The Importance of Close Range Handgun Skills

Without question the single most glaring lack of development for civilian gun carriers, or if not the worst than easily number two, is a profound and complete lack of extreme close-quarters skill when on the defensive against an attacker who is trying to hurt or kill them.


The idea that they will both see the attack coming from far enough away (or that there will even be actionable pre-attack indicators that far out) and have plenty of time to get their handgun into gear unopposed is laughable.

The likelihood that a bad guy will be very close to you, defined as arms length or even closer, is high, and so this places the gun or any other weapon you try to deploy in great danger of being stuffed on the draw, tied up, or taken away from you. Aside from denying its use to you, the bad guy may be able to wrest it from your control and turn it against you.

Sobering stuff, especially for those who rely heavily on the capabilities of a weapon for self-defense. How did we get here? How is this acceptable? What should an average gun carrier do to correct it? I will do my best to address this complex topic below.

Square Range Mentality

Most gun owners and concealed carriers do not practice with their guns very much and those that do don’t get in much more than basic shooting for accuracy and some manipulations practice at their local range.

Indoor or outdoor does not matter; they will be shooting at fixed, non-reactive paper targets with no anatomical targeting references that do not move and do not shoot back at them or try to stab them.

In essence, these shooters are only able to work marksmanship and a smattering of other fundamentals. That’s it.

They will engage on this sort of practice day in and day out, year after year, and may become very good shots, but that may well not amount to much in a fight. I mean a gunfight. Or knife fight. Or even a fist fight.

Say what? What do I mean? Simply that all of us who choose to arm ourselves with a firearm and carry it day after tiring day do so in order to be better prepared in a fight for our lives.

This is what is so easily forgotten in the dogma and doldrums of basic-as-basic gets shooting practice: you will be fighting for your life! People fight, and whatever tools they use is secondary to the fact that you will be critically injured, crippled or killed if you do not prevail.

How do you prepare for a fight? By fighting. By sparring, in anything-goes real-as-you-can-make it simulation bouts. A boxer would not prepare for a match by simply working the speed bag, and a UFC fighter will not prepare for a bout in the octagon by cardio alone.

No, both of these professionals will do plenty of either as components of a greater and holistic plan, but you can be certain that they will be spending a lot of time fighting training partners to bring together and validate everything they have practiced to that point.

So must we do as gun carriers. It is all but a certainty your attacker will come to grips with you, or be close enough to.

No matter what he carries as a weapon, if anything, this is bad news, but you can just trust me when I say it can get so, so much worse if he has a knife or blade of some other kind.


Until they “see the elephant” either in an actual event or serious, full contact force-on-force training, most civilian gun carriers, especially us guys, trend towards an unshakeable confidence in our ability with the gun to solve our problem nice and tidy before it degenerates into a furball, the type of scenario I described above.

Frankly, for 95% plus of them, it is unfounded and dangerously delusional.

Most do not have enough foundational skills in grappling or other combatives to defend against a gun takeaway attempt, or just a situation where an attacker tries to latch on to them and beat their brakes off or slice them up, rendering their draw extremely difficult or impossible before game-changing damage is done.

Even giving them the benefit of seeing a bad guy making steam toward them at attack speed from 30 feet away, most would not be able to draw their gun in time to get lead sizzling on target before they were struck.

You don’t need to take my word for it.

The internet is rife with videos of cops and civilians being overtaken from ambush or from the drop by aggressive assailants who wanted to close the gap and do harm, and this occurs with such speed that a response was either impossible or too late to stuff the attack.

A search on YouTube, LiveLeak and lots of others will furnish ample evidence.

The point of all this is that you need to be a fighter, have the mindset of a fighter, and strive to be a complete fighter. The gun is only a tool in the Great Game, as are knives, your fists, your teeth and anything else you can bring to bear.

I hate, hate, hate to say it, but dropping someone who has only trained to shoot accurately into any kind of fight is no guarantee of success.

In fact, I’d place my chips on a seasoned, experienced fighter armed with a knife before I would a Joe Average pistol-packer with his favorite high-cap striker-fired gun. Having the skills to manage an adversary at handshake distance both with and without a gun are absolutely essential to your survival.

Preparing for the Clash of Bone and Flesh

I am not saying you should forsake fundamentals practice. Not even close.

What I am saying is that you must, if you are serious, and able, prioritize is contact training in a peer or group setting that emphasizes getting your gun into gear at very close range using appropriate shooting techniques, protecting your gun at very close range, and gaining distance or time from your attacker at very close range in order to engage more traditional shooting skills.

Why do I make the distinction between traditional techniques and shooting at very close range? Easy: the two don’t look anything alike save you have a gun in your hand.

Shooting at extreme close quarters is often done with only one hand on the gun, and the other on your attacker in order to keep him off you and away from your gun.

Done well, you will have your pistol reeled in close to the side of your torso, again with the desire of keeping your attacker’s nasty hands off of it. As you are probably imagining, it is very, very easy to shoot yourself in this arrangement without extensive training.

So this means we must practice these specific skills against another person. Practice fending, practice grappling, practice retaining and shooting from retention.

Not at all-out levels all the time, as this type of training often draws a fair amount of blood and causes all manner of sprains, dings and dents. We must of course walk before we run, but we must also run plenty to win the race, and so run we shall in training.

We will use dummy guns, airsoft guns, simunition and other marking firearms, head gear, cups, mouthguards and other equipment common to pugilism and roughhousing in order to prevent the worst of preventable injuries and also to allow us to employ the techniques we will use with our live weapons without killing our training partners.

Most importantly, a full-power struggle against an active, thinking, adaptive human is exhausting mentally and physically. Your training partner might be bigger than you, or smaller. He might be in better shape, or inferior shape.

No matter: any failure in your own conditioning of either mind or body will be apparent to one and all. Training like this is extraordinarily humbling, and will not suffer bullshitters.

Quality and Experience Counts

If you are seasoned with firearms and have a good background in wrestling, grappling or other similar systems, you can feasibly put together an informal training group with one or a handful of likeminded people and the right gear.

But it takes significant experience and wisdom to set-up drills and scenarios that are adding value and building skill without devolving into little more than jocked up wrestling matches.

A far better plan for the average person is to, as always, seek professional training and take the plunge.

Signing up for a class with a reputable teacher of close-quarters skills who will put you through the paces with another human and combine those skills with practical range evolution is of tremendous importance, and utmost value.

Greg Ellifritz of Active Response Training and Craig Douglas of ShivWorks are two of the leading teachers of these skills today.

Once you know what you need to know, and know how best to practice it, then you are far more likely to find success implementing regular practice with likeminded training partners outside of formalized training classes.


Knowing how to use, or just as importantly, not use, your pistol when an attacker is right in your face takes skill, and that skill is borne of much painful, exhausting practice.

You will not get it on the square range, where the targets wait blithely to be shot to confetti. If you are serious about protecting your life and the lives of your loved ones, you must seek training for close-in skills with a pistol. No exceptions.

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