Most of us who consider ourselves adherents to a lifestyle of readiness or serious students of self-defense often think through or war game our responses to a violent attack. We will go through countless variations of different encounters in different places at different times of day with varying numbers of attackers.
Maybe we go to guns immediately and maybe we don’t. Maybe there is a short pursuit or preliminary phase to the attack.
What we often don’t consider, because it feels bad and makes us look bad to ourselves, is how we will react if someone gets the drop on us, catching us flat-footed and dead to rights.
Imagine it. After a barked insult or interrogative, or someone physically laying hands on you, you spin around and are confronted with a person or perhaps more than one who are holding a gun on you.
Whether you can see it or not, you have been caught at barrel’s end and the implications are absolutely crystal clear. Follow instructions or you’ll be shot. Now what do you do?
If you are smart, this is definitely getting your thoughts moving in different directions. There is no pre-engagement preamble, no moving the pieces of the encounter across the board. No time to prepare mentally or physically.
At one moment, your reality was one way, and now it is something completely, totally different. This is sobering, scary stuff, but something that we must consider because it happens all the time.
What you do may depend on the details of the situation:
- Are you in a crowded area?
- Is the attacker holding you?
- Does the attacker have the gun directly on your body?
- Is there anyone around? Are there multiple attackers?
- Where are they located (some might be in the vehicle, some not)?
- Is the attacker inside the vehicle or outside?
Table of Contents
Situational Awareness May Not be Enough to Prevent this
I have no doubt whatsoever that some people out in the audience snorted to themselves and quit that that scenario would never, could never, happen to them. Why? Duh, because they are situationally aware at all times and in all places. Give me a break. Seriously, spare me.
We should all strive to be situationally aware but unless you live like a genuine hermit with no one else around you it is a fact that you will interact with the public in public places for innumerable reasons, and chances are you do that day in and day out.
Getting groceries, shopping, going to work, leaving work, the list is endless. And throughout all of these travels and all of these activities there are times, many times, that you are not truly aware of everyone around you and everything they are doing at all times.
Nor should you be. much of the time we have to focus on the task at hand, and our task, however mundane or important it happens to be, requires our attention and full engagement to execute successfully or safely.
Accordingly, there are gaps in our self-defense radar sweeps. In these gaps, there is room for people to hurt us or at least attempt to do so.
It is in one of these gaps that you could find yourself confronted by an attacker who has you dead to rights. Now you have to think fast and act faster in order to turn the situation around and attain a good outcome.
What is the Attacker’s Intent?
It might seem silly to begin our reaction to the attack by attempting to assess the attacker’s intention. They’re attacking you! That is all you need to know, right?
Generally yes, but what we need to do is parse out what the attacker wants from us aside from Total compliance. in this regard, there are generally two types of violence between human beings: social violence and predatory violence, or asocial violence.
Social violence is that which is violence that is threatened or committed with the intention of obtaining something from the victim, getting the victim to behave a certain way or as punishment for failing to act in a specific way. Predatory violence, on the other hand, is committed with killing as the intention.
Meaning, the attacker is intending and acting to kill you as the principal motivation. Sure, they might kill you during a mugging and do so without a second thought or any guilt on their conscience, but a mugging is done with the intention of obtaining valuables or money from the victim.
Determining quickly the attackers motivation will help inform your reaction, and this is a subject that requires considerable study and training in order to develop the necessary acumen and coolness during a life-threatening situation.
It is easy to say that, since the attacker did not blast you from ambush or is otherwise giving you a chance to comply that the interaction is necessarily one of social violence.
This is reasonable enough, but consider that someone might be attempting to gain your temporary compliance in order to kidnap you, restrain you or otherwise incapacitate you for some other nefarious and evil purpose.
Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that you and your attacker have anything whatsoever in common. they might look human, and you might even see something vaguely human behind their eyes, but the fact that you are in your position and they are in theirs tells you everything you need to know about them regarding their mindset.
You not ever, ever make the mistake of thinking that they will react or operate on a level that you could recognize, that you might be similar.
that being said, there are some ground rules for handling yourself and interactions of this kind. positioning and posturing yourself appropriately can buy you a couple of precious seconds to think and implement a response, whatever it might be.
Don’t Insult or Belittle the Attacker
Under no circumstances, never, ever should you insult or belittle someone who is holding a gun on, or any other weapon.
Part and parcel of social violence is issuing what is called an educational or corrective beatdown, and under this umbrella is it shooting someone who acts stupidly. Attacking the manhood, courage or lack thereof, or intelligence of your attacker for any reason is a great way to get killed.
Don’t do it! you might be mad enough internally to crack the foundations of the earth, ready to kill them back for threatening you and you might yet have to to save your life, but conducting yourself in such a way that you can escape or defeat the attacker is a thinking man’s game.
