Thinking and emotional control: You must be able to identify when and when not to use deadly force.

This Part is written for those who believe IT can happen to them. This part will be useless for those who believe IT cannot happen to them.

Self-defense situations will stimulate a flight or fight response. The intensity of the flight or fight response will depend on your stress level, namely, how strongly you believe you can defend yourself and not be hurt or killed.

Your stress level will initiate a physical response as well as an emotional response, either some level of anger or fear, or both. For most untrained people, a heightened emotional response will make rational thinking difficult if not impossible to complete. And if you cannot think rationally during a self-defense situation, you are likely to do something that will get you into trouble. Hopefully this writing will help you stay out of trouble.


Assuming the threat is a person, that person must have the means to inflict serious bodily harm or death. Harm and death can be inflicted with objects like knives, guns, baseball bats, screwdrivers, scissors, spoons, forks, blow torches, and many more items. My years in law enforcement has proven to me that each of these objects has been used to hurt or kill someone.

Deadly force also requires that the perpetrator have access to the victim, in other words, the ability to reach the victim to inflict harm or death. For example, if the perpetrator is outside a locked building and the intended victim is inside, the knife wielding perpetrator does not have access to the victim. On the other hand, if they are both inside the house and they are four feet apart, the perpetrator has access to the intended victim.

The threat of harm or death must be imminent, or immediately possible. For example, if the perpetrator and intended victim are inside the house and the perpetrator says he is going to his apartment to get his knife and will return to kill the intended victim, the threat is not imminent. It would be imminent if the perpetrator pulled his knife out of his pocket and announced that he will now kill the intended victim.

The perpetrator has to demonstrate the intent to hurt or kill the intended victim. If the perpetrator has pulled out his knife, has it open, and says that people similar to the intended victim should all be castrated, the intended victim might feel threatened and, therefore, frightened. However, the perpetrator has not indicated he is going to castrate the intended victim. The intended victim might shoot the perpetrator dead and claim self-defense. And then he would probably be arrested for some level of homicide because the perpetrator only implied he might castrate the intended victim. The perpetrator did not clearly state that he had the intent to castrate the intended victim, just that people like him should be castrated.

This brings us to the concept of “reasonable belief.” Who decides the victim‘s belief that he needed to use deadly force against the perpetrator who implied he would castrate the intended victim was reasonable? The first officers on scene could make a judgement about it. They might arrest the intended victim on the spot for homicide. Or those officers might choose to contact the District Attorney who might decide the intended victim needed to be arrested right there. On the other hand, the DA might decide to delay an arrest and instead take the case to the Grand Jury where a group of citizens might decide to indict the intended victim who would then be arrested and tried for homicide. The intended victim would, at some point in time, go to trial where a jury would decide if his belief about killing the perpetrator was reasonable.

The intended victim states he believed he was in fear for his life as though all he needed to validate his own use of deadly force was to say he felt like he needed to use it. But life (and the law) is not so simple. I have been around enough “macho dudes” who have exclaimed “If he came in my house, I’d just shoot him!” to know that they don’t have a clue about the issues surrounding the use of deadly force and who decides if deadly force was justified.


Call it what you will, pressure or stress. Facing the possibility of serious bodily harm or death will get your emotions going. The level of your emotions will reflect the degree you believe you are going to be hurt or killed. And likewise, your physical response, namely adrenalin, will reflect that same degree.

It is fairly common when people are attacked verbally they respond defensively, which in most cases is a returned attack called a rebuttal. Those people involved can go around and around, seemingly forever, attacking each other until they run out of energy.

The same thing happens in self-defense situations. The difference here is that the attacks don’t keep going. They stop when someone is seriously hurt or killed.


Situational Awareness

Envisioning a wide variety of scenarios

Developing muscle memory

Knowing and practicing defensive behaviors

Situational awareness reduces or eliminates confusion and stress which results in lowered emotional responses and reduced adrenaline rushes.

Situational awareness is the practice of paying attention to what is going on around you whether you are at home or out of the house. When you practice situational awareness you are relaxed, expecting, but not assuming, things to be normal. What is the difference? When you assume things to be normal as you go to the shopping mall, as you go to church, or as you stop to fuel your car, you don’t notice who is pumping gas next to you. As you pull into the church parking lot you won’t notice cars that seem out of place. At the mall you will not notice the people around you to observe what might be called aggressive behaviors.

When you practice situational awareness, you take time to look at the people around you, to notice how they are dressed, to notice how they are acting, and to notice if they seem out of place. The reason you can practice this comfortably is because you expect things to be peaceful and non-threatening even if they are hectic and fast moving.

Envisioning a wide variety of scenarios is another way to reduce confusion and surprise. Being surprised by aggressive and attacking behavior creates confusion. Perpetrators rely on surprise and victim confusion in order to obtain victim compliance. Stated another way, perpetrators rely on victims being slow to react to the perpetrator’s threat. This gives them the upper hand.

