Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Derringer as a Self-Defense Tool

Recently an individual called, inquiring about our next scheduled firearm self-defense class. In the course of the conversation, he mentioned that he was waiting until his new self-defense handgun came in to the dealer, so that he could use it in the class. I always like to see what people are selecting, and why, so I asked him what he had chosen. His answer was a .45 caliber, two shot, derringer.

I advised him, as gently as possible, that we would not allow him to take our class using such a firearm, because he would not be able to complete the required course of fire for qualification. I also let him know that I was concerned because I view such firearms as an extremely poor choice for a self-defense weapon, and invited him to attend our class, making use of any of the number of different models and makes of handguns we have available for students who lack the shooting experience to make an informed decision about personal protection handgun selection.

Having just spent the money to buy the derringer, he took what I had to say better than I expected. Some people might say that I should stay out of such discussions, letting the students make up their own minds on the issue. I don’t agree, and here is why.

I have taken a number of handgun self-defense courses myself. In various areas of the country, taught by local people who’s opinions and experience I respect, and by people of national and international stature. In each, and every one of those courses, derringers were expressly not permitted. This alone strongly suggests a uniform attitude among the experts that the derringer is not considered to be adequate for the task.

And I have to agree. In my view, the derringer is, by design, ill-suited to the task of personal self-defense. Having shot any number of derringer-design pistols, in a variety of calibers, I believe that it does not commend itself to the task of saving one’s life if deadly force is required. The recoil produced by the derringer, with its poorly designed grip, is severe in any accepted self-defense caliber. That makes the gun hard to control for the single follow up shot it offers. People have a well-documented, and very vexing, habit of not flying through the air backward when you shoot them, landing in a crumpled heap, totally out of commission. The handgun is not a powerful weapon, despite what the average individual has been led to believe. The list of recorded instances, where individuals, high on drugs, or suffering from some other form if cognitive impairment, have absorbed multiple gunshot wounds, and stayed in the fight, killing or crippling the defender, is just too lengthy to recite. The “one shot kill” that shows up in self-defense articles, and Internet blogs, often cited with authoritative statistics (i.e., “the .32 automatic provides one shot stops 65% of the time”) does not happen with sufficient frequency to rely upon. I never have, and never will.

Like most serious self-defense people, I will rely upon the ability to produce multiple shots, fired accurately, to stop an attacker. It is not my intention to kill. It is my intention to stop the individual from killing me, or someone I care about. A two-shot derringer, with excessive recoil, when chambered in any caliber thought suitable for self-defense purposes, with mickey mouse sights, and a heavy, hard to pull, trigger is not going to provide the ability for the user to fire multiple, accurate shots. “Well, how many shots do you think you’re gonna need?” How in the hell should I know? At this moment, I do not have a strung out meth head standing at the other side of my living room with a steel crow bar clenched in his fists. If, and (God forbid) when I do, I am going to rely upon my well-practiced ability to fire four, five or more shots to stop that individual if he mounts an attack. And here is the really scary part. All the rounds I have in my gun may not be enough to stop him. And in the stress of the moment, I can miss with one or more of those shots. And, no matter who you are, no matter how skilled you are . . . so can you. All any of us can do is the best we can, at the time, in the moment. We increase our odds of success by being properly equipped, and mentally prepared for that task. A hard to shoot, inaccurate firearm, offering only two shots before requiring a slow and laborious reload does not, to my way of thinking, fill that bill of requirements.

Many people, that I know to be skilled, experienced, handgunners, have tried the derringer in any number of calibers. Many, many of them report back that the recoil is too painful to do any responsible amount of live fire, range practice. Often they report that the double action triggers are extremely stiff and hard to pull, or that the small hammers are very hard to cock. An experienced gunsmith I questioned stated flatly that he has never seen a derringer that was not a “Mickey Mouse piece of crap” and that the actions cannot be smoothed to reduce the heavy trigger pull. Almost universally, experienced handgunners have reported that derringers are wildly inaccurate even in a no-stress, range fire situation.