Lose your cool, shut your mouth off, and you are likely to get shot back.
Assess the Weapon if You Can
there is hardly anything more valuable in a life-threatening situation than keeping your cool. Be cool like a snake. Keep your wits about you.
If someone is pointing a gun at you that is visible, and not for instance held within a coat pocket, bag or other consumment that may or may not hide the presence of an actual weapon, look at the gun. Really look at it.
this is always valuable and will tell you several things. First, the gun might be fake. many criminals use airsoft guns to perpetrate holdups, and most are smart enough to paint over or otherwise remove the orange indicator markings on the ends of the barrels of such things.
If you know guns well, really know them, you might be able to deduce this if you get a good look at the attacker’s weapon. If you know without question that the gun is fake, how might that influence your decisions?
Second, you might notice if the gun, semi-auto, revolver or something else, is in a ready-to-fire condition or not. several folks have affected a speedy withdrawal effectively from a potential encounter because they noticed with certainty that the attacker’s weapon was malfunctioning, unloaded or otherwise not in a ready-to-fire condition.
Again, this requires coolness and a thorough working knowledge of guns to deduce, and even if this describes you lighting conditions or other factors might prevent you from making a 100% determination.
Lastly, knowing the type of firearm will inform your choices of how best to disable or otherwise disrupt the functioning of the gun should you choose to fight for your life and manage to come to grips with your attacker. You will attack a semi-auto differently than you will a revolver.
Grabbing the “barrel” of a semi-auto and retracting the slide will prevent it from firing. Grabbing the barrel of a revolver or other firearm will do nothing whatsoever to stop it from firing.
Any information gleaned from an assessment of the attackers weapon is useful going forward.
Okay, with those ground rules out of the way now we need to know how we are going to respond to the situation at hand. Broadly speaking, you have four options:
- Feign Compliance
Any of these options could result in a good outcome, with a good outcome being defined as you leave the encounter with the same amount of holes that you went into it with. Unperforated, and alive.
However, it might take several responses in sequence or even in tandem to obtain that outcome. Choosing the wrong response, implementing it at the wrong time or implementing incorrectly could result in a bad outcome.
Running away, or rather withdrawing from the encounter one way or another, is often seen as the ideal response. Remove yourself from danger without, hopefully, having to use defensive Force against the attacker. This is definitely the cleanest option but might not be the safest. There is a lot to unpack here.
First, you’ll need to get an opportunity to run away. Do you think that your attacker is just going to let you run away scot-free? Startling him may very well get you shot, or you might be shot out of hand for simple non-compliance with his demands.
Second, how fit are you that you think you can turn and accelerate quickly enough to get yourself into the statistical minimum safe distance of someone armed with a handgun?
As a general rule, your attacker is going to be younger and fitter than you are. They may very well give pursuit in which case you’ll probably be in for a very bad time if you have no other options, or forced to fight for your life otherwise.
Lastly, many muggings and robberies occur at extremely close range, and it is entirely likely that your attacker or one of his accomplices will lay hands on you to physically control or entice you from the outset.
This makes getting disentangled and moving away at speed a very dicey proposition in the strictest terms, and one that is highly likely to result in you getting shot under any conditions.
If you’re going to run away you’ll need the initiative and some kind of advantage. Maybe the attacker gets distracted, maybe something comes between you and him.
Whatever it is, you must have time and opportunity to orient yourself towards safety and then begin accelerating towards it while sustaining that speed and movement until you are safe. if the environment, the situation or your personal fitness is not up to the task escape may well not be a valid option.
As ugly as it is to consider for those of us who live by a code, compliance May well be the best option in situations of social violence when confronted by an armed attacker.
If someone is demanding your wallet, your purse, your watch, your phone or whatever you should probably give it to them if they have you at gunpoint and you were caught completely unawares.
Best case scenario, they will take the goods and leave or let you go. worst case scenario, and they were planning on shooting you anyway, you will have bought yourself a couple of precious seconds to think and implement your next move.
Now, there are some situations that I firmly believe you should never, ever comply with. Namely, if someone is attempting to remove you from the scene of the crime, i e get in the car, get in the van, get in the trunk, etc., or they are attempting to restrain you with rope, zip ties, handcuffs or whatever.
In that case, do anything else but make them shoot you right then and there if they are going to. Your chances of survival deteriorate precipitously anytime you are removed from the initial scene of the crime or are further restrained.
Sure, if you have advanced skill sets you might be able to take advantage of a temporary lull and observation after you have been restrained or stuffed into a vehicle to better affect your escape, but I think it is frankly unlikely.
