SKILLS: Three Self-Defense Myths That Just Won’t Die

Don’t buy into these age-old myths! Sheriff Jim tells the truth, and the truth might just save your life… Keep reading!

defensive rounds

SOURCE: NRA Publications, Shooting Illustrated
by Sheriff Jim Wilson

Just about the time it appears they have been proven false and dismissed, the same self-defense and gun myths pop again. Part of this is probably due to the fact there are always new people who finally realize they need to do something about their personal safety and begin seeking answers. Unfortunately, it is also due to the tendency of some people to pass on advice they have heard, but never took the time to find out if it is really true. Since it sounds cool, it must be right. This is one of the many reasons why defensive shooters need to receive professional training. With a good, professional instructor, it is remarkable how many of these myths quickly fall by the wayside and are replaced by cold, hard facts. Let’s look at three of the old self-defense myths that just won’t die and discuss the truths they conceal.

Myth No. 1: Hit him anywhere with a .45 and it will knock him down. This myth probably started with the advent of the .45 Colt back in the 1870s, but it has been repeated most often when people refer to the .45 ACP. Nowadays, you will hear it touted regarding the .44 Mag., the .41 Mag., the .40 S&W or whatever new and powerful pistol cartridge that has just been introduced. The truth was discovered way back in 1687, when Sir Isaac Newton published his third law of motion. Newton stated that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, if a bullet shot from a handgun was so powerful that it could actually knock a person down, it would also knock the shooter down. There are a lot of reasons why a person who is shot may appear to fall down, or even be knocked down. But, the truth is the force of the bullet striking him is not knocking him off his feet. That only happens in the movies and TV. In reality, a person who is shot with even a relatively powerful handgun may show very little indication of being hit. There will also be very little sign of blood, especially at first. Therefore, the defensive shooter should not rely on these as cues that the fight is over. The important thing is to recover from recoil, regain your sight picture and quickly re-evaluate the threat. If the criminal is still armed — whether or not he is on his feet — and if he appears to still be a threat, additional shots may be necessary. Just don’t expect the bad guy to go flying off his feet, because it probably won’t happen.

Myth No. 2: There’s no need to aim a shotgun, just point it in the general direction of the bad guy and fire.
The shotgun is an awesome firearm that is altogether too often overlooked by today’s defensive shooters. However, it is not a magic wand. People who claim you don’t have to aim a shotgun have simply never done patterning tests with their favorite defensive smoothbore. When shot exits a shotgun barrel, it does so in almost one solid mass. That mass is smaller than a man’s fist. It is only as the shot travels downrange that it begins to spread apart, and it spreads much more gradually than a lot of people expect. Whether you are using buckshot or birdshot, from 0 to 10 yards you should consider it to be one projectile. Actually, by about 7 yards the shot has begun to spread noticeably, but not as much as you might think. From 10 yards to about 25 yards, the average shotgun will deliver a pattern that will still stay on the chest area of a silhouette target. But, by 25 yards some of the pellets may stray off target. When dealing with a threat at 25 yards and beyond, it’s time to think about transitioning to a slug. Instead of taking anyone’s word for it — mine included — the defensive shotgunner should run pattern tests using his shotgun from extremely close range out to 25 and 30 yards. He will also find his shotgun performs better with one brand of ammunition than others. There are a lot of reasons for this preference for particular loads, but the defensive shotgunner should know this occurs and make his selection accordingly. The smart defensive shooter will run tests until he knows which load his gun prefers and exactly what his shot pattern is doing at the ranges his shotgun could be called upon to perform. Always true: don’t just believe it, test it!

Myth No. 3: If you have to shoot a bad guy in your front yard, drag him into the house before calling the cops.
As ridiculous as this may sound, it is one of the self-defense myths that just won’t go away. A student brought it up once in a defensive pistol class. There are couple of good reasons why this is a terrible idea.
To begin with, most states determine the justification for using deadly force as being a reasonable response to prevent immediate death or serious bodily injury. Therefore, if a person is justified in defending himself inside his home, he is also justified in defending himself in his yard, because he is under an immediate attack in which he could be killed or seriously injured. This varies from state to state, so check your own state’s laws before determining your home-defense plan. The second, equally important, reason is the crime scene will quickly make a liar out of you. Any investigator worth his salt will know within five minutes that you moved the body. And, if you’re lying about that, you are probably lying about everything else, or that’s what the investigator will assume. It is the quickest possible way to go directly to jail. Protecting yourself in a completely justifiable shooting can get expensive. So can lying to the police about a shooting.
Part and parcel to obtaining a defensive firearm should be obtaining advice from a criminal defense attorney. He can tell you what your state laws are, how they are interpreted in court and the limitations regarding use of deadly force and how they apply to a legally armed citizen. Getting that sort of advice from the guys down at the bar or from an Internet commando is a sure-fire recipe for disaster.

