View Full Version : Myths Of The Gunfight

Gabriel Suarez
10-11-2003, 05:46 PM

You know a great deal has been written about the reality of gunfighting. Much of it has been written by folks who’ve never shot anything more dangerous than a mean looking target in a shoothouse simulator. Lots of the material is the product of the academics, whose school of thought that believes everything will turn into a "bag of cats on the way to the river" when the first hint that someone wants to harm you flashes on your heads up display. Alas, most of those who have actually been there done that dislike writing about it for various reasons. Well, young grasshoppers, such is NOT the case with yours truly.

Lots of folks will tell you, with unerring precision, exactly what will happen when you are faced with a violent death. Bullsh*t. Nobody can predict how YOU will react. They only know what MAY happen, never what WILL happen. Here is what some say -

Myth #1 - Blood pressure goes to 180/140; heart rate is beyond being measured.

Truth - Not necessarily true. Will you be excited? Certainly! Will you have a heart attack? No!

Myth #2 - Time slows to a crawl, 15 seconds seems like minutes.

Truth - You perceive things much faster giving the impression (sometimes) that things have slowed down.
Myth #3 - Body functions are screwed up for days, if they remain controllable.......

Truth - Condition Brown? What are we a bunch of de-nutted, sissified, veggie eaters from Berkely? Good grief man, get ahold of yourself and be the warrior that God made you to be. After my first gunfight (a fatal one), I went home, ate breakfast and went to sleep. Unless you have some sort of medical problem, you body functions will do what they always do.

Myth #4 - Your ability to count is severely compromised.

Truth - So what? Who cares. If you've been trained properly and have abandoned the stupid idea of limited shooting, or trying to keep track of your shots (always firing pairs) you will shoot them to the ground anyway...and then reload if you have to. Count? Don’t even worry about it!

Myth #5 - Afterwards your gun feels like it weighs 15 pounds, legs turn into wet noodles, and you try to figure out when you broke out in a sweat (everywhere).

Truth - See above. Listen friends, will you be excited? Yes. Will you be shaky due to the chenmical release of adrenaline? Yes. Will this adrenaline that is not used up in the fight be used up in muscle quakes and tremors? Yes. Will any of this cause you to go into Condition Brown (when everything goes to sh...well, you get the idea)? No. Most emphatically NO! If your gun begins to weight 15 pounds, you either need to take the stupid commando attachments off, or get to the gym for some serious bench pressing.

Listen guys, If you condition yourself to go to pieces, because you read silly articles about it, because some inexperienced and misguided teacher “told you that you would” , or because you are indoctrinated to think that winning a gunfight is bad, sure that may be your response. If you'd like to not go to condition brown (what a great term!!!), then get your mind right.

First of all, Grosman's On Killing to the contrary, it is NOT unnatural for humans to kill each other. Historically, we've been doing it with skill and gusto for ages. Some cultures have gotten really good at it.

Second of all, poorly studied theologians to the contrary, there is nothing in the Bible condeming killing of an evil person in combat or self-defense. In fact, sometimes its the only way to truly "live in peace" with such men. Don't believe me? go read it for yourself!

Finally, everyone, even Pee Wee Herman, has enough courage, and enough capacity for controlled violence to win a gunfight, or knife fight, or even a fist fight.

The problem with this facet of the study is that much of it is based on the study of police actions. In case you don't realize, police are NEVER trained to be gunfighters with the capacity for controlled violence, or trained to be aggressive in "official" schools. In fact, most "official" schools, as provided by the state, are pure garbage. The officers that DO get further education generally do so on their own (a very small percentage at best). And of those who will have their minds right in a fight (because they are warriors at heart and they've decided beforehand to do so), are an even smaller percentage of that.

I've been in a few of these and never had a problem at all. Now that I'm on my own, I can and do elaborate on how things went down. I reacted as I'd programmed myself to react through training.

Tunnel vision? A little I guess, but not any debilitating level...I was able to pick up movement of other adversaries easily during the after action assessment....and deal with them.

Auditory Exclusion? No. If anything, my hearing seemed more acute. The gunshots didn’t bother me.

Emotional outbursts? I did want to give a joyous and victorious war whoop and high five my partners afterward, but thought a lower profile might be better...after all Channel 4 was nearby.

Did I feel bad? Quite to the contrary, I felt great! I wasn't necessarily happy about having killed an adversary, but rather very pleased with my preparation and my performance under stress. The bad guy seemed almost inconsequential in the big scope of things.

