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    When learning to shoot handguns, the shooter must be mindful of stance and grip, i.e., how to hold the gun, sight alignment, breath control, trigger squeeze and follow-through. Each of these elements plays a part in shooting accuracy. Like everything else, shooting is a skill that needs to be developed and maintained. Like a good golf swing, knowing how to hold the gun properly plays a big part in your accuracy and gun handling proficiency.

    For someone that has never handled a firearm before, specifically a handgun, it is highly recommended that the individual seek out training from someone with experience in firearms training. The best source will most often be a National Rifle Association certified pistol instructor. While anyone with gun handling experience may be able to effectively cover the basics of firearm safety, a new shooter may have more confidence receiving instruction from someone certified by an organization recognized throughout the world as a leader in promoting gun safety. The best trainer may or may not be the same person that teaches the local permit-to-carry class. The permit-to-carry class is not the place to learn how to shoot.

    Defensive Accuracy
    When attacked by someone with or without a weapon, you will generally not have enough time to worry about your shooting stance, breath control, and grip or sight alignment. Many times an attack will happen without warning. Defensive accuracy is generally described as one’s ability to quick-fire multiple rounds from their handgun and hit a target at a distance of 21 feet while maintaining a shot-grouping within an 8 inch circle on a man-size target. The preferred aiming point is the largest center of exposed mass which in many cases is the center chest.

    When defending yourself, you can never predict what your shooting position will be. Therefore, learning how to shoot without the use of your guns sights would be useful as well as learning to shoot from different positions (standing, sitting, prone). It is conceivable that if attacked from the rear and being choked, it might be necessary to shoot your assailant using a free hand and pointing under your opposite armpit in order to save your life. The possible scenarios are endless and none follow a script. Training, reading and visualization through what-if scenarios can help you be more prepared.


    Most handguns chosen for personal defense, either for carry or in the home will most likely utilize center-fire ammunition. Center-fire ammunition is a cartridge in which the primer is located in the center of the cartridge case head. Unlike rimfire cartridges, the primer is a separate and replaceable component.

    Image above: A cartridge(2) packages the bullet(1), gunpowder(3) and primer(5) into a single metallic case precisely made to fit the firing chamber of a firearm. The primer is a small charge of impact-sensitive chemical that is located at the center of the case head(4) (center-fire ammunition) or at its rim (rim-fire ammunition).

    For a self-defense handgun, a firearm capable of shooting a .38 caliber round is generally considered the minimum. However, people have been known to carry .25 caliber pocket size semi-automatics and people have certainly been killed with .22 caliber rounds. The best advice is to find a gun range that rents firearms and try out several. Find a caliber you are capable of handling comfortably.

    When matching ammunition to a firearm, always verify that the caliber marking on the barrel matches the caliber marked on the box of ammunition you have purchased and on the head of the cartridge case.

    For target shooting, look for inexpensive name brand ammunition that is non-corrosive and has a bullet type of FMJ (full metal jacket). Most bullets are made from lead. Bullets marked as FMJ are lead bullets with a copper jacket covering the lead. Copper jacketed bullets seem to leave less of a mess in the firearm thus making it easier to clean the gun after target shooting. While you can certainly shoot any type of bullet style, the full metal jacketed bullets seem to be among the most popular for target loads. Fully jacketed bullets do not generally have the expansion properties of hollow point bullets.

    For self-defense ammunition, only buy high quality name brand cartridges. Most often, personal-defense ammunition comes in some variation of a hollow-point bullet. If your firearm of choice is a semi-automatic, shoot a couple boxes of personal-defense ammunition through the gun to ensure proper functioning and feeding. Some semi-automatic handguns have difficulty feeding hollow-point ammunition so you might need to try different brands or type of ammunition (expanding full metal jacketed [EFMJ] ammo). You do not want to discover a feeding issue with your firearm at the exact moment you need to use your gun in self-defense. While any reputable gun shop, police officer or gun enthusiast can recommend good personal-defense ammunition, Federal Hydra-Shok and Winchester SXT seem to be two of the more popular brands for personal-defense rounds. There are many others so just shop around.

    Hollow-point bullets are designed to expand when they enter the body. The expansion accomplishes a couple things. First, the expanded bullet will create a larger wound channel in the body. Generally speaking, the people that die from a gunshot wound die from excessive blood loss. The faster the attacker loses blood the quicker we stop his deadly threat. Second, hollow-point bullets are less likely to leave the body. This is a result of the bullets expansion. This is a good-thing because if you should ever have to shoot someone in self-defense, you do not want your bullet to exit the attackers body and kill an innocent person located to the rear of your assailant. Remember, know your target and what is beyond.