Keep in mind that you’re compliance is not total and never guaranteed. you might decide upon compliance as your first and best option, but when a priceless opportunity presents itself to either escape or to fight back, you might decide to take it and this brings us to our next response option.
Feigning compliance is included as a distinct option from compliance mostly for clarity. You might decide to agree with an attacker’s demands in order to mollify them, give them a false sense of security order create an opportunity to escape or fight back decisively.
Typically, this will be something you do at the instant that can buy you an extra few seconds in order to implement the next step of your plan.
It could be something as simple as agreeing to reach for your wallet or other valuables and producing a weapon of your own instead or throwing down a decoy wallet or some other item in order to distract a loot hungry robber so that you can run away.
You might even agree to move towards a vehicle or some other destination that they are attempting to frog March you toward in order to get closer to the bad guy so that you might more effectively defend themselves against their firearm.
There are many, many variations on this response, but whatever you decide to do and whatever form it takes, know this: if you feign compliance and attempt to either run or fight, and it fails, you will likely face severe punitive measures
Fighting for your life is always an option, but it is one of them must be done with tremendous care. Again, if someone has you dead to rights with a gun held on you, you need not think that you are quick enough to produce your own weapon, particularly a firearm, and beat them to the drop, or shoot them before they shoot you and without being shot in return. It just won’t happen.
it might be possible to preempt them, or take advantage of a distraction in order to access, draw and use your own weapon but it is far more likely that you will wind up in a physical scuffle with them in an attempt to disable their weapon or take it away from them.
This requires speed, strength, tenacity, hand to hand skills and more than a little bit of luck. Fighting off on attack like this involving multiple attackers, very particularly if they are all armed, is exponentially more difficult in every regard.
Forget all of the bullshit that you see in movies, on TV and in most quarters of the internet regarding weapon takeaways, knocking a gun out of someone’s hand and other such nonsense.
Though there are prescribed techniques for doing so, every single last one of them is high risk in the sincerest sense of the term, and once you commit to going all in you must see it through. There will be no backing down.
Consider the following if you decide to fight for your life when confronted by a gun wielding attacker who is making demands of you.
Get Off the Line of Attack!
It is essential that you get off the line of the attack. this can be done by moving yourself, moving the gun or a combination of both.
Guns can only hurt someone that is directly in front of and in line with the bore, ricochet is not withstanding. The whole gun isn’t dangerous to you, just the hole where the bullet comes out. So, keep your body away from the line of fire.
Sidestep, duck, or fight. if you are clear of the path of the bullet by even an inch, the worst thing you’ll be facing as the gun is discharged is perhaps some blast injury at very close range and some peppering from unburned propellant and other particulates.
Now, getting offline is easier said than done. Sure, everyone makes it look certain and easy on the internet with a helpful assistant that is alley-ooping easy repetitions to them and not actually trying to defeat the demonstrator, but in real life it is a brutal and ugly affair.
This might look like you knocking the gun to one side before taking hold of the attacker’s arm and driving in hard for their flank to get inside the gun while controlling the hand and arm holding it.
It might look like you pushing the gun up and over your head as you do the same thing. there are so many possible variations on the situations that you can find yourself in on exhaustive overview of them is beyond the confines of this article.
This is a topic that deserves much study and ruthless, remorseless real world practice and drilling. Make sure you get trained by someone who is vetted to teach this stuff. Nothing else will do.
Tying up the Attacker’s Gun
After getting yourself out from in front of the gun, it is time to tie up the weapon. The very best option is to strip the gun from the attacker. The next best option is to disable it: this can be restraining the hammer or cylinder on a revolver to prevent it from turning or discharging.
It could be pulling the slide out of battery on a semi-auto. it might even be physically blocking the trigger from moving. ejecting the magazine, turning the safety on, doing something to prevent the gun from functioning.
The third best option is to control the the gun and keep it from pointing at you again. This will require strength and a thorough working knowledge of grappling.
A tussle like this is exhausting and also highly chaotic, and you can rest assured that your attacker will be fighting like the third monkey trying to get on Noah’s ark the entire time and could potentially produce another weapon that you’ll need to be aware of.
Once you have control of the weapon you’ll need to do something to disable your attacker or convince them to give up and run for it themselves. Again, much easier said than done.
Finish the Fight
Once engaged, you must see the fight through. There will be no timeouts, no talking about it and no do-overs. You must disable your attacker through any means necessary, lethal or otherwise.
It is not enough to hurt them and make them cry out in pain. the slightest lapse in pressure or advantage could see you becoming gravely wounded or even killed.
You’ll need to choke them out, knock them out or let enough blood out of them that they can no longer fight. even if they are completely incapacitated, separate them from their weapon before you make good for your escape.
