Pistol vs. Active Shooter With A Rifle? Myths & Facts

I saw a quote today by a very well meaning pastor that made me upset.  I have a lot of respect for the guy and what he’s overcome, so I’m not going to say his name and I’m not going to quote him directly.  But he basically said that there’s no way for a church security team to prepare for a “military trained” shooter armed with an assault rifle like what happened in Sutherland Springs.

I respectfully submit that he is factually, historically, and logically wrong.  From the fact that the murderer in Sutherland Springs didn’t use an assault rifle to the logical conclusion that someone with a pistol has no chance against an active murderer armed with a rifle.

So, today I’m going to share several real life examples where good guys armed with pistols stopped bad guys armed with rifles and talk about some of the realities of pistol vs. rifle fighting.

  1. May 3, 2015 Curtis Culwell Center in Garland TX. Officer Greg Stevens began taking rifle fire from 2 attackers at a distance of 15 yards who were both wearing body armor.  Officer Culwell drew his .45 Glock 41 and began shooting and advancing, taking both shooters out of the fight without being shot himself.  He hit with more than half of the shots he fired.
  2. 1984, Jerusalem. 3 men armed with automatic rifles and grenades start shooting a crowd.  An insurance salesman and an Army reserve officer engage them with their concealed pistols taking out 1.  A merchant takes out the 2nd with his pistol.  The 3rd is thrown off his gameplan, stops shooting and police take him into custody.
  3. Feb 12, 2007, Salt Lake City, UT.  A murderer armed with a shotgun and revolver started shooting people in the parking lot at Trolly Square Mall, entered the mall, and continued shooting.  An off-duty officer was having dinner with his wife at a brewpub and engaged the shooter from the 2nd floor behind a see-through railing with a Kimber 1911 subcompact.  The shooter shot back, but the incoming rounds fixed his position and he was no longer pursuing victims.  A good friend of mine and another officer distracted the shooter and exchanged fire with him to distract him and other officers were able to flank and kill the shooter.
  4. 1993, Cape Town South Africa. 4 terrorists armed with full-auto AK-47s entered a church, killing 11 and injuring 47.  A member of the church drew his 5 shot snub nosed .38 special and wounded one terrorist.  This was enough to cause all 4 terrorists armed with full-auto rifles to flee.
  5. December 11, 2012, Clackamass Town Center Mall, Oregon.  A murderer, armed with a rifle and 145 rounds shot 17 times, killing 3 before being confronted by a shopper armed with a pistol.  The guard was worried about hitting innocent people and didn’t fire, but the mere sight of a gun was enough to cause the better armed murderer to run, hide, and shoot himself.
  6. December 9, 2007, Arvada, Colorado. A murderer armed with a rifle and pistol killed 2 people at the Youth With a Mission training center and then drove to the New Life church where he killed 2 more before a member of the church volunteer security team, Jeanne Assam, shot and killed him.
  7. December 1, 2014, Austin TX. An extremist shooter who appeared to be looking to commit death by cop armed with an AK-47, pistol, and .22 rifle shot over 100 rounds at buildings in downtown Austin in the middle of the night.  Then he began shooting at Sgt. Adam Johnson with the Capital Police mounted patrol.  He was firing full magazines from the AK and reloading.  Sgt. Johnson, while holding the reins of 2 skittish horses in one hand, fired a single shot at the shooter from 314 feet away, hitting and killing him.  As an interesting twist, the bullet nicked the shooter’s car, ricocheted and tumbled 5 feet before striking and killing the shooter.

Let’s get real.  Very few people want to be in a gunfight.  Even special operations works hard to avoid gunfights.  They’ll set up ambushes at the time and place of their choosing where they can use speed, surprise, and violence of action, sniping, or indirect fire to minimize the chances of a fight.  A “fight” implies that the playing field is level and that effective fire is going in both directions.

If you do get into a gunfight, you want intel, armor, overwatch, long guns, an assortment of grenades, and a trained team that can shoot, move, and communicate.

You don’t want to get into a gunfight alone, armed with a pistol.  Ever.  Against ANY gun.

That being said, I believe that you should train for that worst case scenario.

