“Average” Self-Defense Shooting Distances

A common phrase heard about self-defense shootings is that “they occur, on average, at 3 yards, happen under three seconds, and take three shots.”

Now, this sort of thing has never been backed up by any reputable research data, though there IS definitely data showing that many self-defense shootings occur within one car-length’s worth of distance. But because of this “commonly known” phrase, many people think that practicing for further distances isn’t useful. (Some instructors go so far as to say “if you are shooting over 15 yards, you should be running away, not fighting” and other similar comments.)

Between the concepts of “acceptable combat accuracy” and “average self-defense distance,” many people’s idea of what they should hold as standards for effective gun skills often end up being “hit a silhouette target at 9 feet, and you are GOOD!”

The problem with that, of course, is that it is nonsense.

We DON’T know the “average” distance for defensive gun uses, because there isn’t any overall research data repository that records this data. We DO know, however, that people have engaged criminals from bad-breath distance up to 100 yards, with a pistol, under justified circumstances.

So why the huge range?

Because all self-defense situations are not the same—and a SIGNIFICANT indicator of what distance you may need to be able to manage is based on who exactly is being threatened.

It is certainly true that someone trying to directly kill you (specifically YOU), generally does so from up close. As such, most self-defense situations of this type do tend to strongly match the “within a car’s length” distance, according to what data we have.

However, the situation in which that distance may be much farther is when you are caught up in a mass shooting situation. The criminal isn’t specifically only attacking you. Instead, he is attacking everyone. You are under threat, but it is likely to be from a distance AND you might not even be the target at that specific moment.

For those citizens who are armed and decide to attempt to stop the attacker, the distances involved are likely to be significantly larger in a mass shooter situation than in a direct assault.

The good side to that is that the shooter is likely to not be directly shooting at you at that point in time, so you have a good chance to make your first shot COUNT.

The question is, have you only practiced “combat accuracy” at 3 yards?

Or have you actually worked on your shooting skills?

Sgt. Johnson made a one-handed shot at 104 yards while holding the reins of two horses. Eli Dicken made 8 of 10 shots from cover/concealment (opinions vary) at 40 yards braced against a pillar. Jack Wilson made a headshot at 12-15 yards.

No matter WHAT situation you find yourself in, you need to make that first shot count–no matter the distance.

And no matter what someone tells you, “three shots, three yards, in three seconds” may not be good enough.

A Realistic View of Crime in Nebraska

Several years ago I wrote an article about Crime Definitions You Should Think About, talking about the definition of “Aggravated Assault” (as opposed to “Attempted Murder”) and what it meant—and how often it happened.  If you haven’t read that, please take a moment to do so, because it describes the definition of aggravated assault, and why that definition is important.  It’ll make the next part a lot more clear.

Each year, states (and divisions within that state such as county and city departments) are required to report crime statistics in various ways.  One of the most important “indexes” of crime are “Part I” crimes, which include (among other things) the various categories of “Violent Crimes” which are:  Criminal Homicide, Rape, Robbery, and Aggravated Assault.

Most often, people  (when talking about armed self-defense) discuss the criminal homicide rates in their various areas, touting those areas as “safe” or “dangerous” in various descriptions based on those rates, most of which are misleading at best, and downright wrong fairly often.

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Crime definitions you should think about…

I took the Rangemaster Instructor Development Course with Tom Givens just the other weekend. For the most part, it pretty much validated for me (using actual research data) the training priorities I teach with respect to citizen self-defense—which made me happy, because if I am teaching people to defend themselves, it is important I’m doing it right.  If I do it wrong, it can literally get people killed.

So yeah—a good presentation (from the holster) is important, point-shooting is stupid as using the sights can be done and WILL make a difference, shooting on the move, using cover, and having flashlights might be useful but almost never are even remotely necessary in a self-defense situation and as priorities fall far far far far far behind 1) having a gun, 2) being able to get it out quickly, and 3) being able to get multiple shots on target quickly.

….and what a surprise, citizen self-defense data, FBI agent data, and DEA agent data all support this.

Unsurprisingly, the class also gave me a number of things to think about, mostly about new ways to present things I already teach which makes sense as it was what the class was about.

However, occasionally there was something in the class that REALLY struck me.  As such, over the next couple of months, I’ll be writing some articles about some things that perhaps you haven’t thought about–and should, if you think that it is important that you be prepared to defend yourself.

Here’s the first:

When is the last time you heard someone being charged with attempted murder?  Never, right?  Why is that?

Because to convict on that, you have to prove intent to kill. And intent is tough.

So instead, what gets charged for the exact same situation?  Aggravated assault.

Here’s the thing–because of the wording, most of us think of “aggravated assault” as a slightly-more-serious version of “assault.”  But here’s the actual legal definition (wording may change slightly per jurisdiction, but it’ll still mean this) according to the FBI:

Aggravated assault—An unlawful attack by one person upon another for the purpose of inflicting severe or aggravated bodily injury. This type of assault usually is accompanied by the use of a weapon or by means likely to produce death or great bodily harm. Simple assaults are excluded.

Note the important phrase:  “…means likely to produce death or great bodily harm.”

That’s attempted murder.  However, since “intent to kill” is not part of the definition, it is easier to get a conviction on an aggravated assault charge.

Why is this important?  Because from a self-defense perspective, the criminal was trying to kill someone–or at the very least, knew what they were doing could kill someone else and didn’t care if it happened.

So when you look at crime statistics and think about homicides, you should probably actually add the “aggravated assault” category AND the homicide category together—because in both cases, the victim could have gotten killed.  In the aggravated assault cases, the criminal was just incompetent, or the victim got lucky.

