Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Gunfight Survival

An interesting article from a knowledgeable source, Dave Spaulding.

Over the last 25 I have made it a point to talk with every gunfight survivor that I could find. Last count, I had spoken with almost 200 individuals. These people include men and women, military (including war veterans), law enforcement and legally armed citizens. These confrontations include battlefield situations, back alley struggles, attempted muggins, attempted rapes (and successful rapes) and the like.

That makes his research different from the better-known FBI stat-research, which concentrated on incidents where the LEO did NOT survive. Although 200 cases is a small group, lending to questions about statisitical precision, some observations are worthwhile knowing about.

...One of the great controversies of gun fighting has long been whether or not people can use their sights during the high stress of a gunfight. First, let me say that some version of point shooting needs to be taught in any defensive handgun course. There are going to be times when pointing the gun at someone close will be a necessity, period.

"Point-shoot" works, by the way.

...When startled, people will respond out of fear and panic, which usually does not result in the desired outcome.

The biggest factor during a startle response is luck. While luck will always be a factor in every confrontation, I am not convinced that we should make it a factor in our training.


Maybe the answer to this problem is not to be worried about whether or not to use sights, but to concentrate on being "switched on" to what is going on around you.

What about the sights, anyway?

Without fail, the people who remember seeing or using their front sight are the ones who were prepared to engage in combat.

Lending more importance to the "awareness" mentioned above is the following:

Along these same lines, the speed of the event is also reported frequently. While it is common knowledge that people report a sense of slow motion during an armed confrontation, there are also people who say, "It happened so fast, I just couldn't get caught up." While some may relate this to being startled, I'm not sure that the speed of the event and startle response is one in the same thing. Being startled is being caught flat footed and not being able to get in the fight quickly enough. The people I have spoken with report that their aggressor was fast, moved quickly and aggressively, moved with purpose, and inhibited rational, controlled thought on their part.

In the following paragraphs, the author ties up a number of the threads from above:

For many years, we have been taught that armed confrontations occur at very close distances (often times at arm's length), that few shots are fired and the person involved usually misses. These statistics were compiled from the FBI's Officer Killed Summary, which are released on an annual basis. Note that the operative word here is killed; these are officers that lost their confrontation. Have you ever wondered what happened with the officers that won? Did they do anything different to help ensure they would prevail?

In 1992, veteran police officer Dick Fairburn, now a trainer for the Illinois State Police, was commissioned by the Police Marksmen Association to answer this very question.

...However, what he did develop were some interesting trends that showed what officers did when they won the confrontation. One of the most interesting was the distances involved. While the FBI statistics show distances as being around ten feet, the PMA study showed the average distance being more like twenty. This makes sense, as distance will favor the person with the most training. This relates directly back to awareness as the sooner you see trouble coming, the more time you have to prepare for war. The PMA study also shows that the hit ratio per encounter was closer to 62 percent instead of the often-reported 18 percent. The history of gun fighting for more than a century has shown that the person that lands the first solid hit will usually win the confrontation. Hitting is hard to do without preparation and relying on luck is an invitation to disaster.

Situational awareness, keep your distance, train, train, train--to use the FRONT SIGHT.

There's more:

While talking with the people that I have interviewed, I could not help but notice that the people who performed the best (and could also remember the best) were the ones who were able to keep control of him or her self. Many remember getting control of their breathing and using this to fuel their inner drive. Those who could get control and overcome the startle response were able to handle the situation. Many of these folks reported that they were not surprised, but were angered by the audacity of the person trying to attack them. It appears that those who became angered were able to channel the chemicals flowing into their system into fight instead of flight or freeze. Many advised that they had taken the time to think about what they would do in the event they were attacked and had even played out scenarios in their head. It is clear that this role-playing or visualization prepared them to take action with little lag time. For years this has been called if/then thinking. For my students, I tell the to think of it as when/then thinking.

So your training should include physical control. There's a difference between "mad" and "angry," which is a key to understanding the difference between "control" and "response."

Here's something which is VERY important. Recall that 'those who used the front-sight' were usually victorious.

The other trend that I have noted in regards to the use of sights is the actual configuration of the sight itself.

...Revolver shooters continuously told me things like, "I remember that big red (or orange, or green) front sight coming right up in front of my eyes and laying right on his chest." For those of us who broke into defensive shooting using revolvers, we can remember how well that red front insert contrasted with the wide black rear sight on our Smith & Wesson Model 66 or Ruger Security-Six. Those of us who did not have such an insert would usually paint our front sight with some high visibility color. Think about what is now available on semi-automatic pistols. We now have to line up three dots or we have to place a dot on top of a bar, all of which I believe is too complicated for our eyes to do quickly. The revolver's simple, but contrasting, sight system was easy for the eyes to use under stress.

Hmmmm. Means that if you're using a semi-auto, situational awareness is even MORE important--or absolute proficiency with "point-shoot," which (unfortunately) is best used at close quarters (3-5 yards.)

His solution is simple, but not exactly House Beautiful:

Objects that are large and of contrasting color are easier to see under stress, which makes the current generation of semi-auto sights on the wrong end of the sight plane. I, for one, have highlighted the front sight of all my pistols with bright orange emergency warning tape. It offers a contrast that is large and bold and I feel is the reason that I can recall my sights during high stress events.

Finally, for you .45 bigots out there (Chris!!! SteveEgg!!)

Like many, I am interested in whether one caliber is better than another or whether hollow point ammo is more effective than full metal jacket. Truly, the most important thing in all this is where you hit your opponent.

...While not trying to place a percentage on how often they will be effective with one or two shots, I have seen certain rounds be effective over and over again. They are the .38 Special 158-grain lead hollow-point; 9mm +P+ jacketed hollow-point; .40 155- and 165-grain jacketed hollow-point; .45 ACP hollow-points; .223 55 grain FMJ and hollow-point; 12 gauge 00 buckshot; and 12 gauge rifled slugs.

Note, please, that all the rounds he specifies are HP or JHP, except the 12-ga rounds. 12-ga is effective no matter what...


steveegg said...

I'm a .40 bigot, not a .45 bigot (and Chris is a .44 Magnum revolver bigot).

There is no substitute for a well-placed shot. What the larger calibers (except for the slow .45) do offer is some additional margin against targets that bring body armor to the confrontation (and in the case of the .44 Magnum, a lot of additional margin).

That reminds me, I've got to go shooting again soon.

Dad29 said...

Sorry. Didn't want to smear you as a .45 bigot...memory fails as age advances.

The problem w/Magnum loads is that slugs tend to go through the perps and hit whatever's next, too.

That's OK if it's a wall, which can be repaired.

NOT so OK if it's another person of the innocent variety.

Few typical street perps wear body armor anyway.

Yes, shooting is a good thing to do.

Anonymous said...

So, where do you fall, revolver or pistol?

Dad29 said...

Have a .357 6-gun in the home, and a 9mm semi outside it, both high-quality weapons.

Revolver is inside b/c it's easier for the wife to use.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I read, I believe it was in "Rogue Warrior" by Dick Marcinko, that the idea was to learn to fire without sights. It takes a lot of practice, though.

I'm old now so I just use a .12 guage with double ought. You come through the door or window at your peril.

Oh yeah, can you say "duckbill"?. Can you say "Streetsweeper"?
Can you say "What's this hole doing in my chest?"