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The 10 Dumbest Things People Say About Using Guns for Self-Defense   by Lyn Bates

No, I won't provide the sources, to protect the innocent, but here's a selection of things I've picked up lately.

10. "One must fire if one has drawn his/her weapon." Other ways of phrasing this are "Make the decision to shoot before you ever draw the pistol from the holster" or "Don't draw until you're fully justified in shooting," or "Ordinary citizens have the privilege of displaying a gun only when circumstances already have justified its being fired."

Blatant nonsense. Drawing a gun, pointing it at someone, and pulling the trigger are three different actions. While some circumstances call for happen so fast that draw-and-shoot seems like one movement, other circumstances may call for each phase to be quite distinct, and for the decision to go forward (or back) at each point to be made over quite a bit of time.

There is a big gap between foolishly and unnecessarily "brandishing a weapon" (which can earn you a jail term in many places) and justifiably drawing because you feel threatened enough to believe that you might need to use that gun in a few seconds. If you are a responsible person, you aren't going to "brandish" your weapon by mistake, or as the result of a minor annoyance.

Criminologist Gary Kleck has found that over 75% of the time firearms are used defensively; they are not fired. In other words, the mere display of a firearm is, most of the time, all that is necessary to bring about an end to the crime.

If two guys with knives are walking threateningly toward you in a parking garage late at night and ignore your request to go away, do you have to wait until they start stabbing you to draw your gun? Of course not. Do you have to shoot them the instant you spot the knives and their threatening body language? Not necessarily. Assuming they are far enough away (more than 20'), you can draw your gun and repeat your request that they leave you alone. Chances are that they will leave, and you will go home shaken but unhurt.

Mas Ayoob, the veteran law enforcement trainer, says it best: "The real power of a gun is the power to deter, not to kill." And that's exactly how guns are used most of the time.

Please, please note that I do NOT advocate, in any way, manner or form, that anyone carry a firearm UNLESS they know for a certainty that should the occasion arise, they and their loved ones are more important than any sociopath, and that they will shoot that ne'r-do-well to protect their lives and well being.

9. "Guns just give you a false sense of security."

Well, then, what would give you a "real sense of security"? Real security comes from the knowledge that you have taken appropriate precautions to avoid many bad situations, and that you have the knowledge, skill, and ability to deter (or at least survive) many bad situations that can happen despite your precautions.

If you depend 100% on your gun for protection, then yes, you do have a false sense of security. But if you have an entire plan that includes non-lethal options (OC spray, defensive tactics, defensive driving, physical barriers and deterrents at home, etc.) and, above all, an increased level of safety awareness, then the gun is merely one of your options, the last one, and there is nothing false about the security it provides.

8. "Why bother to have a gun, since it might not be available when you need it?"

Why bother to own a fire extinguisher, since it might not be available when you need it? No tool is guaranteed to be available when it is needed and to work 100% of the time. But that doesn't make them useless.

A recent report from the Cato Institute says it well, "The fact that guns are only rarely useful does not render them any less useful or necessary in those circumstances in which they are precisely the right tool for the job. The fact that firearms cannot handle all problems of personal security does not mean they can handle no such problems."

7. "Having a gun for defense means you are contributing to the problem, because more guns means more murders, more accidental deaths, and more suicides."

Proper storage of firearms, a topic addressed in another article in this issue, should vastly reduce the chances of a gun being stolen and added to the illegal supply from which many murder weapons come.

If someone stole your locked automobile and used it in a bank robbery, you would not be legally or morally responsible for that crime. If you take appropriate steps to secure your guns from unauthorized use, it is HIGHLY unlikely that they will be involved in a murder, accident, or suicide, just as it is highly unlikely that your car will ever be used in a bank robbery.

6. "Civilians can't possibly be as skilled/responsible with firearms as police, so, if you have a gun, keep it at home, don't carry it on the street."

Private citizens tend to have an unrealistic, over-inflated view of the firearms training and skill level of the law enforcement personnel in their community. I'm not saying that the police are under-trained, but I am saying that you and I can get firearms training that is the equivalent, or better, than the average police officer gets. If you practice with your gun regularly in a realistic manner (and particularly if you participate in firearm competitions), you can rather easily maintain you skill level at or above the majority of your local LEOs.

