By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2008, All Rights Reserved
There was a huge response to my article entitled "Can You Really Disarm Someone Who Has A Gun" so I thought that I would write another article on the same subject to expand on some information that I went over. People have emailed me a lot of questions and they seem to be about both clearing the weapon and actual disarming techniques. In this article I will deal with clearing the weapon and in another I'll talk about a few actual techniques.
Just in case someone is reading this and doesn't know what we're talking about, "clearing the weapon" means getting the gun that is pointing at you to no longer point at you, and it is the first step in any disarming technique. You have to first get the gun pointing at something other than you and then take control of both the gun and the attacker. There are three general ways of clearing the weapon: 1) Grab or touch the gun, or the hand that holds the gun, and push it to the side so that if it goes off it will not shoot you, 2.) Stepping out of the way, off the line of fire, so that if the gun goes off it will not shoot you, or 3.) Grab or touch the gun, or the hand that holds the gun, and push it one way and then step the other. Most people prefer both touching the weapon and moving it while moving your body at the same time because it allows you more lateral distance from the muzzle of the weapon and therefore the line of fire.
For most people clearing the weapon is the hardest part because they are scared that they won't be fast enough to clear the weapon without getting shot. However, as we talked about in the last article, when someone is actually assaulting you with a gun they are not going to think about you disarming them, they are going to be thinking about accomplishing their goal (getting your money or moving you to someplace else) and in almost every case they will leave themselves wide open to being disarmed. A criminal will use the gun to intimidate you and will take no action to protect his weapon, which makes it an easy target.
When talking about clearing a firearm I like to give this illustration: let's say that you had both a pencil in your hand and you had a partner standing 4-5 feet away. You want to keep your pencil but your partner wants to take it away from you. What makes more sense, holding the pencil with both your hands, tucking it into your body, and using your body to block your partner from getting it, or putting the pencil in only one hand (which is how most criminals hold their guns) and sticking it in their face? If you're holding the pencil out towards your partner then you're actually making it very easy for him to just reach out and take it. With a gun it is the same thing, if the criminal makes no effort to protect his weapon and holds it out towards you he is actually making it very easy for you to just reach out and grab it.
Clearing the weapon during an actual assault is generally not that hard because 1.) The attacker doesn't want to shoot you, at least not right now (if he did then he already would have), 2.) He is usually close to you, 3.) He is not paying attention to the weapon, 4.) He is not protecting it, 5.) He is not expecting you to do anything but submit to him and be afraid, 6.) When you don't act the way he wants it will confuse him and generally cause him to hesitate, 7.) When you suddenly become violent it generally causes the victim of such violence to freeze for a moment, and 8.) He doesn't know what you are going to do or when you are going to do it.
Also studies have shown that it takes the average person at least a quarter of a second to recognize that a threat exists before they can even come up with a course of action to counter the threat. So taking that into account, if someone points a gun at you and you move to clear the weapon you have a quarter of a second to use before he even processes the fact that something has happened, then his brain has to tell his body to pull the trigger, and then it has to do it. In my experience during my own training sessions, during a pretend assault where the attacker knows what the "defender" will do, it usually takes at least 1.5 seconds from the time the "defender" begins clearing the weapon until the attacker actually fires. One and a half seconds is not long at all but it usually takes less then a second to get off the line of fire.
What's more is that since your attacker isn't expecting you to do anything but submit he will be caught off guard when you instead do the opposite. This generally causes him to hesitate and buys you time to continue your attack. In addition is the fact that action is always faster than reaction so when you act to take control of the gun your attacker has to recognize that you are attacking, devise a counter, then counter. The attacker will be playing catch-up.
Hopefully you can see that it is possible to at very least clear the weapon that is pointed at you, so now I'll tell you about a little "trick".
The FBI has some very intelligent people working in it and those people take the studying of criminal behavior very seriously. They are constantly studying and analyzing crimes as well as interviewing criminals to try to understand what makes criminals commit their crimes, exactly how they commit them, and what is going through their minds while they commit them. In the early 90's they were studying shootings and they made an interesting discovery: in case after case, after case, after case, when a criminal pointed a gun at someone they didn't talk and shoot at the same time. In fact, they discovered that there is a weird "left brain-right brain" thing going on which results in that in nearly every single case, when a criminal is talking they aren't pulling the trigger.
