Do you know your fear response

20131209-105130.jpgLast week, after one of my posts, I made a comment that started a conversation. The comment was something to the affect of, I’m not sure I could ever point a gun at something with a heart beat. Folks had all sorts of opinions about this statement, but no one offered me a solution that really worked for me. (Two good options that were: mental training and going hunting. To these responses I say, with all due respect, I doubt one could ever think through all the possible scenarios of a threat, and going hunting just isn’t in my near future as I am too much of an animal person.) This conversation got me thinking and has lead to my desire to expand on the question, what would you really do?

Here’s the thing; I’m lucky enough to have never been a victim of a violent crime. And with that fact comes the issue at hand… I don’t know how I would react if the time came to chose between pulling the trigger and potentially shooting a human being, or not. I’ve never been in such a situation where so many factors are at play and my life is threatened, so how could I possibly know what I would do?

When I was told that I should decide what my reaction would be, prior to strapping on my ccw, I had a forehead slapping moment. Yes, I have made the decision to conceal carry, and yes, this means I am committed to the possibility that I could protect my life with the use of a gun, but does that mean I know how it will feel to aim at a live person and pull the trigger. We can practice drawing, aiming, even accelerating our heart rates, but there is no simulating a genuine fear response. So honestly, how do you know what you would do?


  1. Well ultimately you don’t know, however you prepare as best you can. You get committed to the idea of self-defense ethically…intellectually, you do the visualization, the training on both mechanics of shooting and scenario based work. Stress shoots, hunting and awareness drills probably help. Using Tactics Techniques and Proceedures that make it more likely you will not be caught flat footed in the crisis can help increase the chances of succesful outcomes. Self-study of crimes, gunfights, etc. can help with awareness of threat TTPs and at least give us a framework to hang events on. We may not be able to overcome the “Holy crap this is REALLY happening” but maybe we can give ourselves a “Holy crap, this thing I have heard of before is happening.”

    There are no sure things in life but there are things we can do to give us the best chances of making it.

  2. Unfortunately the only way to know your fear response is to induce a fear response. Many people do this by hunting. Teddy Roosevelt in his autobiography says this about hunting and buck fever .”Buck fever means a state of intense nervous excitement which may be entirely divorced from timidity. It may affect a man [or woman] the first time he has to speak to a large audience just as it affects him the first time he sees a buck or goes into battle.” This is the induced fear response, and there is no substitute. Many people get a similar nervous excitement by playing paintball, training with simunitions, public speaking, giving blood, or any other number of realistic systems available to face our fears.

    On another semi related note, if you eat meat and are an “animal person” I believe you owe it to the animals who give their lives to feed you to experience their death at least once, whether that is taking a trip to a beef farm, slaughterhouse, or going hunting.I eat meat, I believe that humans are the ultimate apex predator. By not experiencing what is required for meat to be available you are doing yourself, and indeed the animal kingdom, a huge disservice which borders on cowardice. Just my .02. If you are a vegan who became that way based on witnessing an animals death go ahead a disregard everything in the second paragraph.

  3. Agree that its hard to simulate a fear response.

    Just started a book last night called “The Gift of Fear”; author seems a fairly anti-gun, but my hope is that the focus of the book helps me refine my “gut feeling” and “intuition”. The idea being, when “this thing I heard of before is happening”, my reaction won’t be as fearful as it otherwise would’ve been.

    I have little tolerance for “preachy”, so I’ll probably get too pi$$ed to actually finish the book but, for now, I’m trying to keep an open mind.

    1. Couldn’t we say that the gut feeling, of which you speak, should actually keep us out of dangerous situations all together?

      1. Yep, so long as you listen to it. I’ve never been accused of being a good listener.

        1. Which is what the book is all about: how people don’t listen to their gut due to PC like conditioning and became victims. Use what helps you and discard the rest.

      2. Serious situational awareness, refusal to go stupid places, with stupid people and do stupid things… yep, listening to your gut will help you avoid most problems, but that won’t always help in the face of a totally unreasoned attack when you have taken all rational precautions. And it is no guarantee in any situation. The predators are out there, and they are increasingly hunting human meat in packs. Your “gut” may give you a few seconds warning to draw and fire… but if you have not already determined to do whatever is necessary to survive, you may well die instead. The criminal is not likely to hesitate. He’s already made up his mind.