11 thoughts on “SKILLS: Three Self-Defense Myths That Just Won’t Die”

  1. Most of what is said in the article should, I repeat SHOULD, be common sense. The rest is obvious to a trained shooter.
    Anyone who’s tried to shoot a crow or a coyote (or a neighbor’s dogs) to protect livestock (chickens, rabbits, goats with a shotgun would KNOW that a shotgun is not an area effect weapon. I had far better results shooting ground bound predators with my 10/22 than I did with my shotgun. Which just shows that I’m a lousy shot with a shotgun, well I used to be… Practice is a GOOD thing.
    I carry a 32ACP for defense purposes. I’ve been belittled for having a baby gun but If I shoot a bad guy through the heart or lungs or forehead, he’s not going to bother anyone else or again. it may take a minute for him to die but if I miss him with a 44 magnum, I’m the one liable to end up dead. You cannot win a gun fight by missing the fastest. Anyone who’s watched the old Second Chance Bowling pin tournaments is sure to have seen them. The guys who win take 5 shots or 6 if they double tap the last pin. The guy who goes through 3 magazines and still leaves pins on the table loses. The same principle applies in a gun fight. You HAVE TO AIM.
    Recoil is a fact of life. For every action (bullet leaving the gun) there is an equal and opposite reaction (recoil). The key word is “equal”. The only reason the gun doesn’t do as much damage to the shooter as the bullet does to the shootee is because the mass of the gun slows the energy input and the grips or shoulder pad spread the area of the impact. It’s why I prefer a semi auto 30-06 such as a Garand for 3 gun shoots than a bolt action Savage 110. The Garand is “ah that was great” and the Savage is “Ow ow ow, did I hit the target?”
    The story in a Florida paper years ago about a bad guy on a motorcycle who decided to shoot it out with the cops who stopped him was shot 18 or so times and missed a whole lot more than that. He stood there shooting back at them and didn’t fall over till he bled out. The autopsy showed he had a 1.8 blood alcohol content and that he died because one of the first shots hit him in the chest and nicked his aorta. He didn’t get knocked down, he finally fell down because he was dead and it took 30 seconds to bleed out. But one of the very first shots killed him. If the cops hadn’t been freaking out and doing their best to send lead downrange and just placed one in the chest and one in the forehead the fight would have been over much quicker.
    The part about dragging the body inside is also absolute truth although I doubt it would take more than 10 seconds to realize you’d moved the body. Blood and drag marks would make it obvious.
    So take it to heart, the author is right. You have to aim and you have to hit what you aim at whatever you are using to try to protect yourself. David proved that way back when he slew Goliath with one well aimed rock.

    1. No matter what anyone tells you, the 22LR, 25ACP and 32ACP are all WORTHLESS for self defense purposes. That is because they all FAIL TO STOP THE LETHAL THREAT PRONTO. The ‘minute’ it takes the bad guy to die is all the time in the world for him to kill you. A self defense shooting has nothing to do with the death of the suspect (that is up to the ER docs).

      1. Agree … only carry a “mouse gun” if you intend to defend yourself against mice.

      2. Myth #4.

        I’ve seen crook needing 10-12 shots of 9mm or 45 before SHOT PLACEMENT caused immediate results. First DB I ever saw was from a 22lr.

        Fact- when needed, ANY caliber firearm in your possession is worth 100x more than the bigger one you DO NOT have.

      3. Thank you M-o-Man. It’s obvious the first to replies are from people who completely missed my point. No matter how fast you miss the bad guy, with your major caliber handgun, he’s not going to fall down. If he’s drunk to the point of feeling no pain, he isn’t going to fall down unless you impact his brain or spinal chord. First shot to the chest to limit the length of the gunfight and one to his head to end it. He may or may NOT go into shock from the first impact to the chest even though it kills him. I’m a much better shot with my smaller caliber weapon than I am with a 44 magnum. I know this for a fact because I practice with both. At church I sit with the sound booth between me and the doors. If someone does something stupid, I’m not going to be a target the instant he comes through the door. That might allow me to realize what’s going on in time to save some lives. I’ve never been in a gun fight and the closest I’ve come is those second chance bowling pin matches. My very best time ever to clear the table was about 7 1/2 seconds and as anyone who’s seen good pin shooters know, that is glacial. My friend Mitch used my Redhawk, and ammunition that I did that time with, and cleared the table in 3.99 seconds. So, I don’t use the big gun for self defense. I can get the second shot off a lot quicker with my mouse gun and if I ever need to, hopefully that will do the trick. I pray that I never need to. Plus I happen to know that at least 3 other men carry concealed during services.
        To many people carry to big of guns for the job they want it to do. Unless of course that job entails ego boosting.
        Just my opinion.

