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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.