        I’ve hunted all my life, but the feelings I have after such a kill bear little relation to what happened the night I had to shoot a man to save my life. You don’t “feel” much of anything until it is all over. If you are lucky enough to be feeling anything then, of course. You might be dead if you wait to understand or accept your feelings at the moment.

        Do what needs to be done. “Feel” about it later.

  4. I’m not sure that this question is answerable. I know myself pretty well. I think I know how I will react in a given situation. But until, God forbid, I’m ever in that situation, I will not know how I will act in that situation. I would like to say that my desire for life and survival, or to protect my family, would be stronger than my fear. However, it’s like any other experience where fear is involved – only once you’ve confronted it will you truly know how you will react. I’ll only add that I agree with Chemsoldier.

  5. Nobody knows for sure until it happens.

    Lots of training will help. If you train enough, you are more likely to perform the action before you think about it.

    As mentioned above, finding something to trigger your response might give you a clue. The previous poster mentioned paintball and simunitions. Martial arts training — and tournaments even more so — can bring out this response. Plus, that’s a good adjunct to your firearms training. Of course, that also takes up more of your time every week. 🙂

  6. So honestly, how do you know what you would do?

    You’re well past the point of asking “how do you really know?” You know; you wouldn’t. At least, you don’t feel confident, which means you might as well go ahead and admit that you wouldn’t, for the purposes of preparation anyway.

    I’ve never been there, but I’m very confident I’m mentally prepared, so it makes more sense for me to ponder “how do I really know?” I’ve been put in the position of doing many dirty jobs, and I always did them without hesitation or equivocation. I’ve done dirty, unpleasant jobs often enough to know that I take pride in doing them without hesitation, equivocation, or second-guessing myself afterward. I’ve also hardened myself mentally to the point that I’m pretty confident I’d pull the trigger if I had to.

    The problem with CC when you aren’t confident in your ability to pull the trigger when required is that you are just waiting for someone to take your weapon from you and do harm to you, your loved ones, or others. You’re basically a menace at this point, IMO. This is a primary motivator in mental preparedness, IMO.

    The criminal is not likely to hesitate. He’s already made up his mind.

    That’s how I see it, too; I’ve already made up my mind. Another primary motivation (for me) was giving a lot of thought to the type of man who physically preys on strangers and those he perceives as weak or vulnerable. They don’t elicit warm feelings.

    Then there’s the protocol; when faced with a threat to life and limb, you point the weapon. Anyone who keeps coming at you in that situation has made it pretty clear you’re in a life-and-death struggle; just think about what he’s going to do to you once you’re disarmed.

  7. What YOU should do is stop carrying a handgun – you are a danger to those around you.

    No one knows how they will react, but you cannot protect yourself or others with this doubt in the forefront of your mind.

    Hesitation gives your opponent the opportunity to confiscate your firearm, using it against you and others.

  8. I suggest reading, or rereading, the short pamphlet by Col Cooper titled “The Principles of Personal Defense”. A quick search should get it for you (I do recommend purchasing).

    Here’s a paragraph from Principle Three: Aggressiveness.

    “Now how do we cultivate an aggressive response? I
    think the answer is indignation. Read the papers. Watch the
    news. These people have no right to prey upon innocent
    citizens. They have no right to offer you violence. They are
    bad people and you are quite justified in resenting their
    behavior to the point of rage. Your response, if attacked,
    must not be fear, it must be anger. The two emotions are
    very close and you can quite easily turn one into the other.
    At this point your life hangs upon your ability to block out
    all thoughts of your own peril, and to concentrate utterly
    upon the destruction of your enemy. Anger lets you do this.
    The little old lady who drives off an armed robber by
    beating on him with her purse is angry, and good for her!”


    Joe K.

