You Can Shoot — But Can You Fight?, by B.D.C.

Many of you, like myself, have stored firearms and ammunition for events likely to come. Many of you train to become proficient in the use of firearms. But do you know how to fight? Knowing how to effectively deliver an accurate shot to a target from a static position is not knowing how to fight. It is knowing how to shoot.

This article is not going to be a how-to. Its purpose is to educate you in the skills you need to effectively fight with a firearm under adverse conditions. Do you train under adverse conditions?

To illustrate what I am talking about here are a few questions you may want to ask yourself:

1. Can I deliver accurate fire while moving? If you are shooting you’d best be moving.
2. Can I shoot under pressure while trying to discriminate targets?
3. Can I shoot bad guys without flagging good guys?
4. Does my gun follow my eyes, or do my eyes follow my gun?
5. Can I shoot, move and communicate as a team? Is your spouse trained to shoot as a team?
6. If I have to leave my car under duress, do I know how do do so and get my family out safely?
7. Do I know the difference between cover and concealment?
8. Do I know how to properly use cover?
9. Do I know how to properly use a weapon-mounted light without flagging good guys?
10. How do I protect my family in an active shooter situation?
11. How many shots should I take into a bad guy?
12. How do I break tunnel vision?
13. What is getting off the “X”?
14. Can I think under pressure? Do I have a system to do so?
15. Do I know the three ways to stop a threat?
16. Can I reload if my shooting arm is hit?
17. Have I trained to shoot with my support hand?
18. Do I know how to reload without taking my eyes off of the threat?
19. Do I know the proper procedure if my weapon fails to fire or jams? What would be my “immediate action”?
20. Do I know how to properly draw from a holster?
21. What do I do if I am hit by gunfire?
22. Do I know how to stop the bleed?
23. Do I know how to deal with multiple threats?
24. Do I have a plan for a home invasion?
25. Can I shoot accurately from various positions?
26. Can I transition from a rifle to a handgun?
27. Is my firearm choice appropriate for my living environment and conditions? Will it over- penetrate?
28. Can I hit a moving target?

I consider the foregoing questions to be basic knowledge for anyone preparing to defend with a firearm.

I am a Marine. My style is direct and without flourish. I will point you in the right direction. It is your responsibility to flesh out the topics presented in detail and seek guidance where needed. Marine General John A. Lejeune said, “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.” You cannot train enough. I would also like to point out that bad training is worse than no training. Please get the best training you can afford. There is no substitute to training with a qualified instructor.

Dry firing is training. Do it often.

This list is not all encompassing, but is a start of basic knowledge and skills you will need to effectively fight with a firearm. Notice my use of the word “firearm”. It is intentional. The above questions are valid whether you use a handgun, rifle or shotgun. Whatever weapon (or weapons) you choose to protect yourself and your family, you must be proficient in its use and maintenance.



Kit is the term used by many to describe the equipment you use. I have had many folks show up for training outfitted in the latest kit that the internet commandos suggest. The problem for most is that the systems they have chosen usually fail them under stress. Do you train under stress? Failure is usually due to lack of understanding of the equipment, wrong use, or just shoddy equipment. I would recommend you take a class or two before you invest a lot of money into kit that will not work for you. You should also consider what purpose you need the equipment for. Be practicable. You are not going to the grocery story in body armor and a battle belt. The stuff may work on a static range where you are not shooting and moving while trying to discriminate threats. I have observed many students have the brain cease to function while under stress. That is why we train. Better to learn what works in training than under fire. Failure in training is a learning experience. Failure in a fight is a deadly experience.

The mechanics of a fight

None of us are brave all of the time. The book “Acts of War, the Behavior of Men in Battle” by Dr. Richard Holmes is a study of men in battle in WWI. He states that the study found that courage is like a checking account; the more you use, the less you have. A thrice-wounded Marine Captain once told me “We don’t know which days we will be brave and which day we won’t.”

A good guide to your probable reaction under extreme stress are the five stages of grief:

Denial – This can’t be happening!
Anger – Why me!
Bargaining – What can I do to change this?
Depression – I don’t deserve this!
Acceptance – Bring it on!

The goal here is to go from Denial to Acceptance as quickly as possible.

You have three courses of action:

How you will react in a life threatening fight will differ from person to person. Training will go a long way to helping you perform under stress. Always remember you will fight like you train. That is why good training is a must. It will activate the reptile brain.

Adrenalin is a good thing and a bad thing. A life threatening situation is going to cause an Adrenalin dump. The good is that it prepares you for a fight; the bad is it takes away fine motor skills. Trigger press is a fine motor skill. Training will help. You cannot dry fire enough.

The mechanics of a stop

Your goal here is to stop a threat. This is defined as “after the means and opportunity of the threat to do you or others bodily harm has been neutralized, then the threat is over”. Further action on your part after that may be viewed as excessive. There are basically three ways to stop the threat:

Lower blood pressure,
Destroy the central nervous system,
Psychological stop.

We lower blood pressure by shooting holes into the thorax. This is where the heart and lungs reside. I recommend with a rifle and handgun to always shoot twice in a controlled pair fashion. (You do know what a control pair is?) Evaluate and fire two more if needed, until not needed. The handgun is not a very powerful tool. Most folks shot with it survive.

It is very easy to miss with a shotgun. The pellet spread is generally an inch per yard. The closer the threat the smaller the pellet group.

Bear in mind that a shot into the heart may not end the fight for up to 30 seconds. That’s usually the time it takes for the brain to run out of enough oxygen to cause the threat to stop any hostile action. Thirty seconds is a lifetime in a fight.

A shot to the head, (central nervous system) especially into the medulla, will stop the fight. It is not an easy target to hit without a lot of training. Why is that you say? Because it moves a lot!

A psychological stop is where the threat is hit anywhere on its body and decides it has had enough.
Fight over if the threat is over.

The OODA Loop

The OODA loop is a structured way to think under stress. It was conceived by an Air Force fighter pilot by the name of Colonel John Boyd.

O – Observe
O – Orientate
D – Decide
A – Act

A whole article could be written about this technique. I would encourage you to research this method and adopt its principles.

Always stay ahead of the threat in the loop.

Final thoughts

In my days training Marines and civilians, they came to training with knowledge gleaned from watching television and movies. The techniques and tactics used in most movies are terrible. If what you know about fighting came from those sources, you are going to have a wake-up call you won’t believe in a gunfight. I would much rather work with a blank slate than try to break bad habits. You will only be as effective as your training. I know I keep emphasizing proper training. You will be more confident and effective with it. Your training should include a lot of stress and decision-making.

Shooting is a perishable skill. Use or lose it. Dry firing takes no ammo. Drawing from concealment takes no ammo. Reloading practice takes no ammo. Immediate action drills (gun fails to fire or jams) takes no ammo.

Always have a plan. Communicate the plan to your team. Your spouse is your team. Ensure he/she is trained.

The best way to win a gunfight is not to be in a gunfight. Situational awareness may avoid that fight.

Attitude is a force multiplier. Bearing and presence are force multipliers.

If you have developed knowledge and skill of my list of 28, you are well on your way to being trained to fight with a firearm. Good luck and may you never have to use your skills.