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What Tactics Will Save Your Life in a Gunfight?

Image of Bryan Hill, Founder of Pistol Wizard Bryan Hill / March 10 2021

How effective is a pistol vs. other types of self defense? If you had to use your pistol in self defense, what tactics will help you prevail? We look at government data to find overall trends, and dive into case studies and videos of real self defense shootings to get you the answers.

On This Page:

  1. Self Defense Effectiveness: NCVS Data (2015)
  2. Survival Rate of Gunfight Tactics (2018)
  3. 11 Conceal Carry Tips from Real Gunfights (2017)
  4. Conclusions

Self Defense Effectiveness: NCVS Data (2015)

The epidemiology of self-defense gun use: Evidence from the National Crime Victimization Surveys 2007–2011 (2015)
This analyzed Data from the bjs.gov National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) for 2007–2011. It's a self-report survey for victims of crime. This study looked at outcomes when people were victims of:
  • Rape or sexual assault
  • Robbery
  • Assault (aggravated and simple)
  • Personal larceny (theft)
  • Burglary
  • Motor vehicle theft
It only took incidents when there was personal contact between victim and perpetrator.

Key Takeaways
  • About 1 in 5 (22.5%) of those who complied were injured.
  • Those who fought back were injured less the more effective their weapon:
  • Those who resisted non-violently fared best if there was an armed defender (guard or police) nearby, but if there wasn't one around, they fared worse for screaming or trying to call for help.
  • Running/hiding or talking (pleading, bargaining, reasoning) with the attacker was about as effective as compliance.
    However, which option is best depends on the situation. Below, the victim likely would have fared better if he had complied instead of tried to run. The robber had a gun (instead of a melee weapon), and the nearest cover was too far to get to before the robber could react and fire.
Commentary
This study presented raw data (above) and then did analysis. This was the first set of NCVS data with injury rates before and after the victim took action, instead of combining both.

Of note, the pre-action injury rate was very low for those who defended with a gun (6.8%). Other response types had much higher rates of pre-action injury than the others, like fighting back with other weapons (20.2%), fighting back with no weapon (33.9%), defending self or property (44.5%) trying to attract attention or help (33.7%), or screaming (66.2%).

The authors tried to explain away the low injury rate for those who defended with a gun, and passed that along to the Abstract and Discussion sections of this study. However, there's no commentary attempting to explain the significant differences in injury rate for other active defense responses, nothing to explain the trend in decreasing injury rate of the defender the more effective the defense type.

Why did the authors make assumptions to discount those differences in outcomes, instead of getting more information from the victims in this data set?

In this study, the authors declare that "there are no conflicts of interests", but their department has received over $4 million in total from the Joyce Foundation and Bohnett Foundation, each anti-gun groups.

Does $4 million in politically-motivated funding sound like a conflict of interest to you?

That said, this study is valuable for the NCVS data set organized and presented in the Results section. But for the conclusions? Look at the data and make your own.


Survival Rate of Gunfight Tactics (2018)

Stand, Move, or Seek Cover…What Works in a Gunfight? (2018)
Participants ran a series of one-on-one gunfights using simunitions. The attacker's goal was to shoot the defender. The defender used different tactics while returning fire.

This impacted how often they were hit:
Key Takeaways
  • You're almost 2x as likely to end a gunfight unharmed if you move.
  • You're over 3x as likely to end a gunfight unharmed if you use cover.
  • Typical range practice doesn't prepare you to survive a gunfight.
  • If you don't want to get shot, take classes to learn how to shoot on the move and use cover. Then take scenario-based classes to ingrain those skills.

11 Conceal Carry Tips from Real Gunfights (2017)

11 Research-Based Concealed Carry Tips from Criminal Video Analysis (2017)
This analyzed 30 recorded gunfights between armed defenders (police and concealed carriers) and criminals. A few examples:


Key Takeaways
  • Almost half the time, there's more than one assailant:
  • In robberies, often there's a gun-man, and a grab-man who collects valuables.
  • The grab-man is often armed. If you intervene in a robbery, assess the situation before drawing.
  • If you draw with the intent of getting a robber to surrender, you have an almost 50% risk of being at the mercy of an accomplice.

    They have no mercy.
  • Successful concealed carriers delayed drawing their pistol until the assailant(s) were distracted.
  • They also obscured the draw, so onlookers couldn't see the draw, or couldn't see that it was a gun being drawn. The element of surprise is devastating.
  • 37% of the time, there was physical contact during the gunfight. This was often light pushing, or attempting to control the attacker’s limbs.
  • Take this study as moderate evidence for self-defense in general. Its sample size of 30 is OK. A stronger study would sample 1,000 randomly-selected incidents.


Conclusions

The more effective your weapon, the more likely you'll defend yourself without injury. Guns are the only means of self defense with a much lower injury rate for the victim compared to complying, running, hiding, or trying to talk your way out. Still, you must have the will and skills to use your gun to prevail.

If the perp(s) have their attention on you, comply until they're distracted.
When to act depends on how fast you draw your pistol:
  • 1.5 sec draw (competent): Threat turns away enough that you see its entire ear.
  • 1 sec draw (expert): Threat glances more than 15 degrees away.
At the range, or at home with an unloaded pistol, time your draw to first shot with a shot timer. Add at least a quarter second to account for stress in a real situation.

For success once the threat starts shooting:
  • If you're within 3 yds of cover, go for it ASAP.
  • Otherwise, if you're within 3 yds of the threat, move away and laterally to it (preferably toward cover).
  • If you're 15+ yds away and you have the skills, it can pay to focus on accurate fire to stop the threat ASAP.
  • Take classes to learn how to shoot on the move and use cover, then take scenario-based classes to ingrain those skills.

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References

  1. Stand, Move, or Seek Cover…What Works in a Gunfight? (2018)
  2. 11 Research-Based Concealed Carry Tips from Criminal Video Analysis (2017)
  3. The epidemiology of self-defense gun use: Evidence from the National Crime Victimization Surveys 2007–2011 (2015)
  4. Rangemaster: What is Your Training Priority? (2015)
  5. The Invisible Gorilla Strikes Again: Sustained Inattentional Blindness in Expert Observers (2013)
  6. Analysis of Five Years of Armed Encounters (With Data Tables) (2012)
  7. Selective Attention Test Video (2010)
  8. The Monkey Business Illusion (2010)
  9. Sustained Inattentional Blindness for Dynamic Events (1999)


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