Of course, no one is ever going to officially admit this, but Winning is better than Losing. If you win, its time for cold beer and a nice steak and a personal debriefing (how can we improve on our tactics and performance) . If you have a problem with that, perhaps the gun is not for you, and you should just lie back and let the animals have their way.

Make no mistake, gunfighting is dangerous and ugly work, and even if you do everything right, your chances are still only 1:3. If you allow your mind to be programmed for failure, your chances are even worse. So keep your minds right, your guns ready and your warrior heart pure and red.

10-11-2003, 06:34 PM
Great post! I get so tired of people telling me how I'm going to react to something. I had one fellow argue most strenuously that he knew better than I did how I'd react in a fight. The fact that he was speculating based on information obtained from untrained individuals and questionable reading material and I was projecting based on previous personal experience seemed entirely immaterial to him. Do I know how I'll react in the next emergency? Not really, but I'm determined to do at least as well as I did in the last few.

10-11-2003, 06:44 PM
A question Gabe. Immediately afterwards did you have to remind yourself to keep your mouth shut or at least be brief? In other words did the "excitement" tend to make you want to talk?

Gabriel Suarez
10-11-2003, 07:34 PM
A question Gabe. Immediately afterwards did you have to remind yourself to keep your mouth shut or at least be brief? In other words did the "excitement" tend to make you want to talk?


No, The desire was there to talk about it, but I knew from talks with the older guys that being careful was best. Regardless, the media and the shysters did their best to do me in. No luck on their part.:)

10-11-2003, 08:46 PM

I recall my talking when I had an automobile "accident". Was turning at light and man on bicycle ran right in front of me. I don't even remember seeing him, but I found myself standing on my brakes and bicycle and person down in front of me. (Also interesting experience in that I reacted and had no memory of seeing him or my brain giving signal to brake). Obviously, I was not hurt and fortunately had witness who saw him run light while on sidewalk on left hand side. But anyhow, I was tense and when officer came I found myself just talking, talking. Again was clear I was in the right so no problem with loose mouth. But from that experience I realize how easy it may be once you start talking not to stop and say things best unsaid at the time. And being shot at and shooting back I am sure would generate a lot more tension than my experience.

10-11-2003, 09:28 PM
I have a fake tooth full of novacaine. If I ever need to shut my mouth I can chomp it and at least become incomprehensible.


10-12-2003, 04:19 AM
All my gunfight experience occured in war. Here is some stuff I wrote on the subject in one of my books about the Vietnam war (The Protected Will Never Know):

"I'm no crazed stone-killer, but I have to tell you that personally, I felt nothing but a euphoric elation when I shot and killed an enemy soldier. Hell, I felt good even when I hot and missed the bastards....Civilians often ask stupid questions of combat veterans such as, 'What's it like to kill a person?' The politically correct answer is, 'It was horrible, just horrible,' then the vet is supposed to tremble a little and maybe squeeze out a few tears. What I actually experienced was a feeling of relief and triumph....It is similar to how you feel when you successfully score a touchdown in football, or beat your opponent in any other sport. When it's a matter of your life and death, however, the feeling is much stronger. Winning in this situation arouses very ancient, deeply buried emotions in the male human. Remember how Tarzan put his foot on this vanquished opponent and beat his chest as he roared in victory? It's a lot like that...."

In today's society, I wouldn't recommend that a cop let any of this triumph show in the aftermath of a shooting. In fact, it wouldn't be a bad idea to go immediately into an act of near nervous breakdown, etc, etc. It will probably help on the shooting board, trial, law suits, and all the rest that you will probably have to face.--Leigh

10-12-2003, 08:58 AM
Based on my own experience, as well as others in my squadron, one cannot predict his reaction to being shot at.

In WWII, being shot at by Flack made everyone pucker up and wish for more flack suits around him, squeezing up into a small a ball as possible. But, when fighters attacked, and one had the opportunity to shoot back, all thoughts of personal protection disappeared, the only focus was hosing your tracers into the fighters. Most of the guys in my unit voiced the same view.

I still don't know how I would react in a confrontational gun fight and, truthfully, I hope that I never find out.


Vig Creed
10-12-2003, 09:11 AM
I liked your post Gabe!


Gabriel Suarez
10-12-2003, 09:17 AM
I liked your post Gabe! The one thing that you didn't mention, and maybe it's just me, but the second the BG goes down all I can think of is, "Did I do it 100% right legally, so I won't get prosecuted?"

The BG's never did scare me, at least not after I had seen action for the first time. It was the thought of having the pro-criminal legal system after me, that I was concerned about.