I realize that no matter what I, or anyone else, might say on the subject, there will be those who will insist that I do not know what I am talking about, that they rely on their derringers, can hit a pop can with them at 30 yards and, as one blogger has stated, “Most fights are only at about two to three feet and a couple of .22 shots in the arm or the leg will stop anybody.” Is that a frightening failure to grasp reality? Yes.

My response? I cannot fix stupid. All I can do is try to avoid it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


During a recent self-defense class, a female student asked me "Why does the gun go bang when I pull the trigger."One of the other students, confident in his own understanding of such complexities, offered the advice that "it’s the explosion of the powder inside the ‘bullet’". This, I noted, came from the same guy who had spent most of the morning lecture arguing with our instructors about one point or another, and, the same guy who came to class with a .25 autoloader, his "carry gun", and a short-barreled .44 magnum, his "home defense gun".

Sigh . . . I guess every instructor gets to deal with one of these sorts every once in a while. I was gentle, but also had to let him know that he was off-base in a number of directions. I gave the questioning student a thumbnail sketch of the answer I suspected she was looking for. Powder, gas, etc. Then I gave her a quick survey, and asked, "What do you do for work?" "Middle-school science teacher", was the reply. I thought for a second, then told her I would e-mail her a more thorough explanation of the process after class.

So, this is what I sent her:

You will remember from the class lecture that the centerfire pistol cartridge is constructed from four basic components: Cartridge case, primer, powder charge and bullet. When the hammer of the handgun falls, it strike the firing pin driving it into the center of the primer of the cartridge seated in the chamber. This impact causes the primer to flash, igniting the powder charge, which burns rapidly creating gases, the pressure of which forces the bullet out of the casing and down the barrel, the path of least resistance. The rapid expansion of gases does not "explode", but when the bullets leaves the muzzle of the handgun, the superheated gases impact with the cooler air outside the barrel, creating a shockwave which your ears hear as the "bang". The handgun recoils as the bullet leaves the muzzle, but, not as a result of an explosion. And I think we have made it pretty clear, "bullets" don’t contain any powder.

But, since you took the time to ask, here is hopefully a better explanation of "why" and "how all this happens.

The primer flashes when struck because it is a metal cup with approximately one grain of a (usually) pink impact sensitive explosive compound packed into it. At the open end of the primer is seated a brass-colored metal device, shaped very much like a three bladed fan, which is known as the "anvil". The anvil holds the shock sensitive explosive against the bottom of the primer and also provide a "flash hole" for the flame to ignite the gun powder. The sudden impact of the firing pin on the back of the primer dents the back of the cup inward and squeezes the explosive between the anvil and the wall of the cup. This impact causes the explosive to detonate shooting a small flame forward through the flash hole igniting the powder inside the bullet casing.

This explosive compound in the primer is usually Lead Styphnate, although other compounds have been and may be used. Lead styphnate is used because in addition to its high impact sensitivity, it does not react with metals and is less sensitive to shock and friction than mercury fulminate which has been used for this purpose in the past.

When the flash from the primer ignites the powder inside the cartridge case, it begins to burn very rapidly. This rapidly burning powder creates gases which heat to very high temperatures. The heating of the gases increases its volume and, therefore, increases the pressure inside the casing, forcing the bullet out of the casing and into the bore of the barrel. Since the bullet is slightly larger than the inside diameter of the bore, the surface of the bullet is forced into the grooves of the rifling inside the barrel. This expansion is known as "obturation" and it seals the barrel so that the still expanding gases are trapped behind the bullet and must force it down the barrel and then, upon leaving the barrel at the muzzle, downrange toward the target.

The powder which makes all this happen is known as "smokeless powder" and it has been in use since the mid 1880's. Modern smokeless powders are nitrocellulose-based propellants. These are either single-base, using only nitrocellulose, or double-base which use nitrocellulose and also nitroglycerine. There are a wide variety of powders for different applications. Much of this variation is in the burning rate of the powder.

Pistol powders are designed for a rapid burn due to the short barrel length involved. The powder burns as the bullet travels down the barrel and out the muzzle, accelerating as it moves through the bore. It reaches maximum velocity as it leaves the barrel which causes the handgun to recoil because of Newton’s third law of motion which you teach to your sudents as "action and reaction". So, when the gas from the burning powder forces the bullet forward, the handgun recoils backward with an equal amount of force.

