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When you must Shoot


It has been emphasized throughout this education section that a firearm is a tool of last resort when dealing with a violent or a life-threatening situation cannot be avoided through other means, such as evading the situation, leaving the area, or leveraging other non-lethal forms of self-defense. If you are forced to present your firearm, you must believe there is an immediate threat to your physical well-being or an imminent, immediate threat to your life. Even with proper training, practice, and preparation, nothing will prepare you for the possibility of having to take another person's life. Even when a law abiding citizen has done everything possible to avoid using their firearm, there may be a time where you have no other choice.

The Reality of a Shooting Event

Unlike what is portrayed in the movies and on television, the first shot fired will generally not be an immediate, instantaneous, incapacitation of the assailant. Assailants who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, whose adrenaline is pumping quickly through their body, or whose rage is so heightened they cannot think correctly, will oftentimes not realize they have been shot and will continue their attack until a sufficient amount of damage in imposed, the loss of blood is overwhelming, or a vital organ fails. Even a single, terminally fatal, well-place shot will not stop the assailant for up to as much as 30 seconds or more because the amount of oxygen and blood flow to their brain is sufficient enough for them to continue their attack. This lag time is plenty of time for the assailant to continue his attack and stab or shoot you with his own weapon. You must assume your first shot will not stop the attacker from continuing towards you or using his own firearm.

Shooters and witnesses often report the absence of a direct hit on the assailant. This is because bullets make a small entry point when entering and leaving the body (the exit wound will be significantly larger due to the inertia of the bullet) or when a hollow point expands within the body, leaving no discernable exit wound. The depiction the assailant will violently fall backwards and stop his attack immediately when the first shot is fired is an unrealistic expectation. Even under the most ideal situation, there's a large possibility your first shot was a complete miss as you were attempting to acquire your target under the incredible amount of stress and pressure you will be under.

While there are areas of the body where an immediate, direct hit will completely incapacitate the attacker, these areas are too small to aim for during the heat of the encounter which will force you to shoot for center mass. Firing into center mass is the surest and most reliable method for stopping an attack as quickly as possible. You will have to rely on your training, practice drills, muscle memory, and other factors to take over and have you react on auto-pilot. Keep in mind part of your training is to also be aware of what's beyond your target; which will also kick in as you assess the shooting conditions--you may not be able to fire your weapon if an innocent bystander is behind the assailant.

Assessing the Danger and the Risks

Most attacks occur at a very close range, especially when its a single assailant who was able to dupe you enough to get close to you. You must be prepared for the likelihood that you will suffer some sort of injury yourself, especially if the attacker has a knife, club, or pistol. This is compounded if you are facing multiple attackers from different angles.
The 21 Foot Rule
If you believe you are in a dangerous and life threatening situation, it's always best to prepare for the worse, anticipate the possibility you can be injured, and to put up the best defense you possibly can to survive. Studies have shown that victims of violent crime are far more likely to survive an attack when they resist rather than doing nothing to protect themselves. Remember, if the threat is immanent and there are no other options available to you, don't hesitate to take the necessary action to save yourself from a deadly outcome.


Your training and experience preparing for an attack will place you in a better-than-average position against an assailant verses never training at all. You can use your training to utilize cover and concealment techniques, create distance between you and your attacker, and to use other options available to you at that time.

If You Are Injured

You must keep fighting, as the expression goes: "never give-up, never surrender". If it takes two or three shots to stop an assailant, remember, the same goes for you. If you are stabbed or shot, seldom a single wound will be mortally fatal. Many victims of violent crimes who continued to fight until their attacker was down report they didn't realize they had sustain an injury during the attack. Their injuries became noticeable once the threat was removed and their adrenaline level started to subside.

If Your Attacker Has Been Shot

If you have defended yourself successfully, the chances are your attacker will be on the floor, injured, and may or may not be conscious. Never approach your assailant as they may be playing possum with you or they may regain consciousness and have a second weapon on their person. Do not check on their condition, attempt to disarm them, or render aid. Just because the assailant is down and appears incapacitated does not mean they are any less intent to hurt you. Your safety comes first--remember, you are the victim--you are under no obligation to assist a person whose intent is to kill you.

As soon as possible, once you realize the assailant is down, you should lower your weapon into the low-ready position but not so much as to remove focus on the attacker; this is one time your finger will remain on the trigger, ready to fire if the need arise. The action of lowering your weapon will help you break tunnel vision and allow you to scan for additional threats; never lose focus of your primary attacker in case they revive.

Move to Cover

Although the assailant may be injured and on the ground, moving to a location that provides appropriate cover, if available, should be taken. While moving, never take your eyes off the attacker and maintain a steady firing position in the direction of the attacker. Should the assailant revive, yell out orders for them to remain on the ground. If they disobey your orders and get up to flee, by all means let them leave the scene--do not attempt to apprehend them; that's what the police are trained for handling. If, on the other hand, the assailant moves towards you to continue the attack, follow all the reasonable options you followed in the beginning of the conflict, firing again only if necessary.