      4. Those cops in Florida weren’t shooting the guy with those calibers. They were using their issue sidearms in 9mm. They killed him with one of the very first shots but the guy was to drunk to feel it. So he kept shooting back. If they’d put that one shot into his chest and the next one into his forehead he would have stopped shooting.
        Think back the when Hinckly shot Reagan and his press secretary. He shot them both with a 22 and the press secretary’s name became Infamous for his wife’s gun control efforts. You might remember them as the “Brady Bills”. He fell down because he got hit in the forehead and was permanently disabled. The point though is that the 22 bullet hitting him in the forehead put him on the ground immediately. You hit someone in the forehead with a 22 and they are out of the fight. I’ll take my chances with my 32.

  2. Yikes. I can’t fathom the mentality of people out there if these are the main fallacies Sheriff Wilson is confronting regularly. I do want to make a few things clear though.

    In regard to Myth #1, it isn’t that simple. If I swing a heavy pipe and hit someone with it, it may knock that person down, but I won’t be knocked down. The same principle occurs with firearms. The bullet is a medium of energy transfer, just as the heavy pipe is in my example, and just as with everything, the proper answer is “It depends.” There are certainly firearms and projectiles that will apply the proper force to knock the impacted someone down without knocking down the person firing the gun. These are rarely considered tools of self-defense, however, and a 45 cal handgun isn’t going to be one of those. But the shooter, just like the swinger of the heavy pipe, gets to determine how they are going to manage the force they created; the recipient of that force is not. It matters, when we are discussing the physics. No one learns anything when we dumb down the discussion.

    In regard to myth #2, the people who subscribe to the idea that you just point and shoot shotguns at close targets have simply never shot at a close target with a shotgun. If they had, they’d know….if you don’t aim, you miss. A close miss, yes, but a miss.

    Myth #3 just freaks me out. What imbecile is going to think it’s a good idea to intentionally move a body to mislead investigators? What imbeciles are spreading this myth? Lying to police is a crime. Tampering with evidence is a crime. Proving yourself a criminal from the outset is no way to avoid criminal charges in the circumstance of a defensive shooting.

    If these myths are truly common, I am glad they are being addressed in a public way.

    1. In regards to Myth No. 1, the error the author makes is the use of Newton’s Law of Action and Reactiom Equality to support his theory that “opponent knockdown is impossible because the shooter would also be knocked down by the equal reaction force”. The fallacy here is that the man being shot is “knocked down” when in reality he falls down because the shock of the impact interferes with his neuro-muscular system’s ability to resist the effects of gravity o keep him standing upright and steady – not an an easy job as any toddler will gladly demonstrate. The shock of a large diameter heavy slug moving at 700 FPS tearing thru muscle, internal organs. nerves, bone and blood vessels causes the systems to shut down and a human collapses to the ground. For a demo go to a farm where they are butchering 250 lb. hogs (a good human equivalent although tougher) or 600 lb. steers by shooting them in the head with a .22 long rifle 40 grain slug at 1250 FPS.
      The animal usually collapses instantly (not knocked down due to momentum transfer). The Army investigated these factors in the Thompson Study (yeah the guy responsible for the Thompson submachine gun) after the problems with stopping Moro warriors with handguns in the Philippines in the early 1900’s. That led to the re-issue of Colt SSAs in .45 LC from storage armories to the troops in the Philippines and the eventual adoption of the Colt Model 1911 pistol and the Colt .45 ACP round as the standaed infantry sidearm. Still an excellent choice if you can handle the carry and shooting constraints – you’ve still got to do your part and hit the target’s center of mass as fast and as many times as you can before he hits the ground. The laws of Newtonian physics and human physiology haven’ changed since theThompson Study was published

  3. A bullet is not a pipe. Study Sir Isaac Newton. For every action is an equal and opposite reaction. If a bullet fired from a handgun knocks the suspect down it will also knock the shooter down. Notice Newton’s law properly ignores ‘managing’ force. That is like claiming you can ‘manage’ the force of an auto accident if you are aware your vehicle is about to be struck by another vehicle.