As the bullet leaves the muzzle, the super-heated gases behind it are also released, colliding with the cooler ambient air ahead of the muzzle. This collision of super-heated gas and cooler air results in a shockwave, very similar to the shock wave created by air suddenly being superheated by lightening (60,000 F.). This we hear as thunder. So, in a very real sense, if somebody asks you why a gun goes bang when you shoot it, you can now smile and say, "its just thunder".

So, now, if nothing else, you clearly know its not a case of "exploding bullets".

Sunday, January 23, 2011


While teaching a firearm self-defense course this weekend, I was approached by a student with a question. Recently, while he was out of town, a male individual that he had hired to do some remodeling at his home, came to the home after hours. He knocked on the door, and one of the student’s children had opened the door while the wife was busy cooking in the kitchen and unaware of the visitor. The man walked into the house uninvited. He confronted the wife in the kitchen. She immediately ordered the man to leave the home. He walked to the front door, and without saying a word, locked it from the inside and then began pacing about the living room, apparently muttering to himself, and touching himself in an inappropriate way, and ignoring the wife’s continued orders to leave the home. She became frightened and brandished a butcher knife at the man, screaming for him to leave the home. Her children were huddled, frightened out of their wits behind the mother. The man finally backed to the front door and opened it, running off into the night. The woman did not call the police to report the incident, later claiming that, “He didn’t really do anything.” The husband reported that he has implored her to take self-defense firearms training but she has refused because, “I don’t believe in guns.”

The student’‘s question was, if the man had suddenly attacked her, would she have been permitted to use the knife to defend herself? The other instructors standing within ear shot, all looked at each other, their faces stony and somber. They understood the implications all too well. The student had a glimmering of understanding. I did my best to answer the question, explaining that a woman, facing even an unarmed male is in a disparity of force situation that justifies the use of deadly force to protect against an attack you reasonably believe is being perpetrated to take your life or cause you crippling injury. But there is much left to say about this situation.

One, it happened within twenty miles of my home. To a family just like mine, just like yours. No matter how many times I say to people, “You are not special, you are not blessed. It can happen to you, in your home, or on the streets, any time, day or night, and you will not get to choose, because someone else is going to make that choice for you, and they will not give you any warning of their decision. You have got to be aware of that reality and aware of what is going on around you, all the time. Not just when you want to be.

Two, a woman, with no training in the use of edged weapons, who engages in hand to hand combat with anyone, armed only with a butcher knife, seized from the kitchen cutting board has no concept of what that battle will be like, or whether she will survive it. It takes years of intensive training to handle a knife in a fight to the death. And when one trains for such things, they do not do it with a kitchen knife, poorly designed for the task. That fight will be brutal, it will be physically demanding, and it will be bloody. My own father had such a fight in the hedgerows of Normandy, trained as a Army Ranger. He survived, but woke screaming in the night from time to time for the rest of his life, with scenes of that conflict running through his sub-conscious mind.

Three. A woman who does not ‘believe in guns” was naively willing to do battle poorly equipped, and trained, as she was, because she believed that her life and the lives of her children were in mortal danger. And they were, make no mistake about that. The individual she confronted was trying to make up his mind, or steel himself to a task he had already decided to carry out. This was very likely his first time. It will not be his last. I implored the student to contact the police and tell them about the incident and the identify of the intruder. I hope he does, but I cannot force him to do so. The next victim may not be as lucky. And unchecked, there will be a next victim.

Four, a firearm is nothing more than a tool. It can be used to hunt for food, it can be used in recreational sporting activities, and it can be used to preserve your life in situations where someone else who does not give a damn about you, your family, your children or your right to life, seeks to take it, for their own warped or selfish reasons.

It will not carry the day in every instance. It is not a talisman, or a death ray. You have to be trained to use it. You have to be trained to develop the mind set to use it if you must. And you have to be trained to understand when you are legally authorized to use deadly force.  You cannot use it to scare assailants because many of them are mentally hardened or deranged enough that they will not be scared. The argument made by blowhards that "the sound of the  action of a pump shotgun being racked is enough to scare an intruder running from your home" is a fantasy.  I've had criminals tell me that often enough to know its truth.

