November 30, 2015
By Richard Nance
Since handguns are projectile weapons, it's easy to assume that if you were to fire at an assailant who posed a deadly threat, it would be from a distance far greater than arm's length. While distance is generally favorable to the defensive handgunner, it's a luxury we don't always have, and close quarters combat takes a different set of skills.
Any number of factors can affect the distance from which we are attacked and, therefore, the amount of time we have to respond. It could be we're less attentive than we should be and fail to recognize a potential threat until it is upon us, or maybe the crook's behavior doesn't telegraph his intent to accost us. After all, a mugger would starve to death if he demanded an intended victim's money from so far a distance the potential victim had time to draw a gun or escape.
Another possibility is that what starts out as a conversation leads to an argument then to close quarters combat. Even if you detect potential danger, an assailant can close distance with surprising speed. Think you'll have time to respond?
Well, thanks to Dennis Tueller's research, we know the average person can cover a distance of 21 feet in about 1.5 seconds. This happens to be about the same time it takes a reasonably proficient shooter to draw and fire two center of mass hits. Keep in mind a "tie" in such a scenario could result in you being seriously injured or worse.
Being defensive is no way to win a close-quarter gunfight.
Regardless of the circumstances, there are some nuances specific to close quarter combat you need to be aware of. First, you need to realize that attempting to draw your gun without first addressing an assailant's weapon is a good way to get shot, stabbed or bludgeoned. Second, in close quarters combat, the role of your off hand becomes critical because it will be used to defend, control or strike as appropriate.
Third, you need to be proficient in shooting with your gun indexed to your chest. In this position you are more capable of retaining the gun, but you'll have to "aim" it without using the sights. Last but certainly not least, the final element of your close quarters combat repertoire is aggressiveness.
When faced with a deadly threat in close quarters combat, the natural tendency is to reach for your handgun. In close quarters, this tactic is dangerous because your assailant has a head start. Yes, bringing your gun into play is a high priority, but you must negate the attacker's weapon in order to facilitate your draw.
If the weapon is static, as would be the case when an assailant holds you at gunpoint, knifepoint, metal pipe-point or what have you, your task is far simpler than if the weapon is in motion. When you're accosted by someone who's only threatening with a weapon as opposed to pulling the trigger or actively trying to cut you or strike you, the action versus reaction principle works in your favor. In such case, the attacker may certainly try to harm you, but his intent is likely to first gain your compliance by threatening you with a weapon.
For example, an armed assailant may demand your wallet or other valuables, or worse yet, he may order you into a vehicle or to a more remote area to lessen the odds of him being caught. If, based on the circumstances, you feel that handing over your wallet, watch or whatever else the assailant demands will satisfy him, then by all means cooperate. Keep in mind, however, that cooperating with an armed attacker does not guarantee your safety. After getting what he wants, he may decide not to leave a witness to his crime.
When an assailant intends to move you from one location to another, it's probably best to make your stand and engage in close quarters combat. Rarely does being taken to another location end well for the victim.
Against a static weapon, the fastest way to get off-line of the attack is to move the attacker's weapon-bearing arm and your body in different directions simultaneously. If you're carrying a holstered gun along the right side of your waist, using your left hand to redirect the weapon enables you to draw your gun with your right hand. Rather than simply slapping the assailant's arm away, grab his wrist and force the arm away. This affords you better control.
Be mindful of your off hand as you draw in close quarters combat; try not to let the muzzle of your gun sweep across your arm or hand.
Speaking of your off hand, most shooters are taught to bring this hand to their chest as they draw so the gun is positioned to join their shooting hand as the gun is driven toward the threat. This makes perfect sense when the assailant is several feet away, but in close quarters combat, bringing your off hand to your chest is dangerous.
When your off hand is against your chest in close quarters combat, it offers no protection from incoming attacks. It's much more beneficial to use your off hand to shield your head or, better yet, to strike or shove the assailant to take his balance and create enough distance to draw your gun.
Of course, when your off hand is in play, there's a chance it could wind up in front of the muzzle of your gun. In a close quarters combat encounter, you may inadvertently sweep the muzzle of your gun past a portion of your body, which is why it's critical to keep your finger out of the trigger guard until you're on target and have made a conscious decision to fire. You can mitigate the risk of your off hand crossing the muzzle by indexing the gun to your chest.
