Self-Defense tip: guns are for killing

While the title of the post is a bit inflammatory, it does serve the central purpose of this post: if you carry a gun for self-defense, you must be willing to use that gun and understand that the possible consequences of doing that could result in the taking of another human’s life.

This gets tossed around a lot as “warrior mindset” or “mental conditioning” and has been addressed by some of the best and brightest minds of the self-defense and training community. Jeff Cooper himself spend a considerable amount of time on this topic, and believed that anyone who carried a pistol for defense should also have hunted and killed something at least once.


Cooper’s reasoning was simple. He believed that if you ever needed your gun for self-defense, that shouldn’t be the first time you’ve ever pointed a gun at a living thing with the intent of pulling the trigger. I absolutely agree with him on this, but I also realize that in this modern day and age, not everyone who carries a gun for self-defense even has the opportunity or inclination to go hunting. So how do we accomplish the important goal of mentally preparing ourselves for the possibility of violence?

We’ve addressed this topic many times in the past, and the first and most important thing you can do is make your decision now. If you’re waiting until the actual moment of violence to decide whether or not you’re going to use your gun for self-defense, you’ve waited far too long and it’s likely too late. Deciding when to use deadly force is an important decision; and you have to train your mind to know what your triggers are. When do you draw your gun, when you do fire your gun, what do you after you fire your gun are all things that you should know and have a plan for well before you ever tie on your heater and go to town. The best way to do that is to train & learn. Our old friends at InSights Training Center in Bellevue, WA have a great class called Street and Vehicle Tactics, which sounds operator as hell but is actually about managing possible dangerous encounters in every day life. It’s a great class. There are plenty of other good classes as well, and plenty of good information out there such as SouthNarc’s documents on Managing Unknown Contacts.

Once you’re educated, it’s thinking time. Go to your quiet place, and actually think to yourself “I will use deadly force once the following parameters have been met: x, y, z.” Write it down. Make a list of what you will use deadly force to prevent. Don’t create imaginary scenarios, but keep your categories broad. Here a couple of mine: “I will use to all necessary force to prevent an attacker from physically restraining me.” Remember when you’re making these decisions what the legal lines are in your state to allow you to use deadly force as well. But you must make those decisions now, when you’re calm and at peace.

The second aspect of preparing yourself mentally is actually related to killing. You cannot shoot someone “just a little bit”. If you shoot someone who is trying to do you harm, there is a very real chance that you’re going to kill them. There’s really no way to prepare yourself mentally for what happens after your take someone’s life, but you can take steps to prepare yourself for the moment itself. Obviously, going hunting is a great idea. Realistic force on force training with sim guns or even paintball can help. Yes, even first person shooter video games can be used as training tools in this regard. On the FPS note for a moment: we do not believe for even a hot second that first person shooters “make people violent” or any of the silly nonsense that you hear about “violent video games”, however we do acknowledge that the military has used FPS games as training tools in the past specifically because you’re pointing a simulated gun at a simulated person.

However, our bottom line is this: if you don’t know whether or not you could pull the trigger if you needed to, if you haven’t made that decision, or if you’re not willing to accept the possibility that you might need to kill someone, then you shouldn’t be carrying a gun. Guns are dangerous, and carrying a gun comes with a tremendous burden of personal responsibility. If you’re not willing to accept that responsibility, get some pepper spray or a big dog.


  1. I agree that guns are for killing, and I’ve had the discussion many times that there is not room for the mentality of, “can’t I just shoot em in the leg…?” when carrying concealed, but when it comes to going to a quiet place and making a decision I must respectfully disagree. I appreciate all the advice about mental training, classes and books, and I intend to follow much of it. And when it comes decision-making-time, I believe that the animal instinct of kill or be killed will take over. If I walk around with the decision pre-made, I think I will be no better than the hammer who sees everything as a nail. If a criminal wants to target me but I can get away with my life, THAT is more important than taking his.