I invited the student to have his wife come and attend a class, to listen, to evaluate. The four  women in the class, each of whom was taking the class for their own private reasons, all reacted more emotionally. “You tell her I said to stop that foolishness and get her butt in here and learn how to protect herself and her family.”

I do not believe in the Easter Bunny because I have never seen him, or the Tooth Fairy for that matter. I do believe in guns because I have seen them, owned them, fired them, and trained with them for my entire adult life and before. I am aware, I harbor no illusions about my personal safety, and I fervently hope that I never have to use my training to save my life or that of another human being. But after all these years, I also know that hoping will never be enough.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dry Firing for Fun and Profit

Lets talk about dry firing. Is it necessary? Is it advisable? Can I do it with my handgun without damaging it? If I can, and I do, what sort of dry firing practice should I engage in?

Like just about every other topic in the shooting sports world, you can find some “expert(s)” with opinions that contradict each other, and sometimes even themselves. For example:

“Integrating regular dry-fire practice will greatly assist the shooter with maintaining proficiency with any weapon.”

“Dry firing a weapon for self defense purposes is pointless and absurd!”

“You must dry-fire your weapon for at least one hour every day.”

“Establish a routine of dry firing for five minutes each morning.”

Okay, so what do we make of all of this? Here is my opinion, and why I formed it.

My primary job, at least at the present time, and for the last 27+ years, is practicing law. Despite what most people think they know about that job, and all the jokes, and nasty cracks about lawyers and the profession in general, attorneys are first and foremost researchers. As one of my law professors in law school said, “The law that is cannot be known”. So, I asked him, “if that’s the case, why go to law school?” He replied, “So we can teach you to find it when you need it, dumb ass.” I was an older student, not overly impressed with my status in life, as was the case with so many of my younger law school classmates. He was a brilliant instructor, but also a pragmatist who recognized that he would not damage my fragile psyche by calling a spade a spade. We could communicate.

So, I learned to do research. The skills have stood me well over time, and have a wide variety of applications. One among them is sifting through the myriad opinions on a topic such as this, and distilling what I believe to be the salient points. Not because I thought of them myself, but because people that I respect for their knowledge, experience, and skills believe them to be important.

These experts, the ones I respect, uniformly agree that dry-firing practice is not intended to replace live fire practice. Properly applied, it can, and will, assist the shooter with maintaining proficiency with their self-defense weapon. It can be incorporated into drills such as drawing from the holster, drawing from the holster while wearing different types of clothing, practicing magazine changes, developing a smooth trigger squeeze, strong hand/ support hand techniques, and developing one-handed/weak-handed weapon handling skills. Like practicing any other physical skill, dry-firing will greatly enhance any shooter’s ability to perform much more smoothly and efficiently in the heat of battle.

First things first. The most important rule when conducting this type of training is always make sure you are practicing with an unloaded firearm. Visually inspect the weapon to make sure it is not loaded. Now, set it down. Take three slow, deep measured breaths and then pick it up and inspect it again. Overkill, right? No, it is not.

The human brain is a complex organ. If it is occupied with a variety of tasks, it can, and will, fill in blanks with previously learned information, even if that information is incorrect. The pre-occupied driver who pulls out into the path of an oncoming motorcyclist, later claiming, “I didn’t see him.” The police officer who blows up his wife’s aquarium full of exotic fish with a loaded .357 magnum that he “just knew” was unloaded. I personally have over two dozen such stories where I saw it happen. You do not have to add to them.

Make sure that dry fire practice will not damage your firearm. Some firearms will not be adversely affected. Some will. A number of modern handguns are designed to be dry fired, a number are not. For example, Beretta does not recommend dry firing its Model 92 autoloaders. Check the manufacturer’s recommendations and also seek the advice of a skilled and experienced gunsmith. Use “snap caps” to absorb impact and reduce mechanical stress on the action of your firearm. Some snap caps are better than others. I am not selling snap caps and make no recommendations as to which brand you should use. Do your own research on this issue and make your own decision.

