Concealed Carry & Home Defense

CCW Weekend: If You Have To Shoot, Shoot To Stop The Threat

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By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters

If you ever have to shoot a person in self-defense, forget everything you’ve seen on television or in the movies: shoot to stop the threat. Whether that means a serious wound or a fatal one, don’t bother trying any sort of trick shot to limbs or extremities.

For one, it’s unlikely to work. For two, trying to use non-fatal fire to disable an attacker could actually get you into legal trouble.

Why is such a shot unlikely to work? After all, modern pistols and ammunition are capable of incredible accuracy and even a target the size of a hand, a foot, or the arm or leg of a person isn’t a whole lot smaller – and may even be significantly bigger – than the left side of the chest, which many people would aim for if they had to fire. Besides, since most defensive shootings occur at close range, wouldn’t that mean a person was more likely to hit their target?

Not in a defensive shooting situation.

Under stress, accuracy declines significantly. Study after study into officer-involved shootings revealed that when police – trained professionals – have to engage in a gunfight or otherwise open fire, their hit rate is very low. The New York Police Department, according to the New York Times, had a hit ratio (measured as hits versus rounds fired) of 34 percent during the period of 1996 to 2006. By contrast, the Los Angeles Police Department had a hit ratio of 27 percent in 2006.

In other words, the NYPD is one of the more accurate police departments in the nation. The NYPD was also found in a Rand corporation study with slightly different methodology (hits to shots fired in that engagement) of 18 percent in gunfights, according to Time magazine. When firing without being fired upon, 30 percent.

In other words, some of the most accurate of professionals, under stress, are able to land fewer than 2 shots in 10.

In high stress situations, fine motor control declines, vision constricts and the most basic impulses – fight or flight – take over. Tasks or actions that would otherwise be fairly easy become otherwise impossible.

Ask deer hunters whether they’d ever try to shoot a deer in the head, as opposed to the chest cavity, and a good deal of them will tell you they never would. The reason is that while a successful hit can drop their quarry, a hit that doesn’t disable the central nervous system (easily missed; a deer’s brain is the size of a small coffee cup) is likely worthless. However, a shot to the chest cavity that doesn’t hit the heart or lungs can still do fatal trauma.

Under the stress of a home invasion, armed robbery or other situation in which defensive gun use is warranted, the likelihood that a person would be able to hit an arm, leg, hand or foot is drastically reduced, if not next to nil. If one misses, the shot was worthless. The chest cavity, on the other hand – a hit still does damage. If you’re less likely to hit something when you fire, you should at least fire where imprecision still translates to hitting the target.

Why, though, would hitting a less vital area be a liability rather than trying to do what one can not to kill someone?

Because the use of a firearm is the use of deadly force. Just like how a person should never fire warning shots, you shouldn’t be using a firearm unless the threat you face is grave. Almost all states have in their laws regarding self-defense that a person has to have a reasonable belief that they or another party will die or suffer a crippling injury if they don’t shoot.

If you didn’t have to kill the intruder to end the encounter, a prosecuting attorney might say, then you weren’t really in grave danger, were you? A non-fatal wound, one might surmise, should not be enough to deter a person who means you deadly harm. Only a fatal or near-fatal injury would stop a threat.

Therefore, if you must shoot, you should only shoot to stop the threat, which means aiming for vital areas. If your assailant lives, then so much the better, but if not…you had no choice or at least had a reasonable belief that you had no choice.

Shooting to stop the threat is often the same rubric that police follow; by doing the same thing, a person is following the same guidelines to protect themselves that the people who protect the whole community do, namely to try to stop this person from harming anyone when they obviously are intending to do so.

Sam Hoober is Contributing Editor for, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit

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