Contact the Police

As soon as it is possible, use your cell phone or ask a nearby witness to contact the police. Immediately tell the dispatcher that you were attacked, in fear for your life, and defended yourself with a firearm. Be very careful of what you say and how you say it. A simple comment such as "I was attacked by a Mexican" can be completely miss-construed during trial. Instead, try to remain very neutral with all your comments, such as "I was attacked by a male Hispanic, I was in fear for my life, and used my firearm to defend myself". Be sure to answer as clearly and as accurately the dispatcher's questions without going into the details of the shooting. The dispatcher will likely ask you relevant questions, such as where you are, how are you dressed, what do you look like, and so forth in order to describe to officers arriving at the scene who to look out for and to slightly reduce the surprise of seeing you with a gun. Under no circumstances should you discuss the details of the encounter--you are on a recorded line and anything you say that can be miss construed later in court could damage your case significantly. Simply repeat you were threatened and in fear for your life. You are the victim and you had no choice but to defend yourself.

Preserve the Shooting Scene

While you're not expected to be the police or crime scene investigator, whenever possible try to maintain the integrity of the site in which the shooting took place. Keep curious people and others away from anything that may damage or alter the scene and possibly destroy evidence of your innocence. If possible, ask witness to remain until the police arrive, or to at least write down their contact information. Never hold a person against their will, that's outright kidnapping even in the spirit of upholding the law; allow them to leave or move about freely while waiting for the police to arrive.

Greeting the Police

You're in a slightly better position if you were the one who called the police and talked with the dispatcher. The police will have a description of you, your location, and that you are holding an assailant at gunpoint.

This does not mean the police will not approach you with their guns drawn or yelling commands for you to surrender your weapon. Follow the instructions given by the officers to the letter.

Never turn and face an officer with a firearm in your hands!

Always place it on the ground or where the police officer has instructed you. Move slowly, deliberately, and always keep your hands in plain sight.

The 21 foot rule (7 yards) is taught heavily by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other firearm instructors. The premise is anyone within 21 feet can reach you quickly with a knife, club, or their bare hands. The 21 foot rule was established after several controlled drills which assumed an assailant must be within 21 feet to cause great bodily harm or death.
Ready-Aim-Fire in 2.5 Seconds
While the study showed a trained police officer could draw and fire their weapon twice before being physically attacked, the test was conducted under "ideal" conditions where actual threat of bodily harm did not exist. This makes the study less likely to work in real world scenarios, where tensions are high and adrenaline is rushing through the victim's body. Based on the results using highly trained police officers, it was determined it takes 1.27 seconds to assess the danger, un-holster a firearm, take aim, and hit center mass; the likelihood of an average citizen being able to do so efficiently and accurately is extremely thin.
Attorney's Use the 21 Foot Rule for and against the Victim
The 21 foot rule has also been grossly miss-used as a standard for a justified shooting and it's been used as a double-edged sword since its conception. If the attacker is 21 feet away but has not moved towards you, prosecutors argued your life was not in imminent danger. If the attacker moves towards you closing the gap, defense attorney's argue this implies an automatic acceptance that you can use deadly force. However, depending on witness testimony and your own account of the situation, the 21 foot rule could be your undoing if not articulated correctly. Which is why you want to exercise your Constitutional RIGHT to have an attorney present during questioning. This is your RIGHT; assert it!
The 21 Foot Rule Re-tested
When tests were performed by other reputable companies, it was determined the average time a trained police officer could pull their holstered weapon, aim, and fire two shots was between 1.7 and 2.5 seconds. The test was performed by trained police officers under laboratory conditions--without the actual fear of real imminent danger. The time it took the assailant to reach the police officer was between 1.27 and 2.5 seconds depending on the physical condition of the "attacker". The chances you can draw your weapon in the same amount of time as a calm, un-threatened, trained officer is clearly questionable.
Concealed Carry Limitations not Considered
The test does not take into account a concealed weapon carriers response--the tests were conducted using a firearm holstered externally on the officer's strong side shooting position. If you consider the time it takes to access a concealed firearm, the test fails every time. For example, if you have an inside-the-waist holster, time is required to clear your clothing, grip your firearm, and point it in the direction of the attacker. If you have an inside-the-pocket pistol, time is required to reach inside your pants, pull your weapon, and aim it in the proper direction. The 21 foot rule simply does not provide ample time to perform these additional steps as a concealed carry citizen.
Closing Thoughts
Keep in mind the 21 foot rule was created for trained police officers dealing with a suspect armed with a knife. Officers are trained for these situations, law abiding citizens are not. In all cases, talk with your attorney before you are faced with the need to draw and fire your weapon to get a complete understanding and legal opinion.
There's an excellent article on Police One which delves much further into this subject.
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