Conduct your dry fire practice in a safe area, free from distractions. And do it in an area where there is no live ammunition anywhere near you. The fish killer noted in the earlier paragraph had conducted dry fire drills. He had ended the drills. He had reloaded his S&W, Model 19 service revolver with cartridges sitting on the table where he had placed them after unloading his revolver. He then decided, after smoking a cigarette, to try one more drill. The spent slug was recovered from his neighbor’s living room. Luckily no casualties occurred other than the expensive guppies, and his ass, chewed, in turn, by each officer up the chain of command from his shift Sgt. to the Chief. It is too easy to get distracted. You have to develop routines for safety and follow them every time without fail when handling firearms. Despite what some so-called “authorities” say, it is not the unloaded gun that kills or injures. Unloaded guns go “click”. Loaded guns go bang, with the potential for great harm when used irresponsibly. Its just that simple.

Work on sight alignment and trigger squeeze in your dry firing practice sessions. You must learn to identify your front sight location on the target at the instant you hear the audible “click” of the hammer or striker fall, not just when the trigger breaks. The very brief time span between the two (a few milliseconds) is referred to as “lock time”. This will help you build the skill of calling your shots, and it’s how a shooter learns to separate what “should be” from what is.

You should practice firing from your chosen standing firing stance, as well as a kneeling or crouched position. As you do, be aware of your grip, your sight alignment and your breathing.

Squeeze the trigger in a smooth, consistent manner rearward while maintaining minimal movement so that you do disturb the sight picture. You should be focusing on the front sight on the target you have chosen as you squeeze the trigger. Every shooter will have movement during this process. Excessive movement during trigger squeeze affects your sight alignment. The goal of the exercise is to minimize this movement.

Repeat this process at least five times using both your two-handed grip and then with a one-handed grip. This helps you build muscle memory and your confidence as well. Law enforcement officers, serious about their training and maintaining their skills use this technique constantly. So do military shooters and competition shooters. It is not intended as a substitute for live fire practice, but as an adjunct to that practice.

So the answers I believe to be most correct, based upon the experts I trust, are, yes, it is advisable. Yes, it is necessary, and with proper equipment poses no danger of harm to your handgun. I hope this information helps you make your own decisions on the issue.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Of the several critical aspects of getting a handgun to do what you need it to do, when you need to use it, the grip has to be one of the most significant. Properly indexing the handgun to the desired point of aim / impact, naturally positioning the weapon's controls (trigger, safeties, and releases), and compensating for recoil to provide correct cycling, user control, and comfort readily come to mind.

When fitting the handgun to a prospective user/owner, the most important consideration is always trigger reach. If the gun in the hand has too long, or too short, a trigger reach, it is going to b e difficult for the user to handle the handgun properly or shoot it accurately. Trigger reach is measured on the handgun by measuring the distance from the vertical center of the trigger to the vertical center of the backstrap. The hand that holds the handgun is correspondingly measure from the center of the web between the thumb and forefinger to the point on the index finger that contacts the center of the trigger of the handgun.

Matching these measurements from handgun to hand is critical to proper operation of the firearm. This can be difficult, or easy, depending upon the design of a particular handgun. Nationally known expert, Massad Ayoob, in discussing this issue, uses the example of the Model 1911 .45 semiautomatic pistol.

“The short, relatively easy stroke of this single-action auto-pistol's trigger allows good shooting to be done if the very tip of the finger, or the pad of the distal phalange (or the "farthest-out joint") is in contact. That gives you plus or minus an inch of latitude in fitting the gun to the hand, and it's one of the reasons why I often state that such pistols fit a wide variety of hands.”

But, in contrast, the revolver is a different story. The revolver takes more work to fit to the customer's hand than does the auto-loader. To properly operate the revolver, you must pull the double-action trigger straight back. This requires that the joint of the finger closest to the finger nail be in contact with the center of the trigger. Therefore, with the revolver, you do not have the same degree of latitude in fitting the gun to the hand that you do with the semi-auto pistol.