In Omaha in 2012, there were 41 criminal homicides.  Sounds scary, but not a large number.  However, there were also 1442 aggravated assaults in the same year and every single one of those could have ended up a criminal homicide if the criminal had been even a little less incompetent, or the victim a little less lucky.

That we know of, criminals tried to kill someone else one thousand four hundred and eighty-three times in Omaha in 2012.

That’s a number you need to think about.

(In Lincoln criminals tried to kill someone six hundred and seventy one times in 2012.  And just so you know, in both Omaha and Lincoln, aggravated assaults were reported several times more often than robberies.  Yes, criminals doing something to kill you happens more often than criminals trying to rob you.  In Lincoln, 3.4 times as often.  In Omaha, 1.8 times as often.)

Source for violent crime stats:  FBI UCR Data-Reporting Tool


I need a gun to feel like a man?

Awhile back, people locally made a number of comments on a local mall’s Facebook page about the mall’s proposed policy to make itself a “gun-free zone.”  The comments were fairly standard, saying that if the mall didn’t want to allow them effective self-defense, that they wouldn’t shop there.  Almost all of the comments stayed civil and factual from the pro-self-defense side.  (Not quite all—there are always idiots on every side.  But almost all.)

Whereupon a number of people commented back with things like:

  • “I’m not paranoid enough to need to pack a gun when shopping.”
  • “I’m glad that people who think they need guns will stay away.”
  • “Why are you so scared?  Why do you need a gun just to go out in public?”
  • And my favorite:  “I’m glad the freaks who need a gun to feel like a man will stay away.”

….and the comments went downhill from there.

I really don’t understand why people who say those things happen to think that way. After all, surely they have a reason to believe that.  If they didn’t have a reason, they wouldn’t just make up vicious derogatory commentary, would they?  Perhaps they had some information that I simply don’t have.

Recently, I had a friend (we’d been friends for a number of years) post a very anti-gun screed, to which I replied with a large set of statistics (and links for all of the citations where I got my facts, such as the CDC and the FBI)—and the entirety of her response was:  “Scared Thomas? Take your precious guns and move to El Salvador.”

Um, what?  I said:  “Scared?  Hm.  So, your response to a set of statistics refuting your commentary was a personal attack?  Why?”

Her response?  “Are you scared of [sic] someone is going to take your precious firearms away or that I have an opinion?  We get it already Thomas, you love your guns, maybe more than life itself.  Compensate much?”

What?   This was the response to a set of logical arguments backed with statistics on a particular topic?

Is it that scary to actually look at the facts?  It is so frightening that people might need to re-think their beliefs in the face of actual data describing reality?  So upsetting that moving immediately to personal attacks seems to be a good response?

Paranoid?  Compensating?  Scared?  Need a gun to feel like a man?

Why would people jump to those conclusions?  I mean, I know that for many people, cognitive dissonance results in serious emotional reactions—but immediately jumping to ridiculous conclusions that make no sense, giving emotional motives to other people that have no basis in reality?  Seriously?  I mean, I’ve read this article:  Raging Against Self-Defense, but you’d assume that most people would at least START a discussion before immediately reacting emotionally.

You see, when I carry, I like to think it is because I’m prudent, intelligent, and and have taken responsibility for the safety of myself and the people I love.

I wear a seatbelt whenever I’m in a motor vehicle, even though I haven’t been in even a minor fender-bender in years.  I have a fire extinguisher in my home, even though it has never been on fire.  (Well, the outside was once when my neighbor set his lawn on fire, but I was elsewhere at the time.)  I keep jumper cables and a spare tire in my car, though I haven’t needed them in years.    I wear safety glasses when using a power saw, even though nothing has ever contacted the glasses.  When cleaning up my student’s chemistry experiments, I wear protective gloves even though none of the materials they are using are likely to be remotely dangerous.

In a similar fashion, I carry a concealed firearm because 1) I have looked into the prevalence of crime in my area and the probability of my lifestyle intersecting with someone else’s criminal action–and it is low, but not zero, 2) I am aware that no one else is able to protect both myself and my loved ones in a self-defense situation (most likely, no one else would even try), and 3) taking steps for protective purposes (like having a fire extinguisher, wearing safety glasses, and wearing seltbelts) is not difficult—you just make it a part of your lifestyle.

I’m not paranoid—it is unlikely that I’ll ever have to use any weapon at all.  (And that is a good thing.)  I don’t think I’ll “need” a gun—if I thought I was going someplace where I’d need a gun, I’d simply not go–but if I had to go, I’d bring 30 friends with guns, preferably all armed with cannon.  In a similar fashion, I’m not scared to go out without a gun—but like wearing a seatbelt, since it is simple and potentially useful, why not do it?

As for the “feel like a man” comment—it doesn’t really deserve a response (particularly since a number of CCW permit holders I know are female) but I will say:  “Projecting much?”

I realize it derails the whole “trying to be calm and rational in discussion” thing I’m trying for here, but seriously:  I’m tired of attempting to explain my perfectly rational behavior to idiots who prefer to make commentary based on the ignorant emotional projections of people who can’t be bothered to learn anything remotely resembling facts, or use any form of basic logic.

Want to discuss firearms and violence?  Excellent.  I’d be happy to engage in a discussion in which we debate so that we end up closer to the truth in our understanding of the world.  Please read and follow these rules for having a rational discussion, and we’ll have a great time.

Edited to add:

Read this link:  But YOU SAID THIS!!! Or why arguing with crazy people is pointless.

The entire thing is good—-but the last paragraph is completely brilliant.  And quite frankly, leaving out the hyperbole due to frustration, is pretty much spot-on.  (Thanks to Kozball for the link!)