Envisioning scenarios is done by picturing “What would I do if… I was about to enter the convenience store and saw a terrified look on the face of the cashier?” “What would I do if… I saw a man with a gun standing behind a person at the ATM machine?” “What would I do if… someone kicked in the front door and came running at me before I could get to my gun?”  “What would I do if… I was sitting here in the parking lot and someone started pounding on the hood of my car?” “What would I do if… I was walking down this nature trail and someone came running at me?”

Envisioning scenarios is as varied as the number of places you regularly go to and the number of situations in which you find yourself.

Develop muscle memory. Muscle memory is what you develop the more you practice any physical behavior. We talk about this a lot when talking about self-defense shooting. Your muscles, so to speak, remember where the hand goes when it reaches for your gun. Muscle memory remembers how to draw your gun effectively from its holster. Muscle memory makes it possible to reduce the time it takes for you to deploy the strategy you have decided on once you have determined what the danger is that you are confronting. (Remember, situational awareness and envisioning scenarios reduce the time it takes for you to decide you are in danger.)

Knowing and practicing defensive behaviors and practicing them to the point where you have ingrained muscle memory of those behaviors will reduce the time it takes for you to identify a threat and then to appropriately react to the it. For example, every time you draw your gun to dry fire at home or to shoot at an outdoor range, take yourself at least one step “out of the line of fire.” Moving when you draw your gun is fundamental to distracting a perpetrator. By taking that one step out of the line of fire you have required the perpetrator to react to your movement. The result is that he will be forced to overcome his own reaction time which will likely cause his reaction to be a split second or more later than your reaction. That might save your life.

Whether you are using your firearm at home, in the parking lot, or at the mall always move to concealment (so the perp can’t see you) or to cover (so his bullets can’t hit you). At home, you might move behind the refrigerator for both concealment and cover. (But be aware, if the bad guy is using full metal jacketed bullets, they could go completely through the refrigerator. Stay aware!). If you’re in the parking lot, getting behind a car can conceal you. (Similar to the refrigerator, bullets can penetrate a car’s body. For cover, hide behind the motor or the wheels if possible). Not a lot of cover at the mall. However, there is a lot of concealment. Use it.

Another behavior to build into muscle memory is creating distance between yourself and the perpetrator. Ask a trusted friend to role play an argument with you. He or she will be the antagonist. The role play will start as two people having an argument. No weapons will be involved at the beginning of the role play. Never allow the antagonist to get closer than his arm length to you. Stated as a positive, stay at least his arm length plus 12 inches away from the antagonist. It will be the job of the antagonist to occasionally close to the gap between you so as to be able to strike you with “fist” or “knife”. Simulate being outside a party store or being indoors at a party. Choose any setting you wish.

Maintaining an arm length plus 12 inches is a habit you should ingrain for any situation. For example, if you are at the ATM and someone approaches closely asking directions to the closest gas station, get the distance. You might need to ask that person to step back, perhaps even demand it. When someone you don’t know, or barely know, closes the distance between you to less than an arm’s length, be prepared to defend yourself. Friendly people are respectful of your personal space. Perpetrators are not.


I am not aware of any scientific research that proves my next point. However, I believe the greatest impediment to accurate shooting in a self-defense situation is adrenalin, sometimes called an adrenalin dump. Back in the days of cavemen and women, I’m sure they didn’t worry about fine motor skills. If they were attacked, they used their large muscle groups to pick up rocks, boulders, tree limbs or anything else with which they could totally defeat their attacker.

Shooting a firearm requires the use of large and fine motor groups. For example, once you have obtained a grip on your gun (using fine motor groups) you use large muscle groups (muscles of the chest, arm, shoulder, and neck) to bring the gun up to eye level. To aim and fire the firearm, you use small muscle groups (eyes, hand, fingers). To handle recoil you will use large and small muscle groups (hands, arm, shoulder, back, legs). The adrenalin dump makes the use of small muscle groups difficult if not impossible.

Fear is what causes an adrenalin dump. Effective self-defense shooting requires clear thinking. Clear thinking is improved by building on the steps mentioned above.

Situational Awareness

Envisioning a wide variety of scenarios

Developing muscle memory

Knowing and practicing defensive behaviors

By law, you are responsible for every bullet that is fired from your gun. You need to be clear headed enough to correctly identify your target(s) and what could be harmed by bullets from your gun. If you miss the bad guy by inches and your bullet strikes the person 12 feet behind him, you are responsible for that injury. If your bullet(s) through a store window and strike a person driving by the store, you are responsible for that injury or death.

Macho doesn’t cut it. You must be able to think clearly, identify the target(s) and respond on target without hurting innocent bystanders. You have heard it before. You will hear it again… Practice, Practice, Practice.

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