Additionally, you have to factor in what expert trainers refer to as the requirements of "administrative handling" which includes loading, unloading, checking, dry fire and access to safety/decocker/magazine release, and slide lock/cylinder release. A properly fit handgun will allow the user to manipulate these various functions without excessive readjustment of the basic grip.

A quick test for proper fit requires that you grip the handgun with a good grip. Make sure that you check the weapon first, to be absolutely sure that it is unloaded. Now, grip the weapon. With the revolver, this means that the web of the hand is placed high on the backstrap just under the hump below the hammer. If you are using the semi-auto, the web of the hand is placed high into the tang of the backstrap with the fingers wrapped firmly around the frontstrap. Now take a look at the barrel. It should be in line with the long axis of the forearm, because with a proper grip, the bones of the forearm is the base of recoil support. This allows you to see whether the weapon’s grip is the right size, too big, or too small.

Now, place your finger on the trigger. If your index finger extends past the trigger, beyond the first joint, the length of pull may be too short for good shooting and the finger may be pinched against the frame or trigger guard when the trigger is depressed.

On the other hand, if you have to turn the pistol’s barrel so that it is not aligned with the long axis of your arm, just so that you can reach the trigger, then you must examine what the alignment is telling you about the fit of the handgun. If possible, check for barrel/axis alignment from above the subject’s arm.

If the muzzle of the pistol points to the right (for a right-handed shooter) with the index finger’s first pad on the trigger, the grip is too large. In general, the more shots a semi-auto contains, the more pronounced this problem might be. Revolvers are usually more forgiving, within reason, and grips of different sizes are usually available to correct misalignment.

The proper grip provides the shooter with:

1. A natural point of aim so the sights are aligned without having to do any work to align them.

2. Effective management of both vertical recoil and horizontal recoil upon discharge.

Ensuring proper grip with a firearm that fits the shooter allows the shooter to consistently put rounds where they desire a vital skill where follow-up shots are necessary to stop an immediate threat.


Its human nature. People like to share information, people like to gossip about their favorite subjects. How many of us have heard from our buddy at our favorite watering hole that he has information that he got from his cousin’s husband’s best friend’s brother in law, who is an expert on the subject.

Sometimes the information is just slightly in accurate and in many cases, its harmless. In other cases, it can create perceptions that are not only dangerous, but calculated to create tragedy when acted upon by well-meaning, but horribly misinformed consumers.

This is very true in the area of self-defense. What you think you know can prove to hurt you, somewhere down the road. Take a look at these dangerous myths and expel them from your data base, now and forever.

1. “If you confront a trespasser in your home, you are legally permitted to shoot them to defend your property.“

Wrong and very dangerous. Remember, in Minnesota you can only use deadly force under a very limited set of circumstances:

(1) The killing must have been done in the belief that it was necessary to avert death or grievous bodily harm or to prevent the commission of a felony in your own home.

(2) The judgment of the defendant as to the gravity of the peril to which he was exposed must have been reasonable under the circumstances.

(3) The defendant's election to kill must have been such as a reasonable man would have made in light of the danger to be apprehended.

Trespassing is not, in and of itself, a felony. Shooting you daughter’s boyfriend while he is sneaking into your home so they can make out, on the other hand is a felony and one you may well go to prison for committing. If you are going to pick up a gun, you will also be picking up a tremendous responsibility. The power to inflict deadly force carries with it a heavy price tag.

2. “If you shoot and intruder who turns out to be unarmed, stick a knife in his hand and drag him into the house before calling the police.”

Wrong and very dangerous. With the advanced scientific technology available to law enforcement today, these types of actions will be discovered. Notice I said “will be” not “may be”. In almost all jurisdictions, altering the scene of a shooting is considered prima facie evidence of prior planning. What is an unjustified killing with prior planning? 1st degree murder. Do not alter the scene. Do not allow others to alter the scene. If you must shoot, your spouse is just going to have to deal with the stains on the carpet. Lock it down and leave it alone. Or try to explain to already suspicious police officers why you found it necessary to try to change the scene (can we all say “deception?”)

3. “If you have to shoot a bad guy, make sure he is dead, otherwise the lawsuits he might file will ruin you financially.”

