Will a Gun Help in a Gun Fight or Why the Bad Guys Often Beat the Good Guys?

gunpoint1I am a military veteran.  I have hunted and shot a variety of rifles, revolvers and automatic weapons.  I am not against guns.  As an American, I am very concerned about the amount of gun violence in our country.  However, I am even more concerned because too often it seems like the “Bad” guys win and the “Good” guys lose.  Over the past twenty years, I have studied and read about many of the gun battles that have taken place in history.  From cowboy shootouts, to holdups, to police shootouts such as the Newhall massacre and the Miami-Dade FBI debacle, I have read these stories in an attempt to find the underlying reasons for the good guys losing and the bad guys winning.   My blog this week is about the risks and rewards that might accrue from carrying a gun.  As with any tool or piece of technology, there are pros and cons to its use.  In the case of guns, the nexus of these factors can be best characterized as “risk.”  There is a risk.  Carrying a gun is a risk.  Not carrying a gun is a risk.  What are the risks?  When do the advantages outweigh the risks?  These are the questions that my blog will look at this week.  Hopefully, you will be able to make an informed decision about the issue of gun carry and gun control after you read my blog.  Too many people are preaching the advantages of gun carry without looking at the risks and downsides.

My study of violent gun encounters has led me to see that the issues most people consider in a gun encounter do not adequately address the situation.  There is no comprehensive theory of what it takes to win in a gun battle.  Too often, gun advocates think that merely carrying a weapon will insure success or that weeks on the firing range will make a difference in a gun encounter.  Several recent simulated gun battles have shown that this is not the case.  All too often, the bad guys still win.  Why?   A good theory should answer this question.  Furthermore a good theory should allow us to study the critical factors and identify ways to enhance these factors for the good guys or deny these factors to the bad guys.  Until this can be done, both the people for guns and the people against guns are stating their cases from purely emotional viewpoints.  A good theory supersedes emotions and passions by substituting facts and data for feelings and grief.

I propose that a successful gun encounter will depend on six factors.  I will list and explain each of these factors.  These six factors will make up what I am calling a model for a successful gun encounter.  I will also suggest three scenarios to see how this model might be able to predict the outcome of each scenario.  The three scenarios will include:

  1. A lone wolf terrorist shooting in a full capacity stadium or a large hall.
  2. A home invasion with the intent of robbery.
  3. An attempted holdup on the street by a bunch of thugs.

The six factors are:

  1. Speed
  2. Accuracy
  3. Firepower
  4. Offensive Position
  5. Defensive Position
  6. Nerve

In developing this model, I have toyed with the idea of some factors “weighing” more than other factors.  However, this does not seem like a valid proposition.  It is more likely that no single factor can be a deciding factor and that regardless of how strong any single factor is, it will depend on the relative strength of each of the other factors.  Thus, no one factor in itself can decide the outcome of a gun battle. This fact alone is interesting since so much of the gun literature is involved in arguing whether you should carry a 10mm or a 44 magnum.  I have read countless articles on whether a home owner should have a revolver or automatic weapon.  The authors spend hours arguing about which is a more effective deterrent and ignore the other five critical variables.  My model thus proposes that each variable or factor is a critical determinant of the outcome of a gun encounter.  Let us look at each variable.

  1. Speed

western gunfightIt is a well known fact that in the Old West gun battle speed did not always determine the outcome of the encounter.  Speed without accuracy is useless.  Speed without firepower may also be useless.  It is often said “do not bring a knife to a gun battle.”  Nevertheless, deployment of a weapon and the speed with which a weapon can be deployed is a key factor in the success of a gun battle.  Numerous scenarios show a knife fighter killing a gun fighter because within a certain distance, the knife fighter with a fixed blade weapon may trump the gun fighter owing to the speed of deployment.  A key problem in home invasions may be the speed with which the homeowner can access and deploy his weapons.  The invader may have the advantage because they come in with a weapon in hand while the responsible gun owner may have his gun in a locked safe.  The invader will probably not wait for the home owner to access his safe key, load and chamber his weapon and fire.

  1. Accuracy

This factor requires relatively little discussion.  If you cannot hit what you are aiming at, no amount of speed or fire power will compensate, unless of course you are throwing a bomb which is not a factor that we are considering here.  This is one area where practice and gun range time can make a difference in the outcome of the gun encounter.  However, accuracy also must take into consideration the weapons used.  Generally at longer differences, a rifle will be more accurate than a pistol.  This latter fact might nullify any advantage of concealed carry in the event of a terrorist scenario where they are armed with assault rifles.  A concealed carry holder will not have much accuracy beyond fifty feet or even less with some pistol models.

