Self-Defense: Myths, Lies, Truth & What You Should Know

With recent events out of Ferguson Missouri I've noticed several questions asking what people think about it... What I see in many answers is truly disturbing.

Self-Defense Education

It is abundantly clear that many people on GAG know virtually nothing about lawful self-defense, I feel as a member of the community, and a very senior one at that, it is my responsibility to share my knowledge to help educate those in need.

My Credentials

So first, what authority do I have to be telling people about lawful self-defense? For one, I am a firearms instructor certified by the NRA, now I'm sure more than one person just went "ugh, NRA, evil, grrr" but before you dismiss everything I say from this point on consider this: In most states, including some very liberal ones like Massachusetts, my NRA certification gives me the authority to sign you off to apply for a license to carry a concealed firearm. In other words, these states have entrusted me to judge whether you are competent enough to carry a gun.

I am a student of Rob Pincus, a world renowned firearms instructor who works with police departments all around the world. I have also received tips from various American Police, Special Forces, IDF soldiers and even an active-duty Spetsnaz. I am very confident in my level of knowledge in this area, I'll leave it to you to decide if my credentials are satisfactory.

Self-Defense: 101

I will cover as much as reasonably possible, but understand it is impossible to go over every possible scenario, so instead I will cover the basics that go for everything. Remember that every individual case has its own unique details, but once you're made aware of the standards of lawful self-defense, things should, generally speaking, become much easier to form an appropriate opinion on.


First and foremost, it is important to know what deadly force is. Deadly force is doing something that has strong potential to be lethal; examples include but are not limited to shooting someone, stabbing someone and hitting someone with a car. The person on the receiving end of deadly force does not necessarily need to die from it, just doing something that could kill them is deadly force in the eyes of the law. That means shooting someone in the leg/foot/arm/hand/somewhere other than center mass, even missing the person completely is considered using deadly force, there are no exceptions, if you shoot at someone you are using deadly force, period.


When can deadly force be used? The simple answer is when you're in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm, but how is that determined? There are three pieces to that puzzle: ability, opportunity and intent, your attacker must have all three for you to be justified in using deadly force.


Can your attacker actually kill you? Maybe. Do they have a weapon? Are they much bigger than you? Is there more than one of them? Are you in a compromised position? Something else? If two men, each six foot six, built like Ronnie Coleman and each had a gun and they're going after the skinny, five foot nothing woman trying to reach for something in the back of her trunk, it seems like a pretty safe bet that these two men have the ability to kill this woman.


Is your attacker actually within striking distance? If they are armed with something other than a gun, are they close to you? If they have a gun do they have a somewhat clear shot at you? Let me recreate an example that was articulated to me in a class a few years ago: The instructor stood in one corner of the room and pulled out a knife, then called out to the student who was furthest away from him, saying he was going to kill him with the knife and then asking if the student would be justified in shooting the instructor, the short answer is a resounding NO. The instructor was too far away, there were half a dozen tables and two dozen people in between them, there is no possible way to articulate that the instructor was an imminent threat to the student and thus deadly force is not justified.

Remember:There are a lot of ways an attacker can create opportunity, but at the end of the day it all boils down to can they, with the abilities they have, kill you?


Is your attacker actually trying to kill you? This one can be hard, you can't read their mind and if they survive the encounter it's highly unlikely they'll admit to trying to kill you. Is he on the other side of a door kicking it while yelling that he's going to kill you? Did he get the drop on you and is now on top of you and hitting you? Intent is rarely known for sure, this is where articulation comes into play, you need to reasonably believe your attacker is trying to kill you or hurt you very badly, which brings me to the next point...


We know what deadly force is and we know what the three factors that must be present for the use of it are, but what happens after? What happens when the Police ask you what happened?

The truth is always the best policy if you've acted appropriately. The Police are going to ask you what happened thirty times in thirty-five different ways, you MUST stay consistent in your story, if you change it, even a little bit, you've almost certainly sunk yourself. If a naked man came at you with a knife screaming gibberish, that's what you tell them, those eleven words fill the three holes that need to be filled, ability (he had a knife) opportunity (he was running at you) and intent (screaming gibberish). In this example, a naked man screaming gibberish is clearly not in their right mind, and he can easily be dangerous, when the naked man picks up a knife and starts running at you, it is reasonable to believe that since they are not in their right mind and they are running at you, that they intend to try and hurt/kill you, and since they have a knife it wouldn't be hard for them to do it.