    1. That’s grossly missing the point of the post; which is to decide when and where in a broad scope you’re willing to use deadly force to protect your own life or the lives of others.

      The suggestion that people who have made the decision see every problem as a nail indicates that you don’t really understand the decision itself. No one that I know who has made the decision and lives quietly and at peace wants to kill someone. They simply understand that it may happen, and they’ve prepared themselves as best as they can so that if that moment does occur, they won’t have to rely on “animal instinct.” They’re also prepared to run away if they need to be.

  2. hammers are very useful multi task tools that have gotten a bad rap.they’re not just useed for pounding nails. with the right hammer for the job, all is needed is gental persuasion. Back to topic, if you have no experience in a gun fight, the first reaction is denial. Making decisions on where the line in the sand is/ applicable laws, along with training with your weapon/ holster combination can decrease the time it takes to react to a given situation. It’s not premeditated murder.

    1. TOTALLY off topic… but Stanley did a study of sorts and sent their design engineers to job sites to see how their tools were being used. Hammers were by and large being used for demolition as opposed to their intended purpose. You’ll notice a LOT of Stanley hammers now have huge heads on them. That’s why.

  3. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve felt the “burden of responsibility” you mentioned and it gets jogged every time I read a self-defense story – sometimes in favor of lethal force and other times in favor of non-lethal action. In addition to your thoughts, I’d like to add that there’s a line drawn between the necessity for lethal force vs non-lethal force and a gun carrier needs to be acutely aware of that.

  4. You mentioned Cooper. Cooper also said, and I wholeheartedly agree, “I don’t care if a gun will kill someone. I only care that it will stop someone.” (paraphrased) I don’t care if they die from it, I care if they are stopped by it.

    1. I had an instructor say “Our intention when we shoot is to stop a person. An unfortunate side effect of stopping bad people is that they frequently die.”

  5. Leg-shots aren’t guaranteed non-lethal anyway. You shatter the femur, hit the wrong blood vessel, and all that person’s vital juices will easily be out on the ground before any professional help can arrive.

    It’s why I very much encourage a dedicated less-lethal option for anyone who carries. Pepper spray is great, and can be used when lethal force would be a terrible idea, but you still need a decisive option. A baton is good for someone with some physical authority or a lot of training. Spilling blood should always be the final option.

  6. I agree that people who carry or expect to use a gun for self defense ought to go hunting and have killed something, once, but not for the same reasons. It’s not because I think you should make up your mind in advance.

    In fact, I think that’s a bad idea to make up your mind ahead of time. I reserve the right to change my mind at any time based on the facts and circumstances I am in. I am not saying I plan to get killed, but shooting someone only begins with the shot. Then you have the investigation, potential prosecution, legal bills, and so on.

    I see the chief value of a gun as deterrence. 95% of the time it is not even necessary to fire it. As for the 5%, you have to weigh whether the thugs life is worth $50k in legal bills. Frankly, I’d sooner take a picture and let him(her) run and let the cops deal with it, rather than face legal bills. As for the other 5%, I don’t see a leg or warning shot as viable because they might shoot back, or worse, the prosecution could use the warning shot or non-use of deadly force as proof I was not in imminent danger. That’s assault I may have just committed there cause I escalated the conflict. The law says deadly force is only to be employed if you are in imminent danger of grave harm, so if you shoot back it should be to repel deadly force.

    So when you reduce it to deadly force to repel deadly force, i expect survival instinct kicks in there.

    The real reason I think people should hunt if they plan to employ deadly force is that animals do not behave like bad guys in hollywood movies. They do not vaporize or collapse on the spot. They have 15 seconds, up to a minute of time, even if you have shot them in the heart. Know how far a deer can go in 15 seconds? Know how many shots you can get off in 15 seconds?

    Training is good, up to a point. It trains you right up to the moment you pull the trigger. As a rule, I think people need to think a lot more about what happens after the first shot.

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