Wrong and very dangerous. You have been given the power to shoot to stop a deadly threat. You have not been given the power to commit murder. You have an obligation, (to yourself and your family) once you make the decision to use deadly force to continue to use deadly force until the threat is stopped. If that results in an attacker dying from gunshot wounds, that is a choice that he made in mounting his attack. But if he is down and out of the fight, you do not have the right to administered a coup de grace to avoid the legal entanglements that may arise after the fact. Yes, it is complicated. Its SUPPOSED to be complicated. Taking a human life is an action of last resort.

4. “After you have to shoot a mugger, look for witnesses. If there aren’t any, leave the area to avoid the legal hassle.”

Wrong and very dangerous. In the eyes of the law, flight equals guilt. Innocent people do not run from the law. Your perceptions will be distorted, your senses dulled in the aftermath of any shooting encounter. (If it happens to trained professionals, and it does, it will happen to you). The witnesses you don’t see, you will see for the first time when they appear in court to testify against you.

5. “Guns are of no use to a woman in danger of rape, since rapists do not carry guns and you cannot shoot an unarmed man.”

Wrong and very dangerous - are you noticing a pattern here by now? In the “AOJ” trilogy (Ability, Opportunity and Jeopardy) the threat of disparate force by an unarmed attacker meets the ability requirement. A man, due to average superior upper body strength, has a disparity of force advantage over a smaller, weaker woman. More than one attacker, even when unarmed poses a deadly threat because of their greater combined strength. This disparity is a “weapon” as surely as a gun, a knife or other weapon. And an attack with intent to rape poses a danger of great bodily harm, if not death for the victim.

6. “I couldn’t actually use a gun, I just have one to scare burglars away.”

Wrong and deadly. Countless studies of criminal behavior have brought us a chilling fact. Criminals do not fear the gun. They only fear the resolute man or woman holding it on them. If they d not believe that you are “hard” enough to fire on them, they will make the effort to take the gun away from you and use it on you. Lots of different ways to say this. If you do not have what it takes to use a gun to save your life, do not pull one on an attacker. You will not have much advance warning if you have been chosen as a victim. You cannot be sure that if you submit that your attacker will spare your life. Yes, it does happen in your town, in your neighborhood and it can happen, without warning, tonight, in your home. Yes, its unfair. But who in the world ever told you that life was going to be fair, and why were you foolish enough to believe them?

7. “The key to self defense is having the ‘right’ gun. With a large bore handgun, you will be unbeatable in a gunfight.”

Wrong and pretty stupid. This is not a quest for the magical sword Excalibur. A self defense handgun must be one that combines reliability, stopping power, and accuracy in a stressful firing situation. Dirty Harry’s .44 magnum would be no match for a cheap .22 Saturday night special in the hands of a criminal skilled in shooting it accurately. If the magnum owner could not fire it effectively and accurately to put an attacker down, he will lose the fight. Choose a gun you can shoot accurately, which operates reliability and which has sufficient stopping power to save your life if you ever have to use it. Because if you do, that is what will be at stake.

8. “Do not pull a gun unless you are going to pull the trigger.”

Wrong and dangerously stupid. In the words of Massad Ayoob, Director of the Lethal Force Institute for over twenty-eight years, “No little grasshopper, the rule is don’t pull the gun unless you’re prepared to pull the trigger.” The difference is monumental. The greatest power of the gun is deterrence. Threat management, the ability to dissuade an attacker from carrying through with his threat. But if you have achieved that goal, the decision to shoot changes your status from responsible gun owner to criminal. Police officers must pull their guns in the line of duty routinely, but rarely are required to move to the point of using deadly force. You must be ready to stop the threat while maintaining control over the decision to use deadly force to do so.

**Adapted from the work of, and with grateful acknowledgment to, Massad F. Ayoob, skilled instructor, true friend and Director of the Massad Ayoob Group, Concord, New Hampshire.

Jeopardy, the Third Leg of the AOJ Triad

Experienced self-defense trainers refer to adversaries or attackers who have the ability and opportunity to cause harm, and reasonable people who, observing the aggressive conduct, believe they are in immediate jeopardy of death or serious injury. These three factors (called the AOJ triad) simply restate the common law of self-defense.