The American criminal justice system is designed around the belief that it is better to let one hundred guilty men go free than it is to imprison even one who is innocent. It works off this belief for the simple reason that if you are wrongfully accused, you don't want to go to jail. This can create a feeling that the suspects get more rights than the victims, and that is not an inaccurate feeling, but the next time you see someone go free when you think they shouldn't, ask yourself if it was you, and you know you don't do horrible things, wouldn't you want the system to be set up this way? It is called reasonable doubt, evidence can tell more than one story, if you are being accused of murdering someone when you acted in self-defense, there is a way to tell the story so that the evidence can be interpreted as such. At that point investigators and onlookers are left with at least two possible explanations that the evidence supports, as such there is reasonable doubt, tie goes to the runner, you walk.


What does this mean for Michael Brown and Darren Wilson? It means Darren Wilson walks, multiple eyewitness accounts that contradict each other, a believable story from Wilson that the evidence supports, reasonable doubt is overflowing in this case, there is simply no lawful way to convict Wilson with so much reasonable doubt, indicting him would have only been a massive waste of time and money only to end with the same result.

Of everything I've heard from people supporting Michael Brown, the one thing I haven't heard from any of them is how the evidence can be interpreted that he was innocent. I haven't seen anybody claim he was NOT charging Wilson or that he did NOT try to get Wilson's gun, by doing both of those things Brown made it clear that he had the ability (his size) opportunity (was charging Wilson) and intent (charging Wilson and trying to get his gun) to kill Wilson. If Michael Brown was a lot smaller than he was then things would be different, but being as big as he was it is reasonable for Wilson to believe Brown would overpower him had he allowed him to get too close. Darin Wilson is tall, but not as tall as Brown and of average build. All of these factors put together indicate that Wilson acted appropriately, as unfair as that may seem to some.

Perhaps Darren Wilson just didn't want to be another James Camp.


Stand Your Ground laws have gotten a lot of attention in the past couple years and there seems to be a very serious misunderstanding about what these laws do. Stand Your Ground laws exist partially because of overzealous prosecutors, they eliminate the ability of prosecutors to get a conviction by suggesting the victim could have got away. Another reason is if you're being attacked, do you want to be wondering if you can realistically get away? Invoking Stand Your Ground does NOT mean you no longer need to articulate the ability, opportunity and intent of your attacker, Stand Your Ground law or not, you still need to articulate these things.


Unlike Michael Brown, this IS a case where the justice system failed. I can't pinpoint exactly where, but there is absolutely no way Marissa Alexander should have been convicted, she shouldn't even have been indicted. A few years ago in New Hampshire an elderly man saw a burglar breaking into his neighbors house, the burglar fled and the man fired a single shot into the ground, this got the burglar's attention and he was arrested, along with the elderly man. After some time the elderly man was set free, he should have been arrested, charged and convicted for reckless discharge of a firearm, but given the circumstances the DA decided not to prosecute, a reasonable decision given the circumstances.

Why Marissa Alexander was not shown the same courtesy is beyond me. Rico Gray clearly demonstrated the ability, opportunity and intent to cause her serious harm or death, yet she opted to fire a warning shot instead, possibly sparing his life. To justify the conviction, the judge claimed that her actions were not consistent with someone who feared for their life. Really? Feeling the need to pull a gun in the first place seems like someone would be in fear for their life to me, granted she should have shot him, it would have been justified.

Florida has recently, despite Democrat and pro-gun control opposition, reformed their self-defense laws to prevent any future Marissa Alexander's from happening. Much like Stand Your Ground, the laws were reformed in order to prevent overzealous prosecutors and activist judges from unjustly convicting innocent people.


Injustice exists in the world, no doubt, but knowing where true injustice lies is the first step to correcting it. We as citizens need to move past this absolutist attitude of you're either with our group 100% or you're against our group 100%. Just because you believe the Michael Brown case ended mostly correctly doesn't mean you can't also believe the Marissa Alexander case did not end correctly. There is no room for opinion in law, there is fact and fiction, nothing else. Laws like Stand Your Ground exist to protect you from the injustices in the system, to oppose them while thinking the system is against you is counterproductive to say the least. It's time to stop letting Al Sharpton or Rush Limbaugh tell you what to think, do your research, educate yourself and triple-check your sources. Local laws vary not only from state to state, but even city to city, and obviously country to country, know the laws you are governed by, it is your responsibility as a citizen.

This is not meant to be legal advice, neither I nor the NRA, Rob Pincus or any of my other mentors assume responsibility for the actions of those who use any information contained in this writing.


