When to draw your gun?

One of the questions raised in our Guns are for Killing post is when it’s appropriate to draw your gun. Make no mistake about this: guns are absolutely lethal force. Remember, we are not cops and we’re not arresting people. We’re armed citizens using our guns to inflict surprise violence on an attacker.

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I firmly believe that the only time I’m going to draw my gun is if I’d be justified using deadly force in that situation. I don’t draw my gun to threaten people or scare them, I draw my gun to defend my life against threats of death or grievous bodily harm. Travis Haley has a great line about this in the Magpul Dynamic Shotgun video: “I don’t use a pump (shotgun) to scare somebody, I use a pump to shoot somebody.”

It’s important to know your state’s laws on lethal force. However, since laws vary from state to state, if you travel frequently it’s important to have a general set of guidelines for how you’ll act. Here are some general guidelines for escalating force. Please note, I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. These are simply examples of the decision process that can occur during a deadly force encouter:

  1. Am I serious danger? If no, proceed as normal. If yes, proceed to question 2
  2. Can I retreat or flee without exposing myself to additional danger? If yes, run away like a little girl. If no, proceed to question 3
  3. Is the danger I’m in a credible threat of death or grievous bodily harm? If no, examine what force options are available other than lethal force. This can include pepper spray, contact weapons, hands-on fighting, or de-escalating the situation. If yes, proceed to step 4.
  4. Am I prepared to shoot this person right now? If your answer is no, you shouldn’t be carrying a gun.

In step 3, it’s critically important to understand what constitutes credible threat of death or grievous bodily harm. Our friends at InSights teach the line “I was in fear for my life” and the ability to articulate why you were in fear for your life. These are things that you should think about well before you ever go out in public with a gun.

The escalation of force process I’ve outlined above should take mere moments, and much of it will be unconscious if you’re properly prepared. It’s very easy to skip from 1 to 4 during a violent encounter. The reason I include the retreat option is because some states have a duty to retreat, and honestly I’d rather run away and live to run another day.

As a tactical note, things like verbal commands fall into step three. An example: I was walking home from dinner, and noticed a young gentleman approaching me from across the street. I assessed that I was in danger, that I did not have retreat available, but the danger was not yet a credible threat of death or bodily harm. A verbal command of “stop right there” worked to stop the young choirboy long enough for me to affect an escape. Flashlights are also great stand-off weapons.

Make your own guidelines. Know what you’re going to do and when. Be prepared. You should be able to process your entire decision tree in mere moments, and be ready to make effective choices to defend your life.


  1. “It’s important to know your state’s laws on lethal force. However, since laws vary from state to state, if you travel frequently . . . ”

    Oh, if there were only a detailed guide to the law of self-defense in all 50 states published just this year. 🙂

  2. Run away like a little girl? Heck, I’ll run away like an adult male if I can do so safely.

  3. I’d much rather they say “Boy, that old white man can RUN!” than “Doesn’t he look natural.” The facts that I have a gun, know how to use it, and am willing to use it doesn’t mean I will successfully stop the threat. Seems as if everyone forgets that they might lose the fight. (And then there’s the civil battle, which you’ll lose even if you win.)

  4. Without a doubt that dude should use one hand to defend that choke and the other to shoot that dude.

        1. I am a beginner of jiujitsu. But even a beginner can completely negate your ability to backward headbutt in such a choke. And while you’re trying to headbutt you’re exposing your neck even more (as opposed to tucking your chin) and the clock is ticking on your consciousness. The point is, the magical street fighting techniques like headbutts, bites, eye gouges, and groin kicks just don’t work in a lot of circumstances – but shooting your way out probably would.

          1. Interestingly, the photo was taken during a class on using a folding knife as a defensive weapon. The advice presented by the instructor was essentially “keep your chin down, take out your knife and start cutting whatever meat you can find on the other guy until he lets you go.” The class philosophy was summarized as “strike, cut, escape.” For students with a CCW, gun grabs, and using your knife to gain access to your gun was also addressed.

  5. Can you draw your gun to avoid hand-to-hand fighting? I read a lot of assaults have been prevented that way. A friend of mine was driving on the highway and a nut kept giving him the finger and driving recklessly next to him, then his buddy showed him his rifle, the guy turned the shade of a corpse and suddenly the “road rage” was over.

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