For the rest of our Realities of Concealed Carry series, go here.

Carrying or keeping a gun to defend yourself is a whole different ballgame than shooting at the range. In fact, when it’s time to defend yourself and your family, simply having a gun doesn’t mean as much as you might think.

Having a gun in a self-defense encounter is certainly an advantage, but it doesn’t mean you’ll definitely come out on top.There are a lot of other factors at play, and many of them aren’t under your control. However, there are strategies, tactics, and advanced critical thinking that can improve your odds by making you better and more realistically prepared.That’s why we’re going to be presenting a multi-part series on concealed carry, beginning with this story.

The topic of self-defense using a firearm is far bigger than we can cover in a few articles—claiming otherwise would not only be unrealistic, but irresponsible. Just know, our goal with this series is to offer up some baseline information and starting points from which you can build knowledge and skills over time. With that said, let’s get busy!

A Few Things to Consider

Going to the range is fun, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it if your goal is to become more proficient with a handgun. While structured practice is always better, plinking at targets for fun will probably improve your shooting ability to some degree.

As long as you know that plinking at the range isn’t self-defense training, knock yourself out and have some fun.

1. Consider Movement

Here’s the big difference between shooting at the range and shooting defensively. No one is shooting back at you! Ok, so that’s obvious, but seriously, there are some “technical” differences for which you can plan and prepare.

Like any other skill, shooting and moving requires initial instruction and lots of practice.
Like any other skill, shooting and moving requires initial instruction and lots of practice. author photo

First, no one is moving. You’re standing still. Unless you’re shooting at the Club Poltergeist range, your target isn’t moving either.

Compare that to a physical attack situation. Some evildoer, amped up on adrenaline, is trying to rob/rape/assault/murder you. That person, kind of by definition, is moving. Unless you want to get your very own victim card, your response will be to move, fight, run, or whatever else it takes as fast as you can to avoid becoming the latest statistic.

So now, everyone involved is moving, either trying to hurt or kill or prevent being hurt or killed. All the skill and proficiency in the world of nailing stationary bullseyes at your leisure while concentrating on your trigger press won’t mean much in a fast-moving defensive melee.

2. Time… Isn’t On Your Side

While time is on the Rolling Stones’ side, it ain’t on yours if you’re the target of an attack. Since you’re not the one initiating it, you don’t get to choose the time and place. In fact, by definition, you are at an immediate disadvantage because you’re forced to react to someone else’s actions.

As the great philosophizer Mick Jagger, or someone else equally important once said, action always beats reaction.

Be very honest with yourself and think about how much time it might take you to do the following:

• Recognize that someone is trying to harm you.

• Overcome the natural disbelief that this IS happening to you.

• Decide what to do about it.

• Retrieve your gun, if applicable.

• Decide to shoot someone.

• Fire and hit effectively enough to stop whatever caused all this in the first place.

Oh, while you’re making all these decisions, someone is physically attacking you, or worse, shooting at you. The evildoer who started all the action that caused you to react has thought about and planned all these things ahead of time—at least more than you have—so you’re way behind the eight ball before you even start. The bottom line? You’re already out of time from the start.

Training or competition scenarios that add a bit of pressure can help expose your weaknesses and areas you need to work on.
Training or competition scenarios that add a bit of pressure can help expose your weaknesses and areas you need to work on. author photo

3. Hiccups

When plinking at the range, and you hear a “click” instead of a “bang” when you pull the trigger, it’s no big deal. If you’re not sure what caused that, you can set your gun down and think about it, ask a friend, or go fetch an expert to help you diagnose the problem.

In a self-defense encounter, you don’t have the luxury of calling timeouts because of equipment questions or malfunctions. You have to deal with it as if your life depended on solving the problem instantly—that’s because your life does depend on it.

4. Pressure Improves Your Performance…Not!

Even minor “stress additions” can have a large negative impact on your ability to draw, shoot, hit your target, and deal with reloading or malfunctions. Even the teeny, tiny pressure of performing against the clock in front of a group of peers at a local shooting event can send one into a tailspin of gun handling fail—at least until you get used to it.

Put differently, you can’t count on sheer desperation to make up for your lack of training and preparation.

Sometimes, a good training class can help you appreciate how much just a little bit of pressure can impact your abilities. I once took a class where I was feeling cocky because I was handling the drills with ease and shooting tiny groups.

Just for fun, and to teach me something useful, the instructor started hollering in my ear during the drill. He wasn’t nasty; he was just “coaching” aggressively telling me all sort of things like “Shoot! Shoot! What are you waiting for! Change magazines! You missed! Hit the other target!” and so on.

