person firing the shot has lucked out!

Civil Liability: It is possible that the person shooting a gun might injure a person and yet have no charges filed against him or her. The shooter might still find himself in court defending against a civil suit filed by the injured person or a family member of the injured person. An extreme example of this is the finding of O. J. Simpson criminally innocent of murder yet civilly guilty of the death of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. Criminally and civilly, you are liable for every bullet that leaves the barrel of your gun.


Guilt: How would you feel if, when your home was being broken into, you meant to shoot the bad guy four times but hit him once. Two of your rounds went into the wall, and one went into your wife who was just a couple feet away from the bad guy? Sure, you can blame the gun’s recoil, or the bad guy was moving, or you didn’t have a good grip on the gun. If you are normal you will feel terrible.

Trust: Even though your wife survives the wound, will she ever trust you with a gun in your hand? Or will she insist all guns be banished from the home? Let us say you get to keep your guns. You still feel confident to shoot at the range but will you trust yourself with a gun in a self-defense situation?

Law enforcement officers go through “Shoot/Don’t Shoot” training. This training teaches officers to identify all factors in a potentially deadly force situation and how much time they will have to make that decision. They have to determine if the perceived threat is a real threat. If it is, they have to determine if there are people so close to the threat that uninvolved, innocent people might be harmed. They have to think about whether or not there are other people in the car, or is there someone behind the wall that is behind the bad guy, or are there gasoline tanks near the bad guy, and so on. Law enforcement officers have to make these observations and decisions in less than a second. So do citizens faced with a self-defense situation whether they are at work, in the mall, or at home.

I am all in favor of shooting at a public indoor range. You can learn lots about grip, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger pull, and so on. But you can’t learn to discriminate about the background because the indoor range has been set up to answer that question for you. You shoot on a straight, narrow lane to a specifically constructed background with the rule to never shoot across lanes…a no brainer so to speak.

At an outdoor range, with an instructor trained to handle and instruct about self-defense situations, you can practice knowing your background. If you cannot get to an outdoor range, in your home think about where you would expect to encounter intruders and examine the surroundings. Identify where family might be present but unseen. Identify what is behind those walls or what is down the hall. When you are out and about, use your situational awareness to identify entrances and exits and where bullets from your gun might go if there was a bad guy needing to be shot.

The best way to win a gunfight is to not have one. Next to that, know your gun, know your backgrounds ahead of time if possible, and clearly identify your target.


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