By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2008, All Rights Reserved
I get a lot of questions from people about whether or not they should buy a gun for self-defense, and I also get asked every now and then why gun owners should take self-defense classes because, after all, they have guns. My answer to these people is that I believe that guns are great tools, I am a big believer in owning a gun, and I own guns myself, however, buying a gun doesn't mean that you no longer have to train in basic self-defense skills.
Often people want to use guns as an excuse to get out of training. Some people believe that guns are the most effective form of self-defense so if you own one you don't have to waist time with "lesser" methods such as hand-to-hand combat. The truth is that this form of reasoning is extremely flawed and incredibly dangerous.
A gun is an absolutely great self-defense tool but it is only a tool. What determines whether someone can use a gun to effectively defend themselves in a violent situation is first and foremost the individual's level of training and competency with the weapon. Even then the gun just serves as an extension of the individual's training and preparation. It is always the individual that succeeds or fails, or in this case lives or dies, and not the tool that they have in their hand.
Gun enthusiasts tend to not agree with my point of view, but I, a gun enthusiast myself, believe that they focus too much on their tool. Some people actively train with and carry their guns for the purpose of self-defense and believe that that alone will keep them safe and while I have nothing but respect for these people I firmly believe that they are not any safer than an unarmed self-defense practitioner. The reason for this is that focusing on any self-defense tool is missing the point of self-defense entirely.
The point of self-defense is to first notice and avoid potential danger, second to de-escalate and escape danger, and third to neutralize attackers through bodily injury. If someone attacks you, you want to take as much force as you can possibly get, drive that force through the weakest areas of their body, and then repeat as necessary. This will result in the temporary or permanent destruction of a bodily function or structure which will cause the attacker to be physically unable to continue their attack. When you are attacked it doesn't matter how all this is accomplished, it only matters that it is accomplished. It matters not whether the thing that generates the force and drives it into the vulnerable areas of their body is a fist, foot, baseball bat, rock, golf club, axe, a gun, a rifle, a grenade, etc. It doesn't matter what punctures a lung or blows out a knee, all that matters is that the lung gets punctured or that the knee gets blown out, after all the lung or knee won't know the difference between the various methods of delivery.
The reason that guns are a great self-defense tool is firstly because they create fear and hesitation in the other individual, and secondly, and far more importantly, they have the ability to punch holes through the person's body which can result in a wide variety of bodily dysfunctions, impairments, structural failures, and possibly death. Add to that that guns can do this from a far greater range then you can with other weapons and they can do it effectively and fairly dependably. However, as great and effective as guns are you can get the same, or comparable, results with other non-projectile weapons such as your body. When a bullet enters someone's body it can puncture organs, fracture bones, tear nerves and cartilage, or rip joints but you can get the same result yourself by throwing someone down and stomping on them. The only difference is that the bullet can do it faster, with less effort, and from a greater distance.
The main problem with focusing on any weapon or self-defense device, whether it be a gun, knife, pepper spray, alarm, whistle, or any other, can be found in what we refer to as the "rule of thumb". The rule of thumb states that when you are attacked you use whatever is in your hands at the time to defend yourself. If you have a cell phone in your hand you can use your cell phone, if you have your car keys in your hands you can use your keys, and if your hands are empty you use your bare hands. It also means that if a weapon isn't in your hands when a violent situation starts you should forget about using it, at least for the time being. How many people have been beaten, raped, or killed because an attacker confronted them and instead of just defending themselves from the attack they spent their time trying to get at a weapon that they had in their pocket or purse? If you have pepper spray in your hand and you're attacked then by all means use your pepper spray, but if you have pepper spray in your pocket and you're attacked you should forget about your pepper spray and just defend yourself. Violence happens extremely fast and you can't waist time by trying to get at the gun that is on your hip, if you do then you could be unconscious or fatally injured by the time you have it half way out of the holster.
