By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2008, All Rights Reserved
When people find out that you study the martial arts or self defense usually what follows is some friendly, and sometimes not so friendly, heckling. Sometimes people are actually curious about your new endeavor but they are too self conscious to talk or question you about it openly so they resort to mocking you, and other times people just don't have any patience or it...or you.
With the discovery of your new hobby comes lots of questions. Can you kick someone in the head? Did ninjas really exist? Could you beat up Steven Seagal? Is it true that a black belt has to register their hands as deadly weapons? Is it true that Chuck Norris never ate meat? Do you wear underwear under those pajamas? What would you do if I punched you in the face? Could you beat up Bruce Lee?(sure, dig him up) What would you do if ten guys, three of whom have knives, came after you and.... These are just a few of the questions that I've been asked personally. However, hands down the two most common questions I get asked over and over are: 1.) have you ever had to use it in real life? and 2.) what would you do if someone pulled a gun/can you really take a gun away from somebody? The answer to the first question of course depends on your life experience but the second one has a far more clear cut answer.
So, can you really take a gun away from somebody? Absolutely, and there are many police officers, security guards, and other professionals who have done it and lived to tell about it. While it is true that certain situations may arise where you are have few options and the chance of your success if very slim, the simple truth is that if you can get close enough to your attacker you can disarm him.
Having a gun pointed at you is indeed scary but the gun doesn't give your attacker any magical power. In fact, the big problem that people have with gun disarms isn't the realities of the situation, it is the fear that people have when they see the gun and that fear makes them immobile. Even in training, when you point a toy gun at someone so they can practice their technique you can usually see the fear in their eyes. 9 times out of 10 the person is too scared to even twitch a muscle so they just stand there, then when they do do the technique they're so flustered that they're all over the place, and they're not even using a real gun.
The simple answer is that yes, it is very possible, and in some situations down right easy, to take a gun away from someone. So here I will address the four main elements that play into your hands and make gun disarming possible.
Reason 1. The guy with the gun doesn't want to shoot you! If someone wanted to shoot you they would just walk up to you and pull the trigger and unless you are practicing proper awareness techniques you'd never even see it coming. Since your attacker is standing near you with a gun it must mean that he or she wants something else from you and they are going to use the gun to intimidate you into giving it to them.
Firearms only have two uses: to kill something or to practice killing something. If you are using a firearm to do anything else, like using it as a tool for intimidation, then you are using it improperly.
During any type of assault if the attacker doesn't immediately use violence against you it means that they generally want you to give them something or they want to move you to someplace else. If a gun toting criminal decides that he wants your wallet and he doesn't walk up to you, shoot you, and then rob you while you're on the ground, then he's going to try to distract and intimidate you with the gun while tries to get your wallet. The important thing is that if shooting you was his goal then he'd do it, but since he didn't that must mean he doesn't want to shoot you, at least not right now.
In a situation you'll have some guy in front of you waiving a gun around making demands who actually doesn't want to shoot you! If he doesn't want to shoot you then that right there will give you the upper hand because he won't shoot you right away and then when you do perform your technique he will most likely hesitate since he wasn't planning on firing the gun right then, and you can at the very least be out of the way and be working at having control of the weapon before his brain catches up and he decides to fire.
Reason 2. Most shootings happen within 5 feet. When it comes time to disarm an attacker it is very unlikely that they will be standing on the other side of a room. Nearly all shootings happen within 5 feet and this means you'll be close enough to begin with. Often it is a matter of just reaching out and taking the weapon. Remember, if you can get close enough to him you can disarm him.
Reason 3. Very few criminals know how to properly use a gun. Most people believe that a guy with a gun is an unbeatable force of nature that you cannot hope to overcome. The truth is that there is an extremely large chance that the guy pointing the gun at you has absolutely NO training in using firearms whatsoever. In fact, it is very possible that that guy has NEVER fired a gun before.
