Chapter 7

Shooting to Stop a Threatening Encounter

As emphasized repeatedly throughout this program, a firearm is a tool of last resort. It is always preferable to prevent, deter, or evade an attack. If another option isn’t available, however, you’ll need to be prepared to use a firearm to protect your life or the lives of others.


Be very clear about your goal for the defensive use of a firearm. Your only goal is to stop the life-threatening situation. Your goal isn’t to prevent theft of personal property. Your goal isn’t to injure, kill, or apprehend the attacker. These things might happen as a side-effect of stopping the attack, but your only goal is to stop the violence being perpetrated against you and gain separation from the attacker as soon as possible.

This might happen by incapacitating the attacker with one or more gunshots to a vital area. Or the attacker might flee to avoid the prospect of continuing to be shot at. Either way, when the attack is over, it’s over. You are required to stop your lethal force response at that point.

Defensive Target Area

With sufficient time to aim at a stationary target, a skilled shooter might be able to place a shot into a tiny location that would cause instant incapacitation. But in a real-life scenario, such a precision shot is merely a fantasy. Instead, a sequence of shots to the high-center chest is the surest way to stop an attack quickly.

Shots hitting this area have the potential to affect the heart, lungs, and central nervous system. The high-center chest area is higher than most people envision – centerline on the individual and halfway vertically between the nipples and shoulders. This is not the same as the common phrase, “center of mass,” which is near the belly button on most people – a rather useless area to shoot.

Effects of Gunshots

For most of us, the fictionalized portrayals of violence in movies and TV shows are our only exposure to the physical effects of being shot. To help you prepare for a defensive shooting situation, it is essential to know that entertainment depictions of gunfights are largely inaccurate.

In movies and TV shows, bullets often produce a graphic entrance wound for visual effect, with the impact throwing the person violently backward, resulting in instantaneous collapse.

In real life, bullet strikes often produce no discernible effect whatsoever. And situations where a single shot incapacitates an attacker are the exception rather than the rule. More commonly, multiple shots are required.

Practical Tip: Even when a first shot is well-placed, incapacitation is not instant. Continue to fire at a rapid pace until the imminent threat has ceased.

Likelihood of Injury

Most defensive shootings, especially those in a home, occur at very close range. It is also likely that several shots and several seconds may be required to stop an attacker. These two facts create a strong likelihood that you will suffer some degree of injury during a defensive encounter.

It is essential to keep fighting, no matter how badly you think you are hurt. The sooner you stop your attacker, the sooner you’ll be able to receive medical attention.

Once the Attacker is Down or Flees

If you are forced to shoot an attacker, you should follow specific procedures to protect your safety and the safety of others. If the attacker flees, don't chase him. This is the ideal outcome of the encounter, as it creates separation between you and the attacker. If the attacker is down and still within your home, do not approach him under any circumstances. Do not approach to disarm him, to check on his condition, to render first aid, or for any other reason. Even when wounded and on the ground, he may still attempt to harm you, so stay alert.

Body’s Reactions to Adrenaline

When facing a life-threatening situation, your body will dump a substantial amount of adrenaline into your bloodstream. Adrenaline has some useful effects to help you survive. It also has some side-effects that you should be aware of.

Adrenaline can create the impression of time slowing down. It can contribute to tunnel-vision, which can help you focus on the attacker. It can make you very strong for brief bursts of effort and help you to not feel pain.

Unfortunately, adrenaline can also cause degradation of motor skills, difficulty thinking clearly, rapid heartrate, and nausea.

The sensory effects caused by adrenaline can affect your perceptions during an incident and your memory afterward. The way you remember an incident may not be factually accurate. Your attorney should advise you before discussing your detailed recollection of an event with Law Enforcement.

Because adrenaline can block your ability to feel pain and affect your memory, don’t trust your recollection and perception of whether you’ve been injured. It’s important to visually inspect yourself and your family for injuries when safe to do so.