Sunday, October 3, 2010

If you or a loved one read any post this month, read this one.


J.R.R. Tolkien said - I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend. - The Two Towers


I have the occasional comment that starts with "do not post". Sometimes they are someone wanting my email to "send a recipe". But others just have a shooting question they don't wish to make public, thinking it will make them "look dumb". There are NO dumb questions in shooting, only dumb answers.

One of them was the comment, of a new shooter, that if he was going to shoot an intruder, it would only be to wound them to "stop the threat".

When someone mentions that they are only shooting to "stop the threat", I hope they still mean they are going for center mass. When a person mentions "shooting to wound" they often mean to shoot someone in the arm, leg shoulder or other non fatal location. After all, they just want the person to stop their aggressive behavior, remove the threat, not KILL them. Right? That makes sense on the surface, but I want to point out that there's some important things to consider.

(1) Shooting someone in the arm is still using lethal force in the eyes of the law, and under which you MUST be in immediate danger of grave bodily injury or death. If you are not, then you are not allowed by the law to shoot them at all.

"Shooting to wound" as well, may not be valid legally. Because, in civilian life, it would likely parallel a standard far beyond that established by Graham v. Connor, the benchmark U.S. Supreme Court decision on police use of force. How that would apply to someone not a member of law enforcement is best left for the legal experts. But I wouldn't want to be in court trying to explain why I felt the threat was only so much that I needed to take out the fleshy part of their upper arm.
By legal definition, the possible consequences of deadly force includes both death and great bodily harm. The law doesn't break these two apart. When someone gives the argument that when threatened, they should just shoot a little bit, enough to wound, they are probably unaware of that. Deadly force is not about ‘just a little bit.’

If someone is threatening you with great bodily harm and you defend yourself with your weapon, there's a substantial risk of great bodily harm, or death. The law doesn't even suggest that deadly force should be enough to wound. with no probability of death. This is not about ethics, it's about what is correct, both legally, and tactically.

If I manage to ignite the flaming bacon kabobs in my kitchen do you think I'm just going to grab the tiny little fire extinguisher that's in the dining room, and use just enough to hopefully stop the fire? That would be the reasonable thing to do, some might argue. Or am I going to grab the "BIG" fire extinguisher that's in the kitchen/ laundry area where there are multiple sources of fire and smother the crap out of it til it quits burning. That is not reasonable. That is necessary.

Some elements of these legal points were discussed in CCW classes I've participated in, but some states do not require any training for CCW and the legal aspects may NOT be known to some folks.


(2) Think you're good with a paper target? Do you practice only when the weather is good and it's warm? Think again. Try shooting in that bulky winter coat in low light when it's 11 degrees out, no gloves, hands half frozen with cold. Try responding to threat in all kinds of conditions, then imagine that in addition to that, your whole body is abuzz with adrenalin.. That is real life self defense, and nothing at all like most people experience plinking at the range on Saturday with friends.

During an event when the life is, or is perceived as being, mortally threatened, the body enters fight or flight mode. The brain dumps chemicals including adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol into the body to prepare our itself to survive. The downside, these same substances that, increase our alertness and strength and endurance also decrease our reaction time. Why? Blood is diverted from our extremities and from the surface of the skin to decrease bleeding if we were to be injured. Functions not necessary for survival including digestion are slowed or completely shutdown. ( I personally believe my metabolism entered the fight or flight mode at age 30 but that's another post)

That, in turn, greatly diminishes our fine motor skills, tunnel vision may occur, and many people begin shaking, not out of fear, but as a response to the chemicals being released into the body. In this state, some people have lost the ability to unlock doors, operate phones, or other actions that require fine motor skills. Being accurate with a handgun is exceedingly difficult, and under those condition that ability is greatly reduced. The military and secret squirrel teach that when adrenalin dump occurs the training takes over. Is your training up to speed? For in that state, even the best of shooters may not be able to get that one shot to the shoulder, arm or elsewhere. If you miss, they are upon you and your loved one.

(3) The bad guy probably is probably mobile. Shooting at a moving target is far different than a stationery one. Just shooting at a target that's offset, when you are used to practice shooting straight ahead, is hard. The head, arms and legs all naturally move when the body moves, sometimes a lot, making them much harder to hit.


Even highly trained shooters see a considerable drop in success in hitting the target when it is moving. Target acquisition of a moving target while under extreme stress is not easy for even the experts.

(4) The bad guy is intent on harming you or killing you. Shooting at that paper target is far different than shooting him. There is less time, he's not standing still like Mr. Paper Bad Guy, and he may be armed and moving, intent on harm.


(5) The human body is extremely sturdy. The truth is, when someone is shot, it's not like TV where they get flung across the room, crumple up in a little dead heap on there floor. There are exceptions. A head shot will drop them pronto, but the vast majority of shots are center mass. The folks at the FBI did a study some years ago on Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness in which they state that even after the heart is hit hard a person MAY have 10-15 seconds of willful control. That's 10-15 seconds in which they will do all they can to kill you. I could show you multiple coroner reports where the perp had multiple wounds, any of them in and of themselves lethal, yet they continued to attack as they continued to be shot. During training at the FBI Academy, agents are told of a case in which agents shot a bank robber 65 times with 9mm, .223 and 00 buckshot – he survived

These are not oddities folks. They do happen. You may drop someone with one well placed shot, even with a small caliber, but it is not as likely as TV would have you believe. Think about it. How many times have you've shot a deer through the heart and watched it leap yards and yards before it drops. You've tracked the blood trail that goes farther than you imagined, lots of blood, and there, a considerable distance away, is your buck. The body has stores of oxygen it can use, in a fight or flight situation, for sometimes some surprising seconds, before the brain shuts down.