The average criminal doesn't train for his crimes. He or she either steals or buys a gun from another criminal and when they are not using that gun to intimidate people into giving up their money, their gun is tucked carefully in their pocket or in a sock drawer. They don't go to the local gun range and practice their technique and their marksmanship; if their gun jammed on them few would know how to clear it. In the same way, most hunters never touch their rifles in between hunting seasons (then they wonder why they can't hit a buck).
It is extraordinarily seldom that a criminal learns even the most basic elements of marksmanship such as how to align the sites. They just pick up a weapon and use it to intimidate people, and when they do fire it they use a method that consists of pointing the gun in the general direction of the target and pulling the trigger, and often pumping their arm, until they hit their target or their gun runs out of bullets (these methods are known as "the innocent woman and children method" or "spray and pray"). It is not unusual for a for a criminal to fire 10 or more shots at a target from a fairly close range and never hit their target. This inability to accurately shoot is one of the reasons that about 97% of gunshot wounds are nonfatal.
Another important thing that makes untrained shooters so inaccurate with handguns is that they don't know how to hold them. The thing is that if you grab a handgun and hold it so it feels comfortable and natural in your hand it will actually be off center when you point it at your target. So when they go to shoot someone and they extend their arm, their arm will be pointed directly at their target but the gun will be pointed slightly to the left, if in their right hand, or to the right, if the gun is in their left hand. Also, criminals tend to hold their guns in various unstable positions when they shoot that often don't allow them to even see their sites.
The reason that criminals are generally so bad with firearms is because they don't really have to be good. The primary thing that they use the weapon for is to intimidate people and for that they don't even have to have it loaded. Then since nearly all shootings happen within 5 feet it is pretty hard for them to miss, especially when they shoot multiple times.
What this all boils down to is the fact that most gun toting criminals don't know how to use their weapons and would have a hard time hitting the broad side of a barn unless they emptied their entire gun. You're not trying to take the gun away from a Navy SEAL here, you're trying to take the gun away from someone who probably doesn't know how to hold it, aim it, or properly squeeze the trigger. If you try to take the gun away from a Navy SEAL they probably will be able to stop, reacquire you, and shoot you when you move to take their gun; but the criminal will probably see you move then try to repeatedly pull the trigger once you've already taken control of his weapon.
It should also be mentioned that if you get shot and the bullet doesn't hit a nerve, tear a joint, or break a bone it will not make you stop your advance. Even if you do get shot you probably won't know it until afterwards when you're adrenaline levels decline.
Reason 4. Violence deplores a static environment. What does this mean? There is two types of training: static and dynamic. Static (no movement) training means that you and your partner stand in one place and practice the technique together. Dynamic (having movement) training means that you and your partner are moving around and simulating a real attack.
When it comes to practicing gun disarming almost everyone seems content with practicing static disarms. That is, you and a partner stand about 4-5 feet away from each other and your partner holds out the training gun so you can practice your disarming technique. This is great training to learn how to do a technique but it is very poor training to learn how to apply a technique.
Some people do add a small dynamic element into their training and they do this by having the partner with the gun say "bang" or pull the trigger when he sees you move. This does add a small element of realism to the training but its one that does far more harm than good.
If you want to practice to deal with a situation then you have to model that situation under controlled circumstances and learn how to deal with it there. This static training of two people standing there, one ready to blow the other away at the slightest sign of movement, is hardly realistic. Sure you need to start with static training to learn your techniques but once you have them down then its time to start with dynamic training.
Dynamic training involves actually reenacting a violent assault. Once you have the technique down then you need to practice by first deciding on a goal for your partner to try to achieve (either taking your money or moving you to someplace else) and then have them try to accomplish that goal by having them walk up to you and then violently and suddenly pull the gun, shove it into your face, maybe grab you with the other hand and yell, "GIVE MY YOUR F%^&ING MONEY!!". Maybe you have them push you, pull you, or even choke you with their free hand. This kind of training actually models a real assault and it will quickly make you aware of two important elements of firearm disarming. (for tips on how to do dynamic training simply search for and watch videos of real assaults on the internet then reenact them during your training)
The first element is that during the course of the entire assault there are actually numerous great opportunities to disarm them. If you have your partner just stand in front of you and get ready to shoot you if you make a move then you won't be able to accomplish much, but if you pay attention during a session of dynamic training you'll see that your attacker actually gives you opportunities to relieve him of his weapon.