Most Helpful Girl

  • I really enjoyed reading this. Very informative :)


Most Helpful Guy

  • As a Martial artist who has been training in hand to hand combat for over five years and a person who has been around guns and handled them ( shot them, cleaned them etc ) for many years I know a thing about it as well.

    1# Stay out of a fight if you can, violence should always be a last resort, and killing someone should always be at the bottom of the list there is nothing cool about taking a life and when you do it, it will change you forever and you will always have to carry that weight.

    2# Just because you have a gun don't think your safe agaisnt a knife wielder, a lot of times a trained knife fighter can run up to someone faster then the average untrained person you can draw their weapon and take it off safety.

    3# When your unarmed and faced with an attacker armed with a firearm do not engage or try to take the gun away or make a move against him. The best option is to make sure he does not fire and to protect your own body.

    4# Weapons don't kill people, people kill people their has to be a person operating the weapon for it to harm people so if you want to take out killings on anything take it out on the unstable people who committed them not the weapons, weapons are tools just like anything else, you can kill people with virtually any object on earth but their still must be a person using it objects and tools don't float around killing people on their own.

    5# Never underestimate an enemy or what they are capable of if you do it can lead to you getting hurt or worse.

    6# Always be prepared to do what is necessary, one day you may find yourself in your home when it is invaded by a drug user or an unstable robber. And they take someone hostage or try to kill someone you have to be prepared to do what is necessary as a last resort otherwise you or your family could get hurt or killed.


Join the discussion

What Girls Said 4

  • Very informative! !!! Thank you

  • Nice article. I would also recommend the books of Marc Macyoung and Rory Miller on the subject. Peace to all.

  • OMG This Take is so awesome and detailed!!

  • I get it now. NRA. Makes sense. The rest of the article explains a lot too.


What Guys Said 13

  • From what period of the law was the belief from that letting a hundred go us better? I'm a CLJ major and never heard of this, and from what I see we are having a growing possible issue of innocent people going to jail. Which is difficult since everyone claims to be innocents. ..

    What you said is something I generally agree but the answer no when the teacher gave that example confused me still. Imagine if I was walking around school and went to class early on the first day, I walked in and from the far there's side of the room the guy pulls out a knife and said he was going to kill me, I can't shoot him? It's just surprising to me since this seems like a situation people would feel threatened and life endangered. A stranger with a knife said he was going to kill you, how can't you seem justify to shoot is mind blowing and disturbing. He has the ability the knife, the opportunity close distance, and the intent declaration and bringing the knife. I would shot the guy and take my chances with the court. One seems like a for sure death and other a slow painful death

    It's easy to get pass desk and people, a few years ago a man died on the tracks because people right in front of him froze up.

  • This is the only thing you need to remember about defending yourself with a gun.

    Seriously, once you have initiated a confrontation, them simply moving toward you is enough to indicate they intend to do you bodily harm. Maybe they don't, maybe they intend to give you a hug, and talk things through, but I seriously doubt it. There are so many thugs nowadays who try to bully others into submission with brute strength. Backing away only empowers them to keep acting like that and hurting others. That's why we have Stand your Ground laws, and castle laws. so that we don't have to keep backing down and letting those damn brutes get away with shit. Take Michael Brown for instance, he went and robbed some gas station, and they weren't even going to call the law about it. Some bystander that Michael Brown shoved had to do it for them. If someone so much as shoves or threatens me, I'm punching them until they stop moving, then punching them some more. I've seen enough people get sucker punched or stabbed or shot by some punk with no sense of honor or morality. Even if it's some midget woman, how am I to know she won't pull a gun out of her purse and shoot me. Everyone is dangerous nowadays, you don't have to be big or strong to kill someone. Anyone can pull a trigger, and criminals don't need someone like the author of this article to approve them to buy guns from other criminals.

    • "Anyone can pull a trigger, and criminals don't need someone like the author of this article to approve them to buy guns from other criminals."

      How very true, you know what is supposed to happen to people who buy guns for criminals? They're supposed to go to jail for ten years, but guess what? They almost never do.

    • You're right. I'm all for background checks and people like you trying to keep guns out of the hands of irresponsible people, but really criminals are going to find ways to get them regardless. And there's no way to tell if a suspect, intruder, bully, etc. is packing heat, unless you have x-ray vision or something. That's why I believe if a police officer points a gun at a suspect, and tells him to get down on the ground or put his hands in the air, that officer has every right to shoot him if he does not immediately comply. It's easy to conceal a firearm, and it only takes a second for someone to draw one, and send a bullet flying your way. When a suspect charges at an officer like Michael Brown did after refusing to get down or put his hands up, it's a no brainer for me, his dumb ass needs shot.

