If you’ve been around the firearms training world for any length of time, you’ve probably heard your share of clichés. Bring up the topic of knife attacks, and you’ll invariably hear “Just shoot him. He shouldn’t have brought a knife to a gunfight.” Mention handgun stopping power and you’ll get, “Handguns are marginal stoppers. A handgun is used to fight your way to a rifle or shotgun.” While these may be mildly entertaining when you first hear them, they are no replacements for sound training or personal-defense tactics. When considered together they are also completely contradictory. Despite that, many impressionable self-defense students are more likely to blindly parrot these lines than to think for themselves.

When it comes to handguns, the bottom line is that they are uncertain stoppers. Regardless of your personal philosophies on stopping power, caliber and bullet design, the fact remains that there are plenty of documented incidents where bad guys hit numerous times have failed to go down. Accordingly, simple logic dictates that in addition to your handgun you should also have a backup plan. This is particularly true with a close-range threat since a failure to stop will leave you in intimate proximity to a wounded and very motivated attacker.

Let’s consider a reasonable example. You carry a five-shot J-frame .38 for personal defense backed by one or two speed strips. Confronted by a potential threat who is concealing his hand behind his leg, you wisely sneak your hand to your gun and prep your draw as you attempt to set effective boundaries and verbally manage the situation. Suddenly he launches forward and attempts to stab you with a knife he had hidden behind his leg. You move off line, draw and deliver five shots to center mass. Although you scored good good hits, isn’t down and keeps on coming. What do you do?

The conventional gun-focused solution would be to reload and keep shooting, but recharging a revolver from a speed strip while playing tag with a knife-armed attacker doesn’t offer a high probability of success. You could transition to another weapon if you have time, or revert to empty-hand skills. However, I think the most logical solution—one that is all too often overlooked in firearms training—is to strike with the handgun. Punching someone in the head with a pound or more of solid metal definitely qualifies as stopping power and in some cases may produce a more immediate effect than a gunshot. In my opinion, it is also a viable tactical alternative to firing shots.

Pistol-Hitting Basics

If you’ve already shot your pistol dry, you can hit with it pretty much any way you want. However, since I believe there is also great utility in hitting with a loaded pistol, I approach the techniques of pistol hitting with specific guidelines:

1. MUZZLE DISCIPLINE In 1970s cop TV shows one stock-in-trade move was to hit somebody in the base of the skull (or the nape of the neck) with the pistol’s butt. Obviously that entails swinging the gun all over the place and pointing the muzzle at everything in sight. Since striking with a handgun can easily cause sympathetic tightening of the hand on impact and carries with it the possibility of squeezing the trigger, maintaining muzzle discipline when you strike is critical. If you can’t hit in a way that ensures the muzzle stays pointed in a safe direction throughout the entire path of the strike, don’t hit.

2. DON’T DAMAGE YOUR GUN A good pistol strike should have a telling effect on your assailant without adversely affecting the mechanical function of your gun. That way you maintain the capability to shoot him or his accomplices after you’ve delivered the blow. This is another reason not to strike with the butt of a pistol, especially a modern polymer-framed pistol with a polymer magazine and baseplate. Similarly, if you have a revolver with an unshrouded ejector rod, striking with the underside of the barrel could bend it and render the gun inoperable.

3. TRIGGER-FINGER DISCIPLINE Hitting during a life-threatening struggle is most likely going to be a gross motor skill. That means you will naturally want to grip the gun convulsively and the chances of inadvertently squeezing the trigger are high. Despite that, if you’re going to make handgun strikes part of your defensive tactics, you need to make sure you can maintain sound trigger-finger discipline when you hit. The best ways I’ve found to do this are to either wrap all four fingers around the grip below the triggerguard to make a complete fist before you hit, or to use your straight trigger finger as a guide when striking.

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  • bummpyskin/tommy2gunns

    don’t get Glocked Cocked

  • Partisan762

    Funny thing,I was watching Magnum PI on netflix and came across your article.

    Coincidences can be weird lol!

    “The reason cliches are cliches is because ultimately there either true or they work,thats why you never hear sayings you’ve never heard before,those are the ones that didn’t work”.
    -Tom Selleck,Magnum,P.I.