  1. Firepower

The gun magazines have published hundreds if not thousands of articles in the pages of their magazines arguing over the best rounds to use for self-defense.   But ballistics size is only one factor.  As noted above, the accuracy of a round is a critical factor as well. Furthermore, firepower does not just depend on the caliber of the weapon.  Firepower also includes the timing and amount of ballistics that can be delivered in a given time frame.  Obviously two bad guys with assault rifles with fifty round clips will have much more firepower than a good guy carrying a Colt 1911 or a Glock 10mm.

  1. Offensive Position

Offensive position is defined by asking “How easily can you make the shot?”  The better your offensive position, the easier it will be to hit your assailant.  Someone may have a strong offensive position but a weak defensive position.  The converse is also true.  You can have a strong offensive position but little ability to avoid being shot.  Charging a pill box is one example that comes to mind.  Surprisingly many gun battles have seen the assailant simply charge their attackers.  This is one reason many experts recommend a strong enough ballistic to take down an opponent.

  1. Defensive Position

A strong defensive position can be defined by asking “How easily can I avoid the shot?” The stronger your defensive position, the more difficult it will be for your assailant to shoot you.  You can have a strong defensive position but have no ability to make a shot.  The optimum in a gun battle is to secure both a strong offensive position and a strong defensive position.  However, as with everything in life, this is not always possible.

  1. Nerve

The gun battle with the Boston Marathon suspects was described by police officers as “eight minutes of sheer terror.”  Put yourself in their place.  Loud explosions, people screaming, smoke clouding the air, visions of blood splattering around you, more explosions, more screaming, suddenly you see your friend hit by a round, he is covered in blood and something gory is leaking from his gut.  More screams, more explosions.  You can see hardly anything now because of the smoke.  You can’t hear anything except explosions, sirens and screams.  But you must be calm because that is the only way you can fight back.

Marine Lance Corporal Anthony Andrada who had served in the Iraq War was asked to compare violent video games to a real life combat situation.  Here is what he said:

“The games attempt to show how realistic the war situation is, but in the end, it’s just a game and not really what war is really like.  They are all more of just shoot and move type games.” Even though these games may look and sound realistic to a degree, Andrada says, “The feeling of real danger isn’t there.”  He adds, “During dangerous missions, I constantly feel uneasy and on guard at all times.”  Furthermore, he says the games do not capture aspects of daily life that include the “fatigue of going out for long hours and daily stresses.”  Due to the inherent limitations of the medium, Andrada believes that videogames don’t implement this sense of uneasiness because “they can’t.”  — What Do Real Soldiers Think of Shooting Games?

Dave Spaulding in an excellent article in Handguns titled “What Really Happens in a Gunfight?” describes his observations from twenty-five years of lethal force investigations and talks with over 200 individuals who had survived a gun fight.  He states:

“The various phases of body alarm reaction that have been discussed over the years such as tunnel vision, slow motion movement, loss of digital dexterity and the like, were all recalled by the subjects interviewed. None of the people I spoke with remember suffering all phases, but everyone remembers suffering at least one of the sensations listed under the category of body alarm reaction. Those that understood what was happening to them better handled the sensation during the encounter versus the people who did not. Without a doubt, forewarned is forearmed.”

The famous western pistoleer, Wild Bill Hickok, once noted that it was one thing to shoot at a target, but another thing to shoot at a man who was shooting back at you.  Gun fighting takes strong nerves.  This is perhaps the most subjective factor in my model.  At least theoretically, all of the other five factors could be measured.  However, I know of no way that “nerve” has ever been measured before the fact or any way that it could be measured.

Applying the Six Factor Gun Encounter Model

I want to show how the model could be used to study various gun encounters by using the three scenarios I mentioned above and applying the model to each one.  One argument that probably will be made to my choices of decision factors is that I am biased.  That is why, I am trying to make this model very transparent.  Consider my evaluations of the various scenarios using my model and then go ahead and score the scenario yourself.  See what you come up with for scores and outcomes.

Lone Wolf Shooter:

texas tower shootingThe first scenario we will look at involves a “lone wolf” shooter in a packed theater or hall.  Whether the shooter is mentally ill or a terrorist is irrelevant to the scenario.  We will assume the shooter has put on a Kevlar vest and has a Colt AR 15 .223 caliber assault rifle as well as a Glock 40 caliber side arm.  He has several extra clips for both weapons.  Our good guy is in the hall someplace carrying a concealed 9mm Beretta with no extra clips

Here is how I would rate the situation using the Six Factor Gun Encounter Model: I am going to simply score it as + for an advantage, – for a disadvantage and 0 for no advantage.  I will explain my reasoning below.

