In a locality where citizens can legally own and carry firearms, is there still room for empty hand self defense? How many times have I heard something to the effect of, “if somebody attacks me, I’ll just draw my gun and shoot them.”? The truth is that empty hand self defense needs to be the platform on which all other self defense measures are built.

Firearms, mace, knives, swords, pipes, etc. are all very effective weapons in self defense. But all of these weapons have exactly the same limitations. In order to use a firearm in self-defense:

  1. It must be loaded with the safety off
  2. It must be in your hand exactly when you need it
  3. It must not fail mechanically
  4. You must use it properly
  5. You must be prepared to kill another human being face-to-face and deal with all of the repercussions

It is unlikely that you are armed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. As a citizen, there will be places where it is not legal or practical to carry a weapon (into a school, post office, plane, the shower, the beach, etc.). When you do carry, it is likely that you will need to carry the weapon concealed, it will not be in your hand at all times. Your empty hand skills  will act as a bridge in an attack, allowing you to get away or get to your weapon.

A student in a women’s self-defense class I taught told me once that she felt safe because she carried pepper spray. When I asked her where the pepper spray was, she said, “In my purse in my locker.” She then had a lightbulb moment that the pepper spray wasn’t always available to save her. My teacher, Peter Freedman sensei,¬† always says, “never become a prisoner to your weapon.” This is an important concept to internalize.

Another issue when using firearms for self defense is the issue of “reasonable force”. Most localities (check your own laws) allow the use of “reasonable force” in self defense. This is no clear cut guideline for what this means, it is up to the court and a jury to interpret that for you. Chances are, if you shoot someone, there will be legal repercussions (whether you were in the right or not). I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use lethal force when necessary, but that lethal force may not always be appropriate. If some guy takes a swing at you in a bar and you purposefully kill him, expect to wind up in prison for years.

You are 100% responsible for where that bullet winds up after it leaves the barrel. What happens if you draw and fire in the middle of a crowd? What or who is behind your assailant when you fire?

Remember that most police shootouts happen at about 11 feet apart. When extremely well-trained police officers fire their weapons at this range the average hit rate is around 17%. I have seen video after video of close range shootouts where nobody got hit. Why? Combat stress. Under the effects of adrenaline and other stress hormones, you will experience physical and sensory shifts which are difficult to replicate at the range. The body becomes less adept at fine motor skills, while strength in gross motor skills in increased. Aiming and firing a weapon at a moving target in a situation that threatens your life is not easy - and it is not like the movies. You must be prepared if you don’t hit your opponent and the attack continues.

Except for a shot that totally destroys the brain-stem, there is no reliably lethal firearm wound. Even if you aim for center mass and hit the heart, your assailant may have a few seconds left to continue an attack. So empty hand skills are a follow-on to any other weapon as well.

Category : martial arts / self defense