Why?

Because if you only train for averages, extreme situations will shove you out of your comfort zone.

But if you train for the extremes, average situations will take care of themselves.

There’s another factor…

If you’re ever in a fight for your life, you want to be 110% sure that you’re going to win the fight, REGARDLESS OF THE REALITY OF THE SITUATION.

There’s a paradox in high stress situations that confidence won’t necessarily save you, but self-doubt is almost guaranteed to sabotage performance.

In a pistol vs. rifle situation, we can look at Officer Stevens’ statements after taking out two terrorists shooting at him with rifles from 15 yards away for some great wisdom.

He said he just focused on his sights, pressed the trigger, and waited for them to come back into alignment before pressing the trigger again.  Imagine that.  “Normal” hit percentages for an officer vs. 2 shooters firing shoulder mounted weapons is in the low to mid teens.  Officer Stevens applied basic fundamentals and hit with over 50% of shots fired, while on the move with incoming fire.

What about distance?

There’s no doubt that a rifle is more accurate and more forgiving at distance than a pistol, but that doesn’t mean that a pistol is chopped liver.  Here are some things to keep in mind…

A North American Arms belt-buckle sized .22 mini-revolver is capable of hitting a torso at 55 yards roughly half the time.  There’s a reason law enforcement doesn’t carry a .22 mini-revolver on their duty belts, but I say this because there’s a belief that subcompacts are only accurate out to 7-10 yards and the performance of the tiny NAA .22 blasts that myth to smitherines.

A Glock with a stock barrel is capable of hitting a torso at 100 yards 90-100% of the time, as I show here:

The Glock is capable of sub-second splits at 55 yards while hitting a torso sized target:

For the 100 yard shots, a good rule of thumb is to aim so that the head of your target is popping up over the top of your front sight (line your sights up with the shoulders) and your point of impact will be low to mid chest, depending on your muzzle velocity.

For 50 yard shots, you pretty much aim at center mass or slightly higher and your hits will be somewhere on the torso, regardless of caliber.

(FYI, this month, when you order the 21 Day Alpha Shooter DVD, you receive a wallet size long range pistol drop chart as a free bonus that will give you drops based on muzzle velocity out to 200 yards!  No more guessing.  No more having to remember.  Just pull out the card, aim, and hit.  You can get yours free by clicking >HERE<)

What about body armor?

Let me paint a picture quick…

A stress drill that is used in Krav Maga is to lay on your back and have someone do pushups with one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.  It sucks, but if they’re about your same weight and don’t go too fast, it works.  If they did the same thing, except they had a sharpened nail in each hand, you’d have holes in you because the impact point is so much smaller and focused.

Body armor does a few things, but one of the biggest is that soft body armor does is that it changes the impact point from being the tip of the bullet to being about the size of a tennis ball.  Plates can increase the impact point to roughly the size of the plate.

You still absorb almost all of the energy of the bullet…just over a bigger area.  Instead of getting a hole poked in you, it’s like getting jabbed with the end of a baseball bat.

With soft body armor, it’s common for people to be shocked and freeze for a couple of seconds, get the wind knocked out of them, have ribs broken, etc.

So, just because someone has soft body armor on doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start by shooting an attacker center mass.

That first hit will, at least, interrupt their OODA loop and cause them to freeze momentarily.  As we’ve repeatedly seen, most murderers slow down or completely stop at the first sign of effective resistance.

Should you stop there?  No.  There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but that first shot to the vest could easily be thought of as a jab…you may get lucky and it may finish the fight, but more than likely it’s going to set up your next shot(s)…

One of the purposes of a center-mass shot on a moving attacker is to slow down the head.  Shooting an active shooter wearing a vest center mass may allow you to follow up with a headshot, if necessary.

Don’t want to take the head shot?  Thighs and hips are a perfectly viable option to stop a threat.  They’re not as effective as the upper chest and head, but every time you put another round into an attacker, the more likely you’ll interrupt their OODA loop and stop them from continuing their assault.

A shot to body armor may allow you to close distance.

It may allow you to get to cover.

