man shotting behind a shield

20 rules for winning gunfights

If you opt to carry or own a gun for self protection, you probably already know that there may be times that you’ll have to make difficult decisions. Well, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind with any tactical situation:

1) Be prepared to use deadly force. This emotional, mental and psychological decision must be made long before the incident arrives. You may have to shoot a man, a woman, pregnant lady or a young teenager. Think about it before the time arrives.  Be prepared to stop a co-worker, a neighbor, a teammate, friend or even a relative. You may have to physically hurt or kill someone that you know or someone you’ve talked with or like or someone you think you know well.  No one said being a warrior is fun. Hollywood only makes it look appealing and attractive, but it’s not. There are hard days and difficult times that nothing on the Big Screen could ever accurately portray.

2) Have a plan to kill everyone you meet. If you remember this old military adage, you’ll be able to act or react quicker, and in firefights, speed saves lives.

3) Action is faster than reaction. If someone’s pointing a gun at you, you must act fast. He can pull the trigger anytime he wants to and you’ll be DRT – dead right there. Never – ever – get involved in a so-called Mexican standoff where two people just stand there and point guns at each other.  Save that for Hollywood.  In real if, if you do that, you could lose. Period. The results could be disastrous. 

4) Be absolutely sure of your target before pulling the trigger.  If you’re too quick on the trigger, you might shoot the wrong person at the wrong time.  Have positive ID on the threat/target and then shoot.

5) Shoot from behind cover, if available.  Know the difference between cover and concealment. Get to hard cover – and stay there until the threat stops. Of course, shoot from behind cover.  Move only if you are gaining a tactical advantage without sacrificing your own safety. 

6) Shoot on the move.  Shoot then move.  Move then shoot.  Practice it. Static shooting will get you killed.  Save that for target shooting and plinking. 

7) Don’t turn your back on the threat. If you need to retreat do so, but don’t turn your back, if possible.

8) Keep your eyes on the threat.  You’re eyes are key in battle.  Protect your eyes, and keep your head on a swivel. 

9) Don’t hesitate. Hesitation kills. Hesitation is your enemy, but so is shooting too fast.  

10) Don’t ever give up your weapon.  If someone other than a police officer tells you to drop your gun or give up your gun, don’t.  Be prepared to use it.  If you give up your gun, you could die.

11) Shoot center mass. It’s the largest area on the body. Save shooting the gun out of someone’s hand for the movies.  Don’t shoot the leg or the shoulder, shoot center mass.  The next best target is the head and then the pelvis, but first shoot center mass. 

12) Know ballistics and wound penetration. If you’re going to shoot, realize that the suspect might live. Go visit with an ER doctor in a big, violent city. Shoot the suspect if you’re justified. Keep shooting until the threat has stopped. Hopefully bad guys will drop their weapons, but don’t count on it.  

13) Shoot until the threat stops. Forget the two-shots and stop drill. Try a six-shot rhythm drill on the guy’s chest. 

14) Have a self aid/buddy aid medical kit handy. You’ll need it when you least expect it. 

15) Don’t give up space you’ve already taken … because then you’ll just have to re-clear that area again.

16) It’s okay to retreat.  Bravado has injured and killed many people.

17) Don’t be a wuss.  You’ll be scared, act anyway. Courage is when you fear and you act anyway. 

18) Be aggressive.  Violence of action is your friend.  Be tactically smart, but aggressive.  Call it what you will, but in the end, more violence wins. 

19) Know and be confident in your weapon disarming techniques. Know that criminals, crazies and kooks can learn weapon disarming techniques just as well as you can. But, be careful where you learn these techniques.  Some techniques will get you killed.

20) Train hard.  Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Training in all its phases must be intensive.”  The harder you train, the more you’ll begin to conquer your own inner weaknesses and the more confidence you’ll gain.  

Until next time continue to hone your skills and keep adding to your tactical toolbox.

A version of this was originally published on

Jeffrey Denning

Jeffrey has written award-winning articles for the Washington Times,, and other publications. He is the author of seven books, including Warrior SOS: Military Veterans’ Stories of Faith, Emotional Survival and Living with PTSD. He teaches courses on peer support, suicide prevention, and other mental wellness and resilience to public safety professionals. If you would like Jeff to speak at your event or training please contact him HERE.

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