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When Citizens Fight Back

Excerpts of an article by Tom Givens of Range Master


The holy grail of firearms trainers and students has been to know what really happens in an armed citizen gunfight and not in a law enforcement gunfight nor a military encounter, but in legal defensive gun uses by CCW holders. For decades we’ve bemoaned the fact while there are excellent data sources for the distances, times, conditions, shots fired, etc. on law enforcement and military gunfights but there is not a similar database for civilian encounters. After all, if there were such a repository we’d know what to train for and by extension, largely how to train for it.


I’m not a professional statistician, nor do I have a database of thousands of incidents. I have however, been training people professionally for over 35 years and doing so full-time for the past 18 years. I have trained tens of thousands of students and most of them are in Memphis, one of the most violent metropolitan areas in the United States. To give you some idea, the violent crime rate here per capita is about double that of Los Angeles!


To date, I have had 64 private citizen students — at least that I am aware of — who have been involved in using a handgun in self-defense. Although not a huge number of data points, we clearly see the same things occurring over and over again in these incidents. A policeman would call this a clue. I believe this is the kind of data we ought to be basing our civilian training on. Generally, what works in a military battle overseas or what works for police officers stateside, won’t work for the Sam and Suzi Homemaker.


As the global war on terror winds down, a lot of former soldiers are getting into the training business. The military paradigm however, is vastly different from self-defense in America. The military typically fights with shoulder guns and handguns relegated to a backup role. In a military operation the planners have to factor in projected losses of friendly personnel. In our world the level of acceptable friendly losses is ZERO! Military operations have an acceptable level of collateral damage. We do not.


Military engagements are often offensive in nature while ours are defensive. This is not to say military veterans, particularly special operations personnel, cannot teach you how to shoot extremely well under adverse conditions. One needs to be careful however not to confuse their conflict environment and rules of engagement with those of the private citizen. We also have to remember while the citizen generally fights alone, military units fight as a team and that experience can influence what someone teaches.


Except for a SWAT team, most officer involved shootings can be traced to one of three activities: traffic stops, alcohol-related/influenced contacts (at bars, fights, etc.) and domestic violence complaints. These situations put police officers in different situations and proximities relative to their attackers than street violence does with a CCW holder.


Cops have to get close to people to interact with, interview, restrain and handcuff them. Police engagements tend to be very close-in affairs, a fact reflected in the now well-known statistic 75 percent of police fatalities occur at 10′ or less. Citizens by contrast, have none of these responsibilities and their job is to move away from trouble, not close in on it.


The office has a sworn duty to seek out, confront and arrest a person who has broken the law, to chase him if he flees and to fight him if he resists and to press forward in the face of armed resistance. The private citizen on the other hand, should be doing none of these things and should disengage at the earliest opportunity.


A lot of trainers make the mistake of using data like the FBI’s law enforcement officers killed and assaulted summary as the statistical basis for their firearms training for private citizens. The above analysis should cause us to question the appropriateness of using law enforcement data as the basis for training civilians. And indeed, Tom's civilian gunfight data shows it is not appropriate.


The Armed Citizen
At the time Tom wrote this, He's had 64 students involved in defensive gunplay. These were ordinary citizens, mostly white-collar and professionals, and only about seven percent were “blue-collar” workers. The majority of the students are in sales, management, IT work, the medical field or other professional activity.


The majority of these incidents involved an armed robbery, which I believe is probably the most likely scenario for armed self-defense by private citizen. We’re talking about business stickups, parking lot robberies at gunpoint, carjackings and home invasions — all crimes likely to get you killed. The reason the bad guy uses a weapon is to create a standoff and to terrorize the victim into compliance before closing in to take the wallet, purse, car keys, etc.


The thug will however. will need to be close enough to his victim to communicate his desires and to easily close the distance and take the goods when the time comes. Thus the typical armed robbery occurs at anywhere from two or three steps, to roughly the length of a car — between the robber and his victim. That is, then, about three to seven yards typically, or say nine to 21′ or so. This is the distance at which most of my students have had to use their guns. I believe we should do the bulk of our training and practice at these “most likely” distances.



Only two of Tom's students’ shootings occurred at contact distances. In one of those cases the physical contact was purely accidental. In the other case physical contact was intentional but the victim missed a large number of cues before he was struck with a club.


At the other end of the spectrum Tom had three students who had to engage at 15, 17 and 22 yards. The other 92 percent of student-involved incidents took place at a distance of 3 to 7 yards with the majority occurring between 3 and 5 yards. The rule of thumb is most civilian shootings occur within the length of a car.


Only about 10 percent of Tom's student-involved incidents occurred in or around the home, while 90 percent occurred in places like convenience stores, parking lots and shopping malls. The majority of the incidents began as armed robberies or carjackings with a few violent break-in's involved.


The success / failure tally among the incidents involving Tom's students is 62 wins, zero losses and two forfeits. Every one of his students who were armed won their confrontations! Only three of those were injured, and all three recovered. Two people that went through his training subsequently were murdered in separate street robberies — BUT NEITHER WAS ARMED!!! This is why YOU should put a great deal of emphasis on the necessity of routinely carrying your gun!


Training Implications

Based on this data, the following are key skills the private citizen should concentrate on in their training:

  • Quick, safe, efficient presentation of the handgun from concealed carry. 
  • Delivery of several well-placed shots at distances from 3 to 7 yards.
  • Keeping the gun running, including reloading and fixing malfunctions
  • Two-handed firing. We train our students to use two hands if at all possible and most have done so in their fights.
  • Bring the gun to eye level. This is the fastest way to achieve accurate gun alignment. All but two of our students brought the gun to eye level, and as a result got good hits. Two had to shoot from below eye level due to unusual circumstances.

Some effort should be expended on the contact distance problem including empty hand skills and weapon retention skills. However, these are secondary skills for the private citizen. An additional effort should be dedicated to longer shots in the 15- to 25-yard range.



One of the things they stress in their training is the likelihood of your needing a gun in self-defense is not a one in one million chance! The possibility of you encountering a deadly force incident is much higher. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are over 5 million violent crimes a year in the United States. For statistical purposes violent crime consists of murder, aggravated assault, forcible rape and robbery. These are the very crimes one would carry a handgun to defend against.


Also, the police will very likely not be there when you are chosen to be the victim of one of those serious crimes. You are actually the first responder! Accepting the fact that violent crime does not only happen to other people and making carrying your handgun part of your daily routine can go a long way toward making you and your family safer!


Rick Cross
Be Safe Firearms Instruction
Nevada & Utah Certified CFP Instructor
Certified Sabre Civilian Defense Spray Instructor
NRA Lifetime Member #082605371
NRA Certified Pistol and Personal Protection Instructor
NRA Certified Rifle and Shotgun Instructor
NRA Certified Reloading Instructor
Front Sight Lifetime Guardian Member
Affiliated Instructor Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network
Affiliated Instructor Armed Response & Taser Intl.
Las Vegas, Nevada.
Mobile: (702) 275-1625