Fear of the legal system (as fearful a beast as it is) has no place in the fight. You need to answer all those question beforehand so there is no doubt in your mind about the correctness of your actions. I talk a great deal about this in the Combative Perspective book. The key is developing PURITY OF FOCUS.

Many trainers and writers like to make this part sound so difficult and it is not. When its for real, and you need to act, there will be no doubt in your mind, AND staying alive will take precedence in your mind over all the laws in the world. In fact, IF ther was a law against defending yourself, as there is in many oppressed nations, YOU'D STILL SHOOT/STAB/WHATEVER THE BAD GUY because you would not be able to help it.

10-12-2003, 01:47 PM
Excellent post, Gabe. I too have "seen the elephant", but only once, but I concur with everything you said. I was totally justified in what I did and never had one minute's remorse. The idiot that decided to try to take my life made the decision for me, so it was easy. I reacted EXACTLY as I had trained, and I cannot stress enough to train real. Things I learned: There are no magic bullets. When they are big, enraged and drunk (.20), you have to "shoot them to the ground". He took 5 hits, 3 from me and 2 from my SWAT buddy, 4 of them fatal. He hit the ground, but we had to fight with him for several seconds to get him cuffed. Be prepared for whatever happens. Just because you "shoot him to the ground", it doesn't mean he's dead. This nut survived for 3 hours and died in surgery. For the wound ballistics guys, the rounds were 9mm w-w silvertip 115 grain, shot from a Sig P-226. I did not experience auditory exclusion, tachypsychia or any of the other shrink's ideas of what we should experience. I did not feel bad either. I was elated. I had the prescence of mind to call my attorney, not talk with anyone until I talked with him, told IA I was not sure how many times I fired, etc. I never even got sued, which is almost unheard of.The night of the shooting, I went home and popped popcorn, watched the great shootout scene in the movie "Heat" and went to bed. Slept like a baby. Me and my SWAT partner and another officer who had killed another thug the week before ours went to the beach for the weekend. We debriefed each other and had a great time. As far as I know, none of us has had any problems associated with what we did. The bottom line is this--Train as you live, live as you train. Plan on what you will do long before you have to make the decision in a split second. If you have any doubt about being able to drop the hammer, find another line of work. I told myself in the police academy in 1986 that if it came down to me and someone else, it would be him, and if I was justified, I would not feel bad about it. It made me really appreciate life and all that God has given me. He was certainly with me when this happened. I "knew" when I went in that it was going to go bad, and this was the only time in my police career I had ever felt that. God prepared me as I went in the door to do what I had to do and, as always, He was faithful.

John Silver
10-12-2003, 03:16 PM
I've never been in a gunfight. I have been close to pulling the trigger a number of times, including a "3lbs on a 3 1/2lb trigger" stage.

I distinctly remember seeing a black bulls eye on the upper chest area of his muscle shirt. It even had scoring rings on it. It wasn't there later. The mind can be a funny thing on how it tries to help out sometimes.

Some auditory exclusion. There was a "warning shot" fired by another person during that altercation (let's not go into the stupidity of that, though it worked in this case) and it sounded only like a faint pop to me. Though, my friends and I were communicating the whole time, watching our flanks and each others backs.

The only worry came about 10 minutes after everything ended and lasted for a few days until we were told no charges were being pressed against us. We would have won the case easily, but who needs that aggrevation? My main concern was where I was going to find the money for a lawyer.

10-12-2003, 04:48 PM
Whenever I read or hear from folks asking about "being there," I always sense some degree of uncertanity. Yes, it is unknown, and no, we can't tell you what it will be like for you. But I believe a great deal of your reaction has to do with your mindset before it happens.

When I trained to be a pilot, I never thought much about having to crash a plane, even though a great deal of the training was emergency landings. Guess, what? When I had to put one down, I didn't think much of it. I executed everything I was supposed to do and walked away. Was I nervous? No. Did I wake up with nightmares after? No.

When I raced motorcycles (and cars), the same thing happened. Yes, I took a spill at 80 mph on a bike, I remember relaxing and spinning so as to get my legs ahead of me and then just riding it out -- letting the pavement slow me down. I also went into a retaining wall in a sports car at about 110 mph. When do I remember? I was too busy trying to recover from the spin.

As for gunfights: When bozos shoot at me, they are fair game and I will finish the fight. The last one I was in (in '98), I had enough about me to shove one of those breakfast pork sausages in the punk's throat so he ain't gonna see his 72 virgins.

How did I feel? In each situtation there was a problem and I handled it. I was satisfied with myself for having done good. I felt different things, but none of it had to do with becoming a blubbering idiot.