But whatever you do, don’t let the presence of body armor on a bad guy make you think that he’s invincible.

Prey vs. Predator

All active shooters are different, but I believe that all of them have a movie that’s played out in their head dozens of times where they dominate everyone around them and exert their will with impunity.

In their movie, they are the apex predator and everyone else is prey.  It’s like becoming an expert at a video game, and then playing at the novice level just to score lots of points.  And the notes that they leave ahead of time makes me think that most have either planned to run, commit suicide, or commit suicide by cop at the first sign of resistance.

It may not be 100% accurate, but that model explains why active shooters pick the targets they do and why they respond to resistance the way they do.

And I hope it encourages you to fight rather than freeze if you ever find yourself in an active shooter situation.  Flip the tables…decide not to be prey and take the fight to them.

What’s the biggest thing you can do to survive an active shooter situation if you’re armed with only a pistol and running isn’t an option?

It’s training so that your shooting skills become conditioned responses…reflexive…so that you can perform at a high level under extreme stress without having to think about it.

Is that important to you?

After the Sutherland Springs attack, do you see how some nut could do the same thing at your church or another event you’re at?

Do you want to develop the skills that will let you make effective hits on target with a pistol at longer-than-bad-breath distances?

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One last thing…about the murderer being “military trained.”  It safe to say he didn’t learn much from whatever training he received and he was as pathetic at shooting as he was at life in general.  Law enforcement found hundreds of spent shell casings…possibly as many as 450.  Saying he was “military trained” is an insult to the military and doesn’t help anyone understand what happened or prepare for confronting a nut-job murderer in the future.

Questions?  Comments?  Please share them by commenting below:

21 Comments

  • left coast chuck

    Reply Reply November 9, 2017

    Hey, come on, he was Air Force. Not to put down the Air Force in the jobs that they do, they are outstanding, but they don’t get the kind of training an 11B or 0311 gets in the Army or Marine Corps. I was in the hospital a couple of times. That doesn’t make me a doctor.

    Secondly, why does everyone regardless of whatever lack of training they have feel qualified to comment on firearms? The pastor would be better served if he stuck to what he was trained for, expounding on the bible and leave the discussion of firearms and building defense to folks who have actual experience or extensive training in the topic at hand.

    I own a bible. To repeat my comment above, that doesn’t make me a theologian. Neither the Pope nor Billy Graham come to me for theological advice — well, actually, nobody does and that’s the way it should be. You might tell your good buddy the pastor something that is in the bible, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” also applies to firearms. Or as we used to say in Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, “Don’t work out of your M.O.S.” The actual words were slightly different, but this is a mixed group who reads this column so it was slightly edited.

  • Dave

    Reply Reply November 9, 2017

    One of the aspects of current “training” is the political correctness watering down of mission. The mission is to kill the bad guy, not “stop” the threat. In other words, a couple of well placed shots to the torso may stop the threat but doesn’t kill the threat. The “threat” just detonated his vest or belt as he was bleeding out.

    Either shots to the torso followed up with a planting shot OR shots to the face, back of the head or throat and probably no planting shot is required.

    Remember the goal is to kill the enemy so they can do no further damage.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply November 9, 2017

      Hey Dave, I don’t say what I say because of political correctness. I say it because of liability. The goal must be to stop the threat and not to kill the threat.

      Many times, stopping the threat will end up causing the death of the threat. The attacker assumed responsibility for that potential outcome when they chose to use violence in the first place. The Tulsa police sniper situation from last month is a great example of this.

      But one thing that can happen is that if you program yourself to kill the threat instead of stop the threat, it’s not uncommon to have situations where 2, 3, 5 or more shots get fired after the threat has stopped or even turned around and started running. That causes big and unnecessary problems in court.

      History proves that you’re right and that sometimes, dropping the threat doesn’t stop it. Like the St. Paul Minnesota mall mass stabbing. Or the Ataturk airport bombing in Istanbul where the officer shot the bomber in the pelvis and dropped him to the floor. The only problem is, that didn’t stop the threat and the bomber hit his button.