People who are really into weapons usually brainwash themselves into believing that they need their weapon in order to be dangerous or effective in a self-defense situation. You need to remember that self-defense is all about causing injuries and although labor saving devices are nice, you don't need any weapon other than your body to cause them. Think about it, if you have a gun in a holster on your hip covered by two layers of clothing and someone comes up to you, cocks their right fist, and throws a punch at you, does it make more sense to try to pull up your clothing, grab your gun, pull it out of the holster, disengage the safety, point it at your target, pull the trigger, and then hope the gun goes off (it very well may jam or under duress you may not have disengaged the safety or chambered a round), hope the bullet hits the attacker, and hope that the attacker stops his attack when he gets shot, or to simply forget about the gun, step in and hit your attacker in the chin with your palm which will knock him back and could very well knock him out, and then when you have a moment or two to think, get your gun out?
If someone attacks you and you don't have a weapon already in your hand, you should forget about it. Criminals attack in such a manner that you can't waist time messing around with a weapon. When a criminal attacks they use the same method employed by police SWAT teams and special operations units. That method is called "Speed, Surprise, and Violence of Action". A soldier or SWAT team member can talk to you at length about this method and while a criminal most likely will not be able to give you the terms, they can definitely talk to you about the general process. Both the police officer, soldier, and criminal try to strike their target with such speed that their target won't have time to react, with surprise so their target will not have the ability to prepare of plan, and with such violence that the target will go into a defensive state of shock and not have the ability to react. This method has proven to be so effective and reliable that it is used by every tactical unit in the world. This being so, you can see why when you're attacked you don't have time to dick around trying to grab a tool.
Interestingly, when it comes to combat in close quarters many special operations units teach, and I agree totally with this, that it is much easier to take your opponent's weapon and use it on them than it is to use your own weapon. For example, if you were going through a building with your handgun and you turned a corner and suddenly you were standing next to an attacker who also had his gun out, would it make more sense for both of you to start shooting and let bullets fly everywhere, or to just move into your attacker and control his weapon, take it away, and shoot him with it? If both of you were to start shooting then both of you could end up dead. Plus, in such close quarters it is actually very hard, even for experienced soldiers, to place a shot on their opponent that can stop them. Unless the bullet fractures a bone, tears a joint, or hits a nerve it won't instantly stop someone, even if you shoot someone in the heart and their heart explodes they will still have about 15 seconds left of conscious and controlled movement. Personally even though I own a gun I don't carry it because if I want to shoot my attacker I'll take their gun away and shoot them with that.
So to gun owners I tell them that they need to train in basic self-defense skills because there is a very good chance that they won't be able to get to their guns under duress, after all police officers are heavily trained to use their guns, they wear them out in the open so they don't have any clothes encumbering themselves from getting at them, and they use quick release holsters to aid in their ability to get their guns quickly, and yet officers are killed all the time with their guns still in their holsters.
To people who are interested in buying a gun for self-defense I tell them to sit down and decide whether or not they can actually shoot someone. If they feel that they can't or if they're not sure I tell then I wouldn't recommend it. If you have a gun but don't have the mental ability to pull the trigger and take someone's life when you need to then the only thing that will happen is that the criminal will now have a brand new gun and you'll be far worse off. If they can honestly say that they can pull the trigger when they need to, I then tell them that as long as they realize the weapons limitations, receive training in combat shooting, and actively practice with it, it is a great tool. Then I warn them about focusing on it too much and feeling overconfident because they have it, after all just because you have a gun doesn't mean that your attacker can't take it away from you and use it on you.
If you're interested in learning to defend yourself don't rush out and buying a gun. To truly be able to defend yourself you have to be more than a one-trick-pony. If you are interested in defending yourself the first and foremost thing you have to do is make the conscious decision to take responsibility for your own safety. Until you make that decision and accept that commitment you won't be truly mentally prepared.
The next step is to educate yourself. You need to learn who is most likely to attack you and how they will do it. You need to learn what makes people attack, how criminals think, how they commit their crimes, how they choose their victims, how to spot them, what to do if you spot them, and how to stop them just to name a few. After you learn that you need to learn awareness techniques that will allow you to spot potential criminals. This can't be stressed enough: if you're not being aware of your surroundings and looking for criminals you most likely won't spot them and there will be very little anyone can do for you.
