Preparing for your own gunfight

By Bryan Mennie

The internet is a very informative place, it is also entertaining and often the setting for copious installments of the theatre of the absurd. Not least of these histrionics are of course the intellectual three stooges-esqe antics of the gun forums. I have said this before and I will reiterate that you can gain great knowledge and make firm friends but you absolutely need to keep foremost in mind is that context is critical in everything you read. Let me expand upon this rant of mine and get to the point.

During my last article (*Selecting the correct defensive handgun) I made a reference to the concept of preparing for your own gunfight. I guess I need to expand on why that is such an important concept and why that ties in with gun forums and the theatre of the absurd.

In gun forums and on social media platforms you can get lost in numerous lines of debate, from the continued discussion on which is better, the 9mm, the .40 or the .45, why empty chamber carry is better than loaded chamber. Why revolvers are better than pistols or how you will only need 3 bullets in a gunfight are but a minute scratching on the smorgasbord of cattle manure you will find served. You see what the majority of gun forum experts do not have is the correct context for you and of course how could they possible have it. Their context is based quite simply on their own experience and most often their lack of experience. What you need is to understand what knowledge is best for your own very unique set of circumstances.

So let me unpack this a bit here, and forgive me but I am going to use the concept of a defensive firearms engagement to illustrate my point. I have said it before and I will say it again. I am a big fan of some of the shooting sports and I take nothing at all away from them but it’s quite simply not the crux of shooting. Bear with me whilst I use the context of a defensive shooting.

You as a gun owner need to very clearly understand what your gunfight is going to be like in order for you to correctly recognize the situational indicators and design your training to be as beneficial to you as possible. You need to understand your threat environments and how those threats translate into risk. You then need to understand your approach to that risk and once you have a clear picture of that you can formulate the picture of your gunfight and work out how to prepare for it.

So let us understand the threat environment. If you are a uniformed police officer and your primary task is gang activities or tactical operations. You very likely work within a supportive team environment, the threats are high and you are compelled to seek them out but you would typically have a clear understanding of the threat, the threat drivers and the key personalities involved, you have a clear concept of the risk that the threats pose to you. You also have a definite moment in your day when you switch from dozy to wide awake and you are able to adjust your posture accordingly. You realize what the risks are and know that you simply cannot apply a risk averse approach if you want to get your job done. So you mitigate your threats by applying effective risk management. You tap into your team experience, you become task centric, you apply effective tactics and procedures and adopt the mindset of a hunter. You start shaping the battlefield by honing your own behavior.

If you were a detective in plainclothes your threat environment would be very similar but your risk picture would be different. You might not have the benefit of a team of fellow door kickers but you would have the lowered profile of being able to blend into the populace. Sure your risk is still far higher than someone not compelled to interact within the criminal society and you balance that by retaining that predatory mindset of being the hunter as well as your procedures and in this case your buddy tactics. Again you have that defining all important moment in your day when you switch on as you cross your operational threshold.

These two examples certainly illustrate concepts of risk management and situational understanding, which are important. Often missed however, is that these two concepts illustrate the importance of your own approach to life. That mindset of being the apex predator and how having it, positions you as being not worth the risk of confrontation to a potential assailant. This overall picture leads to a situation where you are either the initiator of an action which could result in a defensive shooting or you are already tee’ed up to react to that possibility. You have shaped the most important element of any battlefield, your mind.

Now the civilian defensive gun owner typically does not have that type of advantage, it is impossible to function effectively in normal society with that same proactive predatorial approach all the time, yes you need it when it’s appropriate but until then it needs to stay behind a veneer of civilized behavior. You need to develop that on off switch.

Criminal initiated shooting incidents are very broad in terms of how they unfold but they do have some common factors.

  1. Criminals typically operate in an area where they are comfortable or where they perceive themselves to be at an advantage, you don’t typically have muggings inside a gun shop, although there are of course exceptions to that.
  2. Criminals attack at a time of their choosing, almost always when you least expect it.
  3. Criminals don’t adopt a stereotypical methodology of attack. Don’t always expect the hyper aggressive approach, often a very low profile engagement model is used to get within your own spatial boundaries and to leverage your natural tendency to believe that you will never be a victim.