      In the chaos of a life & death situation, I don’t think anyone’s going to make the right call 100% of the time…and it’s always easy to Monday morning quarterback a situation…especially if you can watch it unfold on video while sipping on a cup of coffee and so we want to train to both maximize our chances of physical survival (first) AND legal survival (second) without compromising on physical survival.

  • Mike

    Reply Reply November 9, 2017

    He was in the Air Force. Few Air Force jobs require a member being proficient with firearms. “Military trained” for such people is about equivalent to the belief that a grammar school graduate in the USA can do the times table successfully from 1 to 10, let alone write their name.

  • Ed Burke

    Reply Reply November 9, 2017

    USAF. When I was in Basic @ Lackland, we were supposed to bivuack and go to the firing range. But it rained that day so we did not go. Truly.

    • left coast chuck

      Reply Reply November 9, 2017

      Ed: Even in the Army. When my cousin landed in Korea in June of 1950, was handed his 782 gear and a rifle and was told the bad guys were in that direction, that was the first time he had had a rifle in his hands since joining the Army a couple of years prior. Enlistments in the Army at that time were done with your Army job already selected. He enlisted for the Quartermaster Corps. No sense in wasting training time on the rifle range on a guy who was going to work in an office, so no need for a rifle. One of the reasons why he wanted to enlist in the Army was the judge gave him a choice Army or reform school. His peccadilloes with firearms is what landed him in front of the judge to begin with, so at least he had some casual firearms and casual combat experience before he entered the Army. It served him well. He managed to come back from the summer of ’50 and winter of ’51 without any holes in him.

  • Drew Rinella

    Reply Reply November 9, 2017

    That South African church terrorist attack being stopped by one guy with a 38 snubbie reminds me of a modern day David & Goliath. I watched an interview with him where he described the attackers had tossed grenades into the auditorium during the attack. A 38 defeated several guys with machine guns and grenades. Praise God.

  • Dano

    Reply Reply November 9, 2017

    Ox your response to Dave is the reason that some of us are prosecuted and lose everything as opposed to those who can reasonable explain our actions and go home to sleep with our families and are exonerated. We just did what was necessary to STOP the threat. Excellent advise.

  • JJM

    Reply Reply November 9, 2017

    Great summary of resistance and potential response the attacker will exhibit. Best advice is “Don’t Freeze” like a deer in headlights. Hope I wouldn’t Freeze but Flight or Fight, anything except willingness to immediately Fight would be major self failure.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply November 9, 2017

      I want to encourage you with the fact that you WILL freeze. Your startle-flinch response will happen and you WILL freeze. The question is, how long will you freeze? Will it be a fraction of a second because you’ve programmed your startle-flinch response, toned your limbic system, and done stress inoculation, or will it be longer?

      Everyone, regardless of their exposure to life & death situations can benefit ON A DAILY BASIS from training their limbic system and doing simple, easy stress inoculation, but few do. Most will choose not to. That’s not necessarily a failure…it’s just the fact that human beings are not homogeneous and exist on a spectrum. If you’re wired such that you’re on the end of the spectrum that makes you more likely to respond, then I encourage you to do what you can to feed your natural tendency to respond in a way that will protect those on the other end of the spectrum.

  • James Garvin

    Reply Reply November 9, 2017

    “Oklahoma City pharmacist Jerome Ersland was convicted of first-degree murder in the May 19, 2009 shooting death of a would-be robber, 16-year-old Antwun Parker, while Parker was incapacitated and lying on his back. Ersland is serving a life sentence in prison.” There was an older man involved who was “mentoring” this kid and put him up to the robbery. The important thing here is that if Erslund had not come from behind the counter to bend down and fire his pistol several more times into Parker, he’d be a free man today even if Parker had died.

  • Richard Crutchfield

    Reply Reply November 9, 2017

    Thanks for the good advice. I pray that such a mentally ill person never enters our place of worship with the intent to kill.

