Shooting to Live

Posted: Dec 12, 2014 10:00 AM

Too often gun owners forget that defensive gun use is about saving lives.'s editor Bob Owens reports for the December issue of Townhall Magazine. 

In August, I had a chance to attend a 250 Pistol class at Gunsite Academy near Paulden, Arizona.

The class, created by the legendary Col. Jeff Cooper, is billed as the Gunsite experience, and it doesn’t disappoint.

In the five days and one night I was there, I learned more about fighting with a handgun than I had learned in my entire life up to that point. That makes perfect sense, considering that virtually every reputable handgun training school in the world traces its lineage to the “Harvard of Handguns” where Cooper laid out The Modern Technique of the Pistol.

One of the lessons driven home during the week of shooting was the concept of “shooting to stop the threat.”

The veteran cadre of instructors hammered this idea home time and time again. It is an incredibly important concept that may end up being the difference between saving your life in a legally justifiable manner and committing a felony crime that might send you to prison for the rest of your life.

On paper, it is a relatively simple concept.

Jurisdictions across the country recognize the notion of a basic human right to use lethal force in order to defend against a proximate, immediate, and lethal threat to yourself or others. The force used to counter the threat must be proportional—you can’t use lethal force to repeal a non-lethal threat—and the use of lethal force must terminate the instant that the threat of lethal force against you (or another) ends.

Some people seem to have a hard time grasping the concept.

It seems that often when I read an article about a defensive gun where the criminal survives the encounter, someone blusters in the comments that if they were in that same situation, they would shoot to kill, or that they would keep shooting until they were sure that the attacker was dead.

I always hope these commenters have several hundred thousand dollars in the bank for a good defense attorney, and that they are comfortable with the idea of going to prison if they are prosecuted.

They seem to have lost sight of the goal of using a firearm for self-defense.

The goal of using a handgun in a deadly force encounter is to protect yourself or others. Survival, saving your life, is the goal. The goal isn’t to kill the other person. The goal is to make them stop their deadly attack.

If they stop attacking when you mention that you are about to draw a gun, that is considered a victory.

If they stop attacking when they see you in possession of a firearm, by far the most common type of defensive gun use, then that is a victory.

If they stop attacking because you’ve fired and missed, that is a victory.

If they stop attacking because you fired a shot that hit them but did not kill them, that is also a victory.

If they stop attacking only because you have fired a shot that ends the attacker’s life, then that should be nothing more or less than an unfortunate byproduct of their decision to continue an assault on a good person who had no other choice but to use effective lethal force to save their own life.

Again: Killing is never the goal. Surviving the encounter and defending lives is the goal.

“So if surviving is the goal,” you may wonder, “why do we go to shooting schools like Gunsite? Why do we train to become proficient with firearms? Aren’t we training to kill?”

Actually, you aren’t. You’re training to save lives, and the better trained you are, the less likely you are to have to use lethal force. It may sound paradoxical at first, but it is actually a well-established truth.

When someone is well trained, confident, and competent with carrying a firearm for self-defense, they tend to have much greater situational awareness than the average person, and they also have much more confidence and competence.

The combination of situational awareness, confidence, and competence greatly reduces the likelihood that you will ever put yourself in a situation where you will be the victim of a crime of opportunity. After all, your training will serve to both help you become aware of avoidable situations before they happen, and give you a noticeable alertness and confidence that signals to predators that you are not the easy prey they seek.

In those rare instances where we can’t avoid a lethal force threat, we train to stop the threat.

We are shooting not so that others may die, but so that we may live. •