If it is lawful to carry concealed where you live, consider getting the training that will make you comfortable doing so.

5. "You can be the one who determines whether you die in any particular encounter."

In other words, this is implying that if you have the right attitude and take appropriate action, you are guaranteed to survive any encounter. Stuff and nonsense! Would you ever tell anyone that learning the rules of what to do in case of a hotel fire guarantees they will never die in such a fire? Of course not.

The problem with this attitude is that it tends toward blaming the victim if harm does occur. If a woman survives a desperate encounter, but is badly hurt, should she blame herself for her pain, believing that if only she had the right attitude she could have determined more completely the outcome of the confrontation?

Not all real world situations are survivable. To pretend otherwise is giving in to the macho posturing that pervades so much of the public and private discussion about the use of firearms in self defense.

4. "If he has a gun, shoot him."

Last month's issue explored the fact that not everyone with a gun needs to be shot. In some (not all) robbery situations, the best outcome for all concerned is to let him leave with your money and his life. Sometimes you may not know whether a person with a drawn gun holding another person at gunpoint is a good guy or a bad guy.

If the person with the gun is putting you in immediate and unavoidable danger of death, then of course you should shoot (and this is a subjective, not an objective, evaluation). But if you have strong reason to believe that he is not actually threatening you, the justification for an immediate shot decreases.

He may have a gun in his hand but it may still be reasonable to believe that he is not about to use it, and so the best course of action is to wait, act so as to gain tactical advantage (e.g., by making him believe you are not a threat, by moving to cover, by being prepared to draw, by checking the area for bystanders, safe backstops, etc.)

3. "At night, keep a loaded gun handy, under your pillow."

I wish I'd kept all the clippings I've seen about disasters that happened as a result of this practice. One fellow woke up sensing something moving at the end of his bed - he grabbed his gun and shot himself in the foot through the covers.. A woman woke up with an asthma attack, reached for her inhaler, didn't realize that she had grabbed her gun by mistake, and shot herself in the head.

Waking up from deep sleep is something most of us don't do very easily, and the having a gun instantly accessible to a groggy, half-dreaming, barely awake individual is the stuff nightmares (and tragedies) are made of. Put your gun in a lock box at night - if you are awake enough to punch in the combination or use a key, you probably have the ability to handle the gun appropriately. The safety afforded by that extra level of protection is well worth the few additional seconds it takes to get the gun into your hands.

2. "Your gun isn't any good for self-defense. You ought to get the kind I have, or that I recommend."

Every gun is good for self-defense in certain circumstances. Try to determine whether the person giving you that advice is showing off, or trying to sell you something, and take that into account.

There are a range of calibers that are not recommended for self-defense (below .380 is generally not powerful enough; .44 magnum and above are too likely to over-penetrate), but within that range, you have a lot of flexibility.

Know the tradeoffs you are making in choosing a particular gun/ammo combination, and if you are satisfied that your choice is appropriate for your lifestyle and the situations you are likely to encounter, go for it! Just make sure that your ammo is reliable in your gun without any malfunctions, 100% of the time.

1. "A gun will just be taken away from you."

This is such a common myth that, if it were true, newspapers and TV shows would be featuring every such incident. In actuality, it is extremely hard to find cases where this has actually happened. I've been looking for years, and I've NEVER found a SINGLE verifiable case where a woman who was a private citizen (not a cop) and who had some defensive firearm training had a gun taken away from her in an actual defensive situation.

Remember that statistic that we started with, that in 75% of the cases where a gun is used in defense, it is never fired? That's because the bad guy doesn't want to get shot. And the most likely way for him to get shot is to continue to attack the woman with the gun - reaching for the gun is exactly the kind of attack that will bring a bullet his way, and he knows it!

Don't let this myth, or any of the other dumb things that people say about guns, keep you from learning what you need to defend yourself!


This article was reprinted from Women&Guns magazine, Mar-Apr. 1998, Copyright © 1998, Lyn Bates