    So what kind of gun should you buy? That is a great question to ask but is generally hard to answer. Deciding on your first gun is like trying to decide on which new car to buy. You have to consider caliber, features, size and type of gun. How do you plan on carrying your firearm and how often? Have you found a gun range that rents handguns? This is probably a good place to start. Different types of handguns will have different grips and thus feel differently in the hand. Try before you buy if possible.

    Here are some steps you can follow for selecting a firearm for self-defense carry.
    • Caliber - Identify the caliber you want to employ for self-defense. Ideally this will be the largest caliber handgun that you can control safely.
    • Type - Determine if you want a revolver or semi-automatic pistol in your caliber of choice. Beginners seem to be more comfortable with revolvers.
    • Size – Now that you know the type of gun (revolver or semi-auto), match the physical size of the gun to your chosen method of carry and dress.

    • Do you really want to carry a $1,200 dollar gun around for personal protection? High quality guns can be found new for around $500.00.
    • Concealing a handgun is fairly easy in winter (in MN) because of the type of clothing that is worn. In the summer months, shorts and t-shirts are the norm (in many cases). Having a compact .45 on your belt might not work out.
    • Could there ever be an occasion when a situation justified having your hand on your gun with the anticipation of needing to draw? Having a gun on your waist might not allow this to be done discretely without alerting the potential attacker.

    In short, consider your lifestyle, how you dress and how often you plan to carry a firearm for personal protection. Based on what you decide, your decision should heavily influence the size of the handgun you buy and how you carry the firearm. As far as brand of firearm, I am a firm believer in you get what you pay for. Do some research, ask around then decide.

    Carry options are numerous. You can carry off-body in a purse, briefcase or laptop bag and hope none of these items are stolen (or forgotten somewhere) or you can on-body carry. On-body concealed carry seems to be ideal in most settings. For on-body carry options, you have:
    Shoulder holsters
    Outside waistband
    Inside waistband
    Ankle holsters
    Belly bands
    Thunder ware
    Pocket holsters

    In my opinion, pocket carry is ideal (at least for me). My firearm is small and light and your gun is discretely concealed yet readily available at a moments notice. Pocket carry has advantages. Consider all your options then decide.

    Cleaning your Firearm
    Like most anything else, your firearm should be cleaned after each use. Lead, copper and powder buildup in the firearm can impact the firearm’s accuracy and reliability, especially with semi-automatics. Revolvers are more forgiving of grime buildup.
    Cleaning and oiling your firearm helps prevent rust and adds years to the life of your gun. Firearms are not inexpensive so protect your investment and clean your guns after each outing to the gun range. Firearm cleaning supplies will typically include cloth patches, cleaning rod, soft cloth, cleaning rod attachments, small brush, bore cleaner, bore brush and gun oil. Always ensure your firearm is unloaded before cleaning and that you follow the Owner Manual for directions on disassembling and reassembling your firearm. Following directions from the manual will help to prevent damage to your firearm.


    In addition to ability and opportunity, the criterion jeopardy requires that, in your specific situation, a reasonable and prudent person would believe that the existing threat of death or great bodily harm is indeed a real threat and is immediate and otherwise unavoidable. The jeopardy test is what helps us separate real threats from potential threats or imagined threats. A large part of the jeopardy test comes down to the context of a given situation.

    Walking through the mall, nearly anyone could punch, stab or shoot you but what is the likelihood and why would someone do that? The reason you are not actively "defending" yourself as you move through the mall is because you have no real reason to believe that you are about to be violently attacked. Context is helpful in understanding the nature of threatening or potentially threatening situations.

    While you can never really know a persons true intent, you must judge them based on their actions and words. Police officers sometimes shoot and kill individuals making threats with toy guns or unloaded firearms. The officer has no way of knowing that the gun was not real or unloaded and neither would any other reasonable person. Therefore, because the officer believed true jeopardy existed, many of these types of shootings do not result in criminal charges.

    Your actions will be judged by others after the threat you faced is over. Many self-defense claims fail due to “preclusion” or the avoidance factor. Because human life is held in high regard by society, in many jurisdictions you are required to avoid taking a human life at nearly all cost with the only exception being at the cost of your own life or that of the person you are protecting. After a homicide, law enforcement and others will run through a long list of questions regarding your actions and why you did what you did. If you do not have valid answers and your answers cannot be easily supported by evidence, being prosecuted becomes very likely.

    AOJ-P Summary
    Never use deadly force against another unless you are in fear of immediate death or great bodily harm, you are innocent, you are a reluctant participant in the altercation, no opportunity to retreat or avoid the use of deadly force exists and your use of deadly force will not put innocent bystanders in jeopardy.