  4. I wish I could share the amazement of the first two commenters, who understandably are appalled to the point of disbelief that these three rumors have any currency at all. I’m appalled, too, but not amazed.

    In fact, if I had a nickel for every time I’d heard these….

    And no, it’s not that I’m surrounded by fools, it’s that these zombie myths simply won’t stay buried. Lots of loose talk, repeated with conviction, keeps them alive.

    I retired after 24 years in the Army, and proceeded to teach Army JROTC for ten years in an inner-city high school. Of my active duty years, I spent 9 teaching: 6 at USMA, and three at a small HBCU in Maryland.

    In 19 combined years of teaching teenagers, I didn’t hear every misconception known to mankind, but I certainly got a solid dose. I even heard the Sheriff’s specific three myths very often from the adults at these institutions. One particularly disturbing case was when a local armed citizen, who happened to be white, used a .45 to down an experienced semi-pro boxer, who happened to be black, as the boxer was beating one of our city cops literally to death. The citizen gave all kinds of warnings, the cop clearly needed help and even groaned aloud asking for it, and the enraged boxer was obviously tough, used to dealing with pain, and hyperadrenalized. So the citizen shot him about four times in the torso, pausing a time or two to repeat his “cease and desist” order, before putting a bullet through the boxer’s head and killing him.

    The next day at school, a black lady teacher was exclaiming loudly, boldly, and with complete certainty that “Shooting a man five times with a .45? That’s racism!” I probably embarrassed her with my detailed response, and I definitely caused her to stop hollering and begin to consider causation that didn’t involve “racism.” Not sure she was convinced, because as you all know, plastering knowledge of terminal ballistics on a novice often isn’t easy. (And to ensure she didn’t simply conclude that I was defending the citizen’s actions because I happen to be white, I laid on the science, research, and sourcing rather heavily. )

    As to my time in the Army, many of you already know that few regular troops are taught anything about terminal ballistics. They are trained to use weapons to hit targets, period. Hopefully that changed in Iraq and Afghanistan, where .45 and 9mm sidearms (and other small arms) got a lot of use in close range combat. If nothing else, I’m certain that the plentiful “failures to stop” caused a lot of conversation on the topic!

    Few soldiers of this era are familiar with similar occurrences with the M-16 in Vietnam; the .30 carbine in Korea and WWII; and even the vaunted M-1 rifle, with which many enemy soldiers were shot and hit solidly 2-3 times before going down. Often enough, even these enemy soldiers didn’t drop and die immediately, just like deer shot through the heart often run a long way before collapsing or lying down to die.

    In short, I’m not sure that anything other than hunting or mortal combat can prepare people for the reality that animals, including homo sapiens, can often continue to function after being shot and hit solidly. Both environments are actually full of examples of “one-shot stops,” too, which tend to feed the myths that won’t die.

    The shotgun, especially when sawed-off, has been called “street howitzer,” “alley-cleaner,” “trench-sweeper,” and all kinds of other names that enhance the myth that aiming is unnecessary. A little time spent skeet-shooting or bird hunting should quickly teach us different, but few shotgun owners have had the experience or made the connection. Anybody who plinks some random targets, or bags a squirrel or rabbit with light field loads and a hunting shotgun sees with his own eyes the evidence that shotgun pellets spread much more than any rifle or pistol he ever fired. Few have fired enough buckshot (or even birdshot) at a paper target to witness that a close-range shot leaves a hole similar to a slug.

    As for the “drag the body inside” myth, I’ve been mystified to hear it from PhD’s, colonels, teachers, and even some LEOs. (I hope the latter were joking.) Yet most of the same people also hold the opposing conviction that forensics can unravel every mystery. After all, they’ve seen a dozen or a hundred shows and movies in which forensic heroes saw through every imaginable sophisticated subterfuge attempted by criminal masterminds.

    I suspect we’ll all die of old age, and these three myths will still be going strong.

    1. very well said Louisiana man..thanks for your service.. since the internet got going (as in some of the above statements) its just amazing how many opinions are out there. there are no absolutes. plenty of people have been killed with .22’s and many people have walked away from a .45 shot.
      My son just graduated from west point (2017) he at ft rucker now leaning to fly. I have been to the point quite a few times. great place in the summer. Thank you all that gave service.

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