Concealed Carry & Home Defense

When Citizens Fight Back

By Tom Givens, American Handgunner

The holy grail of firearms trainers and students has been to know what really happens in an armed citizen gunfight. 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, 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 — 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 Sam and Suzi Homemaker.


Here, one of Tom’s students works on fast hits at close range. Note the gun in two hands, at eye level and two pieces of brass right above the gun. The ability to hit fast and accurately is critical.


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, with 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 don’t.

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.


An armed robber initiates a hold-up from three steps away against one of Tom’s graduates.


Law Enforcement

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 cop has a sworn duty to seek out, confront and arrest a person who has broken the law, to chase him if he flees, 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, my civilian gunfight data shows it is not appropriate.


The student responds by moving to the left as she brings her gun to eye level in both hands and fires. Notice the similarity to the training photo of fast shooting at close range. Tom said every one of his students who were armed during a violent attack won the fight, and most fired 2-handed.

The Armed Citizen

At the time I write this, I’ve had 64 students involved in defensive gunplay. These were ordinary citizens, mostly white-collar and professionals, and only about seven percent “blue-collar” workers. The majority of our 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 standoff and to terrorize the victim into compliance, before closing in to take the wallet, purse, car keys, etc.