Though you may not realize it, indexing your gun to your chest is a natural component of your draw stroke. A proper index involves your elbow rising to full extension with the heel of your hand pressed against your chest. Your hand should be canted outward (clockwise for a right-handed shooter) to keep the slide from snagging on your clothing.
Indexing your gun to your body is beneficial in two ways. First, with the gun against your body, it's far less accessible to the suspect. Even if he does manage to grab it, you will have the leverage needed to retain it. Second, with a consistent index, you can fire predictably placed rounds in close quarters combat without having to see the sights on your handgun. When your hips and shoulders square to the threat and your gun is indexed to your chest, your body aims your gun.
From this indexed position, your muzzle will likely be angled slightly downward. At arm's length, this may result in any shots hitting the assailant's pelvis. The pelvis — or pelvic girdle, as it sometimes referred to — is a widely accepted secondary target when rounds to the chest are ineffective because the assailant is wearing body armor, is under the influence of drugs, or is just hell bent on attacking you until his body literally shuts down.
While a pelvis shot may not immediately incapacitate your adversary, one or more shots to this structure is likely to prevent it from supporting the assailant's weight, in essence rendering him immobile.
Of course, being shot anywhere (particularly multiple times at close range) is likely to generate a "psychological stoppage" because the assailant's mindset is transformed from attack mode to self-preservation mode.
With your muzzle oriented at the pelvis and your off hand either protecting your head or, ideally, in contact with the assailant's head, there's less chance of your hand or arm crossing in front of the muzzle. Unfortunately, during close quarters combat, it may not be feasible to use the index position. For instance, if you were to direct the assailant's weapon-bearing arm downward, you would risk shooting your own hand by delivering rounds from the index position. In such case, targeting the assailant's head may be a better option.
In close quarters combat, aggressiveness reigns supreme. When a murderous criminal grabs hold of you, many of the fundamentals of marksmanship are meaningless. Stance, grip and follow-through are still applicable, but sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control and breath control are of little consequence. Understanding the importance of aggression is one thing, but translating that aggression into an effective technique is quite another.
As a rookie police officer, I remember being taught a technique called the Speed Rock. This technique entails leaning your upper body back to facilitate your draw stroke when faced with a deadly threat in extreme close quarters combat. The rationale behind the Speed Rock makes sense. By leaning away, you're able to create a few inches of space and steal a few ticks off the clock. Theoretically, this would allow you to bring your gun in to play.
However, in application, the Speed Rock fails to account for the fact that by leaning your upper body away, you're compromising your own balance and inviting an aggressive assailant to literally run you over. You may be forced to employ the Speed Rock in a close quarters combat situation where you are shoved back against an object such as a railing or a vehicle; however, your goal should always be to take the assailant's balance. Make him backpedal. Make him Speed Rock!
In the martial arts, there's an adage, "Where the head goes, the body follows." One of the simplest ways to take a person's balance is to elevate his chin with your palm. With his head tilted back, you can drive an assailant back on his heels rather easily. As he's backpedaling, he'll be more concerned with regaining his balance than harming you. If the assailant attacked you with a deadly weapon, you could then shoot him from the index position then disengage and assess from a two-handed sighted-fire position.
You're not merely striking his chin with your palm. While this may be an effective strike, the assailant need only take a step back to regain his balance. Rather than striking the assailant and retracting your arm, drive your palm under his chin and literally run forward, directly at the assailant. He'll have little choice but move backward. At this point, you will have gained the upper hand, essentially turning predator into prey.
If you're caught off guard by an armed assailant, the fact that you're an excellent shot carries little weight. In order to prevail, you will need to have prepared specifically for this fast-paced, unforgiving realm of close quarters combat.
Resist the urge to draw your gun without first addressing the bad guy's weapon. Realize the important role of your off hand in the fight. When possible in close quarters combat, index the gun to your chest for optimal retention and effective unsighted aiming of your handgun. And most importantly, ramp up your aggression. Being defensive is no way to win a close-quarter gunfight.