Whether you call it “defensive shooting,” “combative shooting,” “gunfighting” or any other term, the tactics of using a firearm in the context of a violent incident are vastly different than the arts of traditional marksmanship. While “shooting” constitutes the mechanical act of aiming, operating and manipulating a gun to get hits on a target, “fighting” with a gun is a much broader and more complicated concept. This is particularly true when the attack does not replicate a traditional, square-range, shooting-at-a-distance scenario.
Real contact-distance shooting is, by nature, a dynamic combination of unarmed combatives skills and shooting. If you think about it logically, you can only shoot at an attacker in self-defense if you can justify the fact that you are in fear of death or grievous bodily injury. At extreme close range, your first survival priority must be to block, check, control or avoid whatever is trying to kill you before you bring your gun into play. You must then deliver telling shots on target to either stop your attacker or allow you to create the distance necessary to get better shots on target.
As logical as this may sound, most commonly practiced close-quarters shooting drills are more excuses to shoot than they are a set of practical defensive tactics. This is particularly true of tactics that teach shooting from unorthodox positions, such as defending against an attack from the rear.
Check Your Six
Obviously, situational awareness should be your first choice in preventing an attack from the rear. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that you were not able to avoid the attack altogether and were caught off guard.
First of all, you must quickly and objectively assess the threat to determine the proper course of action. This is where most “gun guys” go wrong by looking for an excuse to shoot rather than applying a defense that’s appropriate to the level of danger of the attack. For example, a bear hug from behind is very different from a rear choke. The latter is a direct attack on your airway and breathing, and is therefore potentially life threatening. By itself, the former is not, and therefore would not justify the use of a gun. If you don’t have unarmed skills, you’ll be hammering when you should be using a thumbtack.
Since a rear choke does qualify as a potentially lethal threat, let’s consider it as a basis for defining a sound gun-based defense. One tactic that I’ve seen taught to defend against this type of attack is to remain upright, draw your gun and point it behind you to fire into the attacker’s pelvis or legs. Some instructors also advocate shooting down past or between your own legs into the assailant’s feet.
In my opinion, there are several problems with this approach. First, it does nothing to prevent the damaging effects of the choke on your airway. In the violent dynamics of a real attack, it does not allow you to stabilize the gun or aim it decisively with a kinesthetic index. That and the fact that your gun hand is vulnerable to being grabbed or deflected means that you’ll be shooting blind and could very well shoot yourself in the process.
With an attacker’s arm wrapped around your throat from behind,your first priority should be to protect your airway. In the process, you should maintain your balance and avoid being pulled over backwards. For example, if you are right-handed and your attacker is choking you with his right arm, you can remain balanced and upright by hooking his forearm with your left hand and stepping your left leg behind both of his legs. As you step behind, lean forward from the waist and use your body weight to turn the rear choke into a side headlock. Turning your head towards his body shifts the pressure of his forearm to the side of your neck and further protects your airway.
In this position, you have not only taken steps to minimize injury to you, but you’ve also created a strong defensive position, cleared a path to draw your gun and enabled yourself to see what you’ll be shooting and the background behind it. By maintaining the pulling pressure on your attacker’s forearm with your left hand, you also ensure that it is tight against your
body and clearly out of your line of fire. From this position, it’s a simple matter to draw your gun to a weapon-retention position and shoot your attacker’s legs. Shots to the femurs, knees and shins can easily shatter the skeletal structure and drop your assailant in place. These shots also ensure a downward angle and therefore a solid backstop.
An additional benefit of the tactic is that it is virtually impossible for the attacker to grab your gun hand to wrestle for the gun. With the gun held in a tight pectoral-index weapon-retention position, it is well protected, and you can easily aim it accurately through kinesthetic indexing. Since you have a clear view of your target and the area around you, you can literally pick your shots and deliver them with accuracy and certainty. If necessary, you can even use the power of your body mechanics to turn your attacker away from innocent parties and toward other solid backstops to avoid endangering friendlies.
Practicing this technique is more a matter of defensive tactics than shooting. All you need is a training partner and a safe training version of your normal carry gun, such as a blue gun, a laser-equipped training gun or an airsoft pistol. Work slowly at first to get a feel for the mechanics of the technique, and focus on getting them right. If you can’t do them properly, you won’t create a solid opportunity to draw and shoot. Once you’re comfortable with the body mechanics, work on your draw and the indexing of the pistol to get accurate shots. Dry-fire or laser-training pistols, like the LaserLyte Trigger Tyme, are great for this since they provide a visual index of your target alignment and allow you to practice operating the trigger safely and in the comfort of your own home. They also confirm that, with proper positioning, all of your body parts are out of your line of fire and that you have a solid backstop for all of your shots.
Once you’re thoroughly comfortable with this technique, have your partner put on some protective clothing (heavy coveralls and a groin cup) and train the technique with a blowback-style airsoft pistol. Make sure you also wear your typical cover garment. Putting all of these pieces together allows you to address the unexpected dynamics of this type of contact-distance shooting, such as getting tangled in your jacket, fouling the cycling of the slide, etc. It also lets your partner feel and react to the shots you deliver. When he does, learn to finish the technique by clearing his arm, withdrawing your head and creating distance—all while maintaining good gun control and muzzle discipline.
A sound, responsible, gun-based defense against a rear choke involves a lot more than drawing and shooting. It also represents a clear step up from shooting to real gunfighting. Incorporate it into your training, and make it part of your defensive skill set.