After that you need to learn techniques for de-escalating potentially violent situations like arguments and aggressive confrontations. About 80% of all assaults happen during or just after arguments so if you can de-escalate them you remove about 80% of your threats right there. If you don't know these things you most likely won't have the opportunity to use any self-defense technique let alone your shiny new gun (to this end I would highly recommend getting the book Surviving Violence which teaches you all these things. To get it go to www.myspace.com/selfprotection).
Next you need to take a reliable course in self-defense. To be really rounded out you need to be able to defend yourself from basic grabs, holds, punches, kicks, knives, clubs, firearms, and multiple attackers, but any amount of learning will help you survive. An attacker isn't going to stand back, put their arms up, and fight you like a boxer; instead they will most likely rush you and be on you like an angry pit-bull repeatedly overwhelming you with punches, pushes, and foul language. When this happens you need to have the ability to use your own body and bodyweight to cause severe and debilitating injuries to them.
After that you need to learn to use improvised weapons. Improvised weapons are ordinary items that can be used to cause injuries; these include books, bags, ink pens, magazines, hairspray, keys, combs, dirt and sand, and pretty much any other item. For the ordinary citizen knowing how to use improvised weapons is far more important than traditional weapons because, as stated in the "rule of thumb", you are far more likely to have these items in your hands when violence happens to you. Unless your well trained and prepared you probably won't have pepper spray in your hands, and there is a very small chance that someone will attack you while you're holding a gun, but you just may have an ink pen in your hand.
After you learn improvised weapons you should learn to use personal weapons. Personal weapons are ready made devices designed and sold for the purpose of self-defense. These items include pepper spray, tactical flashlights, stun guns, retractable batons, personal alarms, knives, and others. I suggest learning to use these before you learn to use guns because there are a lot of places that you can't take guns but you can take pepper spray. You can't take a gun on a plane or into various foreign countries but you can take an ink pen or a tactical flashlight (a tactical flashlight is a small flashlight that shoots a high intensity light that blinds an individual and gives you the opportunity to run away or close distance to them and cause injuries). Most states have laws against various personal weapons so you need to check with your individual state, but simple improvised weapons are legal everywhere.
When all this is done only then do I recommend learning to use firearms BUT I don't recommend buying one just yet. Guns are expensive and it is easy to buy the wrong one. You need to first go to a range and spend some time shooting various guns to see if a gun is right for you. Next you need to decide on exactly how you want to use the gun (do you want to carry the gun or leave it home just for home defense) and speak with a knowledgeable dealer and/or instructor. Most gun dealers are happy to answer your questions and help you select the right gun.
Now that you have a gun you need to get lots and lots of training. Go to your local range or gun store and ask about taking a course to get your CCP (concealed carry permit) and take a course in combat shooting or defensive shooting. Standing in place and shooting a target at the range is one thing but pulling a gun out and shooting an actual person who is trying to seriously injure or kill you is another. You need to learn how to use your gun when you're under attack and actively practice, practice, practice. If you expect to use your gun to defend yourself you need to access your gun underneath your clothing, pull it, disengage the safeties, chamber a round if not already done, point it at your attacker, align the sites with your target, and press the trigger until the gun goes off which will take a good 3 to 6 seconds even for an experienced shooter while all your attacker needs to do is hit, shoot, or stab you which could only take a second.
Guns are great tools and huge responsibilities and only a person truly committed to their own safety should own one otherwise it will probably end up hurting someone or falling into the wrong hands.
The last thing I'll say about guns are that guns are not for self-defense! If you're planning on buying a gun to defend yourself I suggest you don't get one. Used correctly there are only two purposes that guns serve, and those are for killing someone and to practicing killing someone. Having a gun on your hip doesn't keep you safe, all it allows you to do is to kill someone that is trying to hurt you. Guns are a tool for killing and if you carry one it should only be with the intent of killing a criminal otherwise there's a good chance are that when you need to use it you'll fail to pull it, or if you succeed in pulling it there is a good chance that you'll use it to intimidate your attacker instead of lining up the sights and pulling the trigger. This lack of preparedness and failure to properly use the weapon is the reason that over 90% of people who are shot in their own homes are shot with their own guns.