“Ability” means the aggressor had the means by which to kill or seriously injure the client. This can include “mechanical ability” where the attacker had a weapon of some sort, or, in the case of the unarmed attacker, there existed a disparity of force which might include factors such as relative age, strength, gender, training, level of aggressiveness, number of aggressors, and, possibly an attacker known to be skilled in deadly hand to hand arts.

**A man armed with a razor sharp knife has the means to kill or seriously injure another human being.

“Opportunity” means the attacker was in a position to use his ability. This is a function of distance, and obstacles between the aggressor and defender, as well as the existence of cover, and escape routes. An aggressor armed with a firearm has a greater opportunity to harm a defender at range than one armed with a baseball bat.

**A man with a razor sharp knife standing 21 feet away from another person has the ability and the opportunity to inflict death or serious bodily harm before the defender can act to stop him.

**A man with the same knife at the other end of the block, cannot present the type of imminent threat that justifies the use of deadly force. He is too distant, therefore he lacks opportunity.

“Jeopardy” means that the individual’s behavior was such that it would led the defender, and would also lead a reasonable observer, to conclude the defender is in imminent danger. This can include verbal threats, threatening gestures, and sudden movement towards the defender.

**If the client was injured or was unable to flee due to ill health or disability, he would be placed in jeopardy at a time earlier than a healthy or uninjured person.

Here is some interesting language from the Minnesota Appellate courts on the issue of jeopardy.

"The appellant was upset because his girlfriend took a knife and damaged one of his Playstation games - - because he punched her in the head for waking him up from a drunken snooze -- which she did because he was defecating on her couch in his sleep. So later, after discovering the damage to his beloved Playstation game, he was in the shower singing about how he was going to get out, dry off and then "kick the shit out of her, and throw her down the stairs. She dialed 911. He was later charged with and convicted of making a felony terroristic threat. On appeal, he argued that his threat, was at best to commit a misdemeanor assault, not a sufficient predicate crime to justify a conviction on the felony terroristic threat charge."

"The evidence was sufficient that a jury could find appellant guilty of making a threat to commit second-degree assault. Minnesota law provides that "[w]hoever assaults another with a dangerous weapon" is guilty of second-degree assault. Minn. Stat. § 609.222, subd. 1 (2006). A "dangerous weapon" is defined as an "instrumentality that, in the manner it is used or intended to be used is calculated or likely to produce death or great bodily harm." Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 6 (2006). And "[g]reat bodily harm" means bodily injury which creates a high probability of death, or which causes serious permanent disfigurement, or which causes a permanent or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ or other serious bodily harm. Id., subd. 8. Depending on the circumstances of the assault, hands and feet may be dangerous weapons, even if the victim does not suffer great bodily harm. State v. Davis, 540 N.W.2d 88, 90-91 (Minn. App. 1995) (citations omitted), review denied (Minn. Jan. 31, 1996)."

"The evidence was sufficient for the jury to find that appellant threatened to use his feet and hands as a dangerous weapon. A threat to "kick the sh--" out of a person, throw someone down the stairs, and/or hit someone could be viewed as a threat to commit a crime of violence calculated or likely to produce death or great bodily harm. It is reasonable to conclude that a person could be at risk of a high probability of death, suffer serious permanent disfigurement, suffer a loss or impairment of a bodily function or other serious bodily harm from getting kicked or hit hard, pushed down stairs, or a combination of all three. Thus, we conclude there is sufficient evidence to find appellant‟s statements constitute threats to commit a second-degree assault."

State v. Jorgenson, 758 N.W.2d 316 (Minn.App. 2008)

This concept is not terribly new in the law.  In 1921, Justice Homes, delivering the opinion of the court in Brown v. United States, 256 U.S. 335, 343, 41 S.Ct. 501, 65 L.E.2d 961 (1921) stated:

Many respectable writers agree that if a man reasonably believes that he is in immediate danger of death or grievous bodily harm from his assailant, he may stand his ground and that if he kills him he has not exceed the bounds of lawful self-defense. Justice Holmes went on to say, “Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.”