Key Factors Bad Guy Good Guy
Speed +
Accuracy +
Fire Power +
Offensive Position 0
Defensive Position +
Nerve + +

Speed, I gave the advantage to the bad guy since he came out shooting.  Accuracy goes to the bad guy and firepower as well due to his choice of weapons.  Offensive position is poor for the bad guy but the good guy has no advantage since he/she is pinned down.  Defensive position is also poor for the bad guy and our good guy may have an advantage assuming that he is concealed and the bad guy does not have any knowledge that he has a weapon.  The problem for our good guy will be in deploying his advantage in this area which he will not be able to do unless he can get within an offensive position to use his weapon.  Nerve, I will score equal and that is being somewhat generous.  We know that the bad guys seldom lack the nerve, since their rampage is already a fact, but can our good guy face down the bad guy in a hail of bullets and blood?

I score this scenario 4-2 for the bad guy.  I would give our good guy at best 10-1 odds against being able to prevail in this scenario.  Now, what good is this model?  Can it only help us after the fact? Does it only tell us things that we already know?  Can we use this model to develop alternate strategies for our good guys that will help them prevail?  I believe the answer is yes.  Let us look at what would be the best options for out good guy in this scenario.

We are not going to be able to change our choice of weapons.  Thus, any strategies will have to address the factors of position and nerve.  Nerve is important here because our good guy needs to ask himself if he wants to do more than just survive, which would entail one set of strategies or does he want to try to be a hero and bring down the bad guy at a higher risk to himself.  If he/she chooses the first option, he must find the best defensive position he can and simply stay there until an offensive opening occurs.  If he/she chooses the second option, then he/she must find a way to develop a better offensive position without compromising his defensive position.  He must develop a position that will nullify the advantages of firepower and accuracy that the bad guy has.  This will not be easy.

Home Invasion:

Home-Invasion-Defense-Plan5A friend of mine recently sent me the following story.  Very similar to a home invasion but it involved a couple in a hotel room.

“Just watched an interview between a news show host and a couple in their sixties, who had recently been assaulted in a “reputable” motel chain!  The man was exiting the shower and saw his wife trying to fend off an attack by a gun wielding assailant.  He was able to eventually reach his handgun located in the nightstand, and a firefight ensued at a distance of less than five feet.  The criminal was overcome, but the husband was shot three times and sustained injuries that require continued operations!  The couple are suing the motel chain for not notifying them of the inherent danger in what proved to be a high risk area.” — CNN News Report

I was able to find the actual interview and can add the following facts from reading the report noted above:

  • Assailant was killed by the good guy
  • Assailant was attempting armed robbery and wanted money and valuables
  • Gun battle happened when robber opened fire first
  • Good guy was shot three times. Once in leg and twice in abdomen
  • Good guy somehow accessed two handguns he and wife carried but had concealed in the room and/or her purse

I would rate this scenario as follows:

Key Factors Bad Guy Good Guy
Speed +
Accuracy +
Fire Power +
Offensive Position 0 0
Defensive Position 0 0
Nerve + +

The bad guy gets the nod for speed since his gun was already deployed.  The good guy was the better shot and had two guns to the bad guy’s one so he gets the nod for accuracy and firepower. Neither side had a defensive or offensive advantage and were shooting at each other from a distance of five feet.  I give both sides’ equal score for nerve, but perhaps a slight edge to our good guy who was fighting to protect himself and his wife.

Although this scenario shows a win for the good guy at 3-2, an additional question might be at what cost?  In this case, our good guy is severely wounded and his wife could have been killed.  For what?  Some money and some jewelry in a hotel room.  Given the odds in this scenario, which slightly favored our good guy, one should ask if the outcome was worth the engagement as it played out.  I think our good guy would have been better off giving the bad guy what he wanted and then engaging him as he departed the room.  The factors above suggest that a more reasonable encounter would have found our good guy looking for a more advantageous strategic position both offensively and defensively.  It was only a certain element of luck that one or both of our good guys were not killed instead of the bad guy.  I personally think the risk was not worth it in this scenario, but that a more thoughtful analysis of the factors could have led to a better outcome.

Street Mugging:

You and your boyfriend have just left the movie theater after a 9 PM show.  It is now about 11 PM and you have two blocks to walk to your car.  You are carrying a concealed weapon in a specially designed purse but your boyfriend is not carrying.  As you walk down the block, you notice two guys coming towards you.  They look in their early twenties or late teens and both are somewhat unkempt looking.  As they approach you, one of them stops in front of you and asks you for light?  You begin to explain that you don’t smoke, when he suddenly pulls a gun and starts yelling for you to “give it up.”  Your boyfriend is bewildered and starts to take out his wallet while you try to calm both perps down a bit.  “OK, don’t hurt us, we will give you anything you want.”  The perp replies:  “You bet your ass you will or we will cap both of you mothas.”   What do you do?