    Limit defense of others to immediate family.

    Should there ever be an exception? Maybe a scenario like the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, where the justification is clearly evident and the situation itself is so obvious and so grave, action would clearly be warranted; but keep reading then decide…

    When you use deadly force to defend another, you are stepping into the would-be victim’s shoes and therefore you are taking ownership of the situation. The AOJ-P Analysis still applies only now it applies to you and not the person you are defending. This would imply that you know 100% of all the facts surrounding the defense of the person you have chosen to protect.

    Current laws (criminal or civil) do not shield Good Samaritans. If you should make a mistake like accidentally shooting the wrong person or miss the attacker and shoot an innocent bystander you will be held accountable. In addition, if the person you chose to defend is not innocent (the “victim” committed a crime related to the event that you are not aware of), things will most likely not go well for you in court.

    What if you came to the aid of another, believing that their life was in jeopardy and you shoot and killed their attacker and shortly thereafter, the victim tells the police that he or she did not believe their life was in danger but appreciated your help in the situation. This contradiction between what you believed and what the victim believed with regard to the level of danger present in the scenario is probably going to be enough to prosecute the case or at a minimum, take the case to a grand jury.

    The defense of others debate is never ending in the carry community. Generally speaking, there are basically two camps. The first group believes that if you have the means to protect someone, you have a moral obligation to try. The second group believes that the obligation extends to immediate family only.

    During an attack, the body can respond in a number of ways to being threatened with bodily harm. For example, the parts of the brain that control higher thought processes begin to shut down and relinquish control to more primitive and survival-oriented brain centers.

    Every life-threatening encounter is different and each person will respond to an attack in different ways. There is no way to determine ahead of time how a person will react even if this person has been in a similar situation in the past.

    When confronted with an attack, you may initially delay responding because of denial – you just can not believe you are being assaulted. Also, many people have an internal resistance to inflicting deadly force in a face-to-face encounter. This inherent reluctance can be overcome through fear as well as through conditioning and visualization training.

    There are five possible responses to a life-threatening encounter:

    • Freeze – The victim of the attack may be so overwhelmed or surprised by being threatened, the victim may become incapable of any action
    • Submit – Simply giving into the attacker
    • Posture – Combat without combat. Words, sounds, gestures and body language are weapons used to dominate, intimidate and subdue another. Depending on circumstances, the attacker and the victim, one may try to out-bluster the other until one backs down or flees.
    • Flight – Retreat or running away from the situation
    • Fight – The use of reasonable force to prevent an attacker from harming you
    No matter what your level of training or how capable you believe yourself to be in handling stressful situations, you will experience, to a greater or lesser degree, a number of involuntary physiological changes during a serious defensive situation.

    General Bodily Responses to Imminent Danger
    In most cases, there will be an amount of time between when a threat is perceived and when the actual assault or attack begins. This may occur when you first notice a mugger stalking you on the street. During this period you will experience a number of bodily responses to imminent danger. Your heart rate and respiration will increase (to provide more blood and oxygen to the brain), your pupils will dilate (to take in more light to see the threat better), and your muscles will be tighter in anticipation of sudden movement.

    Adrenaline Rush
    One of the ways your body prepares for flight or fight is through the release of a hormone called adrenaline. This powerful chemical heightens the senses and increases strength, heart rate and respiration and can also cause trembling of the muscles. Trembling of the muscles can make it more difficult to stand or sit or hold a gun steady. This trembling can sometimes be mistaken by the victim and the attacker as fear but in reality it is a physical reaction to excess adrenaline in the body. Note that while adrenaline can help you more readily perceive a threat, it can also predispose you to overreact to any sudden stimulus.

    Loss of Fine Motor Skills
    Stress, regardless of its source, results in the loss of fine motor skills. This is often experienced in daily life. For example, it is much harder to unlock your front door when you are rushing to get to a ringing phone. In sports, it is not uncommon for athletes to perform better in practice than under the stress of a live game. During an attack, you will most likely lose the ability to load a cartridge into the magazine or cylinder of your firearm or to open your car door with your key. This is why defensive handgun courses will utilize techniques and recommend firearms that involve gross motor skills. This is also why well-designed defensive handguns are simple to operate and feature controls that are easily and naturally actuated by large muscle movements.

    Perceptual Changes During a Threatening Encounter
    Survivors of violent attacks as well as those who have experienced other extremely stressful situations, commonly report that during the attack or stressful event, their perceptions of visual and auditory stimuli as well as the passage of time were altered. These alterations, tunnel vision, auditory exclusion and time dilation are involuntary and may have evolved as a survival mechanism to better focus all of ones attention on the immediate source of danger.