With the exception of a brain shot, most shots do not kill instantly. Man, like any other animal, must follow the dictates of nature and expire from lack of oxygen to the brain. How is this going to happen? First is your basic circulatory collapse, either complete failure of the heart that stops the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain or bleeding out. Or second, they can die from loss of functioning of the lungs, i.e. the lungs fill with blood or the airways are disrupted to the point that they cannot support the flow of air through them. When the lungs quit replenishing the oxygen in the blood what little you have left in oxygen stores is soon gone and the brain shuts down .

But unlike TV, this does not happen instantly, and depending where your shot went and how determined or high on drugs your attacker is, they might reach you before you find out.

Even more cheery news, if you miss the heart, remember the body is capable of pretty much continuing to operate until about 20% of the blood supply is drained, more time than you'd like, if the wound doesn't cause immediate blood loss. Shots to the stomach? Serious on the OUCH factor, but recently a criminal in Idaho was been shot over 20 times in that area and survived. The lungs? Sure, it's sort of in the "center" but, as I said, it takes seconds for the lungs to fill with blood or the airways to be disrupted where they can't support the flow of oxygen through them.

It's about blood loss folks. Face it, shots to the arms or legs or shoulder aren't going to result in a blood loss that's going to stop someone. With some small ammo, some don't even REALIZE they've been shot until it's all over, what with the adrenalin going. You've heard the quote "if someone ever shoots me with .25 auto and I find out about it I'm going to kick their a**?

It's merely a flesh wound!
Shooting to kill is just that, hitting vital organs such as the heart/lungs, in areas that will bring rapid and uncontrollable bleeding, or to the head.

There's really only one type of shot that is guaranteed to take someone down in 1 to 2 seconds from the shot being fired and that is one that will instantly scramble the "circuitry" of the human body. How that works is something any techie would understand. A nerve must be struck by the bullet or the shockwave produced by the bullet passing through the tissue that contains the nerve. That will agitate that nerve, whether it big or small, enough for it to go haywire. When it does, it sounds out a large amount of electrical energy from all the nerves involved, that head on up to the brain and simply overload its capacity to respond. It's the blue screen of death in the brain. The brain shuts down completely and there's no rebooting this one ladies and gentlemen. You might see a twitch, as nerve signals also shoot downstream from the area of the damage to the periphery of the body where an exaggerated response of the normal operation of that nerve occurs. But they are, by all intents and purposes, dead.


Nerve disruption that will take the body down like that is in the brain or the spinal cord, NOT the heart. Do you try some head shots at the range on your non threatening, non moving target? Then you know how hard it can be to hit. Now add in movement and adrenalin, and getting a shot that is not only well placed. but will penetrate. is easier said than done. The spine isn't that easy to hit either, it's not that large (and in some politicians, non existent) and the shot needs to be placed in the upper 1/3 of the spine (at a point about level with the tip of the sternum, around T11) to be instantly stopping. And since you have the rest of the body in the way, the spine isn't really an option. You can NOT shoot someone in the back if at that point they are no danger to you and yours. You can't shoot them running away from the scene. Bad guys do it all the time. WE can not.

If someone is coming at me with a gun or a knife, or even his bare hands and the intent to rape and perhaps kill me, the last thing I'm going to consider is shooting him in the arm or the shoulder or the leg. For me, shooting to kill when threatened with great bodily harm or death IS my psychological default.

If I only have time for one shot and it MUST count, I probably won't go for the head shot first. Pistols can be ineffective when they do not find a thin part of the skull to pass through, often bouncing off. An ocular window hit will usually get in, but the human head bobs a whole lot more than Mr. Stationary target, making that window that much smaller.

But I AM going for the heart and the major arteries just above it. I'm going for the head as well. I'm not going to use .22 or .380 unless that's all I have. I'm going to use calibers with lots of shockwave and I'm not going to play patty cake with the person that wishes to kill me. I'm going to get that first shot in where I know I have a chance at shot placement and I know it will matter. I'm not going to "wound" the criminal, with the resultant possibility of bone and nerve and muscle damage, wherein attorneys can play the argument of ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ and pursue punitive damages for destroying the capacity of your ‘victim’ to earn wages and so on. You don’t try to just wound people with a gun. If you buy a gun for self defense, saying "I can't defend myself with lethal force", don't buy one.

Shoot until they catch fire or melt but once they are dead you stop, and if they run away, you stop. Whether your life was in immediate and grave danger, if there's a bullet in the back or buttocks of the criminal YOU are now the criminal in the eyes of the court until you prove otherwise.

So, when a non shooter or new shooter says to you that they would just "shoot to wound", have a little discussion with them about legal dynamics, human physiology, tactics and ballistics.

Then explain to them what happens if they meet up with darkness, unprepared or unwilling. For then, they will have lost something, asking each day for that piece of themselves that they will never regain, if they are lucky enough to walk away with their life. Then in those long dark, lonely hours where they trace the scars that may only be invisible, they will ask themselves, over and over again, why? They will look in the mirror each day and every day and ask WHY didn't I act to stop.

If that talk does not convince them, just throw them in a cage with a .22 and a 500 pound Kodiak bear. Then see if they still agree with the "shoot to wound" philosophy.