Do not wait around for them to wake up or to see if they are okay. get emergency services on the phone and let them handle all of that, you must get to a place of safety, priority one.
Target weak spots: Everyone has a weak spot, and most panic when those spots are in danger. Think eyes, throat, groin, temple,, etc.
Jam your thumbs into his eyes as hard as you can. If he can’t see, you can get away. Use strikes, kicks, elbows, and knees to hit your attacker, and hurt him in any way you can. Use your nails to scratch deep so you inflict pain, cause a visible injury, and are able to take some DNA to the police.
In the event that the attacker is separated from their weapon and the scuffle or due to your efforts and is still engaged, nothing has changed. Your situation and odds have improved for the time being, yes, but you must still close the fight decisively.
Do not listen to any begging, promises or threats. If they are downed, stomp their ankle like a soda can to prevent them from pursuing you.
Make sure they cannot recover their weapon, and even if they are completely incapacitated and at your mercy do not wait around for their friends to show up or for them to produce another weapon.
Other Contextual Considerations
Use a Security/Group Alert App
Look in your phone’s app store and find apps that allow you to use them to quickly let others know you’re in trouble. Think of this as an SOS button when you are in trouble or nearly so.
What About Pepper Spray?
Pepper spray is an awesome self-defense tool. It is effective, quick, and practical. It can knock the “fight” out of all but the most determined attackers in short order. But is it the right tool if someone actually has a gun on you?
Probably not. Any obvious defensive move on your part, or even just startling the attacker with a sudden movement will likely result in their voluntary or involuntary squeezing of the trigger. Pepper spray takes some time to “wind up” and reach maximum effectiveness at any rate, plenty of time for the baddie to end you.
This does not mean pepper spray cannot help you, and giving someone a good dose before you beat feat and run away is a great way to screen your retreat and impair their efforts to pursue. Just make sure you are not in the line of fire before you give them the juice!
Move out of the line of fire as you first begin to spray. You can also attempt to get the gun from the attacker after they are disabled from the mace. Aim directly for the eyes.
You can pretend that you’re scared and reach out inside your bag or back pocket to “get the money” and instead reach for your can and pull it out quickly to spray and disorient your attacker.
Know You Know What to Do
Being confronted by an armed attacker is a nightmare scenario, and being caught flat-footed and surprised by that same attacker is several orders of magnitude worse still.
Recovering the initiative in this situation and extricating yourself from it is indeed possible, but it will be difficult, demanding coolness under pressure, boldness and a will to survive. This guide will help prime your training so that you may succeed if that dark day ever arrives.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.
8 thoughts on “How to Defend Yourself Against an Attacker with a Gun”
I nearly fell out of my chair when I read your advice to fire a warning shot straight up.
All RESPONSIBLE gun owners know that the gun owner is responsible for every bullet fired. Where do you think that warning shot is going to land? Possibly in a child playing in the yard blocks away.
If the attacker does not back down when you aim your gun at him (or her), obviously they are intent on causing you serious harm and deadly force would be justified.
Fire the warning shot into the attackers center mass and eliminate the threat!!! If you are not willing to do that, perhaps you should not be carrying a gun.
Absolutely right. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER Fire a warning shot. First is the perp has a weapon, you’re just giving him additional time to put a slug into you. Second, the bullet you fired into the air, HAS TO COME DOWN SOMEWHERE! How do you think you will feel if that bullet happens to hit a child? Third, a bullet fired into the air is a bullet wasted that you might need later on, especially if there’s more than one perp. The legal liability of firing a bullet into the air, makes such a thought almost idiotic (I hate to say a person who is authorized to carry a weapon is an idiot, but…..
never fire a warning shot. you never know where the bullet will go. you have to take the weapon off your target. if you pull a weapon be ready to use it or don’t pull it
The ONLY warning shot should be into the attacker, not the air. If the bullet striking that person does not cause them to stop, fire as many times as needed to stop them. If a well placed bullet doesn’t stop, more are needed to get the job done.
Warning shots are illegal in some states. If they are pointing a gun at you, they have intent to harm or kill you. FIRE FIRST, STOP THE THREAT!
Yes, I agree. The shot must be fired at the attacker, not as a warning shot. We are editing the article. Thanks!
Well rounded article overall.
One thing I would edit; however, is concentrating on firing a single round. Most states’ self defense laws are worded that you have the right to neutralize the threat. If the threat is seriously bodily harm, or death, you’re justified to use lethal force.
Never count on one round. Fire until they stop moving, then close in, disable the suspect, and call 911.
Survival starts with a mind set not some silly preconceived notion how an attack might unfold and have a “plan” what you will do.
If you don’t have a constant situational awareness in condition yellow then you are reacting not pro acting. Remember amateurs talk about strategies professional talk about logistics.