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Gunfight Myths

During the quarter century that Tactical Anatomy Systems has been conducting training, we have come across many statements of “fact” that we have found to be, shall we say, “interesting”.

They’re things people believe because Hollywood, or books, or magazine stories, or the statements of that Guy Behind the Counter down at the local gun store said so. They don’t have any basis in reality, but like any other myths they have their adherents.

Why do people believe in these myths? Well, I guess it’s because they’re comforting. When you know the Boogeyman is out there, and you know he might hurt you if you encounter him, but you have never encountered him (nor have any of your friends), your mind seeks reassurance. Sometimes the easiest way to put those anxieties to rest is to believe in something that you think sounds reasonable.

Some of the more common gunfight myths we’ve heard over the years are as follows:

1. I carry with an empty chamber. It’s safer, and I’ll have plenty of time to chamber a round if the time comes.

2. “45 ball drops them all.” Ditto 8mm, 357 SIG, 338 Win Mag, etc, etc, etc.

3. A double-tap (or El Presidente, etc) will finish any adversary. Fire and forget it. Stick a fork in him, he’s done.

4. I don’t need to carry a spare magazine, I’m not a cop.

5. If I can’t get it done with six (or five, or fifteen), it ain’t gonna get done by anyone/anything

6. I don’t need to train with my gun at ranges longer than 5 yards. All gunfights happen at less distance than that.

7. I have a gun. He’s only got a knife. He doesn’t have a chance.

8. My Glock/SIG/1911 is superior to that popgun he’s got. My equipment gives me an insurmountable advantage.

9. I don’t need to train with a timer. I know I’m fast enough.

10. Competition shooting is a waste of time. Real gunfights are totally different than matches.

11. I was in the Army/Navy/police. I’m superior to all the bad guys out there already, I don’t need to train.

12. I don’t need to practice clearing malfunctions. I keep my weapon in tip-top condition.

13. It will never happen to me.

NUMBER THIRTEEN is the one Gunfight Myth that underlies all of the others. In psychology, we call it DENIAL. Don’t be Cleopatra, kids.

We could go on and on about why all of the above myths (and many more) are unrealistic and lead to a false sense of security.

But why, exactly, is belief in Gunfight Myths so dangerous?

Because believing in myths sets us up for unrealistic expectations. Unrealistic expectations, when countered by hard, cold reality, lead to cognitive dissonance. And cognitive dissonance in a life-or-death situation leads to Brain Freeze and a Death Spiral.

In a deadly force scenario, a death spiral happens like this: 

  1. You act deliberately, in defense of your life; let’s say you fire your gun at your adversary;
  2. Because of your belief in one or more of the Gunfight Myths, you expect your adversary to respond with one or perhaps two reactions;
  3. However, your adversary DOES NOT react as expected;
  4. Events have departed from your planned, rehearsed, or imagined script, and you do not have a planned response to counter your adversary’s actions;
  5. You experience cognitive dissonance, because what you expected didn’t happen, and worse, your adversary has done something you did not expect: “He was supposed to do this when I did that, but he didn’t do this, he did something else! But he was supposed to do this, but he didn’t do this, he did something else!”  And on and on and on, in a tautological spiral of confusion and failure to act until;
  6. He kills you.

In his landmark reality-based training book, Training At The Speed of LIfe, author and police trainer Ken Murray describes the death spiral in much more detail. I strongly recommend it. We have incorporated the principles of Ken’s excellent SIMUNITION School in much of the material we teach at Tactical Anatomy training classes.

So how do you avoid finding yourself in a Death Spiral and ending up at Point Number 7??

Well, first thing, reject the myths. And second, get some good training, and then get some more. Myself, I’ve been a “training junkie” since 1998. I firmly believe that I can never be too trained.

For more on this topic, look for the upcoming publication of the 2nd Edition of the Tactical Anatomy Instructor Manual, coming soon.

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SXRV Instructor Course May 6-7

I have managed to clear the decks for 2023, and I’m glad to put 2022 in the rearview mirror!

I am pleased to announce that we have rescheduled the 2-day Shooting With Xray Vision Instructor Development Class. It will be held May 6-7 at Mead Hall Range near McCloud, OK. For full details on registration, please contact Bill Armstrong, follow the link below.


As you may know, we had to reschedule last October’s class due to my father’s death the week the class was scheduled. This was a difficult time for me and my family, but not unexpected (he was 95). I appreciate all the kind words expressed by those of you who were aware of Dad’s passing.