Do yourself a favor, train yourself well, and stop thinking that you will be impotent after a lethal encounter. I believe some people can actually program themselves to act that way. DON'T!

Stateside, keep your mouth shut until you talk to your attorney.

Dave T
10-13-2003, 08:21 AM
Someone mentioned "flack". I was more afraid in Vietnam during morter and rocket attacks than in a fire fight. I have always thought it was because during the fire fight I could shoot back (i.e. do something), where as during the rocket attack all I could do was hide in a bunker.

My experiences as a LEO were somewhat different. I had 9 armed encounters and "won" all of them without pulling the trigger.

One related part of this I've always had a problem with. The idea that you won't have any fine motor skills, be able to see your sights, or make critical decisions. I believe, based on my experience and the experiences of the people I've trained, that the more and better your training is the better your motor skills, vision and decision making.

Training, training, training...repeat as needed!

10-13-2003, 09:58 AM
People must realize that there are no absolutes when it comes to human reactions. While the list of physiological effects under stress may be correct for most human beings, it should not be taken as the word of God.

If you ask a hundred hunters if they remember hearing their shot the very first time them hunted, most will say no. Most will experience that auditory exclusion that is in that list. But you will also find that some of them will say yes. I have met a few who flat out stated that they were very surprised at how loud that shot was since they were expecting that it would be very muffled.

I also don't believe that you WILL loose fine-motor skills under stress. I do, however, believe that you WILL PROBABLY loose fine-motor skills under stress. But again, there will be a small percentage that will not. Most can counter-act such effects through relevant training and experience (if you're lucky enough to survive your encounters)

But does this we should not let people know of the possibilities of some of these "myths" occuring? I don't think so. Being aware of what could happen to can only help increase your "Shock Treshold". Much like telling CCW students that if, God forbid they are ever in a gunfight, the chances of them getting shot is very real. Some instructors don't like to focus on such negatives because they feel that it might give their students a defeatist attitude about the whole thing. I submit that any individual whose morale is negatively affected by such warnings has already lost the fight.

Any boxer who is not ready to throw a punch or receive them should not bother to stepping into the ring.


10-22-2003, 12:24 PM
This is a great thread. It is interesting to read of people's reactions to combat.
Whilst we soldiers ( ex - in my case ) might face supposedly more dangerous situations in real battles, I think we have an advantage over the street cop. Something brought up by Gabe in his thread "Overcoming Fear". We fear "failure" more than anything else. Also soldiers are taught to "kill", or "be killed" in battle.( We seldom face pollitically motivated prosecuters after the event !) Police officers are taught to shoot in the last possible case. - Try everything else first ! They work often alone or with one partner and have to make their own decissions "on the spot".

Everybody that I spoke with after the Falklands War said the same:
It was great to have had the chance to be "tested" in a real battle/war. - Nobody "boasted" of "kills". We talked more of our reactions under fire, or when a friend was wounded/killed.
Of course nobody "boasted" of "kills". - The enemy were honorable right from the start - as we were. Alot of British soldiers felt great sympathy for the main part of the enemy - conscripts. No match for a volunteer army ( made up of Britain's elite !)
A different reaction will be found amongst the few soldiers who have had the "priviledge" to have killed a terrorist. Some of your "lions" have recently had the chance. They will understand what I'm saying. There is definatly a difference.

A story to close with:
Here in Brazil a couple/few years ago, in the southern state of Paraná, there was a hostage situation. The SWAT went in and resolved the situation - killing the BGs and rescuing the hostages. When the team left the area in their bus they were cheering, shouting joyfully, fists punching into the air - just like when the national football ( soccer ) team win another world cup !
Everything that happens in the USA ( trends etc ) eventually get here. In a short while, teams like these will also be advised to "appear" sad, remorsefull etc. But it is NOT a natural feeling after victory. No matter what the "shrinks" try convince us.
Regards to all.

10-28-2003, 11:51 AM
Someone mentioned "flack". I was more afraid in Vietnam during morter and rocket attacks than in a fire fight. I have always thought it was because during the fire fight I could shoot back (i.e. do something), where as during the rocket attack all I could do was hide in a bunker.

My experiences as a LEO were somewhat different. I had 9 armed encounters and "won" all of them without pulling the trigger.

One related part of this I've always had a problem with. The idea that you won't have any fine motor skills, be able to see your sights, or make critical decisions. I believe, based on my experience and the experiences of the people I've trained, that the more and better your training is the better your motor skills, vision and decision making.

Training, training, training...repeat as needed!

My experiences have been pretty much the same as yours have been and I agree the more realistic the training is and the more you bleed during it the less you bleed in the real world.