What does this mean to you? It means that if an attacker pulls a gun on you and he says something to you (like "Give me your money", "don't move", "don't scream", or "don't be a hero") you should disarm him right then while he is talking.
Try this, get a gun with a moveable trigger, but please don't use a real gun-use a toy gun, and point it at a partner from a distance just beyond arm's length. Then when you're both ready I want you to say, "Give me your money" and then try to shoot your partner as they try to clear the weapon. Do it a few times and as soon as you see your partner move I want you to pull the trigger and notice what it is pointing at when it goes off.
If you're like most people you will realize something...it is very hard to pull the trigger and shoot them while you are talking. You even know what they are going to do but there is some kind of weird delay. Now, do the drill again but this time stand about 15 feet away from your partner and when you are both ready walk up to your partner, point the gun at him from about arms length away, and then say, "give me your money" as they try to clear the weapon and you try to shoot him. You'll see that it is even harder.
While doing this it is not uncommon to have your partner actually take your gun away from you before you get around to pulling the trigger.
With some practice you can get better at it and overcome the delay you experience in pulling the trigger while talking but it does take practice and the criminals out there don't do that practice. So, when is the best time to disarm your attacker? The answer is right away, but the second best time is as soon as they say something. If your attacker opens his mouth and says something you should be attacking him because at that point there will be a delay in his response time.
This is also very useful when your attacker is standing behind you. Most people say that if the gunman is behind you, you shouldn't do anything until and unless the muzzle of the gun touches you so that you know where the gun is. This is pretty good advice because you don't want to turn around to disarm him only to find out that he is actually a distance away. However, here we have a little wiggle room.
Let's say that someone comes up behind you and points a gun at you. The gun isn't touching you so you can't tell where it is or how far he is away from you by feel, so you look around to find any shadows or reflections that can give away your attacker's position. You find none. You turn your head slightly to the side to use your peripheral vision to locate him but he tells you to look straight ahead. You don't know where the gun is or how far he is away from you, however, he is talking and we know that very seldom can people talk and pull the trigger at the same time. So you turn your feet inward to "pigeon toe" yourself to make it easier to rotate backwards and then as soon as he begins to say something you quickly rotate and penetrate towards him in one step and with your second you quickly locate the attacker and the weapon and get off the line of fire, and then with a very large third step you close distance and complete your technique.
That might not always be wise, after all if I don't know where the attacker is I also probably don't know if he is alone or has friends, but it does give you another possibility.
Here is another little trick I can share with you, one which we call "allowed movement". Very simply what this means is that since your attacker wants something from you, your money or to move you to another location (which might be only a foot away), when he tells you what he wants he immediately after creates an instance where he is allowing you to move and will not shoot you when you do so. So if I have a criminal holding me at gunpoint and I'm standing there with my hands up and he tells me to give him my wallet I now have two great opportunities to disarm him. The first opportunity comes while he is talking and we've already gone over it; the second opportunity if right after he gets done talking. He has just told me to do something and therefore when I move he is allowing me to do so in the expectation that I am complying. So right after he says, "give me your wallet" I just use that opportunity of "allowed movement" to take the weapon instead of reaching for my wallet.
This is actually very simple but there is a little trick to it. Evolution has wired us to notice fast jerky motions because we needed to notice them in order to hunt prey. We might have been standing in a forest with the leaves all blowing gently in the wind and birds flying around, but amid all that movement we had to notice when that rabbit that we had been hunting quickly darts out of it hiding place and runs away. Evolution made our brain pick up on fast jerky movements. People are amazed to discover that when fighting if they make fast jerky motions their opponent will pick them up right away, but if they make graceful and smooth motions, that aren't jerky, their opponent will have a much harder time picking them up.
The same applies here. If our attacker lets us move and we immediately make a fast, jerky play for the gun then that lessens our chances of pulling it off because he will notice it faster and perceive it as a threat. But, if instead of going hurried and fast we go calmly and smoothly then our mannerisms will hide our intent. This is one reason why dealing with intoxicated people is so dangerous, they are so relaxed that almost all their movements are smooth and fluid and it is very hard to see their attacks. There have been thousands of police officers who have been easily disarmed by intoxicated individuals and never saw it coming because their fluidity hid their movement.
No matter what you are doing, moving calmly and smoothly will not only have the benefit of being easier on your body, but it will also make your attacks much harder to notice. In shooting they have a saying, "smooth is fast" and the same applies here.