So knowing that you have some insight into the minds of the criminal, you need to analyze the various environments that you move through, be it regularly or occasionally. Understand how your environment creates opportunities for criminal opportunity and that will provide you with a set series of markers to escalate your own alertness profile or for you to throw that switch into apex predator mode. Don’t be closed minded about this, your home might well be and indeed is often within such an environment but because you are familiar and comfortable you might not recognize it.

Be in tune with your instinct, I will quote directly from one of my life mentors Kelly McCann, ‘when you find yourself caressing the butt of your pistol or the handle of your knife, it is time to look for an exit’. Above all don’t let yourself be peer pressured out of good decisions. If you feel uncomfortable about taking a certain road or crossing a parking lot, that is your prerogative, don’t share it with others, they will only try and convince you that your decision was wrong and they would have handled it with the typical bravado of the Monday morning quarterback.

So why is this insight in criminal psychology important and how does it show you your gunfight and what on earth does this have to do with me disparaging online gun forums? Well quite simply, we all try and find solutions in others experience and there is nothing wrong with that but what the online forums tend to do is to provide you a solution for someone else’s experience. You will find numerous people who will try and get you to adopt a product or training methodology because XY and Z it is used by a Special Forces unit or a SWAT unit or a sporting champion. The problem as I have said is the context. It is a tool or process designed to work within a specific type of environment. You need a solution for your environment but because that is such a dynamic concept you need to understand the principles so that you can blend them for your own specific purposes.

So how is your gunfight going to look?

  • Your actions or indeed your inactions will determine when and where it takes place.
  • It will happen when you least expect it.
  • You might or might not be scared but you will have to deal with a body alarm response.
  • You will have to deal with a critical decision making process whilst subject to that body alarm response and you will have to out think your opponent or indeed opponents.
  • You might fire 1 shot or you might fire 30, you might have a malfunction or you might not, the range might be 50 meters or 5 centimeters, it might be light or it might be dark.

So do you see the controllable in this scenario? They pretty much all focus on what YOU need to do.

  • Be Aware – Recognize the situation as far advance as possible and apply process driven responses as early as possible. Allow your brain space for decision making.
  • Be Flexible – Don’t only have a gun as a response option. Ensure that you can shoot and grapple or fight to put yourself in a position to shoot.
  • Be Fit – Process stress better and increase your predatorial drive by getting yourself fitter. You don’t need to try and follow the Navy Seal fitness program but if you have a myocardial infarction when a bad guy says boo, well then your gunfight is going to be awful short and end awful bad.
  • Be Prepared – Ensure that your equipment is with you, maintained and in a state of readiness most beneficial to your level of training.
  • Don’t deafen yourself by the sound of your own awesomeness – Yes you might be former military, law enforcement, IDPA grand master or the space shuttle door gunner; however that experience does not render you immune to being targeted. Also don’t let that experience blind you to the absolute necessity of continued training.
  • Don’t let your dogma get hit by the karma. – Yes yes I know, revolver guys are going to say ‘if you need more than three rounds you cannot shoot’ and the guys who don’t believe in loaded chamber carry are going to hiss at me and try and touch me on my studio. Everyone is so invested into their own way of doing things that they are not going to see the point. Whatever you have and however you carry it needs to aid your specific method of responding to a critical incident as effectively and efficiently as possible to place you as far up on the response curve as you can get.

So in essence your gunfight is going to be a product of (environment + the suspect’s actions) divided (your actions + your preparations). Do the math and you will see that each person’s answer is going to be different.

Be safe, be confident and realize what the stakes are in this particular hand.

Bryan Mennie

Bryan is a former South African police officer. After leaving the police service and following years conducting protective work in Afghanistan, Iraq and North Africa, he joined the corporate world as an incident management specialist for a Fortune 50 company. He continues to train with active duty professionals and concerned citizens

Originally published in Gun Africa magazine.

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