  9. Gabby… I highly recommend some force-on-force training and maybe ground fighting training like the courses offered at Tactical Defense Institute offers in Ohio… secondly, you say, “I doubt one could ever think through all the possible scenarios of a threat, and going hunting just isn’t in my near future as I am too much of an animal person.”… let me deal with the latter first… I’m a hunter… it might prepare some folks… but killing a deer or a coyote or a rabbit is not the same as shooting a person…

    As far as the first part… you don’t have to think through every possible scenario… but thinking through a lot of scenarios WILL help you mentally prepare… I am confident that I can point a gun at a person threatening my life or serious bodily harm and pull the trigger… because I know they have already made the decision… and so have I… I have a wife and a daughter to care for… I have purpose in this world that exceeds any purpose a criminal has in doing me harm… and I will fight… not to survive… but to win if he or she determines to do my deathly harm… I may not win… but I will fight to win with every effort and ability and tool I have available to me at the time…

    I’d encourage you to read two blogs regularly… Kathy Jackson’s The Cornered Cat… and Greg Ellifritz’s Active Response Training… just thinking through the scenarios that Greg posts on a regular basis will help you build your mental state for defending yourself… Read his post just put out today about the carjacked grandmother…

    You may disagree, but I tell my CCW students in Ohio to think carefully, introspectively, and deeply about whether they can take the life of another when they decide to carry a concealed firearm or keep one for self-defense… you don’t shoot to wound… you shoot to stop… which often can mean death of another… and attacker… someone who meant to do the same to you… and… because if you’re not willing to meet force with force or death with death… then you’ve likely already lost… and if you hesitate, unwilling or able to pull the trigger, at the moment of attack… you will lose… and you may even have your firearm taken away from you and used against you…

    Dann in Ohio

  10. This is why defensive training and “visualization” is such an important part of self defense. If you are starting with a blank slate, you have never even thought about a violent encounter, then there is no way to know how you would react.

    However, if you have conditioned yourself (as best as possible) through training and thought exercises you are much more likely to act appropriately. This is the inherent point of defensive training. It does help, it does make a difference in the moment.

    Something as simple as admitting to yourself that becoming the victim of violence is a possibility is a big step in a lot of cases. Huge amounts of people haven’t even gone that far.

    If you’re more of a women of science you may want to look into Boyd’s O.O.D.A. loop decision making process. In a nut shell, training and prior visualization help you to react more quickly and appropriately in stressful situations.

  11. Gabby. First, I agree with Dann’s advice and having corresponded with him over the web for a bit can attest to his real world knowledge and experience. I recommend you also contact your local law enforcement agency and arrange a couple of ride alongs with a patrol officer. It’ll do 2 things: give you an opportunity to ask questions of someone who carries every day and has almost certainly been required to at least point their gun at another human being and to see just what criminals are capable of in a way that will leave a lasting impression. It can be…visceral and definitely eye opening. As a retired officer myself I can tell you I always enjoyed my ride alongs and welcomed the chance to have frank discussions about crime and criminals. And disregard advice about not carrying. Carry but absolutely expand your knowledge, training and experience base.

      1. Gabby, I would also encourage you to keep carrying and keep on the path of learning… I’m on a continual learning path in my life… a life-long learner… and I realize as a firearms instructor that many are on different parts of the learning path or learning curve… but keeping on learning, practicing, doing… I do and it is important for all of us…

        Women like you will also inspire others… because you were brave enough to put your thoughts out there… thoughts that many other women AND MEN have, but won’t admit… and start a terrific discussion… and if we can’t be honest with ourselves, then we will never be effective at improving ourselves…

        I know a gal who carried for a long time without a round in the chamber of her Glock… she mentioned it to an instructor she was seeking out for more learning… and he ridiculed her… and she never went back… I know there are many who carry that way, but usually won’t admit it… it is a skill/comfort level that needs to be overcome… and education, training, and practice will help folks overcome it far more effectively than ridicule or scorn…

        I have somehow ended up having a reputation with the ladies… uhh… I mean that a lot of gals seek me out for courses and instruction by my reputation… and I think it’s because I treat them the same way as I treat all my students… with respect, dignity, enthusiasm, and understanding… meeting each student at their level… listening and learning about them… and instructing, adapting accordingly… even if they disagree with me or part of what I teach (which rarely happens)… I always encourage them… that my training or practice sessions should never be the last they undertake… and I explain why… both pros and cons… of the matters I teach and train… I educate… so you can decide… and be empowered!

        PS: My daughter enjoyed your AR build series… what a great learning experience you had… and I think that when she has the time and money… she plans to build her own… and it helps that she saw what you did… it inspires…

        Have a terrific day…

        Dann in Ohio

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