A Facebook page I follow, Active Self Protection, recently reprinted an article about the very real need for American cops and armed citizens to get training for the evenuality of facing a homicide bomber (the media’s term, “suicide bomber” is erroneous… these people are first and foremost murderers, so let’s call a spade a spade!).
This article quoted the estimable Gabe Suarez as saying, “Just shoot them in the face”. Oh, boy…
First thing: I don’t know for sure if Suarez actually said that. And on the face of it (pun intended), this isn’t necessarily bad advice. But if you dig deeper, you’ll come to the Second thing.
Second thing: such advice, if taken literally at face value–which I am sure was not Gabe’s intention–could get good people killed. In all fairness to Suarez, utterances get taken out of context. I overheard a cop at a major metro PD ‘quoting’ me to another cop, “Ah, Doc says just shoot ’em in the back of the head.” Which I did actually say, but the all-important context was not communicated!
So let’s talk about the context in which “just shooting him in the face” makes some sense.
Here’s the problem: the trigger for a homicide bomb is most often a very simple switch that can be actuated with very little effort. So if you do not knock out the homicide bomber’s CNS completely and immediately, he can still detonate the bomb with his last dying breath, if need be. Which, if you’re within a reasonable pistol shot’s distance from him, means you’ll draw your last dying breath at about the same time as his. The lethal radius of a typical vest bomb is 30-50 meters.
Here’s the solution: take out the homicide bomber’s brainstem. It’s that simple.
The brainstem is a structure at the bottom of the brain and the top of the spinal cord that has many functions, one of which is regulating your level of consciousness and attention, and another of which is relaying the “orders” from the conscious brain to the muscles that carry those orders out. The brainstem is literally where you live and breathe… the neurological elements of heart rate and breathing control originate here.
So if you take out homicide bomber’s brainstem with a well-placed bullet, you shut down all voluntary muscle control and all somatic reflexes. He (or she, let’s not forget that women do this stuff, too) will go limp. No twitching, no movement, no nothing.
The problem is that the brainstem is really small, and it’s in the most protected location in the human head, which makes sense from an evolutionary/survival perspective. But it’s not easy to visualize its location if you haven’t gone to medical school to learn neuroanatomy. (Unless you’ve taken our Shooting With Xray Vision class, of course!) And if you shoot the homicide bomber anywhere else in his/her head with your service caliber pistol, you will NOT neutralize the spinal reflexes and you may leave his/her voluntary actions intact as well… which means that bomb is going to explode.
Keep in mind I’m talking about pistol bullets here. The relative low power/velocity of pistol bullets requires extreme targeting precision to take out the brainstem. A high-power/high-velocity rifle bullet such as a .308 or even a .223 causes such severe damage with virtually any shot into the cranium that the brainstem will probably be destroyed even if the bullet doesn’t hit it precisely. But note that I emphasize the word “probably”. This is not a situation where you want to be relying on “probably”.
Also, keep in mind that there is a good reason that in our SXRV class we emphasize making the brainstem shot with pistols. If you are so unlucky as to stumble into the vicinity of a just-gone-active homicide bomber, you won’t have time to go fetch your fancy tactical carbine out of the safe box in your car’s trunk. You’ll have to use what you have on your person at the time.
So, back to the statement in the title to this blog entry. Can we just casually shoot the homicide bomber in the face and call it good? By now, I expect you know the answer to that.
To illustrate my point, I’ll give you a real life example: I once had a guy come into my ER who had been shot by police. Four times. All four police bullets (40 S&W caliber) hit this guy in the head, so that means he had taken four “head shots”, but was still actively fighting police and had actually returned fire after receiving these wounds. Two of those shots were in the so-called “T-zone”, as it is called by some internet gunfighting “experts”.
This case illustrates the folly of thinking that any/all “head shots” are equal… there is a huge potential for variance in outcomes! Again: if your pistol bullets do not transect the brainstem, your homicide bomber may still be able to kill you.
Part of the problem with taking “head shots” is that the shape and structure of the bones of the human skull are designed (or have evolved, if you prefer) to very efficiently protect the brain. The density of the bones and the curvature of the surface work very well to deflect any missile that comes at the skull unless the angle of incidence is very close to perpendicular to the skull’s surface. Pistol bullets striking the human head at angles less than 65-75 degrees will penetrate the skin/scalp, but will often just glance off the hard, smooth bone of the skull, tunneling under the skin to exit several inches from the entry wound without penetrating the skull. This is well-documented in the trauma literature, and it’s exactly what happened with the guy I saw in my ER with 4 bullet holes in his noggin.
The other part of the problem is that if you don’t know where the brainstem is, your chances of hitting it are really, really poor. Think about it: in frontal anatomic presentation, the human head has a target area of about 325-400 cm2. The brainstem has a target area of about 25 cm2. If you think you can hit the brainstem by randomly shooting the head, your chance of hitting it is about 6-7%.
Even if we round up to be generous and say your odds are 10%, that means that your chances of being blown to smithereens by a homicide bomber in that scenario are 90%.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I think those odds suck. I’d much rather KNOW where my bullet needs to go, and be close enough to the bomber to put my pistol bullet exactly there. And by the way, the “head box” of an IPSC target, or the “T-zone” on one of those photo targets that purport to portray human anatomy, will NOT help you place your bullets in the brainstem. The T-zone is a real thing when you’re talking about acne, but in terms of ballistics and neuroanatomy, not so much.
If you want to know specifically how to target the brainstem, you can take a SXRV class from us (or one of our SXRV-trained firearms instuctors around the nation), or you can order the Tactical Anatomy Instructor Manual and figure it out from the exercises in the book. It’s not rocket science. You don’t have to be good at math to understand and use this knowledge. But you do need to get the best source information on the subject you can find, and the place to find it is here.
And by the way, you need to able to operate your pistol with a high degree of precision. I’ve written this before, and I’ll say it again: to effectively utilize the Tactical Anatomy Systems targeting method, you must be an Expert Class shooter. As in able to put your bullets into a target 2.5 cm X 4 cm 100% of the time from whatever range you select (typically this range needs to be well inside 5 yards, and I’m being very serious here).
One. Hundred. Percent. Of. The. Time. Or in a real homicide bomber situation, you’ll get real dead real quick.
Retired Evanston, IL, police chief Richard Eddington wrote this to me in an email a number of years ago: “The probability that American law enforcement personnel will encounter a homicide bomber is growing. The techniques taught in Tactical Anatomy become more urgent. This may be the only option to stop a bomber and minimize casualties. This includes law enforcement personnel who, in my estimation, will invariably be too close to a homicide bomber, especially in the initial contacts law enforcement has with this type of offender. Tactical Anatomy shooting techniques will be the only possibility for law enforcement officers to extricate themselves from this situation while minimizing casualties.”
Chief Eddington is a smart guy, and this prediction is close to coming true in the near future, in my opinion. Prepare yourself accordingly.