The difference is his focus. During static training there isn't much you can learn or do because your partner's focus is on shooting you as soon as you move, but during dynamic training your partner's focus is on getting your money or making you move someplace and while they are using the gun to intimidate you they aren't focused on the gun or on shooting you and they actually leave themselves and their weapon vulnerable throughout the encounter.
If you practice this you'll notice that the more intense you get in your training the more it seems that the "bad guy" almost wants to give you his gun.
The second element is what we call the "oh shit factor", or more precisely the "startle reflex". Namely, when you're startled, like when someone comes out of the blue and violently shoves a gun in your face, your natural reaction is to stop and tighten your muscles making your body very ridged. In other words you freeze. Criminals actually count on this and they rely on people freezing when they attack them to make their jobs easier.
As I stated above, one of the biggest things that make disarming difficult is not the techniques but the fear of having a gun pointed at you. Gun disarming is nearly impossible for a lot of people, including the "experts", because they only practice static disarms and therefore they never learned to overcome their "oh shit factor"/"startle reflex" and so when they actually get a gun pulled on them they just freeze like a deer in the headlights.
Not to badmouth anyone and I won't give any names, but I do know that there are a small of handful people who advertise themselves as the "foremost experts of firearm disarmament" in the country. These people claim to go all over the country an teach the CIA, FBI, military, SWAT, and every other unit and organization you can think of how to disarm people who have guns. They claim to be the "experts" and the "go to guys" that government agencies go to when they need to learn disarming techniques, and they also sell their how-to DVDs for $39.95.
I've attended some of their training and seen some of their videos and not one of them do any dynamic training at all. One guy, in his how-to video, gives a lecture while wearing a bullet proof vest and a motorcycle helmet as his partner stands in front of him with a revolver loaded with paint bullets. He then stands in front of his partner with his hands up and quickly slaps the gun to the side while trying not to get shot. Even this guy, the so called "foremost authority", couldn't do it 10 times in a row without getting shot somewhere. This kind of "who's faster" static training does nothing more then get people shot.
By doing dynamic training and reenacting violent assaults you learn to deal with your startle reflex and you actually teach your brain a new behavior to perform for that stimulus. You need to have someone suddenly shove a gun into your face and violently shout demands and profanities at you, and even rough you up a little, during training because that probably is how it will happen to you in real life. You need to make your training as real, violent, and scary as possible so you can train your brain to act instead of freeze.
You should even include other people, loved ones or bystanders, in your training because they can get shot while you are doing your disarm. You don't need to have your husband or wife come to class and stand there during your technique, but you should put something in their place as a marker to indicate where they are, like a chair. Then when you do your technique you need to be mindful of where they are so they don't get shot. After all if you successfully disarm and neutralize your attacker but a loved one gets shot in the process you might not have come out ahead.
If you don't overcome your startle reflex if will be nearly impossible to disarm a gun but if you do overcome the reflex you'll find that performing a disarm can even become a reflex.
With my students, I have them stand in the middle of the room and then I walk up to them at odd angles then suddenly and violently assault them with the firearm. After doing this for a few weeks they have no problem with clearing the weapon. I can walk up to them after class while they’re putting on their shoes and suddenly surprise them with the gun and on pure instinct they will clear and control the weapon before I even realize whats going on-and I'm the guy that taught them the technique. It’s just a matter of training.
(Scary? Yes, but watch it closely and you’ll see that the gun is just for intimidation and he makes no attempt to protect it. Taking his gun away would be child’s play.)