After fumbling around like an idiot and ejecting some live rounds (that’s not helpful in a self-defense situation) I got exactly what he was doing.

He was showing me how quickly things can go sideways when under a bit of pressure, just from a guy yelling in my ear. Now imagine how flustered you might get under the pressure of fighting for your life.

Here’s What To Do About It

Knowing just a bit about the differences between defensive and range shooting can help you practice and train more realistically. Someone smarter than I once said, “Don’t train until you get it right. Train until you can’t get it wrong.”

You can do effective training at home, especially with an inert training pistol like this SIRT model.
You can do effective training at home, especially with an inert training pistol like this SIRT model. mfg photo

1. Learn To Shoot and Move

Most indoor ranges don’t allow you to shoot while moving. That’s OK because you can practice at home.

Using safe dry-firing procedures, you can practice moving laterally as you draw. You can practice moving forward, backward or sideways while dry firing. You can practice immediately looking for, and moving to either cover (protection against bullets) or concealment (a place that hides you) right in your own home.

You don’t have to be on a real range shooting live ammo to start programming your brain to do these things and develop skills. Of course, at your first opportunity, put your home practice to the test at a safe range environment.

2. Minimize Your Time Disadvantage

Learning to draw and fire quickly and smoothly is only half the battle. While you certainly want to practice that, you also need to develop other skills that can buy you time or at least minimize your pre-existing time disadvantage.

First, pay attention to the world around you. If you walk around with your head buried in your phone, you are at a severe disadvantage right off the bat. Facebook, Instagram, and the latest text message can wait until you’re in a relatively secure place. While out and about, focus on your surroundings and the people around you.

To keep alert, I like to read everything I walk by. I know that I tend to zone out, so by reading signs, bumper stickers, logos on people’s clothes, and anything else, my eyes and brain remain engaged. It’s also surprising how many “new” thing you find, even in places you’ve walked or driven a hundred times before.

Additionally, recognize how much ground an attacker can cover in just a few seconds.

Just for fun, see how far you can run or fast walk in just two seconds. That’ll give you an idea of what the potential danger zone is around you. Guess what, a shady character that’s 20 or 30 feet from you warrants alertness on your part.

If you’re standing in line at a convenience store, and check your phone for just three or four seconds, someone outside could make their way in the building and to the counter before you even look up.

Also, remember that shooting and moving don’t just make you a harder target for the other guy, it can create distance and therefore time, and that benefits you.

Using safe dry fire procedures, you can work on your draw skills at home too. author photo

3. Develop Your Subconscious Gun Handling Skills

Shooting competitions (not even IDPA) won’t make you a self-defense ninja. They won’t make you a tactical genius. They won’t teach you how to survive an armed robbery. Here’s what they will do for you: they will teach you how to run and manipulate your gun without thinking about it.

When the clock is running, and your gun goes “click” you don’t get to stop and think about it. You’ve got to solve the problem and finish the stage while everyone is watching. That develops core handling skills like reloading, malfunction clearance, and more.

That little bit of added pressure performing in front of the clock and other shooters also helps expose your weakness. Otherwise known as things you need to practice more.

When I shoot in a competition, I don’t get all gamey and do things to my equipment and technique specifically to win. I use my everyday carry gear so I can develop my skills with what I would use in a self-defense encounter. If some guy with a tweaked out gun, belt, and custom trigger job wins, so be it. I’m getting free practice and having fun doing it.

4. Get Training

We saved the most important item on the To-Do List for last. Get self-defense training from a reputable instructor.

State concealed carry courses rarely count for this, as they tend to focus on laws and regulations. A quality combined program of classroom learning and time on the range will open your eyes—I guarantee it.

If it’s a good class, you’ll probably leave a bit frightened at everything that can go wrong. Put that nervous energy to good use by letting it motivate you to do more learning, training, and practice.

The Bottom Line

Be careful about developing a false sense of security. Merely having a gun doesn’t mean you’re safe. Be realistic about developing your overall defensive mindset and corresponding skills—and know that you’re starting any defensive encounter with the odds stacked against you.

The more realistic you are, the more effectively you can prepare.

If you can shoot the eye out of a mosquito at 25 yards, that’s great. Now practice doing it with 30 gallons of adrenaline coursing through your system while running full tilt, all while trying to hit that mosquito in flight. It’s just not the same.

For the rest of our Realities of Concealed Carry series, go here.