  • Reasonable doubt isn't the standard for self defense. Self defense is an affirmative defense, which must be proved by the defense by a preponderance of the evidence. Also, stand your ground laws haven't been relevant to any of the recent high profile cases in which they've been brought up by media. Stand your ground removes the duty to retreat. Even without stand your ground, there is no duty to retreat if you are in your own home (Alexander) and the duty to retreat only applies if you are able to do so in complete safety, not if your story is that you were pinned down being beaten (Zimmerman). The reason for the different outcomes in those two cases is that his story was believed and hers wasn't.

    • Reasonable doubt comes into play whenever anybody is charged with anything, the burden of proof is on the prosecutor when putting someone on trial, the affirmative defense you're talking about is only when you're trying to not get arrested in the first place.

      Stand Your Ground removes the duty to retreat, that is correct, but the reason for it is as I stated, it removes the ability of a prosecutor to convict by suggesting the person could have got away. As for how the law applies in your own home, laws vary jurisdiction to jurisdiction, though most states have some kind of Castile Doctrine or Stand Your Ground law, every so often some whacko lawmaker like Michael Dukakis comes along and tries to make it unlawful to NOT try to get away.

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    • If your story held up, you would almost definitely not be charged, pretty much anywhere. That's why castle doctrine is so important. Otherwise, in your hypo, there'd be more facts to look into, and frankly, there shouldn't be.

      My.45 is too big for me to carry, and I want something with higher capacity than my.38. What's your suggestion in a good 9mm or.40 for a skinny guy to conceal on his person?

    • I carry a Glock 19 personally, works quite well if you get the right IWB holster. I've seen some pretty thin Springfield XD pistols, but if you're looking to go small you can still get a.45 in a Glock 30, I've also heard a lot of people praise the M&P Shield.

  • Since we're on the self defense topic and you've talked with police officers and got tips from them; do you know if they're given tasers?

    I know many cops have a night stick, but what about tasers? When dealing with in a conflict with an unarmed enemy, why not use a taser?

    I think the whole Michael brown issue could have been avoided if he tasted him once Michael got close enough. I mean letting someone get that close to you in the first place is strange for an officer.

    • With a taser you get only one shot, I've never asked about if tasers are standard issue, though I think most police carry one.

      Deadly force was justified as Michael Brown fit the criteria of an assailant who could kill Wilson.

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    • Also, didn't the struggle happen half-inside Wilson's car? I thought Michael Brown was reaching inside the car at Wilson, in which case it'd be difficult to use a taser or hand-to-hand combat. But I could be wrong. I'm hearing all kinds of things and having a hard time keeping the whole story straight.

    • I've asked a cop why they weren't carrying a teaser before hey said it's because they're not always nonlethal. People with a heart condition can be killed on accident so some departments prefer a baton or mace since they're less likely to be lethal

  • As a former security officer who worked on numerous projects from college campuses to major Hollywood production movies and TV shows, I found this is explains self defense policy very well. Too often I've worked along side plenty of air-headed security officers who still haven't figured this out. Plus my company lacked in training those who needed it. Seriously, this passage should be printed in every security company's handbook under "use of force policy."

  • Probably the best take I've read so far. Good job!

  • you know what i hate about self defense? that it's gender exclusive sometimes. When i was in high school, there was a class you could take for gym called self defense. I was like, OHHH that sounds great. I'm not particularly fit and i don't know how to defend myself. 2 birds with 1 stone. Then i looked closely and it said (females only) and i was like... WAHHH... and karate lessons from private tutors are expensive and i dont have that kind of money.

  • Great take! Self-defense for the win!

  • "The American criminal justice system is designed around the belief that it is better to let one hundred guilty men go free than it is to imprison even one who is innocent."
    Yeah, American laws are awesome... *facepalm*

    • Remember that next time you're on trial for something you didn't do.

  • Whoa!! It's fixing to get ugly in that picture.

  • Best take I've read on this site so far

  • Always remember, a weapon is the manifestation of a decision that has already been made. I know that all too well. I am a military man, special operations. Lethal force is the name to the game I play, so to speak, however, the times I have got into a fight at say a bar with an intoxicated individual (I do not drink) and instead of completely incapacitating or killing the individual I avoided the situation or defended myself with minimal offensive contact from me. In other words, just because I know how to break ever bone in someones body, does not mean I will, so use your discretion.
    With regards to the article, its a great one at that, Bud. Job well done

  • You sound like a racist prick