We are planning to go forward with all the same content and personnel as we had lined up for October. Co-instructors for the class will be David Maglio of Firearms Academy of Wisconsin, and Chuck Haggard of Agile Training and Consulting. More on those two shady characters to follow.

So, to cut to the chase, people keep asking me: “Why should I take your Shooting With Xray Vision class?” or “Why would I want to become a Tactical Anatomy Instructor?” The answer is complicated, but I’ll condense it for simplicity’s sake.

In 20+ years of law enforcement affiliation, 30 years of Emergency Medicine, and nearly 60 years of hunting (i.e., killing critters with the intent to consume them) I have learned a LOT about what makes gunshot wounds effective, and what makes them ineffective. The facts that I have gathered and systematized into the Shooting With Xray Vision (SXRV) system are the culmination of that experience.

What I have learned, and in fact the demand that compelled me to incorporate TAS and start teaching this material, is that gunshot wounds are remarkably ineffective MOST of the time! That’s right, I said it. Most of the time, bullets do not do what the user of the gun intends for them to do.

This is particularly true for handguns, which a substantial percentage of US citizens possess for self-defense. This disturbing reality is not just true for casual gun owners, either. This applies to highly skilled end-users as well, including cops and military personnel, and retirees from those fields.

As an example of this (and the full discussion and citations are in my book), the medical literature shows that fully three-quarters of the people who present to American ER’s with gunshot wounds to the heart from handguns survive their injuries. You read that right, boys and girls: 75% of cardiac GSW’s from handguns do not result in death. Many, if not most of these, do not immediately incapacitate the GSW recipient!

This means, quite simply, that you can’t count on one or two bullets from your self-defense firearm to stop someone who is attacking you or your loved ones unless you put your bullets in the critical target areas of the body that will result in rapid incapacitation (i.e., the ability to prevent them from continuing their attack).

Quite simply, SXRV training provides the student with the information and skills he or she needs to put fire downrange on a deadly threat and terminate that threat rapidly and expeditiously. It has worked for thousands of police officers whose departments have hired me to train their personnel, and it has worked for hundreds more private citizens who decided to get this life-saving training on their own dime.

One example I often cite to prove the effectiveness of the SXRV method: a major metro police department asked me to train their FTU (firearms training unit) so they could institute this training for their entire department. I held a special SXRV Instructor class for them, and then they picked up the ball and ran with it. Over the next 3 years, they trained every single officer in their force in these techniques. When we evaluated the results, comparing the 2-year period prior to the program to the 2-year period after completing it, the results were outstanding: their Hit Ratio went from 20% (which is about average for US police) to 97%. That’s right, NINETY-SEVEN PERCENT. I won’t give any further details in public, but suffice to say that in the post-training period, not a single officer received a GSW in his/her officer-involved shooting incident, and the majority of the felons shot in the study period didn’t bother the taxpaying public in any way whatsoever thereafter. I have seen similar data from other police departments that have implemented the SXRV system over the years. The results keep proving themselves, over and over again.

Tactical Anatomy has not held a SXRV Instructor class since 2014, and we have no plans to teach another one in the future (although that may change, depending on demand). The purpose of this class is to disseminate the information I have gathered over the past quarter century and put it into the hands of conscientious men and women who can pass this knowledge along. I’m getting somewhat long in the tooth, as they say, and who knows how much longer I’ll only be able to keep teaching this material. This is YOUR opportunity to become one of the people who can keep this knowledge alive, and help good citizens prepare appropriately for the possibility of a deadly threat to their lives and families.

What can you expect to learn at this class? Here’s some of the high points:

  1. Rationale for anatomic target acquisition in lethal force situations
  2. Use of deadly force: ethics, politics, and practicalities
  3. Fundamentals of external and terminal ballistics; practical value of ballistics testing; bullet performance and failures.
  4. Static and dynamic realities of Officer/Citizen-Involved Shootings
  5. Realities of gunshot wounds and incapacitation.
  6. Human anatomy zones of incapacitation
  7. Three-dimensional anatomic visualization: why it’s necessary, and how to do it
  8. Safety protocols for training students in SXRV

This class utilizes a combination of didactic classroom learning, peer-to-peer instructional training, computer simulations, force-on-force scenarios, and live fire exercises.

Participants must be certified firearms instructors (civilian, law enforcement, or military), and be able to show proof of clean criminal record.

Please contact Bill Armstrong at Mead Hall Range at the above link to register for the class.