It’s a nightmare scenario that many fail to train for: defensive shooting at extremely close range. We’re talking inside arms reach, tooth and claw, skin-on-skin conflict.
Maybe there was an ambush, a distraction as the attack occurred, maybe you let them get too close because you didn’t think they’d really attack you. For whatever reason you find yourself fighting for your life at the kind of intimate distance for which your 10 yard square range practice has not prepared you.
But then the nightmare gets worse. You’ve done everything right, you react fast, you create just enough space to bring your gun into play, you press the trigger… nothing happens.
“We’re in a fight for our lives and we have something hard, heavy and manufactured to fit the human hand…”
You’re close enough to make observations about the dental hygiene of your attacker and your handgun just became a paperweight with a handle on it. So what do you do? For many of us the answer should be self-evident. We’re in a fight for our lives and we have something hard, heavy and manufactured to fit the human hand…
Hit him with it!
How did this happen? Did we fail to disengage the safety? Did the slide jam out of battery? Did our clothing somehow foul the action? Are we deeper into the fight and the gun has simply run dry? The truth is it doesn’t matter and we don’t have time to run diagnostics. Before we can address the root cause of the problem we need the time and space to do it.
Striking with the handgun can get you that space.
“We never draw our handgun with the initial intention of striking with it as a less lethal option. If the gun enters the fight, death is on the table.”
*-[There is one thing that must be noted. Look back at that series of things that could have gone wrong; you won’t find “It was a less lethal option” included in the reasons to strike with the handgun. If your gun is out of the holster and into your hand you have already made the decision that lethal force is warranted. If striking with the handgun ends the conflict, fantastic, but we never draw our handgun with the initial intention of striking with it as a less lethal option. If the gun enters the fight, death is on the table.]
So let’s talk a bit about how to use your handgun as an impact weapon. As with anything else, there’s a way to do it well and a way to do it poorly. Your life may depend on doing this well. First rule: don’t make it worse. If you’re up the creek without a paddle, don’t start poking holes in the boat, too. Remember that physics and leverage apply to the gun.
To start, here are some “Don’ts” of striking with the handgun.
- Don’t use horizontal strikes that impact with the sides of the gun. When this is done to the outside (hitting with the ‘backhand’) it can knock the gun from your hand. When done to the inside you can break your thumb between the frame and the attacker’s skull. Both outcomes come under the “made it worse” heading.
- Don’t strike downward with the butt of the gun, even though you’ve seen it done in every action movie since the invention of fire. Doing so can jam the mag into the gun so hard it can’t be removed. It can also compress the spring in a partially empty mag and allow the top rounds to come out of the stack and fail to feed. And lastly, it can strip the base off of the magazine, causing the spring, follower and rounds to spill out onto the pavement. I know an Instructor at the JFK Special Warfare Center who’s seen this happen in training and says it’s hilarious. He also assures me that what’s hilarious in training is not nearly as fun if it happens in combat.
- When using a full size handgun (4-inch barrel or longer), avoid thrusting one handed with the muzzle. The length of the barrel offers a lot of leverage, and can roll the wrist and strip the gun from your hand. (This is less of an issue with subcompact or snub-nosed handguns. Less barrel length = less leverage).
“Remember, your gun doesn’t stop being a weapon just because you can’t fire it.”
Now that we’re done with the “what not to do and why not to do it” lecture, let’s get to the good stuff. Below are three methods of striking that are reliable, forceful and rarely cause further malfunction. As with all striking, let the legs, hips and core drive the strike. I recommend the following strikes for targeting the head, face and neck.
- Muzzle Slashing: Slash downward with the barrel, drawing backward as you hit. It’s like snapping a towel; the end should accelerate through impact.
- Slide Strike: This strike is very similar to a hook or overhand punch. Swing the pistol in a tight arc, rotating your arm as you strike. Impact should occur along the top of the slide just forward of the rear sight. This will channel force down the grip and decrease the odds of losing your grip on the weapon. Plus that rear sight leaves one hell of a mark. In my opinion, the Slide Strike has the highest probability of ending the conflict.
- Braced Muzzle Thump: The braced muzzle thump is performed with both hands on the weapon. This is a great option when retention is an issue. With the handgun in a secure, two-hand firing grip, draw it back and then drive it forward striking with the muzzle. This is how to hit when you don’t want to risk using only one hand to control the firearm.
When you’re fighting in the clinch and the gun you’re relying on fails to function, it will be a terrifying instant in the middle of an already horrifying episode. But if you take the time now to work handgun striking into your training, you’ll have a second skillset to continue the fight. Remember, your gun doesn’t stop being a weapon just because you can’t fire it.