Are You Really Prepared to Use a Firearm in Self-Defense? Part 1



            If you watch enough television programs and movies you will probably think that good guys armed with guns always win the gunfight. Well, in everyday life there is no script that determines the outcome of a gunfight. Both good guys and bad guys have their own expectations but expectations do not determine outcomes. Expectations contribute to the outcomes but they do not determine them.


You must be able to shoot safely and accurately under pressure.

Let’s address “safely” first. You have to be able to control the gun. The bullet must go where you want it to go and this only happens when you have the correct grip, the sights aligned, and the correct sight picture.

GRIP – I have witnessed many people, male and female, who have been shooting for many years, even up to 30 years, who have never learned how to correctly grip a firing gun. Why is this important? The answer is recoil control.

When a gun is fired, it will recoil upwards and to the side. This can make an accurate follow-up shot difficult to get on target. If you are shooting at the range and taking your time with second and third shots, there is no problem. However, under the pressure of a self-defense situation, you may need to get a second or third bullet into the assailant inside 2 or 3 seconds. Uncontrolled recoil can cause your second and third shots to miss the assailant completely. Worse yet, those last two shots might strike innocent bystanders. The correct grip on a semi-automatic pistol looks like this:

Correct Grip:                                                     


ALIGNING THE SIGHTS – Aligning the sights means that the top of the front sight is even with the top of the back sights. Equally important, the empty space on the right side of the front sight will be equal to the empty space on the left side of the front sight. It will look like this:

Correct Sight Alignment                                                

When the sights are not aligned correctly the following problems with accuracy will occur:

Incorrect Sight Alignment                                       

Why does this matter? If you are aiming at the bad guy and your sights are pointed low, you might just be shooting the floor. On the other hand, if you sights are pointed high, as in the second from the left image, you might just shoot out the only light in the room. (Now there’s a problem!)

Let’s say your sights are aligned as depicted in the third image. You might end up shooting the lady in the background who is holding her baby tightly to her chest. Fourth image? You might shoot the elderly man on a cane (who you did not see) who just happened to be there.


CORRECT SIGHT PICTURE – Correct sight picture means you have the front sight clearly in focus while the target itself is slightly out of focus. It looks like this:

Correct Sight Picture                                           

Why does this matter? The problem is that people cannot keep objects in different focal planes equally in focus. The result is that if you have the bad guy in focus you will probably not have correct sight alignment which can result in the problems or tragedies mentioned above.

If you have the front sight in focus, without question the bad guy will be out of focus. This is not a bad thing because the bad guy is a big target. You will be able to hit him where you need to.

Shooters new to this skill, usually thinking they will improve their accuracy, change their focus from the sights, to the target, to the sights, to the target, and so forth, until they pull the trigger. They wonder why they did not hit the target as planned. Switching your focus from sights to target, back and forth, will always result in less than accurate shooting.


FIGHTING UNDER PRESSURE – When you hear a sudden loud sound, when you see a car coming at you and you could be hit by that car, when you are in an unfamiliar building and you hear a loud boom, and the lights suddenly go out, you experience some level of fear, from apprehension to terror. You will experience an instinctive flight response causing your adrenalin to shoot from approximately zero to as high as 100 per cent in a second or two.

When someone points a gun or a knife at you or someone you love, the release of adrenalin will be even faster and higher.

Getting the proper grip on your firearm, aligning the sights properly, and making sure you acquire the proper sight picture all require the manipulation of small muscle groups. And studies of police officers and soldiers in life and death situations clearly demonstrate that the first ability that humans lose is the ability to precisely manipulate small muscle groups. The result is that training individuals expected to be in life or death situations focuses on developing “muscle memory” for the use of small muscle groups and the development of survival tools that only require the coordination of large muscle groups.

Regular and consistently practiced training of the same small muscle skill sets is what develops muscle memory. Police officers who primarily work the streets are usually left to set their own training regimen. Officers on the S.W.A.T. teams however are required to train regularly and often. These officers are expected to safely handle high stress life and death situations. Missing scheduled training can result in dismissal from the team. It really does not matter how likable those officers are. If they cannot perform their duties in a high stress situation where the lives of others, including other officers, are on the line, they get dismissed.

In my experience, civilians think they can handle self-defense situations because, well, they just can. If I have to be in a situation where civilians I don’t know have their guns out, I will be scared for my safety.

As mentioned in the section on GRIP above, I have been around people who have been shooting guns for as long as 30 years who do not handle their guns safely. In casual circumstances they walk around with their fingers on the trigger, they unthinkingly direct the muzzle of their firearms at others when they are loading and unloading their firearms, and they do not have proper recoil control when they are shooting.

During firearms qualification for the Tennessee Concealed Carry Permit, I have watched the hands of some of these “experienced” shooters shake so much they shoot groups as large as 6-8 inches at 3 and 5 yards. That is just shooting at an indoor range among non-threatening people under the direction of a certified firearm instructor. So, no matter how much they want to defend the lives of their wives or their children, if they have not developed the muscle memory to gain proper sight alignment, proper sight picture, and the ability to properly control recoil, it is likely their first shot will be the only shot on target. Doing a double tap to the torso and one to the head only once or twice a year on paper at the indoor range will not develop muscle memory.

DEVELOPING MUSCLE MEMORY – Dry firing in the comfort of your own home is a great way to develop muscle memory. It’s free! All it takes is time and concentration… and instruction from a certified firearms instructor to show you the proper technique and to correct any habits you may have that interfere with safe shooting. In the beginning developing speed is not important. In the beginning developing correct technique is important. Correct technique applied by muscle memory is crucial to handling a self-defense situation safely. The more you practice dry firing with correct technique, the faster you will go. Don’t worry about speed. It comes automatically with practice.

Shooting live ammo at the range once a month will show you what your practice at home has accomplished.

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