I would rate the scenario as follows: (Assuming the situation remains relatively the same.”

Key Factors Bad Guy Good Guy
Speed +
Accuracy 0 0
Fire Power + 0
Offensive Position 0 0
Defensive Position 0 0
Nerve + +

Newtown2I give the bad guys the + for speed since they already have their weapons deployed.  The good guys have no advantage for either firepower or accuracy since they are standing face to face with the bad guys and even a 22 caliber can be deadly.  Neither side has either a defensive or offensive position with a significant advantage, except to note that the bad guy already has his gun out. However, we already gave him a + for speed and firepower.  In terms of nerve, we will assume that both sides have equal nerve.  Thus, as the scenario stands, the bad guys have the edge 3-1.  The good guys need to stand down until they can change the scales.  Can they shoot the bad guys as they run or walk away?  What are the repercussions should they do so?  This is an interesting legal question that might be answered very differently from state to state.  In most states, once you are no longer in bodily jeopardy, you cannot shoot an assailant as they are fleeing, regardless of how much of your money they have.

What can we conclude?

So what can we conclude from my model?  What differences if any would such logic make in a real gun fight?  I think we can draw the following conclusions with some degree of reasonableness.

  1. Carrying a gun does not necessarily confer any advantage
  2. When the bad guys have the advantage, you are at high risk by drawing your gun
  3. It is critical to wait until you have a distinct edge in one or more of the six factors described otherwise the risk is too high to risk drawing your gun.
  4. If you think the perps are going to kill you no matter what you do, then you must develop a rapid advantage in at least one factor or you are going to die anyway.
  5. A good guy with a gun does not mean he/she will beat a bad guy with a gun.

Where do we go from here?

I started this paper by making an argument that most considerations of gunfights as they are described in gun magazines are too superficial and do not realistically consider the key factors other than the weapon that are essential to a successful gun encounter.  I believe this is true whether on the street, in the home, in a war zone or in a private venue of some sort.  The initial advantage will be with the bad guys.  The good guys must consider all six factors and attempt to manage these to his/her advantage.  Failure to do so, will result in death for the good guys.

I hope this paper will start a dialogue that might lead to more varieties of strategies than simply carrying a concealed weapon as a solution to crime and violence.  The thought that concealed carry will make our streets and home safer is both naïve and dangerous.  Gun battles are won not simply by having a gun but by having a strategic advantage during the gun fight.

Time for Questions:

Are you willing to shoot someone to protect your property?  Your life?  Do you carry a concealed weapon?  If so, have you ever had to use it to protect yourself?  Do you think guns have made America a safer country? Why or Why not?  What do you think it would take to make you feel safer on the streets at night?

Life is just is beginning.

The UK counter-terror officials have issued new official guidance for citizens to follow in the case of a Paris-style gun and bomb attack. The document outlines what to do in “response to a fast-moving incident such as a firearms or weapons attack” and also advises businesses to develop procedures for a “dynamic lockdown”.

The document is based on observations following the assault on Bataclan music hall where terrorists barged in and fired indiscriminately at the crowd.

Guidance says that it is better to “escape if you can”, “insist others leave with you” and “leave belongings behind”.

If there are no escape routes, then the best thing to do would be to find cover from the gunfire behind “substantial brickwork or heavy reinforced walls”. It should be noted that cover does not mean that you are safe as bullets can go through materials such as glass, brick, wood and metal.

First – Run, leave belongings behind and get yourself as far away as possible from the attacker

Second – Hide, find a cover from gunfire, but at all times be aware of your exits and try not to get trapped. Make sure your phone is silenced. Lock and barricade yourself somewhere but move away from the door.

Third – Call the police and inform them of the location and description of attackers. Stop others from entering the premises.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jeanine
    Jan 20, 2016 @ 14:39:14

    GOOD READ! I enjoyed your blog and the scenarios. Very enlightening.
    It is my belief too that in instances where there is one or more armed attackers they will have a significant advantage over the unsuspecting good guy.
    I do believe that for people who carry concealed weapons a mandatory course should be in place not only to learn how to clean and use the gun, but how to carry responsibly. Of course it would remain to be seen if it would make a difference in gun violence. Still better to leave the guns in the arms of the officials who have been educated. Thanks for an entertaining blog!



  2. johnpersico
    Jan 21, 2016 @ 14:40:12

    Thanks Jeanine



  3. Socorro
    Feb 22, 2018 @ 22:19:48

    It is not as easy to, “Get a gun” to stop a shooter. You have analyzed that speed, accuracy, fire power, offensive and defensive position, and nerve are to be considered. In the chaos the bad guys win. Where is the safety factor? Lamentably, there seems to be none.



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