    Tunnel Vision
    Your body will become completely focused on the immediate threat. Seeing or knowing what is going on around you is not likely. It is important to avoid tunnel vision so that other threats can be recognized and dealt with appropriately. Through training, you can learn ways to break tunnel vision. Lowering your firearm slightly and forcing yourself to survey the immediate area will help.

    Auditory Exclusion
    Auditory exclusion is a sense of having a loss of hearing. This is a situation where hearing becomes difficult which is why police officers are trained to yell their commands. When confronting an assailant, yell your commands to break their auditory exclusion. Yelling also helps to intimidate.

    Time Dilation
    Time dilation refers to the perception that time has slowed down and you may possibly see your actions and those of your assailant in slow motion. This is why when a potential threat is first perceived, you should wait longer than you initially think is necessary before you relax your guard or emerge from hiding.

    Temporary Loss of Memory
    Highly stressful events can sometimes cause a mental overload that result in temporary loss of memory. Most often this is manifested simply in confusion over the details of an incident; occasionally however, a person may lose all remembrances of the event. The passage of time often restores the accuracy and completeness of the memory.

    Because of this phenomenon, comments you make immediately after you have been involved in a life-threatening incident may not be accurate. Thus, if you are involved in a defensive shooting, you should generally tell responding law enforcement officers only that you were unlawfully attacked by a violent adversary and you had to use force to defend your life. Avoid making any other statements until you have consulted an attorney.

    Aftermath of a Defensive Encounter
    Prevailing after a violent encounter may make you experience many emotions. These emotions often occur in the order listed below, but are not universal; some people may not experience any of them and some may experience all of them.

    • Elation – Typically an immediate feeling of having survived and prevailed in a life-threatening encounter. In today’s social and political atmosphere, attack survivors may feel that they should downplay or ignore this emotion. Elation is the result of a release of endorphins and other sensory and mood enhancing chemicals into the bloodstream. There is nothing wrong with a momentary or lasting feeling of elation
    • Revulsion – The victorious victim may encounter nausea, vomit or even fainting from the emotional shock of seeing the result of the confrontation. The absence of revulsion does not mean you are a bad or cold person. Your own life experiences may have contributed to a higher tolerance for the unpleasant consequences of a shooting
    • Remorse – Many survivors experience remorse at the thought of having to take a human life. It is simply a feeling of sadness or sorrow
    • Self-doubt – Self-doubt occurs when the victim questions the moral and legal aspects of the shooting and questions whether or not it was necessary
    • Acceptance – Usually the last emotional state. The victim comes to terms with the action taken in order to protect his or her own life in an act of self-defense
    • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Symptoms include flashbacks, recurring nightmares and an inability to function normally such as maintain a job or keep a marriage together. While PTSD is possible for people who experience extreme situations, it is also very rare.
    Social Aftermath
    After a self-defense shooting, there is a risk that you will become a social outcast. Depending on circumstances, you may be treated differently by co-workers, your neighbors might stop talking to you, your children may be treated differently by teachers and classmates and your spouse may end up divorcing you. In some extreme cases, it is possible that you and your family will need to change jobs, schools and the city in which you reside in order to have a normal life.

    After a self-defense shooting, it is sometimes necessary to seek professional help to ease the emotional strain experienced by the family and individuals directly involved.

    There are four hurdles that you must jump in order to be successful at self-defense. The first is that you must be able and willing to defend yourself when evil presents itself and puts you in a life-threatening situation. Second, you must actually beat your opponent to the point where the threat of death or great bodily harm has passed. Third, you must be cleared of all criminal charges and lastly you must be cleared of all civil charges.

    Civil law is completely separate from criminal law but understanding the two is critical. It is possible that after being found not guilty or completely avoiding criminal prosecution altogether, that you will end up in civil court for wrongful death or injury to your attacker (assuming he survived). Should your attacker be killed, the attackers family can come after you in civil court.

    In criminal court, the standards of evidence are high. It must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that you did what you are accused of doing in order to be found guilty. In civil court, the standard is only “proven by a preponderance of evidence”. In other words, if the other side tells a better story than you do, you will probably lose the civil case. A perfect example of this is the OJ Simpson case where OJ was found not guilty of killing his wife in the criminal trial but was in fact found guilty in the civil case (wrongful death).

    The law is structured in a way as to make it very difficult to harm another human and get away with it. When using deadly force to defend yourself, exercise great restraint and ensure your actions are justified under the law, as you will be held accountable.
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