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How to Defend Yourself Against an Attacker — Part 1: Rob Pincus on the Principles of Using Firearms as Self-Defense Weapons

How to Defend Yourself Against an Attacker — Part 1: Rob Pincus on the Principles of Using Firearms as Self-Defense Weapons

Using self-defense weapons such as a gun to defend yourself, in most circumstances, isn’t all that difficult. Shooting a gun to punch holes in paper is pretty straightforward: Align the sights, superimpose them over the target and press the trigger smoothly. If the equipment is set up properly, it’s hard to miss.

I teach people to start with three simple actions: extend, touch, press. That’s shorthand for fully extending your arms to move the gun outward parallel to your line of sight, then touching the trigger and smoothly pressing it to the rear.

That sequence tends to get the job done as well as can be expected in the dynamic and chaotic circumstances during a lethal attack. Substantiation comes from videos of actual handgun shootings involving everyone from police officers to untrained store clerks.


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Analysts of real-life scenarios involving self-defense weapons see those actions consistently — with the variable being how smoothly the trigger is pressed — almost without regard for prior training or practice in firearms as part of one’s regimen of self-defense moves.

With that in mind, put yourself in a wrestling match with someone bigger, faster and stronger than you.

Give him a knife.

Take away your ability to use hand-eye coordination for weapon alignment. Take away your ability to maintain your position using a solid stance. Take away your ability to smoothly perform a rehearsed set of self-defense moves without interference.

Those are the circumstances that extreme close-quarters shooting addresses.

Plan of Attack

Using self-defense weapons during a real-life scenario is complicated. Even a firearm at extreme close quarters — two arms’ reach is the boundary — is more than just simple shooting.

You need to simultaneously control the attacker to keep him from hurting you, prevent him from interfering with your use of the firearm, execute the complex motor skills needed to draw your weapon from its holster and orient it toward the threat. Then you need to fire as many rounds as it takes to stop the attack while continuing to control him.

Fortunately, there are some principles and self-defense moves that will better prepare you to deal with a worst-case scenario like this. They’ve been refined through the study of countless incidents and pressure-tested in full-speed, force-on-force training with simulation firearms and impact-reduction suits. And, yes, they’ve been used successfully in real-life encounters to end lethal fights.

Of course, self-defense moves using self-defense weapons as described below require a modicum of control over the situation before they can be executed. Historically, “contact shooting” techniques have been taught in isolation, presuming either that you have some control over the situation and your body when you reach for your gun or that it will be easy to establish that control with a simple shove or strike.

In practice, this hasn’t been the case. In fact, we don’t even use the phrase “contact shooting” to discuss the skill set I’m talking about here. What I’m actually discussing is “shooting while in contact.”

This simple reframing of the problem instantly renders most of the shove-and-shoot methods practically useless as self-defense moves. If you’re actually in contact with someone who truly needs to be shot, it’s unlikely any of those techniques that presume easy control will be available to you. Before examining these self-defense moves I do recommend, I’ll look at the four principles on which they’re grounded.

How to Defend Yourself Against an Attacker — Principle 1: You Will Be Using Your Self-Defense Weapons in Reaction to a Surprise Attack.

At some level, this lethal encounter must have caught you off-guard. If not, you’d have avoided it or at least gotten your firearm into your hand while you could still use it in the traditional manner (at extension) to defend yourself.

Acknowledging that you won’t be ready and that you may not have access to your preferred self-defense moves is vital to counter-ambush training. Acknowledging that you won’t be in control when you recognize that you need one of your self-defense weapons will enable you to start training by concentrating on your first task: establishing control.

How to Defend Yourself Against an Attacker — Principle 2: You Will Need to Control the Other Person’s Attack.

Legally, using self-defense weapons in the course of your self-defense moves requires that a potentially lethal attack be in progress. Perhaps he’s using a knife or a club, or maybe there’s just an overwhelming amount of unarmed force.

Regardless, you cannot ignore the attack for the amount of time it’ll take you to draw and fire your weapon. Even if you’re sufficiently tough, or lucky, to weather the storm of violence long enough to fire your shots and end the assault, you could suffer serious injuries in the interim. Firing shots into your attacker and then dying from lethal stab wounds is not a win.

Keep in mind: Controlling the attack might reduce the threat so you don’t need to fire your gun at all.

How to Defend Yourself Against an Attacker — Principle 3: You Will Need to Draw Your Gun From the Holster and Orient It Toward the Threat Without Interference.

In the worst-case scenario, using the firearm that’s in your holster may be the only chance you have to survive. You’ll lose that chance to use self-defense weapons such as a gun if the threat is able to foul your draw, prevent you from orienting the weapon toward him, render it useless or take it away.

Establishing specific control early on in the execution of self-defense moves — after which you stabilize the situation so you can get your gun into position to use it — is crucial.

How to Defend Yourself Against an Attacker — Principle 4: You Will Probably Want the Base of the Grip of Your Firearm and Your Shooting-Hand Thumb to Be Against Your Torso When You Pull the Trigger.

While there are many positions the gun can be in when you defend yourself, the aforementioned one will reduce the chances of you shooting yourself and having you’re a semi-automatic firearm weapon rendered unable to function. Using this technique also allows you to use your body to index the threat because other aiming options will be unavailable.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the operation of self-defense weapons such as the semi-automatic pistol: The mechanics rely on the frame of the gun (the grip area) being held stable while the slide (the top) moves freely under the pressure of recoil. This movement resets the internal mechanisms, ejects the empty brass and prepares the next round to be fired.

If you try to fire a semi-automatic from an unsupported platform or with the slide against your body, you might get one shot off, but there’s a significant chance the gun will then jam and be rendered inoperable. Similarly, if you press the slide against your body or that of your attacker, you might push it “out of battery” and prevent even the first shot from being fired.

Rob Pincus demonsrates self-defense moves using self-defense weapons, in this case a firearm.

A semi-automatic handgun goes "out of battery" and is unable to fire when its slide is not in its fully forward position. This can result when the muzzle is pushed against an attacker's body.

Finally, if you press a hard metal object into the torso of any human being, he’ll reflexively move back and push it away. That can result in a missed opportunity to fire a round into him or in the attacker getting his hands on your gun (or any other of your self-defense weapons, for that matter) and wrestling for control.

By maintaining the pistol against your body, you reduce the chance that he’ll even know you have the gun until you’ve fired.

About theAuthor:
Rob Pincus is an internationally known firearms trainer. He has produced more than 40 training DVDs and offers both end-user and instructor-development courses. For more information, send e-mail to info@icetraining.us, or visit icetraining.us or combatfocusshooting.com


On Thursday, April 5, in Part 2 of this article, Rob Pincus explains three steps involved in defending yourself in close-quarters combat. He also demonstrates two specific techniques for using your gun against an armed attacker at close range.

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