    • left coast chuck

      Reply Reply November 9, 2017

      Might I be so bold to suggest that you open a dialog with the church elders or whoever is in charge of the administration of the church regarding armed deacons during church services in addition to prayers. I believe there is a verse somewhere in the bible about God helping those who help themselves. Many people use that as an excuse to steal. I believe it absolutely does not mean that at all, but it means that God will help you in the security of your church if you help yourself in the security of your church. Praying is fine after you have arranged for armed security for the various services your church offers. It doesn’t have to be a visible armed presence that makes everyone nervous, but a discrete body of armed deacons or whatever you want to call them to protect the services. Face it, religion is under attack from many sources, including violent attacks.

      • Harold

        Reply Reply November 11, 2017

        That Bible verse does not exist. You are correct, it is bad theology. God helps everyone, but we still have to face the consequences for our actions. God does not issue “Get out of Jail Free” cards.

  • Rick Carlton

    Reply Reply November 9, 2017

    Yhe last thing I want to do is shoot/kill someone. They may be part of a gang or family who seeks revenge. The civil and legal results are unpredictable.

    However, if I must, I want to stop the attack with justifiable force but not necessarily a kill shot. If I could run them off, all the better.

  • Threequarterton

    Reply Reply November 10, 2017

    With a defeatest attitude like the pastor has YOU ARE DEAD before the shooting starts !!
    If these killers are Wolves are You a SHEEP or are You A SHEEP DOG??
    NEVER GIVE UP, NEVER SURRENDER !!

  • Jackie

    Reply Reply November 10, 2017

    One of my very best friends, a 67 year old outdoors woman, is afraid to carry in church because someone told her in Oklahoma it’s illegal, even with a CCP. I told her not true, but she chooses not to because there are three armed police officers on the three doors.
    I tried explaining that police carry pistols to protect themselves, not you. When will people keep their misinformation to themselves?

    • Ox

      Reply Reply November 10, 2017

      Even if it is illegal, it’s worth checking to see HOW illegal it is.

      Is it a low grade misdemeanor trespassing charge where the first consequence is being asked to leave and the worst is a ticket? Is it a misdemeanor that could include jail time? Is it a felony?

      It’s important to realize that you could have 3 businesses, all right next to each other, where the consequences of carrying are completely different. Just imagine having a Federal courthouse next to a bar next to a coffee shop. All 3 of which have “no guns” signs but each of the 3 could potentially have different consequences for carrying concealed.

  • David Durkop

    Reply Reply November 12, 2017

    From a law enforcement view, you have to able to verbalize why you are shooting someone. There is a big difference between the pharmacist in Oklahoma and an active shooter in a church.

    Few jurisdictions are going to prosecute someone who shoots these one of these shooters, at least in Texas. California, New Jersey, New York and a few other jurisdictions may be different.

    The key element is mindset. Are you willing to kill someone? An active shooter is not the time to make that decision. Remember that you have your own OODA loop and need to be constantly evaluating what is going on. “If this happens, then I am going to do this.” It is not a constant or static situation. It is always evolving and is constantly being updates. Much like flying, you have to be a head of the game.

    Have you trained to shoot from awkward positions? Are you willing to take a shot when there is a high probability that you are going to hit a hostage before taking down the bad guy? At what distance? The church I go to, the shot could be 200 to 250 feet. Are you willing to take that shot?

    This is a whole different ball game than a highjacking of the local Stop N Rob store.

  • Jim Ponczek

    Reply Reply November 13, 2017

    Good info, as always.

    Like many do, I train for what I expect an encounter to be. Meaning, I train to see my sights and fire as quickly and accurately as I can at distances between 15 and 30 feet. Typical ‘house’ distances. I train left & right barricade, with/without flashlight, strong and weak hand.

    What I’ve ceased doing it training for the long shots because long shots are not possible in close quarter handgun battle.

    It does pose the question, though… how accurate are you with a pistol at longer range? The story of the mounted policeman was interesting but you can’t count on luck or God’s intervention to make up for your bad aim. His story ended happily Most do not.

    So, my next trip to the range will have to include some longer range practice. Maybe once it gets warm again I’ll venture to the outdoors and shoot the way I learned – 50′ target with a 2″ snubbie! It was all my dad had and it made me a better shooter.

  • G

    Reply Reply November 23, 2017

    Never assume that just because you only wound a gang member instead of killing them that the gang won’t retaliate.

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